In the Trenches
The title is inspired by the April 20, 2010 Omaha World Herald article by reporter Erin Grace, about our staff attorney Pat Ford: In the trenches with the poor.
Our work continues every day. Here are some of the many success stories — examples of our clients’ empowerment and improvement in their lives. These stories show the work of Legal Aid, and the perseverance of its clients.
Read even more about how we work to promote justice, dignity, hope and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.
A Father Fights for His Daughter
“I can’t imagine Legal Aid of Nebraska not being here and what that would be like for everyone.”
David first came to Legal Aid in 2012 after being denied communication with his daughter.
In 2005, David had moved to California to find a better job. He wanted to maintain his relationship with his daughter, but there was disagreement between him and his daughter’s mother, and she hired a lawyer. Without money to hire a lawyer, David went to court unrepresented and confused about the complicated legal process. At the end of the case, David found himself with no visitation plan and high child support payments. Though communication with his daughter was at the mother’s discretion, she did let them continue a relationship over the phone.
In 2010, David moved back to be closer to his children. He was trying to be more regularly involved, but communication was suddenly and purposefully taken away. His daughter’s mother changed her phone number and refused to let David see his daughter. She wasn’t allowed to communicate with or see her sister either.
Devastated by this turn of events and not willing to live without seeing his daughter, David decided he needed to go back to court. This time, he knew he would need a lawyer, but he couldn’t find anyone willing to take his case: “I had to have a large retainer to get anyone involved in this case. I pretty much felt defeated by that.”
But he did not give up.
Sometime in 2012, an office directed David to Legal Aid. David came to Legal Aid's Access to Justice Self Help Center and was accepted to participate in an "assisted self-help clinic." David successfully represented himself and obtained a court ordered visitation plan. The child's mother was represented by an attorney.
Thinking back to the moment he heard the judge's decision granting him visitation and the impact it had on him, David says, “I was speechless." David had not had any contact with his daughter for two years by the time the court ordered a parenting plan.
His legal battles are not over, but David has learned that it is possible - with determination and help - to tackle those problems and represent himself. And David said it’s all been worth it to have a long-term relationship with his daughter: “I want to give her a chance to know her father. I want to be a positive fatherly influence to her.”
Overcoming Tax Troubles
In 2009, Amy was in a terrible car accident that caused her tremendous physical and mental pain. Over the next few years, she worked to recover from a brain injury. While she was in the hospital trying to get her life back, her husband withdrew money from his retirement account to spend on his new girlfriend. Amy did not know about the girlfriend or the withdrawn money, and when it came time for them to file their taxes for the year, her husband did not claim the money to the IRS. It wasn’t until recently that Amy learned she and her husband owed $17,000 in back taxes. The IRS sent her letters, but they went to the wrong address. Finally, they froze her bank account and nearly levied her funds. This was how she found out that her husband took money from his retirement account and that they owed money.
Amy soon contacted Legal Aid of Nebraska for help. After submitting an emergency application in March 2013, Amy’s case was taken. By getting documents from the doctors who helped her, medical records, and statements from her family, it was determined that Amy could not have comprehended her own finances well enough after the accident to have filed taxes properly. She received Innocent Spouse Relief and was not held responsible for her husband’s actions.
In the summer of 2013, a member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska came close to losing his home of 10 years for a minor and arguably insignificant infraction of housing policy. With nowhere to turn, “Bill” reached out to Legal Aid, and attorney Jonathan Seagrass was able to appeal this unjust eviction.
Bill received notice from the Northern Ponca Housing Authority this summer that his lease was being terminated. Their reasoning? This elderly, legally blind and wheel chair-bound gentleman, a ten year resident of the facility, was supposedly nuisance to the peace and endangering children.
The authority had no evidence or witnesses to present at the hearing, other than a single police report. This report, which explained a “disturbance” in the broadest of terms, was the result of a police visit to Bill’s apartment, at the prompting of his neighbors. The officer simply gave Bill and the handful of adults gathered there a warning to keep the noise down, and no further action was required. No arrests or charges were made, and the “children” referred to in the housing authority’s claim, were in fact two teenagers, 15 and 17 years of age, who were present but involved in no criminal activity or danger at the time of the police visit. The housing authority’s reason for evicting Bill was truly an over-exaggeration of a small get-together that, at the very worst, may have gotten out of hand for a brief period of time.
Ludicrous as it may be to accuse such an elderly man as Bill for being a nuisance to the peace, what in fact got his eviction appealed was the fact that this “infraction” only occurred once. According to NPHA Admission and Occupancy handbook, repeated violation of the terms or conditions of lease is defined as three separate occurrences within one year, an excellent catch by Seagrass, who was able to return Bill to his home.
Naturally, Bill is immensely grateful to stay in his home. Not only is it his permanent place of residence, but he has a deep connection to his home and the land. As a Ponca Tribe member, Bill is emotionally and spiritually invested in his Niobrara home, as it is the ancestral homeland of the Ponca Tribe. Not many Native Americans are able to remain on such homeland, and thanks to Legal Aid of Nebraska, Bill is able to reside on the same land as his ancestors.
Misty now has a chance at a new heart
Early in her pregnancy, Legal Aid client “Misty” knew something was amiss. Several months later, she would find herself scrambling to recover her health, home, as well as some source of income and childcare. Legal Aid was able to win her the benefits that private representation could not, and provided the representation she needed to have attention drawn to her desperate and somewhat unusual case.
The 32-year-old, already a mother of two, complained of an unusual chest pain during this pregnancy. The complaints went unaddressed, and in the winter of 2012 Misty went into cardiac arrest during her labor. Both Misty and her baby survived the ordeal, but Misty was left with a 15 percent ejection fraction, meaning hear heart was pumping roughly only one-quarter of what is normal for a healthy heart. Because cardiac patients with ejection fractions under 30% are entitled to social security, the newly married mother of three filed for benefits to make ends meet.
In a discouraging and alarming turn of events, Misty was denied disability, not once, but twice, on the grounds of duration, meaning her condition would not be expected to last more than a year and thus did not warrant benefits. After filing for disability twice without any successful outcomes, Misty, now represented by a private attorney, submitted a request for hearing in hopes that her case would finally receive the recognition it deserved.
Meanwhile, Misty, now under a mountain of legal and medical bills, desperately needed a heart transplant. She received a Left Ventricular Assistance Device (LVAD), which works to repair damaged parts of the heart and is often the middle ground between heart disease and heart transplant. She was unable to work, play with her children, or in any way experience life as she knew it before her heart problems. With her well-being dangling by a thread, Misty could no longer wait around for a hearing.
She fired her private attorney and sought help at Legal Aid. LAN attorney Ann Mangiameli took up her case, and advised Misty that waiting for a disability hearing could take up to three years. However, she knew Misty would be eligible for disability on account of her LVAD, which prevented her from participating in any kind of work. Mangiameli began exploring other options for Misty to get her the benefits she deserved, and fast.
The urgency of Misty’s situation became even more severe in a bizarre twist of circumstances. Misty’s taxing health crisis required huge commitments from her supportive family. In the midst of her illness, her husband became unemployed. As Misty needed to commute to Omaha for doctor’s appointments and her husband was actively searching for a job, the family needed reliable childcare. The couple found what seemed like a decent solution in their landlord’s daughter, who cared for the children at her convenience. As time went on, Misty soon discovered her babysitter was not the reliable or responsible caretaker that her children needed. When Misty needed to come to Omaha for serious cardiac treatment, her sitter would find reasons or excuses to back out of her responsibilities. Not meaning any ill-will, Misty terminated her agreement with the sitter, saying she needed someone a little more reliable.
Suspiciously, the landlord turned off Misty’s power and evicted the family from his property shortly after his daughter’s termination as babysitter. While this act may or may not have been one of retribution against Misty, the family was now, undeniably, in a crisis.
Fortunately, Mangiameli had a plan. She had Misty’s medical records shipped from UNMC, and requested an On the Record (OTR) with the Social Security Administration. Used as a measure to expedite the hearing process, an OTR is requested when a patient’s medical records alone are sufficient to prove his or her eligibility for benefits, eliminating the need for a hearing or appeal. This shortened Misty’s original wait-time of two to three years dramatically. Misty was instructed, after the OTR, to call the Social Security Administration. Mangiameli knew that allowing Misty to speak for herself would not only help her case, but give her a sense of power and agency as she shared her story. She received her favorable decision within that very week. The decision, which granted her $700 a month, plus backpay, also granted her Medicaid, which paid for her LVAD. Misty now has a chance at a new heart.
The power of small victories — a family keeps their home
Legal Aid of Nebraska prides itself in helping clients win victories of all sizes every day. Whatever the battle, anything from domestic violence to family farm planning, LAN is on the front lines, empowering clients to overcome legal hardship. But in some cases, like that of the “Harris” family, LAN helped combat financial pressure on multiple fronts and bring stability to a family feeling crushed by adversity.
Debt is a daily reality in the lives of the average American. But with student loans, medical, and credit card bills rolling in like the tide, and a mortgage extending into the horizon, the Harris’ truly felt like they were drowning.
“Matt” and “Diane” Harris, with their children, were living in a house valued around $45,000, with $60,000 due on their mortgage. They had refinanced their home in 2011 when Matt was without work and collecting unemployment, but even with the lowered payments, they were not able to keep up once Matt stopped collecting his unemployment money. Once they fell $2,000 behind on their mortgage, in addition to other debts, foreclosure was only foreseeable outcome.
In this truly desperate situation, the Harris’ reached out to LAN. Attorney Shawn Farritor was not only able to help them save their home, but find a place of financial peace. His primary advice was that Matt find a job. This proved to be a challenge for the one-vehicle family, but while Diane’s income was being garnished by creditors, Matt’s success in finding a position at a local restaurant was a critical one.
Next, Farritor represented the clients in a joint Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, which would save them from the overwhelming mortgage looming over them. The bankruptcy was complicated by the fact that the family wanted to keep their home, but Farritor was able to help them refinance their home again with a local bank. They kept their home and received full discharge of their debts, but that wasn’t all Farritor was able to do for them.
In a seemingly small, but very significant, victory, Farritor was also able to return $774.12 to the family in preferential payment. This money, which was taken out of Diane’s paychecks over the years by Credit Management, was returned after their bankruptcy filing.
With their debts forgiven, Matt’s new job, and a significant preferential payment, the Harris’ were once again back on their feet. They even obtained health insurance for the family. Shawn Farritor, who truly went above and beyond in this case, did not just defend Matt and Diane in their financial struggle, he empowered them.
Assisting families, protecting children
Desperate for help, “Tom” came to Legal Aid seeking custody of his young son, “Jimmy.” The mother, “Stacy,” kept Jimmy away from Tom, taunting him and only allowing him to see his son when it benefitted her. But Tom persevered, wanting nothing more than to do the right thing: support and love Jimmy.
Stacy regularly went out, leaving Jimmy and several of her children from previous relationships alone with a babysitter who was too young to care for them. One evening while giving Jimmy a bath, the young sitter misjudged the temperature of the water, severely burning the toddler. Jimmy was subsequently hospitalized with an immersion burn covering more than 33 percent of his body.
After Jimmy was released from the hospital, Tom was allowed to see him periodically. Tom became frustrated that Stacy would not seek medication when Jimmy developed dangerous skin infections on his healing wounds. Jimmy was also supposed to attend rehabilitation sessions in order to learn to reuse his limbs, but Stacy skipped several of the appointments.
Wanting urgently to protect his child, Tom sought out Legal Aid’s services. He graduated from Fathers for a Lifetime, a program aimed at teaching single fathers the skills they need to be successful parents. After completing the program, Tom was able to begin the process to file for sole custody of his son.
The situation continued to be emotionally taxing for Tom, and the trial was an arduous process. But in 2011 — three years after the process began — Tom received full custody of his son. Thanks to his determination and some help from Legal Aid, Tom is now able to be fully involved in Jimmy’s life.
Defending assets, getting clients back on their feet
Most clients seek out legal aid with what little income, assets, or family support they have left. Others, like “Donna,” have nothing left at all.
“All she had was the clothes on her back, and maybe a chair in her room,” explained LAN attorney Lori Wilson. Her room, a small quarter in a nursing home, had been her home for the past six years. All she had known for the last 14 years, in fact, was life in nursing home facilities. Without any home, car, or income, Donna had a feeling of immense helplessness when General Collection attempted to sue her for medical debts.
In order to pressure her into paying her debts, the collection company attempted to take Donna to court for a debtor’s examination. Used as a tool to coerce people to pay their debts, a debtor’s examination orders individuals to appear in court and be interrogated about their property, income, and other assets. This information is then used by the collection company to lay claim to the debtor’s possessions in order to pay off the debt.
In Donna’s case, bedridden and miles from the courthouse, she would not have been able to appear at the examination, even if she had any kind of property to claim in court. Donna was on Medicaid, and her social security (not even $1000 a month) went straight to her care facility. She was truly at a loss to appease the collection agency until her pivotal decision to reach out to Legal Aid of Nebraska.
To save Donna from the harassment that was a pending debtor’s examination, Wilson, the case’s assigned representative, prepared a Claim of Exemption. This document, a statement of Donna’s inability to appear in court and pay her debts, would serve as a means to cancel the debtor’s exam.
It seemed a simple-enough solution, but another wrinkle in the case would create yet another dilemma for Donna. In order for the claim to be valid, it needed a notarized signature from Donna. However, the local bank would not notarize Donna’s signature as she lacked the proper photo I.D. Without the signature, the claim of exemption would have been invalid, and Donna would have been still required to attend the debtor’s examination in court, a significant drive from her care facility.
Luckily, Shawn Farritor, another LAN attorney in the area, was a champion for the client and made the trek out to her nursing home to notarize her signature himself. The claim of exemption went uncontested by General Collection’s attorneys, and LAN was able to protect Donna and give her a little peace of mind.
Many of our clients have cases that overlap several of our service areas. We exist to help those with low incomes, including seniors, immigrants and victims of domestic violence. To learn more about what we do, click on the links below to access more In the Trenches stories.
Victims of domestic violence seeking legal assistance can call our AccessLine at 402-348-1060 Monday and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. CST and Tuesday and Thursday between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. CST, or apply online.
A young mother sought help from Legal Aid when fleeing a relationship in which she had survived years of violent threats and physical abuse. After escaping with her 4-year-old daughter, our client’s abuser immediately sought custody of their child. Legal Aid attorney Kay Strong filed a protection order charging her client’s abuser with kidnapping and domestic violence. After hearing a recording of the abuser threatening our client, the judge awarded custody to the mother and only allowed the abuser supervised visitation.
Omaha attorney Kelly Boswell represented a refugee through Legal Aid’s work at the International Center of the Heartland.
A little over a year ago, the client’s coworker began to sexually assault her.
Boswell described the case: “He was giving our client rides to and from work, then forcing his way into her apartment. The woman became pregnant as a result of one of these assaults, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in March. After the child was born, the adverse continued to assault her; he would demand to see his child in order that she would allow him inside. To keep her from seeking help, the adverse told her that, if she called the police, it would cost her a lot of money. Our client was recently resettled from her home country, so she had no idea that the adverse was lying and that she could dial 911.”
Last week, our law clerk Jaci Wyatt took our client and an interpreter to file a Protection Order. Wyatt worked with advocates from Victim Services and the Family Justice Center to get the paperwork filled out. Legal Aid filed the protection order last Friday.
“Now, our client can call the police if the adverse tries to force his way into the apartment. I am thrilled that she’s safe and won’t have to suffer any more!" Wyatt said.
Legal Aid of Nebraska attorney Shawn Farritor convinced a judge to reopen a divorce case for a mother of three who sought to escape an abusive relationship. The case had previously been dismissed because our client was unable to pay for representation, partially because her child support was set at only $50 per month for all three children. Not only was the client’s divorce granted but the child support for her three children was also increased.
Lincoln office staff attorney Mark Bestul helped a woman who was a victim of domestic violence achieve a divorce from the abuser after a 13-year marriage.
Tribal members seeking legal assistance can call our Native American AccessLine at 1-800-729-9908. The line is open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. CST Monday through Friday.
Jon Seagrass and Kelsie Myers, attorneys on our Native American Project recently helped a client that had been severely beaten up by her boyfriend. She had been charged criminally for endangering the welfare of a child, because her 7-year-old was home at the time this happened, and CPS case was filed against her for the same reason. To make matters worse, because she had been charged with a crime and a CPS case had been filed, she was suspended without pay from her job of eight years.
Myers represented the victim at a protection-order hearing and the order was granted. Seagrass negotiated the dismissal of the CPS case, and the deferred prosecution on the criminal charge. Under this arrangement, our client is back to work today, and on her way to independence from domestic violence.
In May, Jon Seagrass, attorney for the Native American Project got a call from a woman, who 11 days prior had a default judgment entered against her in Ponca Tribal Court evicting her from her home of thirteen years, and ordering her to pay almost $2,000 in unpaid rent. The default judgment was entered because the woman had filed no answer, even though she was at the first hearing in the case and tried to defend herself. Under Ponca Law and the Ponca Housing Authority policies, the client has not been given proper notice of the case and no evidence was presented to support the amount of damages requested. Seagrass filed a motion for summary judgment and won. The case was dismissed and our client continues to live in her home.
After nearly a decade in an abusive relationship, a mother of three tried to make a fresh start. But the abuser showed up unannounced and took the children from their mother’s home and refused to disclose where he or the children were. Terrified, the woman sought help from Legal Aid. After weeks of threatening that the mother must meet him to see her children “for the last time,” the man was informed that a hearing would take place. When he showed up to the hearing, attorney Jonathan Seagrass made sure the emergency order for custody of the children was upheld. The children were reunited with their mother and at the final hearing she was granted custody.
Jon Seagrass, attorney from the Native American Project helped keep a woman from being evicted, yesterday. He says, "We received a call from a client who stated she was sued for eviction by the Northern Ponca Housing Authority from the house she had been renting for 13 years. She said a hearing was held and the court ordered her eviction. The court entered a default judgment because our client did not file answer, even though she was present at the hearing and attempted to defend herself against the Housing Authority’s claims. We reviewed the court file and determined our client was not served properly with the notice to terminate her lease as well as other evidentiary defects in the record of the court’s hearing. Therefore, on behalf of the client, we filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, and an ex parte motion to stay the default judgment until a hearing could be held. We just received word the stay was granted, and the court will hear our motion to set aside the judgment on June 11."
To apply for legal representation, call our AccessLine at 402-348-1060 Monday and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. CST and Tuesday and Thursday between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. CST, or apply online.
After three years, a daughter has been returned to the care of her mother.
Our client proved to the court and herself that she can meet the health needs of her daughter, who was born with severe health complications. During the case, the client also addressed issues of domestic violence between herself and the child's father. Attorney Brittani Lewit is proud to have played a part in the reunification of mother and child.
Attorney Patrick Carraher empowered a mother of two by securing a divorce from a husband in prison for sexually assaulting their daughter. Our client can now provide a supportive and safe home and the man will have no contact with the children unless expressly approved by the mother and supervised by an adult.
According to our Private Attorney Involvement coordinator Christine Stolarskyj, “Thanks to the excellent work of PAI Attorney Steve Fillman and his associate attorney, Amy Hoffman, a mother has finally won sole legal and physical custody of her two children. The children’s father initially obtained temporary custody of the kids and took them to live with him in Kansas. But after nearly a year of hard work, zealous advocacy and two days of trial, Steve and Amy were able to successfully prove to the Court that it was in the best interests of the children for custody to be returned to their mother. Legal Aid also thanks attorney Christine Campbell of Kansas Legal Services in Wichita Kansas and PAI attorney Mark Noah of Beloit Kansas for their invaluable assistance in the Kansas actions pertaining to this matter. Legal Aid clerks Sarah Fech and Matt Hansen also deserve a big thank you for providing excellent research under short notice. A tremendous job – thanks to Steve and Amy and all who worked on this case.
A Legal Aid Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) attorney "filed contempt action in a divorce wherein adverse is ordered to pay temporary spousal support of $400 per month pending the final hearing. Adverse was $1200 in arrears when our PAI attorney filed a motion for contempt. After adverse received notice of the upcoming contempt hearing, our client just received $400 from the adverse toward the back spousal support. So, for the first time in several weeks, the client was able to take that money to buy medication for her heart condition which she was unable to afford without the spousal support payment.
To apply for legal representation, call our AccessLine at 402-348-1060 Monday and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. CST and Tuesday and Thursday between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. CST, or apply online. People over the age of 60 can also call our ElderAccessLine® for advice at 402-827-5656. The line is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. 12 p.m. CST and Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. CST.
After being bombarded with threatening calls from creditors, a 68-year-old woman contacted the ElderAccessLine® for advice. Legal Aid explained to her why her Social Security Retirement benefits were exempt and could not be taken by creditors. Our client got peace of mind and told us, “for the first time in my elder years, I have someone to go to, that I am not alone”
A 73-year-old woman sought legal assistance from the ElderAccessLine® after being notified she had underpaid her rent and now owed 1,600. Legal Aid attorney Margaret Schaefer advised the elderly woman to request documentation of the debt from the landlord. By following our advice, it was determined that the landlord was mistaken and our client did not owe any money.
A daughter contacted Legal Aid when her blind 66-year-old mother was in danger of losing her entire SSI check because of a $7,200 overpayment. Attorney Lori Wilson aided the pair in holding a conference with the Social Security Administration and having the overpayment waived. Both mother and daughter were thankful that Legal Aid of Nebraska provides “a wonderful service for those who truly need it.”
Attorney Lori Wilson stopped a bank account garnishment against an elderly widow. Wilson filed a claim of exemption showing that her client, an 80-year-old woman, only had Social Security Retirement deposited into the bank account. The bank account was released without a hearing and the bank even refunded the garnishment fee they had originally charged our client.
The ElderAccessLine was able to assist an elderly Grand Island woman who was taken advantage of by a door-to-door alarm system company. She was pressured into providing her bank account information and signing up for an alarm system she didn’t want or need. The ElderAccessLine instructed her how to rescind the contract, and when the alarm company didn’t refund her money as required by federal law, they made a demand on the company and got her funds returned.
In May, our ElderAccessLine took a call today from a client who was the victim of a predatory sales person. The door to door security system dealer sold caller an alarm system, took her bank account information, and installed the system despite caller’s reluctance to purchase the system. The ElderAccessLine was able to instruct the caller how to rescind the contract and cancel the transaction.
Margaret Schaefer, our Elder AccessLine(TM) attorney, heard from a desperate elderly caller in May. The caller's bank account, containing solely exempt social security funds, was being improperly and unfairly garnished by a local law firm. This has happened before and we've successfully responded to the problem in the past. Legal Aid is considering litigation strategies to prevent this from happening again. Our seniors deserve better than to live in fear of having their fixed incomes taken away.
To apply for legal representation, call our AccessLine at 402-348-1060 Monday and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. CST and Tuesday and Thursday between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. CST, or apply online.
This is from our Medical Legal Partnership with The Nebraska Medical Center, and our attorney Ann Mangiameli: "A 19-year-old from Lincoln was admitted to University of Nebraska Medical Center for a bone marrow transplant. He received notification that his Medicaid benefits were going to terminate pursuant to an outstanding warrant in Oregon resulting from a probation violation. The probation violation occurred because he did not return to the state of Oregon due to being hospitalized in Nebraska. I was able to obtain a release of the warrant and provide copies of the release to both Medicaid and Social Security. He was able to get the transplant only because his Medicaid benefits were reinstated."
Lori Wilson in Grand Island made a huge difference for a Nebraska family: “I just won disability benefits for a 15 year old boy who lives with his parents and two siblings in rural Nebraska. The family received back benefits of $17,500 and regular monthly benefits for the child which will go a long way in moving this hard working family out of poverty.
From Lincoln office Managing attorney Pat Carraher: "We have a new unemployment case. A woman lost her job at a major big-box retail store, applied for unemployment benefits, and was approved. Unfortunately, the store's attorneys filed an appeal asking that her benefits be taken away. She needs an attorney to represent her at the hearing in an effort to try to keep her benefits. We are taking the case to help maintain our client's income."
This from Lori Wilson, attorney in our Grand Island office. "Our client’s bank account, which solely contained exempt social security disability funds, was garnished for the second time in eight months by the same law firm and same creditor. They knew better. The first time, we filed a Claim of Exemption and were successful in exempting her bank account eight months ago because her only income and only money in the account were social security benefits. Then, the same firm garnished the same account just recently. I filed a second Claim, called the attorney and left a message that the account still was exempt with only SSDI benefits and would they please release their garnishment. I received no return call so I went to hearing (the creditor's attorney failed to show or call). The Judge exempted the funds. Unfortunately, the Client's bank charged her a $100 garnishment fee and $95 in overdraft charges. I was so incensed with the creditor's law firm that I filed a Motion for Sanctions requesting that they pay client's bank fees of $195, hearing set for May 7. One of the partners for the law firm contacted me and is sending our client a check for $195 to cover her bank charges, apologized for doing this, agreed to make some changes in their practice to avoid this in the future. I told him Legal Aid will file a Motion for Sanctions in every case where they garnish an exempt bank account a second time."
In 2005, a woman with a severe degenerative disc disease was denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Attorney Patrick Carraher worked to appeal the decision and eventually won a hearing with the Appeals Council. However, the client continued to be denied benefits because of a piece of real estate she inherited with her siblings. Carraher proved that the land was not accessible and therefore not a viable resource for his client. After six years of hard work and dedication, Carraher’s client was awarded her monthly benefits along with over $44,000 in back pay.
Legal Aid attorney Lori Wilson prevented a disabled client from having his disability benefits terminated. Working with the client’s caseworker, Wilson proved his earnings were exempt* and her client was and remains eligible for disability benefits. Wilson also reduced her client’s final overpayment and made sure he will continue to receive the benefits he qualifies for.
Legal Aid successfully represented a young Somali woman in an unemployment benefit appeal. The client, a former employee of a meat processing company was disqualified from unemployment benefits for 12 weeks because of alleged employee misconduct. Attorney Lori Wilson overturned the disqualification so the client will now receive the benefits originally denied to her.
November 8: Legal Aid of Nebraska attorney Amanda McMahon won an Appeal to the Department of Labor for her client to keep her unemployment benefits. Her client, a Certified Nurse Assistant had been discharged for failing a drug test but was prevented from being re-tested and the drug test was ultimately found to be suspect. Thanks to McMahon’s efforts the client will continue to receive all the benefits she is entitled to.
Lori Wilson, Grand Island office attorney states, “We successfully stopped an execution of an elderly client’s bank account as the account only contained his Social Security. We prepared a Claim of Exemption and filed it with the court. Ann also helped the client find a bank that did not charge him a $3 a month bank fee. He now has free checking.”
Lori Wilson from Grand Island helped two workers successfully appeal a denial of unemployment benefits, and they both received a past-due award of $3816. The employers were the Swift Company and Biofuels, Inc.
Omaha client advocate Meg Leslie helped preserve her client’s $1,041 monthly Social Security disability payments after they were terminated in November 2009. The Social Security Administration said that our client’s medical condition had improved, but Meg demonstrated that there was no medical evidence to support this decision. “As a result, my client is owed over $8,000 in past due benefits, which will now be paid to him.
Lori Wilson in our Grand Island office represented a disabled man in an appeal regarding his Food Stamps. According to Lori, “The Department had said that they had over paid him $244 in Food Stamps. We appealed and held the fair hearing. The caseworker had reduced his food stamps because he was receiving disability benefits. However, they had figured his budget incorrectly. They should have given him $150 credit on his SSA income. The worker admitted at the hearing that the $150 should have been disregarded in his income and when the budget was refigured, there was no overpayment. Thus, the ALJ ordered the department to exclude the correct amount and refigure the budget. The caseworker gave him credit for the amounts deducted and paid him the amount previously deducted. She also increased his present food stamp allotment to the correct amount, $85.
North Platte attorney Shawn Farritor won an SSI disability case this week. According to Shawn, “Our client had been unemployed for nearly two years due to a combination of physical and mental health limitations. She was living on the good graces of family and friends and desperately needed some financial assistance. Our office gathered the relevant document documentation from our client’s health care providers and presented her case May 26, 2010. We just received notice of the adjudicator’s decision! Our client was very pleased and thankful.” Shawn states that his client has already received her first check for past due benefits of $2,200 and will receive ongoing monthly benefits of approximately $450.
Grand Island office attorney Lori Wilson successfully appealed the adverse determination by the hearing officer in a struggling client’s unemployment case. The Appeal Tribunal reversed the determination of misconduct in the case and determined that our client’s actions were not insubordination. He will receive the 12 weeks unemployment benefits that were taken away from him.
Meg Leslie, Omaha office case handler, kept a man with neurological impairments from being kicked off of Social Security benefits and prevented him from being forced into bankruptcy. She used a technically challenging argument that, even though the disability rules have changed, the client's condition was still disabling. She was successful in front of a hearing examiner, which was a great victory because this means our client does not have to wait for an administrative hearing in front of a judge.
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One woman’s struggle with breast cancer intensified while facing an eviction right before her double mastectomy. Confronted with this obstacle, she was on the verge of cancelling her surgery because her landlord was moving to evict her from her home and was concerned she wouldn’t have a place to live after surgery.
After being directed by a social worker at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the patient enlisted the help of Legal Aid of Nebraska. Staff attorney Ann Mangiameli went to court with her and persuaded the judge facilitate a successful negotiation of a time for her to move out well after surgery. Now she will have time to recuperate from her surgery in her own home and then consider options after that time. Legal Aid will continue to help her and work with her on either finding ways to stay in her current home or to seek housing that is more affordable. As one might expect, her income was significantly reduced since her breast cancer diagnosis.
Success like this cannot be achieved without much-needed funding. This case was made possible from generous support by the Nebraska Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Without their compassion and the relationship with UNMC, this woman might never have gotten to us, and she would have been forced to cancel her surgery and quite possibly worsened her medical condition.
Today we heard from Liliana Shannon, staff attorney in our Omaha office: "I helped a 72 year old woman keep her housing this week. She was about to evicted at a trial on April 28, in Douglas County Court. The Omaha Housing Authority (OHA) was trying to evict her for “criminal activity.” Basically, two acquaintances had a knife fight in her apartment building; when she opened the door to see about the noise, the men literally fell into her apartment and continued their fight in her apartment. Because of this, they wanted to evict her. She called Legal Aid and the case was assigned to me. We negotiated a settlement agreement to help her keep her housing. OHA agreed to dismiss the case."
Omaha staff attorney Liliana Shannon represented a woman who was evicted by her private landlord for failure to pay rent. The Omaha Housing Authority then terminated her Section 8 rental assistance and we contested that decision at an Administrative Hearing on December 6. Liliana argued that the woman's disability (she receives federal Supplemental Security Income for bipolar disorder) and her status as a victim of domestic violence meant that she should be able to keep her Section 8 benefits. She was successful at the hearing and the benefits were reinstated, right before the holidays!
Attorney Mark Bestul represented a veteran of the armed services who was being unfairly evicted from his apartment in Pawnee City, Nebraska. The client was struggling to move out of the apartment because of his disabilities. The judge entered a judgment in favor of Legal Aid's 52-year-old client and the eviction was stopped.
After being injured on the job which removed her main source of income, a single mother faced losing her home in foreclosure. Our client intended to use her tax refund to pay her debt but the entire refund was seized by the Department of Education. Legal Aid attorney, Tim Riveria, filed a waiver to recover her tax refund and negotiated an affordable repayment plan. Our client is well on her way to financial security and is thrilled to have a home for her family.
Legal Aid’s Omaha attorney Tim Riveria saved a client’s car! One of Tim’s clients used her car as collateral to get a personal loan from a local credit union. On the date she filed bankruptcy, the car was worth a little less than $1,000. The balance of her loan, however, was over $5,000. Because the value of the car was less than a $2400 exemption allowed in the bankruptcy, Tim filed a motion to remove the lien that was on the car due to the loan. The credit union argued that the car was actually worth $3400. The motion was set for hearing and Tim convinced the court that the car was in fact worth less than the exemption and the court granted his motion to remove the lien, allowing his client to keep her car without having to pay the balance of the personal loan.
Omaha office attorney Anne McShane helped a client win approval of her Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan. The plan was objected to by the Bankruptcy Trustee because of a provision that allowed our client to make car payments directly to her lender rather than through the Trustee. This saves our client $20/month...this extra fee would be a hardship to the client, who is a single mom with three kids — with no child support — and one on the way.
Omaha office attorney Scott Mertz won an appeal for a woman yesterday that had been denied a taxi permit. Her monthly income was roughly $500 and she needed the taxi permit to obtain gainful employment. She was denied by the Omaha Police Department officially due to her criminal record but they verbally told her that it had to do with our client having mental health issues in the past. Scott was able to prove to the appeals board that those issues were isolated and in her past and now she’s on the road again and self-sufficient.