Contact: Ken Theisen, Bay Area Legal Aid
415.354.6335  .

 Contact: Eric Miller, Bingham McCutchen
213.680.6583  .

Bingham Launches Bicoastal Public Interest Fellowships: West Coast Fellowship Hosted by Bay Area Legal Aid

SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 25, 2012) – Bingham announced today that it will be funding two three-year public interest fellowships with two of the nation’s most prominent and respected legal service organizations — Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) and the New York Lawyers for Public Interest (NYLPI).

“This program enables Bingham to support two very deserving organizations that have a profound impact in the communities they serve,” said Bingham Chairman Jay Zimmerman.

“We have long-established relationships with BayLegal and NYLPI,” said Edward Maluf, a partner in Bingham’s New York office, co-chair of the firm’s national Pro Bono Committee and a member of NYLPI’s executive board. “Both organizations advocate on behalf of two core areas of interest for Bingham’s pro-bono practice — children and education.”

The recipient of the BayLegal fellowship will lead its Youth Justice Project (YJP). The YJP provides full scope civil legal representation for youth in foster care or delinquency , transitional aged youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and educational advocacy for youth referred from BayLegal’s Medical-Legal Collaborative. The Fellow will also continue to serve as the civil legal aid attorney to the Alameda County Collaborative Court — a specialty court created in 2007 for youth whose connection to the delinquency system is directly related to their mental illness. The Bingham Fellow will work with youth to address their civil legal needs in key areas including accessing health insurance for mental health treatment, unmet educational needs and housing instability. BayLegal has awarded the fellowship to Brian Blalock Esq. Blalock, a recognized leader in the youth justice movement, is an attorney at BayLegal and a graduate of Stanford Law School.

“Thanks to the Bingham fellowship, we will expand the efforts and impact of our Youth Justice Project and the vital legal aid needed to help these children stabilize their lives,” said Ramon Arias, Executive Director of BayLegal.

The recipient of the NYLPI fellowship will work directly with leadership of NYLPI’s Education Program to protect and promote the educational rights of students with disabilities in New York City. NYLPI is currently conducting a search to fill this position and anticipates doing so in the first quarter of 2012.

“The Bingham fellowship will be a tremendous help in our efforts to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education in the New York City school system,” said Shelley J. Dropkin, chair of the board of directors of NYLPI. “We are incredibly grateful for the firm’s support.”

The funding for each fellowship is derived from attorneys’ fees awarded to Bingham for its work on various pro bono matters.


Bingham offers a broad range of market-leading practices focused on global financial services firms and Fortune 100 companies. The firm has more than 1,000 lawyers in 14 locations in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Follow the firm on Twitter @Binghamlaw.

Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) is the San Francisco Bay Area’s largest poverty law firm. BayLegal provides high quality legal counsel, advice and representation designed to help families achieve economic security and escape domestic violence. It reaches more than 70,000 people annually through its legal advice hotline, the only one of its kind in Northern California, direct representation, and its pro bono panel.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) advances equality and civil rights, with a focus on health justice, disability rights and environmental justice, through the power of community lawyering and partnerships with the private bar. Through community lawyering, NYLPI puts its legal, policy and community organizing expertise at the service of New York City communities and individuals. NYLPI’s partnership with the private bar strengthens its advocacy and connects community groups and non-profits with critical legal assistance. NYLPI is the recipient of the 2010 New York Times Awards for Nonprofit Excellence.

Illegal Delays Leave 350,000+ Without Critical Health Care

Groto Ni, a 55-year-old Oakland resident, has worked hard to provide for his family for many years as a janitor, even though he suffers from a number of serious and painful chronic health conditions. Becoming unable to work in late 2013 because of his medical conditions he relies on state disability insurance benefits and food stamps for survival.

Mr. Ni is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, September 17 in Alameda Superior Court (File # RG14740911) accusing the State of California of leaving hundreds of thousands of low income applicants to wait for months without healthcare they desperately need and to which they are lawfully entitled.  Applicants—including low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and even those with life threatening illnesses—go without critical care while they wait for the state to process and approve their Medi-Cal applications. Some applicants in the backlog have been awaiting answers from the state since the end of 2013—far longer than the 45 day time limit required by law.

Needing extensive medical treatments, Mr. Ni applied for Medi-Cal in January under the new Medi-Cal expansion law. Waiting for his benefits for months, he did not hear back from the state and was forced to obtain treatment without insurance benefits. With each doctor’s visit Mr.Ni was repeatedly told that his Medi-Cal benefits were not working and that he would be billed directly. Having no choice, he proceeded with treatments and received over $12,000 in medical bills.

Fortunately he received free legal representation from Bay Area Legal Aid to assist him with his medical debt and the processing of his Medi-Cal application.

Mr. Ni finally had his Medi-Cal benefits processed in May of 2014 with help from Bay Area Legal Aid.  Mr. Ni said he “does not want anyone else to have to go through what I did, to be in pain waiting for Medi-Cal to be processed and needing medical help.”

According to his attorney Marina Pantchenko, of Bay Area Legal Aid, “Had the state followed the law in timely processing his benefits application, he would have received the medical services he so desperately needed. Unfortunately, his situation is not unique. Currently there are still 350,000 applicants in the Medi-Cal backlog. These illegal delays can be devastating.”

The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of legal services organizations and community healthcare advocates, including Bay Area Legal Aid, Central California Legal Services, Multiforum Advocacy Solutions, National Health Law Program, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.

Marina Pantchenko, Esq., is a Hewlett Packard Company and Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP/Equal Justice Works Fellow with Bay Area Legal Aid

John Grisham Commemorates LSC’s 40th Anniversary

Best-selling author John Grisham and BayLegal’s Executive Director, Alex Gulotta, co-author opinion editorial marking 40th anniversary of Legal Services Corporation.

Opinion Editorial published by The Bay Area News Group on September 21, 2014:

Equal justice under law is a fundamental American value, engraved on the Supreme Court building and taught in classrooms across the country. But as the national news spotlights domestic violence and families being evicted just so landlords can turn a bigger profit, it illustrates that despite the high stakes of these civil legal matters there is no right to an attorney. Eviction, child custody, veterans’ benefits, foreclosure—all these matters can be processed in a courtroom with an attorney representing the landlord, the abuser, the bank, but not the tenant, the victim or the homeowner.

Unrepresented litigants—like the victims of domestic violence—are left to navigate complex legal situations on their own, and risk significant losses, including of a home, a job, and even a child. Judges report that many valid claims are lost, simply because unrepresented people do not present evidence or understand the law.

All too often, the unrepresented party simply cannot afford to pay for the legal advice they desperately need.

Recognizing the need to ensure a level playing field for low-income people, President Nixon established the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 1974. LSC funds civil legal assistance to the nation’s poor, including here in the Bay Area. Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) serves Bay Area residents of all backgrounds and ages, including those who face the toughest civil legal challenges: exploited youth, veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and victims of domestic violence. BayLegal serves thousands of vulnerable residents each year, providing free legal advice, counsel and representation.

BayLegal also works with local governments and agencies to prevent systemic problems and ensure efficient solutions. San Francisco, like 130 other metropolitan regions throughout the nation, is in the midst of privatizing over 4,500 units of public housing (known as the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, or RAD). BayLegal is committed to working with local government, other tenant advocacy groups, and non-profit housing providers to ensure public housing tenants’ rights are upheld and no erroneous evictions are filed during the transition to RAD.

Civil legal aid provides important return on investment for taxpayers, businesses and communities. Several studies have shown that investing in civil legal aid saves money in the long run. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of New York said recently that for every dollar spent on civil legal services, $5 is returned to the State.

This month marks LSC’s 40th anniversary. Hillary Clinton, the LSC board chair under Jimmy Carter; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston will join leaders from business, government and the legal community this week in Washington D.C. to mark the anniversary, share innovations in civil legal aid and highlight the importance of fairness in the justice system.

We encourage all citizens to promote, support and invest in civil legal aid, which achieves concrete results that help create stability for individuals and families, strengthen communities, and promote a fair system of justice that is truly “for all.”

John Grisham, Author

Alex R. Gulotta, Executive Director, Bay Area Legal Aid

Foster Care: Advocacy Update

California is adding $30 million to its 2014-2015 budget to bring about greater parity in funding for relative foster care placements.

Until now, children placed with relatives have received monthly benefits that are roughly one-third to one-half of what children placed with non-relatives receive. This is because those relative households often do not meet arcane federal eligibility rules to receive foster care benefits, and California has been the lone state to not provide state funding to relative foster parents.

These relative caregiver households have been getting the CalWORKs rate (i.e. $369/mo. to support a child) rather than $820 (plus various supplements for children with special needs) for those meeting foster care eligibility.

Brian Blalock, Bingham McCutchen Fellow, at the invitation of California State Assemblyman Ken Cooley, has been working to address this issue, along with the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Starting in January, 2015, kids in placements with relatives throughout California will have significantly more support and better life options.
Learn More 

Law Clinic Helps Refugees Access Health Care

On a rainy morning in April, twenty refugees, ten corporate attorneys and two interpreters made their way to BayLegal’s office in Oakland’s Uptown District; there to welcome them was Equal Justice Works Fellow Marina Pantchenko.

The day-long free legal clinic was remarkable. People from seemingly different worlds worked together to overcome language barriers, cultural barriers and a rapidly approaching deadline to appeal Alameda County’s decision to terminate health care coverage for each of the refugees.

Everyone was there for the same purpose: to keep the refugees – all of whom had varying degrees of chronic health conditions requiring medical attention – from losing their critical health care coverage. Each refugee client, referred to BayLegal from the International Rescue Committee, had received a notice that their coverage under the County’s Refugee Medical Assistance Program was being terminated without proper continuation onto Affordable Care Act coverage.

The attorneys from Hewlett Packard and Morgan Lewis & Bockius were introduced to their clients and swiftly began their work. They interviewed their clients, individuals that had escaped persecution in Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan and Nepal, gathering the information they needed to file the request for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Working together for justice, Hewlett Packard, Morgan Lewis & Bockius and BayLegal appealed the terminations and were successful in securing essential health care coverage for the majority of these clients.

* * * * *

Marina Pantchenko, Esq. is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Bay Area Legal Aid. Her fellowship is sponsored by a generous grant from Hewlett-Packard and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

Advocacy Alert: Fair Housing Law



BayLegal, along with six other public interest and legal services organizations, won an important victory for families living in public housing in Marin City. The Marin Housing Authority (MHA), which serves a low income and disproportionately minority population in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, was considering a policy to make truancy a lease violation — which could lead  to the eviction of entire families upon MHA determining that a resident student  was truant.  This policy, which threatened to impose additional burdensome procedures and penalties on MHA resident families beyond those already imposed by California Education Code, would have had a disproportionate adverse impact  on African American families in Marin County.

In a letter sent to MHA on October 10, BayLegal and the other groups raised these concerns, and explained the proposed policy violated residents’ constitutional rights along with important state and federal laws. After receiving our letter, MHA revised its policy to make it a voluntary program instead where the possibility of eviction is no longer an option, and it is now focused on incentives and rewards offered to parents for keeping their children in school.  The County Board of Housing Commissioners adopted the revised policy, and this will help ensure a measure of justice for all MHA residents.

For more information on this matter, please contact David Levin, Esq. at 510-233-9954.

Click here to read the letter sent to the Marin County Board of Supervisors

Click here to learn more about BayLegal’s Housing Preservation Practice


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