On February 13th, members of the Chicago legal aid community gathered at the Chicago Bar Association for its monthly Legal Aid Committee meeting. But this was no regular meeting this was the annual forum to share and celebrate the successes of 2013 and learn about the important work their peers are doing. The committee put together a booklet to accompany the presentations, Legal Aid Committee Selected Highlights 2013, which features news from 23 pro bono and legal aid organizations on: programs and projects; policy changes and legislation; and cases, class actions and systemic litigation.
Richard Cozzola of LAF, Patrick Keenan-Devlin of James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, and Christopher Rudd of Mikva Challenge discussed their collaboration to create an innovative juvenile record expungement app called Expungio. The app is aimed at helping the more than 200,000 people who are affected by juvenile records that serve as barriers to employment, education and housing.
Cassie Lively of the Center for Conflict Resolution then discussed how in 2013, CCR expanded its mediation services program at the Bridgeview courthouse to encompass the Wednesday evictions call. Parties involved in an evictions case can now sit down with a mediator for 30-60 minutes on their court date to discuss their situation and any potential solutions prior to stepping up in front of a judge.
Benjamin Wolf of the Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU, Inc., concluded the meeting with an update on ongoing systemic litigation in which the ACLU has been involved. In R.J. v. Bishop, the ACLU sued Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) for failing to provide minimally adequate conditions and adequate educational and mental health services to its confined youth. Under the terms of a consent decree ACLU attorneys are now working with court-appointed experts and IDJJ to remedy these serious problems. Jimmy Doe v. Cook County involves the ACLU’s challenge of the poor conditions in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). Using the power of a consent decree, the ACLU blocked potential budget cuts to the JTDC, secured funding for capital improvements to the facility and supported the appointment of a Transitional Administrator to make the needed reforms.
The meeting is a yearly favorite because Chicago legal aid organizations work hard representing many clients each year and their work is often unheralded. Plus, individual legal aid attorneys often don’t have the opportunity to quickly learn about important cases, policy changes or new developments at other organizations. You can read much more about these and other developments in the Highlights from the Field booklet.