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Thank you to everyone who supported our mission to increase access to justice last year. Because of your support, thousands of vulnerable families - like Jaimie's* - can start the new year free from fear or abuse.
20-year-old Jaimie couldn’t have been more excited to become a mother after she and her husband had their first child. Though her husband had struggled with mental health conditions in the past, she thought he was doing well, was getting the medical treatment he needed to be stable, and was excited about their new baby too. Jaimie envisioned a bright and loving future for their family.
Unfortunately, her vision for a happy future was soon shattered. One day, she overheard her husband in the next room start screaming “Shut the f**k up!” while their 3 month old baby cried in what sounded like pain. Jaimie rushed into the room and found her spouse angry and yelling, hovering over the shrieking baby. Jaimie knew she had to stop him. They got into an argument about his behavior. Then he got violent. Jaimie’s husband shoved her down hard. Luckily her baby was unharmed, but Jaimie received contusions on her head and body in addition to the emotional scars the incident left behind.
Jaimie escaped with the baby, moved into friend's house, and filed for a protective order on her own. The court granted her order and Jaimie breathed a sigh of relief.
But, only a few weeks later, after her husband was served with the protective order, Jaimie’s husband sued her for divorce and joint custody of their baby. She still loved her husband but was not willing to put herself or, most certainly, her child back into a dangerous situation. Her husband had stopped getting the medical help he needs. Because of that and his recent violent behavior, she believed her baby would not be safe with him. To protect her child, she needed full custody and supervised visitation for her husband.
Jaimie didn't know where to turn. She knew she could not afford an attorney on her limited income. She learned about SLLS through an internet search and applied online. We scheduled her for an in person follow up at the St. Charles Parish Access to Justice Center. After reviewing the facts of her case, we agreed to provide her free legal representation in court. We filed a pleading in response to her husband’s suit seeking sole custody of the baby. We argued that Jaimie should have sole custody of her baby and that the court should grant the divorce without the usual one-year waiting period because Jaimie had a protective order in place.
In December 2019, we won the case. Now, Jamie can start this year knowing that she and her child will have a safer and more stable future.
Thank you to United Way of St. Charles, whose financial support provided the legal help Jamie's family needed to escape abuse.
* Some facts have been altered to protect the identity of our client.
Between 2012 and 2018, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids almost tripled in Louisiana. The impact of the children in our state, though often unseen, is profound. In 2016, 3,728 children were placed in foster care. SLLS is working to address this issue, helping parents heal, and giving children hope of being reunited with their families.
For example, we are helping with the formation of a Family Preservation Court in the 17th JDC (LaFourche Parish). This collaboration between Drug Court, the District Attorney's office, CASA, and other child welfare organizations provides a family-centered approach to help parents access drug rehabilitation services, and help everyone in the family recover from the emotional and psychological damage resulting from the opioid crisis.
Our supporters are helping SLLS respond to the urgent needs of children and families affected by the opioid crisis. We hope you will join our supporters in the fight for fairness today by making a donation at https://slls.org/donations/.
Deanna’s marriage to her husband was full of ups and downs. Her husband was often abusive to her. But she loved him and was committed to making things work. After three years of marriage, they had a beautiful baby boy. Deanna was thrilled. She thought the love she and her husband each felt for their son would bring them closer together. Unfortunately, she was wrong. Things got worse. Her husband continued to abuse her physically and emotionally. When her son was four years old, Deanna’s husband pushed her against a wall in a fit of rage, screamed in her face, and threatened to kill her. She was terrified. She finally had had enough.
She wanted legal help, but because she was working a low-wage job and needed to support her son, she knew she could not afford to pay a lawyer. Deanna went to the St. Charles Parish Courthouse to find out what she could do to protect herself on her own. She was directed to the courthouse’s Access to Justice Center Self-Help Desk. There, an SLLS attorney helped her fill out the forms she needed to obtain a protective order to keep herself and her son safe.
Still, she was scared – of her husband, of the monumental step she was taking would mean for her and her son, and of the complicated legal process she was about the start. It all felt overwhelming and confusing.
Fortunately, the Self-Help Desk didn’t stop at pointing her to forms she needed to file. She was informed that SLLS might be able represent her for free. SLLS attorneys could help her obtain permanent safety for herself and her child that the protective order alone could not provide.
With the help of an SLLS attorney by her side to fight for her rights, Deanna obtained a divorce and joint custody of her son, with Deanna as the primary custodial parent. Her now ex-husband was ordered to complete a ba tterer’s intervention program. Now Deanna has the fresh start she needs to stabilize her life and protect her family.
In the wake of her adult daughter’s sudden death, Margaret* knew she had to be strong despite the heartbreak she felt over losing her child. Her 3 year old granddaughter Sophia, now orphaned with no other family to step in, needed her.
“Margaret” tried to enroll Sophia in Head Start, but could not because she did not have legal custody. Unable to afford childcare, Margaret had to quit her job to take care of Sophia.Then she came to SLLS for help.
SLLS provided Margaret free legal representation to help her quickly obtain legal custody. In addition, Margaret’s SLLS attorney advised her to apply for Kinship Care, a state program that helps some low-income families.
Thanks to supporters like you, Margaret could return to work and get the support she needs to provide her granddaughter a safe, stable, loving home. And Sophia is now in Head Start, getting the early education that kids need to be successful in school and for the rest of her life.
Join our 50 More Years Committee to ensure families like Sophia’s can access the legal aid they need by donating to SLLS this #GiveNOLADay at www.givenola.org/SLLS. Thanks to a generous donor and the folks at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, you’re donation will be more than doubled!
*Names and other information have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.
PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the individuals portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities.
Cameron was a high school senior who dreamed of enrolling in LSU and becoming the first college graduate in his family. While his parents lived in Mississippi, Cameron lived with his 23-year-old step-brother in a small apartment in Covington, LA. His parents believed that it was for the best because they could not longer take care of him themselves.
A few months before Cameron moved to Covington, his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. While it broke her heart to see Cameron leave her side, she had no other options but to send him away. His father also could not support him – he had lost his job, was depressed, and started abusing drugs.
When Cameron moved to Covington, he was determined to make a better life for himself. He studied hard in school and hoped that his grades would help him get accepted into college. He wanted to make his mother proud.
Unfortunately, life in his new home was far from easy. His step-brother barely made enough for the two of them to survive. Every month, they were forced to choose between having a warm meal to eat or a warm place to sleep. So, Cameron decided he needed to get a job. While still going to school full-time, he started working 40 hours a week.
Cameron still kept hitting roadblocks – he could not access the things he needed on his own because he was a minor. He couldn’t get health insurance. He couldn’t get car insurance to drive his car back and forth to work and school. He couldn’t apply for financial aid for college. He learned that without financial aid, he would have to pay for all of his tuition costs out-of-pocket. Even though he was working, he was barely making ends meet and knew he could never afford to pay the entire college tuition on his own. He felt lost and didn’t know what to do next.
Cameron’s mother encouraged him to get an emancipation so he could access the things he needed on his own. She encouraged him to get legal help. That’s when he turned to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.
We matched his case with one of our volunteer attorneys and she helped Cameron complete the joint emancipation pleadings. They argued to the court that due to the urgency of his mother’s diminishing health, the judgment should be granted immediately. And they won. Within less than a week, Cameron was emancipated.
Now, Cameron has the legal documents he needs to take ownership of his life. Thanks to the generosity and zealous advocacy of his SLLS Northshore Pro Bono Project attorney, he can access the healthcare, car insurance, and other services he needs. And, most exciting of all, he can build a new future for himself as he launches the next chapter of his life as a college student. He looks forward to earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, so that he can make enough money to support himself and his family.
PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the victims portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities. This story contains descriptions of violence associated with domestic violence and human trafficking.
In the spring of their senior year, Camila and her boyfriend talked about getting married after graduation. They were high school sweethearts and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. A couple months later, they got married and started to build a life together in Livingston, LA.
It wasn’t much later that things began to change. Camila’s husband was using drugs and drinking daily. His need to control her escalated. She lived in fear every day. He hit her. He strangled her. He forced her to have sex with other people. He threatened to kill their baby. He threatened to kill her family. When she tried to leave him, he would find her. He told her that if he couldn’t have her, then no one else could.
Arguing next to their car on the side of the road one day, he hit her so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Several people witnessed what he did. They called the police who then arrested him. Camila finally realized that there were others who could help - that there was hope for a better life.
We met Camila shortly after this incident. She was so young, barely over 20 years old, and had lived most of her teen years and all of her adult life under the thumb of her abuser. She didn’t know what she should do to escape. Her abuser had been out of jail for a week and was calling her several times a day, threatening to kill her if she didn’t let him see their daughter. When she refused to talk to him, he left her message after message on her voicemail. He repeatedly texted and called her family members. He made up fake social media profiles in attempts to get closer to her online. He told her that he would kill her if she tried to divorce him.
With help from SLLS, Camila requested a temporary protective order to keep her abuser away from her and her daughter. When she got home after requesting the order, she discovered that her mother’s house, where she had been living, was on fire. Her abuser had tried to burn it down, starting the fire in Camila’s room and destroying part of the home.
The court granted a temporary restraining order and gave Camila temporary custody of their child. However, the court also gave the abuser visitation every other weekend.
Though Camila feared her abuser and his constant threats and harassment, she still wanted her daughter to have a father and didn’t want to violate the court’s order. However, eight months later, one of her biggest fears seemed to come true. It was time for her daughter to be returned to her after a weekend visitation. Camila waited and waited and waited. And then she began to panic. Her daughter was not returned to her that day. She couldn’t get in touch with her abuser. She no longer knew where he lived. With nowhere else to turn, she called her attorney.
Our attorney walked her through the process of filing the paperwork she needed to get a contempt order from the judge. While Camila filled out forms at the Clerk’s office, our attorney called the local sheriff to explain that the abuser had violated the protective order by failing to return Camila’s daughter. She wanted the sheriff to send a deputy to pick him up and reunite Camila and her daughter immediately. The sheriff told her that he could not arrest Camila’s abuser until he received a civil warrant, which could not be issued that day. Our attorney then pointed out that the sheriff could arrest the abuser for violating the protective order, and that Camila had saved text messages showing that the abuser continued to harass her. Our attorney arranged to get that evidence immediately to the sheriff’s office. Finally the sheriff's office agreed and started the process of searching for Camila’s abuser. Camila had to wait for an agonizing week for them to find her abuser and then return her daughter into her arms.
Unfortunately, the sheriff did not arrest her abuser. And the incident only incited him to increase his harassment. He continually threatened to kill her through voicemails, photo shopped pictures, and live video streams. He soon learned that we were working to protect Camila and her kids - threatening to dismantle the web of power he had used to control her for so long. And he was mad. He left our attorney a series of irate voicemails, rife with expletives, threatening to hurt our attorney as well as Camila. While our case for permanent protections for Camila and her daughter wound its way through the court system, the abuser’s behavior grew more and more erratic and scary.
One day, he showed up at the house where Camila was staying with a friend. Camila ran into a closet with her daughter to hide, wrapped her daughter in her arms, and refused to come out until the 911 operator told her it was safe. When she emerged, she learned he had come in the house, threatened her friend with knife, and broken the windows to her car, leaving blood and shattered glass everywhere.
A month later, with our help, Camila obtained a divorce, sole custody, and a permanent protective order against her abuser. We also petitioned and prevailed on a rule for contempt because the abuser started threatening Camila in open court after the hearing. The court ordered him to 90 days in prison, giving Camila time to get her and her daughters things together as they prepared to get out of town and far away from her abuser.
We’re happy to report that Camila is now safe. She is getting the help she needs for her long journey to regain her confidence and power at a supportive services group for victims of human trafficking.
PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names and other identifying information of the individuals portrayed were changed to protect our client’s identity.
Because of generous support from people like you, children who are escaping abuse and neglect have a voice in their futures. They have a caring attorney to stand by their side – to fight for them and to help them feel less scared and alone in the courtroom. They have access to health care, education, and other supports they need. One of these children is Emma.
Emma was taken from her family and placed in foster care when she was only five months old. Emma’s foster family quickly fell in love with their new baby girl and wanted to nothing more than to make her their own. But because she was released from the hospital without a birth certificate, she could not be adopted.
SLLS was appointed to represent Emma. We zealously advocated for the court to order records needed to free Emma for adoption. After we got the birth certificate, we stayed on the case, determined to see Emma finally have a permanent home with the family who she loved.
Through our advocacy, the adoption was expedited after we convinced the court that systemic changes were needed so children like Emma could have permanent homes as quickly as possible.
After 1,208 days in the system, because of your support, Emma’s foster family could finally adopt her. Emma couldn’t be happier to be part of a safe, stable, and loving family.
Mrs. Brown was 39 when her husband jumped on her back and threatened to kill himself in front of the kids. It was Christmas Day and four little pairs of eyes watched in terror as their father pointed a gun to his head. Sadly enough, that wasn’t the first time Mr. Brown, held a gun in front of the kids.
In 2001, the couple got married in a rural part of Louisiana. The Browns had four children together with two of them having special needs. To accommodate their new lifestyle, Mrs. Brown decided to quit her job so that she could home school the two kids with disabilities. Then the abuse started. Between the economic instability, violence and her concern for her children’s well-being, Mrs. Brown didn’t know what to do.
Since 2016, Mrs. Brown was harassed, pushed to the ground and yanked by the arms. She wore bruises on her body like they were tattoos. It seemed as though the violence would never stop. Then her husband sued for custody of her children. That’s when she finally turned to a local domestic violence shelter that provides services to survivors and was later referred to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services for help.
In the spring of 2018, an SLLS attorney jumped right in to help and defended her rights in courts. With our help, Mrs. Brown was approved to be the domiciliary parent, get $1,700 per month in child support, and have access to both the family home and the family van. Now Mrs. Brown has the security she needs to move forward and protect her family from future harm.
Recently, we’ve learned that she’s looking for a night job and is helping her oldest child think about what to do after he graduates high school. Providing survivors like Mrs. Brown with the resources they need to escape abuse and overcome their trauma is truly a rewarding experience for many of our attorneys. To anyone who’s still struggling to break the cycle of violence, know that an SLLS attorney is only a phone call away. We want to fight for you and anyone else who’s suffering in an abusive relationship.