News

Orange County Homelessness: Our Timeline Advocating for a Long-term Solution

Orange County’s burgeoning homeless problem is coming to a head. Over 750 homeless persons living on the Santa Ana Riverbed have been evicted. Shelters at the Courtyard and Bridges at Kraemer Place are at capacity and in some cases unsafe for persons of disabilities. To add insult to injury, elected officials are failing to use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars find permanent solutions to provide service and safely house these homeless individuals.

To shine light on stories that aren’t making headlines, LASOC developed the following timeline of what we’re doing to find permanent solutions for the county’s most vulnerable population since initially filing a lawsuit against the County of Orange for discriminatory actions taken against homeless individuals with disabilities who currently reside at the Santa Ana Riverbed on February 7, 2018.

February 7, 2018:

Legal Aid Society of Orange County filed a lawsuit against the County of Orange for discriminatory actions taken against homeless individuals with disabilities and their ability to access the County’s programs or services because of their disabilities. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of People’s Homeless Task Force, a homeless advocacy association, and seven homeless individuals who live at the Riverbed.

See the full press release here.

March 23, 2018:

LASOC files an amended complaint against the County of Orange. See the amended complaint here.

March 25, 2018:

An updated court order is issued by Judge David O. Carter where he issues his concerns that the County is not doing enough to ensure it will meet its promise to find a permanent solution. Read the order here.

March 27, 2018:

LASOC provided a letter to be included in public comment during the County Board of Supervisors hearing on March 27.

Not noted in several news outlets, however, were the public comments in support of a permanent solution using the $70.5 million in mental health funding. Some residents also voiced support of converting Fairview, utilizing Irvine’s county land and/or Laguna Niguel’s county land. Many residents agreed that these people lack the services needed including mental health services or access to benefits.

Read the letter submitted to the Board of Supervisors here.

May 31, 2018:

The Orange County grand Jury releases a report on the effects of chronic homelessness in the County and urges leaders to collaborate on solutions: Read the full report here. 

Continue to check back as we share more updates regarding this very important issue to all residents of Orange County. Thank you for the continued support.

Victory in Court for Low-Income Motel Residents

Victory in Court for Low-Income Motel Residents

The former Costa Mesa Motor Inn on Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, CA.

Judge invalidates development approvals for conversion of Costa Mesa Motor Inn

Media coverage available from Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles – A developer may not convert a Costa Mesa residential motel to a luxury apartment complex by circumventing planning and zoning requirements for affordable housing, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last week in The Kennedy Commission, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al.

“LASOC’s affordable housing advocacy in Orange County highlights the desperate need for actual affordable units for low-income residents like our clients,” said Director of Litigation Lili Graham, who has litigated this case since 2016. “When many of the households were forced to move out of the Motor Inn, they had very few or no options for housing in this community. Thankfully, the Court confirmed the Legislature’s intent to provide tools that addresses the affordable housing crisis throughout California.”

Judge Mary H. Strobel invalidated development approvals for conversion of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn because the City allowed the proposed project to be built at 54 units per acre, well above the maximum 40 units per acre she said was permitted by local planning and zoning laws. The court ruled that under the state’s Density Bonus Law, cities may permit an increase in density only if the developer agrees to build some units affordable to poor people. That did not happen in this case, said Judge Strobel, who also held that the development approvals violated the City’s General Plan for land use.

“The state law gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who represents the Kennedy Commission — an Orange County housing advocacy organization — and four former tenants of the Motor Inn. “What the City and the developer improperly tried to do here was exactly the opposite – build luxury housing at the expense of low income tenants.”

The lawsuit also contends that under state law displacement of the long-term tenants requires the City to prepare a relocation assistance plan, which would include reimbursement for moving and related expenses. “For many years, the City has acted on a plan to demolish the Motor Inn and evict its long-term residents,” said Julian Burns from Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, another attorney for the petitioners. “The City may not do that without giving the assistance the law requires.”

Judge Strobel agreed that it was “undisputed that persons who were long-time residents of the Motor Inn have been required to vacate the premises.” But the court stated it was unnecessary to decide the relocation issues, transferring the matter to another judge for trial.

The petitioners are represented by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Bird Marella, the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, and Western Center.

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About the attorneys for the petitioners:

Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of southeast Los Angeles County provides civil legal services to seniors and low-income individuals and promotes equal access to the justice system.

Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. is a boutique litigation firm, whose trial lawyers defend national and multinational corporations, government agencies, closely held companies, partnerhsips, and individuals.

Public Interest Law Project, an IOLTA funded non-profit state support center, provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California.

Public Law Center, Orange County’s pro bono law firm, is committed to providing access to justice for low-income and vulnerable residents through counseling, individual representation, community education, strategic litigation and advocacy to challenge societal injustices.

Western Center on Law and Poverty, an independent nonprofit law firm originally founded as a joint legal clinic of the law schools of USC, UCLA, and Loyola, brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through impact litigation, advocacy, negotiations, and legal aid support.

Staff Spotlight: Renato Izquieta promoted to Directing Attorney

Staff Spotlight: Renato Izquieta promoted to Directing Attorney

img_2851_psWe are pleased to announce Renato Izquieta has been promoted to Directing Attorney at Legal Aid’s headquarters in Santa Ana. Renato began his legal career at Inland Counties Legal Services in 1997 and joined the Legal Aid Society in 2001. He is currently a Supervising Attorney of Special Projects and oversees the Low Income Tax Payer Clinic and the Orange County Community Court Homeless Outreach program.

Renato has been active on many ABA committees and is currently a liaison to the ABA Commission on Homeless and Poverty. He is also a member of the Orange County Bar Standing Committee Veterans Legal Services and the Orange County Bar Civic Center Task Force. Congratulations Renato!

Introducing LASOC’s new Executive Director: Kate Marr

Introducing LASOC’s new Executive Director: Kate Marr
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LASOC’s new Executive Director: Kate Marr

Following the retirement of Robert J. Cohen, Legal Aid’s Executive Director for the past 36 years, Kate Marr will take over the position starting January 9, 2017.

Kate has over 16 years of experience litigating and advising clients at several legal services programs in southern California, including Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Public Law Center and Inland Counties Services. She also brings to a wealth of management and labor relations experience.

Kate has handled a number of domestic violence, family law, and immigration cases. She serves on the executive board of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council and is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Access to Justice Committee.

Kate is a past recipient of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Award as well as the Soroptomist International of Long Beach’s Women of Distinction Award in the area of human rights.

Kate received her JD from the University of Colorado School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr College.

LASOC welcomes its newest Board Member: Douglas B. Davidson

LASOC welcomes its newest Board Member: Douglas B. Davidson
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Douglas B. Davidson is the newest addition to the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s (LASOC) Board of Directors.

Since 2015, Doug Davidson has served as a volunteer attorney and mentor in LASOC’s Lawyer Entrepreneur Assistance Program for the civil review and the related civil clinic. The case review presents an opportunity for the LEAP attorneys to ask questions of an experienced lawyer regarding all aspects of their practices.

Doug has also developed courses, trainings, and hands-on seminars which have brought great value to the LEAP program. With over 40 years of legal experience, ranging from business law to real estate law, Doug brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the program’s attorneys.

Doug’s dedication to LASOC’s programs, and empathy and compassion for our client community, is what makes him such a valuable member on our Board of Directors. Welcome Doug!

LASOC clears foster teen in identity theft case

LASOC clears foster teen in identity theft case

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For many of us, getting our first job as a teen was a rite of passage into adulthood and a step towards independence. Even if the job was scooping ice cream or folding clothes at a store, a job was a job and we were happy to have some extra cash in our pockets.

But for 17-year-old Kevin,* this momentous milestone quickly turned into a shocking nightmare. When Kevin landed his first job, his foster mom suggested they go to the bank and open a savings account for him.

However, the bank denied Kevin’s application, as he had check fraud under his name. When provided with a copy of the fraudulent check, Kevin recognized the endorsement signature; it was his biological mother’s handwriting.

Betrayed, dismayed, and in disarray, Kevin and his foster mom drove home in silence as the reality sank in. How would they clear Kevin’s name?

The Orange County Social Services Department referred Kevin’s case to Renato Izquieta, Supervising Attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC). “Unfortunately, Kevin’s situation is not uncommon,” explains Izquieta. “Children, especially foster youth, are especially vulnerable to identity theft because their personal data is often clean and the crime is not discovered for many years.”

For foster youth, their personal information is often passed through many hands, providing more opportunities for the crime to occur. In some cases, as with Kevin, the culprit can be a family member, which further complicates the situation.

Izquieta is working on absolving Kevin’s name to allow him to gain a fresh start and continue on his path to becoming an independent adult. Thankfully, in Kevin’s situation, the check fraud was discovered early on and Kevin has the support of his foster mom, his social worker, and LASOC.

Other foster youth are sometimes not as lucky, as newly emancipated foster youth often face the unnerving task of dealing with identity theft on their own. Please consider making a donation to our organization so we can continue to provide free legal aid services to foster children like Kevin.

 

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*Name has been changed to protect identity.

 

LASOC welcomes its newest Board Member: Elizabeth McKeen of O’Melveny & Myers

LASOC welcomes its newest Board Member: Elizabeth McKeen of O’Melveny & Myers

elizabeth-mckeen_headshotThe Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) is proud to welcome Elizabeth McKeen, Managing Partner of O’Melveny & Myers LLP’s Newport Beach office and the Co-Chair of the Financial Services Practice, as its newest Board Member.

Liz represents mortgage lenders, servicers, banks, credit reporting agencies, and other financial services institutions in their most high-stakes matters. She handles complex civil litigation, including class actions, regulatory enforcement actions, qui tam matters and appeals. In addition to litigation, Liz provides strategic regulatory and compliance counseling, with deep expertise in the areas of fair lending, consumer bankruptcy, mortgage origination and servicing, and foreclosure-related matters.

The Daily Journal selected Liz as a “Top Woman Lawyer” in 2016, and Law360 named her as one of five Rising Stars Under 40 nationwide in the field of class actions.

Liz is passionate about pro bono service and looks forward to partnering with LASOC to improve the lives of the undeserved in Orange County.

Wells Fargo Foundation supports business development of new attorneys through $10,000 award to OC Incubator Program

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September 13, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SANTA ANA, CA (September 13, 2016). The Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) $20,000 in program funding, $10,000 of which will go to LASOC’s Lawyer Entrepreneur Assistance Program (LEAP) to support the development, training, and mentorship of new lawyers in Orange County.

An incubator hub for Orange County law schools – Chapman University Fowler School of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Western State College of Law, and Whittier Law School – the LEAP program provides solo practitioners with real, hands on experience in practicing law.

The gap between law school classrooms and running a solo law practice is far and wide. New attorneys are rarely given opportunities to effectively practice law and often enter the market with little to no legal work experience. LEAP addresses the challenges faced by new solo practitioners by providing invaluable practical training on how to successfully open and manage their own firms. LEAP participants work on real cases from start to finish, and also have direct access to experienced attorneys, retired and sitting judges, and law school clinical professors who share their insights and knowledge of the legal field.

“Participating in LEAP bridges the gap between law school theory to practicing attorney,” explains Raj Matani, Civil Litigation Attorney and past LEAP participant. “There has been no replacement for ‘learning by doing,’ while having the security of established attorneys and former judicial officers as resources.”

LASOC requested funding through the Wells Fargo Foundation to further develop and refine its LEAP program by strengthening its mentor network of the private bar, improving practical training resources and multimedia tools, and refining its infrastructure to enhance the quality and efficiency of pro bono and modest means legal services in Orange County.

“The Wells Fargo Foundation’s support for our program allows us to increase our capacity for training, supervision, and mentoring,” says LEAP Staff Attorney, Bill Tanner. “We are training our next generation of attorneys by fostering entrepreneurship and providing the roadmap for new graduates to make a living as a new attorney.”

“At Wells Fargo, a major focus is supporting small business. Developing attorneys for small business law firms through mentoring and business support allows us to back economic growth at a local level,” says Greater Orange County President Keith Kobata. “I am proud to be a part in keeping Main Street thriving and finding solutions for entrepreneurs.”

The mentorship portion of the program is a key feature that distinguishes the LEAP program from the typical pro bono model of referring cases to volunteers with limited oversight or continuous involvement. It is also mutually beneficial to the seasoned attorneys who are eager to pass their knowledge on to the young entrepreneurs.

“As soon as I started interacting with the interns, I realized how fortunate I was to have received my formal training and how that is missing today,” says LEAP mentor and volunteer attorney, Doug Davidson. “I started thinking about how people get training and how they figure out how to be better lawyers. I wanted to help move the needle forward.” With over 40 years of legal experience, ranging from business law to real estate law, Doug is just one of 26 mentors that work closely with the LEAP attorneys on a day-to-day basis.

In 2015, 40 LEAP attorneys provided 4,000+ hours of training and pro bono service, assisted over 600 litigants, and represented over 300 clients, which resulted to 132 court decisions. Minus just a handful, almost all of the past LEAP participants continue to operate and manage their own practices.

“We have big plans for this incubator program,” says Tanner. “Our goal is to develop an Incubator Toolkit to allow our model to be replicated among other legal aid organizations nation-wide.”

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Editorial Contact:

Iris Ma, Director of Fund Development
Legal Aid Society of Orange County, 2101 North Tustin Avenue, Santa Ana, CA 92705
irisma@legal-aid.com | 714.571.5220

About the Legal Aid Society of Orange County

Since 1958, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County has provided free legal aid services to our community’s most vulnerable: veterans, the elderly, the homeless, families, and low-income individuals. Our mission is to support equal access to the justice system.

Wells Fargo Foundation awards the Legal Aid Society of Orange County $10,000 to keep families in their homes

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September 13, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

SANTA ANA, CA (September 13, 2016). The Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) $20,000 in program funding, $10,000 of which will go to LASOC’s Foreclosure Mitigation Unit (FMU) to help prevent foreclosures in Orange County and surrounding communities.

Founded in 2008, the FMU has provided homeowners, particularly those adversely affected by the housing crisis, with free advice and assistance. Staffed by attorneys, paralegals, and housing counselors, the FMU provides comprehensive legal assistance, education, outreach, and counseling, to empower and assist families at risk of losing their homes.

The project targets households with low and moderate incomes, and has expanded its service areas to Riverside, San Diego, and San Bernardino due to assistance insufficiencies in these counties. For many of these at-risk households, there are few options and little resources to turn to for help.

FMU Certified Housing Counselors work with the clients to create a needs-based action plan which includes providing financial advice and financial assessment of the homeowner’s ability to afford a house. FMU advocates with financial institutions, like Wells Fargo, to assist homeowners in obtaining affordable loan payments through loan modifications.

A single mother shares the positive impact of working with a FMU housing counselor. “I went through a divorce and also lost my job at about the same time,” says the recent client. “I was not able to keep up with my financial obligations and began falling behind with my mortgage payments. It was such a nightmare having to wake up every day not knowing if we were going to lose out home…I kept phoning every assistance line until I was led to [the FMU housing counselor]. For the 6 months I have been working with [the FMU housing counselor], miracles happened.” With FMU’s support and guidance, the single mother and her children were able to keep their home.

LASOC requested the funds from the Wells Fargo Foundation to continue to keep as many homeowners in their homes as possible and to prevent the displacement of families. FMU supports homeowners through an array of legal services and strategies including comprehensive legal assistance, education through workshops & clinics, outreach, counseling, document review, credit & debt management, budget evaluations, and referrals.

“We are always looking to develop long-term relationships and work together with customers and nonprofits to plan for a better financial future. Providing tools that empower customers to take control of their finances protects them from risk,” says Wells Fargo Greater Orange County President Keith Kobata. “When we can help community members stay in their homes, we are fulfilling our mission of helping people succeed financially.”

“We are thrilled the Wells Fargo Foundation sees value in the work we are doing,” says Crystal Sims, LASOC Housing Attorney. “Many in our community are still feeling the ripple effects of the national mortgage crisis, and for a significant number of our clients, FMU is their last hope for keeping their homes.”

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Editorial Contact:

Iris Ma, Director of Fund Development
Legal Aid Society of Orange County
2101 North Tustin Ave, Santa Ana, CA 92705
irisma@legal-aid.com | 714.571.5220

About the Legal Aid Society of Orange County

Since 1958, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County has provided free legal aid services to our community’s most vulnerable: veterans, the elderly, the homeless, families, and low-income individuals. Our mission is to support equal access to the justice system.