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Below are our Top Ten Significant Achievements of 2022, made possible by your support and dedication to justice for all. Thank you for being part of our team! We hope we can continue to count on you in the fight for fairness.
Remember, you have until midnight on December 31st to make your 2022 year-end gift. You can donate now at www.slls.org/donations.
As of early December, 29,007 people received free civil legal aid from SLLS, resulting in almost $32 million of direct economic benefits thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff and the generous backing from our devoted team of donors, funders, and volunteers.
SLLS was awarded an almost $6.5 million Disaster Legal Services grant from the Legal Services Corporation to enable us to provide disaster legal services to families still trying to rebuild their lives and to improve our resiliency over the next three years.
SLLS, in partnership with the Louisiana State Bar Association Access to Justice Department, convened Louisiana’s inaugural Disaster Law Collaboration Summit. Over 200 public interest lawyers, emergency responders, disaster case managers, faith-based partners, librarians, and other community stakeholders attended the event.
SLLS was awarded $2 million from the City of New Orleans to sustain our innovative and award-winning Right to Counsel Program. This project has provided critical legal help to over 1,600 households composed of over 3,400 people. The White House highlighted it in its first-ever Eviction Reform Summit with remarks from visionary leader First City Court Chief Judge Veronica Henry.
We launched new projects in collaboration with community partners, including our Baton Rouge City Court Eviction Desk, new Heir Property Projects teamed up with Southern University Law Center and Louisiana Appleseed, and increased our capacity to serve vulnerable veterans in greater New Orleans and the Northshore.
SLLS team members received numerous awards in 2022 for their dedication to our mission, including the National Housing Law Project’s Housing Justice Award, the Capital Area United Way ALICE Award, the New Orleans Bar Association’s Mark A. Moreau Award, and a Louisiana State Bar Association Children’s Law Award.
SLLS returned to hosting our in-person fundraiser, the “Bar Exam,” and had our most successful event to date with strong support from the legal community.
SLLS and the Louisiana Budget Project both independently raised the difficulties clients faced with the state food stamp agency when SNAP renewals came due. The agency had stopped including paper renewal forms with its notices, instead seeking to have recipients submit renewal updates online. Clients without internet access had to call to either report information or request paper forms with an hour or longer wait time. This often caused people not to renew timely and to lose assistance. The agency responded to SLLS by agreeing to resume sending paper renewal forms out to recipients at the end of their eligibility periods. This returns the mail-in option to about 400,000 households and will help protect the most vulnerable from losing food stamp assistance.
Last year, SLLS intervened in the foreclosure of six properties with over 500 units of New Orleans’ most infamous slumlord, Joshua Bruno. We represented individual tenants and a group client, the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly, in trying to improve the living conditions for tenants at the properties. To try to get out of the obligations we were raising, Bruno filed a Chapter 11 business bankruptcy in 2022. Business bankruptcies are beyond our experience. With the aid of pro bono counsel, SLLS followed him into bankruptcy court. SLLS clients and other creditors moved for the appointment of a Trustee to take over managing the properties during the bankruptcy. After a four-day trial, the Judge ruled that a Trustee be appointed to take over the properties. In re Westbank Holdings, LLC, No. 22-10082, 2022 Bankr. LEXIS 2109 (Bankr. E.D. La. Aug. 1, 2022). With our advocacy, the City also arranged relocation assistance and deposits for tenants of one of the developments. SLLS now seeks to go beyond the management change towards permanent redevelopment as safe, affordable housing. SLLS is also working to see that tenants who are unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy will get some compensation for their claims.
In response to a Councilmember request, SLLS provided information and comments to councilmembers on the New Orleans Healthy Homes ordinance during the drafting and amendment process. The ordinance passed on November 3, 2022, and will go into effect on July 1, 2023. Though lacking in many protections, there is an anti-retaliatory protection against eviction for tenants who make reports and then face eviction. We will be engaging in more advocacy on this right in 2023.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have welcomed 10 new staff members to our team. We are excited about the skills and expertise they are bringing to the table to help us meet the moment for vulnerable families in our community.
Michael Blackwell received his Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, where he was awarded the Gillis Long Public Service Award. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Southeastern Louisiana University. Michael is a decorated United States Army veteran and his service included significant time in Iraq and Kuwait. Michael joins SLLS as a Staff Attorney handling Housing, Consumer, and Family Law cases in the Hammond office.
Mariarenee Contreras is a graduate of Loyola Law School, where she was a Student Practitioner in the Workplace Justice Clinic. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History/Pre-Law from Loyola University. She has worked for the ACLU of Louisiana and interned for CrescentCare Legal Services, the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, Loyola's Immigration Clinic and Law Clinic. In addition, Mariarenee is fluent in Spanish. As a native New Orleanian, Mariarenee chose to practice at SLLS because it is a place where she can help and give back to the community that helped shape her into the person she is today. She is serving in the Employment and Public Benefits unit in New Orleans.
Janice Dore' is a newly minted attorney in our Consumer and Public Benefits Unit in the Baton Rouge office. She received her Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, where she was a Student Practitioner in the Family Law Clinic. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from Southeastern Louisiana University. She has also clerked for the First Circuit Court of Appeals and interned for the Pro Bono Project.
Juliane received her Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center, where she worked as a student advisor on the Board of Student Advisors. Juliane received her Bachelor's Degree in English Education from Southeastern Louisiana University and also holds a Master of Science in Kinesiology from LSU. Juliane was a teacher and Head Coach in softball at Hammond Magnet High School and worked at several other local high schools as a teacher and head softball and head volleyball coach. At SLLS, Juliane will be working as a Staff Attorney handling Housing and Consumer cases in the Hammond office.
Lynette received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology from Vanderbilt University. She has worked in the non-profit sector for nearly a decade, first serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, and eventually becoming the Director of the Louisiana Advocacy Corps, Louisiana CASA's AmeriCorps VISTA project. Her history with SLLS goes back several decades – her father worked for NOLAC in the Marrero office in the 90s. She will be serving as the Director of Communications and Development.
Robert Owens has returned to SLLS as a Staff Attorney in the Consumer and Foreclosure Prevention. He previously served as an Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Fellow in our Baton Rouge Office from 2011-12. Following his service, he worked in Massachusetts handling custody, parental rights and child welfare cases in Juvenile Court. Before that, he was a Hearing Officer with the Jefferson Parish Public School System and Legal Director at the Louisiana Civil Justice Center. Rob received his Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School and his Bachelor of Arts in Geography from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Maura returns to SLLS as our new Haven VAWA Staff Attorney in the Houma office. She previously served with SLLS as a Graduate for Justice doing domestic violence work in New Orleans and was a Summer Law Intern in our Covington office. She received her Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, where she was a Student Practitioner in the Family Law Clinic. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from LSU. Maura was also a High School Geography and Computer Technology Literacy Teacher before going to Law School.
Mercedes received her Juris Doctorate from Tulane Law School where she clerked with the Entertainment Law Legal Assistance (ELLA) Project. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and English Literature from LSU and also earned a Master of Arts in Women's History from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She has been working with the City of New Orleans Office of Workforce Development, JOB1 as Development Specialist. Mercedes joins SLLS as a Staff Attorney in the Litigation/Advocacy Unit in the New Orleans Office.
Skyler earned her Juris Doctorate from Southern Law School where she was a student attorney in the Juvenile Clinic and a graduate assistant in the Violence Against Women Project. Skyler received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from LSU. She has been a solo practitioner since September 2019, previously working as a tax preparer and consultant, and a contract attorney and associate for several other firms. She has also clerked for the 23rd JDC and Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal. Skyler joins SLLS as a Housing Staff Attorney in the Baton Rouge Office.
Volunteer Law Clerk Dedicated Over 650 hours in Pro Bono Service at SLLS
Yazan Rantisi, a third year law student at Southern University Law Center, completed over 650 pro bono hours at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS). He joined the team in early April hoping to gain more hands on experience in the legal field, while serving the most vulnerable populations in Baton Rouge.
“Reuniting families and protecting survivors of domestic violence from their attackers have been the most rewarding part about the experience,” said Rantisi. “Every time we help create a positive outcome for the client, I’m constantly reminded about all of the great work that SLLS provides for the communities in its service area.”
Rantisi volunteers in the Family Law Unit in the Baton Rouge office. His primary duties include assisting with client intake, drafting pleadings, and preparing for court hearings. Additionally, Rantisi frequently joins the staff at community outreach events like “Ask-a-Lawyer,” an event that gives advice on a wide range of legal issues to low-income families and vulnerable populations throughout our service area.
“All of my experiences at SLLS have been extremely valuable for my future,” said Rantisi. “I highly encourage other law students to volunteer there. The experiences that I’ve gained from it have significantly prepared me for my career as an attorney.”
With graduation around the corner, Rantisi feels eager to start the next chapter of his life. We can’t thank him enough for all of his tremendous efforts.
Public Service Intern Honored for Pro Bono Work
While working on an undergraduate degree at Tulane University, Byria Hamblin devoted over 60 hours of free civil legal aid for SLLS clients so far. She is a prelaw student who aspires to combine her passion of helping people overcome financial hardships with her interest in law.
“As my first professional experience in the legal field,” said Hamblin. “SLLS has continued to reinforce in my mind that this is the right profession for me.”
Hamblin works in the Pro Bono unit in the New Orleans office. Her primary duties include conducting research, developing resources for clients and volunteers, and drafting and designing materials for training and promotional purposes.
“There really is a niche for people who want to pursue law but also want to give back to their communities,” said Hamblin. “SLLS continues to show me that the legal field and humanitarianism can coexist and promote equitable justice for all.”
With these new legal experiences under her belt, Hamblin has the desire to explore a career in legal advocacy and join us in the fight for fairness. We appreciate all of her hard work.
Juliana serves as the Volunteer Coordinator at SLLS. She believes that every hurdle in the justice system demands bold actions. She is an artistic person who is passionate about economic development and language access.
Throughout her 11-month service term at SLLS, Juliana hopes to recruit a dynamic pool of volunteers that are eager to join the fight for fairness in the justice system. Additionally, she hopes to learn more about career opportunities in the legal field. As a member of Serve Louisiana, Louisiana’s longest-running AmeriCorps program, Juliana plans to affect long-standing systemic barriers to justice through community engagement and collaboration.
Prior to SLLS, Juliana worked as a Coordinator for the New Orleans Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition in New Orleans, La., as well as the Interview Coordinator and a DJ for WTUL New Orleans. Her desire to give back to the community and help low-income families receive civil legal aid drove her to SLLS. Her efforts at SLLS have become an integral part of the office and we are thankful to have her onboard.
Keoni serves as the Strategic Communications Coordinator at SLLS. He believes that everyone deserves the right to receive easily-accessible legal services in the justice system. He is a driven, young professional who is passionate about mental health and wellness education, as well as protecting the rights of domestic violence victims.
As a member of Serve Louisiana, Louisiana’s longest-running AmeriCorps program, Keoni is given the opportunity to address a variety of social issues and affect true, long-term change in the community. During his 11-month service term, Keoni hopes to give a voice to special populations (e.g. homeless, disabled, disaster victims, and the elderly) and inspire others to help those individuals meet life’s most basic needs – food, housing, shelter and safety.
Keoni is a graduate of The University of Alabama. Prior to SLLS, he worked as an Account Services intern at DVL Seigenthaler, a Finn Partners Company, in Nashville, Tenn. His passion for social justice led him to the Orleans office, and he has quickly become a vital asset to the team.
Thanks to federal funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), AmeriCorps programs like Serve Louisiana engages more than 75,000 members annually in intensive service with a community-based organization, such as Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, to deliver real impact where it’s needed most.
About Serve Louisiana
AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its Americorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads the President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. Since 1994, more than 980,000 Americans have provided more than 1.2 billion hours of service to their communities, and country, through AmeriCorps. For more information about AmeriCorps, please visit NationalService.gov. For more information about Serve Louisiana, please visit ServeLouisiana.org.
Every year, we reflect back on what a difference supporters like you make in the daily lives of the people and communities SLLS serves. During our 50th Anniversary Year, ensuring that civil legal aid remains available to people at the times in their lives when they need help the most is paramount in all of our minds. Your support helps make the dream of equal justice for all a reality. We are grateful for all you do to help us fight for fairness for vulnerable families. Please check out our most recent annual report at: http://anyflip.com/yypr/
To rebuild communities affected by presidentially declared disasters, Congress may appropriate additional funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program as Disaster Recovery grants. Featuring civil legal aid providers and community partners who have experience with CDBG Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grants, this panel will provide an overview of the CDBG-DR program and how legal aid providers can access and utilize this funding to address the significant disaster recovery needs of their clients.
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation will receive $68,119 to upgrade LouisianaLawHelp.org to increase the overall usability of the site and make it mobile accessible.
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation will receive an additional $35,000 to develop automated online forms and guides for consumer debt and divorce cases.
The goal of the project grant is to increase the program’s capacity, promote better coordination of resources, ensure we provide satisfying and rewarding experiences for volunteers, facilitate greater collaboration, fill in gaps in service, and expand pro bono services for clients. We are especially excited to expand pro bono services to our rural areas and for vulnerable populations. For more information about this project please contact SLLS’ Pro Bono Unit Managing Attorney Elena Perez at email@example.com.
Dorian Tuminello (pictured on the left) is a 1995 graduate of LSU Law School, who specializes in the area of employment law. She has worked in law firms and in-house. She is currently a consultant providing human resources support to small and mid-sized businesses. She stated, “I enjoy volunteering because it allows me to give back to my community.”
Sean Williams (pictured on the right) is a graduate of Loyola Law, a native of Baton Rouge who now calls the Northshore home. She loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. After working briefly as an associate in a plaintiff’s firm, she has decided to pursue her true passion for family law and start her own practice. Sean went on to say, “I am very excited to begin this journey. I truly believe being an attorney is about being an advocate for people going through challenging times in their lives.”
If you’re interested in volunteering at our Covington Self-Help Desk, please contact our Northshore Pro Bono Coordinator.
SLLS Housing Attorney Hannah Adams Honored with the 2017 Louisiana State Bar Association Excellence in Advocacy Award at the Justice Community Conference. Amanda Golob accepted the award on Hannah’s behalf.
North Shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery has announced an event to help people seal arrests or convictions on their records.
The “Fresh Start” program will reduce the cost for people who qualify under state law for expungement, a press release from Montgomery’s office said. Expungement is a legal process that “seals” an arrest or conviction, essentially removing it from public access.
The event is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 18 at the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse, 701 N. Columbia St., Covington.