Interview with Elena Yager and Jessica Lewis, ELAP Low-Bono Attorneys
In October, ELAP launched a new program to expand access to civil legal aid for people in King County. Thanks to grant funding from the CARES Act, ELAP was able to match local attorneys with people in need of legal advice or resources. Attorneys in the program charge a low hourly fee, which was covered by the grant, and the service is free for people seeking help. This program has served 61 people in just two months. We asked Elena Yager and Jessica Lewis about their experience working in this program for ELAP:
Why did you decide to work with ELAP as a low-bono attorney?
First, we are passionate about providing quality affordable legal services. We run a nonprofit that works with low- to moderate-income folks, so when the opportunity arose to expand our reach and help more people, we jumped at it. Second, we love ELAP. When we were freshly out of law school, we both had the good fortune of being selected as fellows for ELAP’s yearlong family law fellowship, so this is an organization that is very near and dear to our hearts. All to say: increasing access to justice in partnership with our buds was a no brainer.
What types of cases did you help clients with through this program?
We have been able to help clients with a pretty wide variety of legal issues, including petitioning for domestic violence protection orders, helping survivors defending against abusive protection orders, addressing violations of DVPOs by abusers (whether that be by informal discussions, or going to court), assisting folks in filing their cases and even attempting to have a (fraudulently requested) default judgment vacated. If not for this ELAP program, many of these folks would have struggled greatly to navigate the court system, enforce their court orders or find safety.
How has this pandemic changed your work? Can you highlight a few challenges and opportunities you’ve experienced?
COVID has created a whole host of new challenges in working with survivors, and it’s also presented some unique opportunities. On the client-facing side of things, we have seen challenges with how and when we communicate. Prior to COVID, survivors who were planning to leave the family home, but who were still living with their abuser while they arranged to depart, could often find time to speak or email with us while they or their abuser were away from the home (often at work). However, with COVID came wide-spread instances of folks working from home. In turn, we saw survivors with increasingly limited windows of opportunity to speak with us. This is something that we have had to be very aware of—to have carefully scheduled calls and communications during times that the client feels is safe or when they are less likely to be overheard by their abuser.
Relatedly, in light of COVID, we no longer meet with clients in-person at all. This has presented its own challenges as we work to establish and maintain trust and confidence with clients who have never actually met us. We are very aware that for the survivor, discussing domestic violence with a stranger over the phone or a video call can feel especially difficult and intrusive. We try our best to ameliorate this by approaching the conversations with survivors in an exceptionally caring and non-judgmental way. On the court-facing side of things, processes are ever-changing, so the way we do something Monday may be totally different by Tuesday. This is tricky even for seasoned attorneys—it’s downright impossible for unrepresented parties who are experiencing trauma.
One happy consequence of COVID is that hearings are taking place over the phone, so survivors are not forced to be in a room with their abuser. The survivor no longer runs the risk of bumping into their abuser in the parking lot or elevator on the way to their hearing. The survivor is now able to relay their experiences and fears to the commissioner or judge without their abuser standing mere feet away from them. Our clients have all been incredibly grateful for this.
Elena Yager and Jessica Lewis are attorneys and co-executive directors at Northwest Advocacy Foundation.
ELAP Stands Against Racism and Injustice
All of us at Eastside Legal Assistance Program are deeply saddened and angry over the senseless murder of Mr. George Floyd. This is one of countless acts of violence against people of color that has stained our country’s history.
ELAP stands in solidarity with our black clients, volunteers, supporters, and staff members as we mourn this loss. And as an organization, we demand that systemic racism, which impacts all people of color, be acknowledged and eliminated.
Without the video by bystanders, we may never have known of this tragedy or the events may have been slanted to assuage the guilt of those responsible for it. Who knows what difference a live video could have made in getting justice for Emmett Till in 1955 or the Scottsboro Boys in 1931? Today, however, we have the stark footage of video showing Mr. Floyd’s last moments alive and we view with horror what racism looks like in America.
At ELAP the journey toward equity, led by co-workers of color, began by acknowledging our own inherent biases. We recognize that this is a journey. We understand that centuries of systemic racism cannot be eliminated from our community and eliminated from our hearts in an instant. But as an organization, we are ready to begin the heavy lifting: first to understand our own failings, and then to begin the process of growth and healing that is required to take this journey.
At ELAP we will be continuing this dialogue with our board, staff, and throughout the community with a renewed sense of urgency. We invite you to join us as we go beyond thoughts and prayers. Band with us as we raise up our voice against injustice. Partner with us, with broken hearts, for Mr. Floyd’s family and the families of everyone slain by racism, inequality, and injustice.
Here, in our own community, we can work for change; it all starts with conversations with your family, conversations with your neighbors, and conversations with your local elected officials. By calling out centuries of inequity and demanding accountability, we can be a catalyst for change. But remember, it starts here.
Confucius said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” We are hammering at the stones of injustice and inequity, and we ask that you join us.
We are closely monitoring the evolving developments of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the impact it is having on our community.
Our operations are running as normal, however clinic appointments will take place telephonically for the foreseeable future.
We are recommending that our clients, volunteers and staff take precautions to avoid becoming infected. According to King County Public Health, the best preventative measures include frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are sick.
Resources can be found here:
ACTUALIZACIÓN DE CORONAVIRUS
Estamos monitoreando de cerca los desarrollos en evolución de la nueva enfermedad por coronavirus (COVID-19) y el impacto que está teniendo en nuestra comunidad.
Nuestras operaciones están funcionando normalmente, sin embargo, las citas clínicas se realizarán telefónicamente en el futuro previsible.
Recomendamos que nuestros clientes, voluntarios y personal tomen precauciones para evitar infectarse. Según el condado de King Departamento de Salud Pública, las mejores medidas preventivas incluyen lavarse las manos con frecuencia y evitar el contacto con personas enfermas.
Los recursos se pueden encontrar aquí:
– Salud pública: página de recursos de coronavirus del condado de Seattle y King: www.kingcounty.gov/covid.
– Sitio web del Departamento de Salud del Estado de Washington: www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus. El estado también ha establecido un centro de llamadas para responder las preguntas del público. Llame al 1-800-525-0127 y presione #.
-Sitio web de respuesta al coronavirus del estado de Washington: información sobre la reapertura gradual de Safe Start y la orden Stay at Home, Stay Healthy https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/whats-open-and-closed
ELAP- ICHS MEDICAL-LEGAL PARTNERSHIP HAS LAUNCHEDStatement issued by International Community Health Services:International Community Health Services and Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP) today announced a Medical-Legal Partnership that will give low-income patients free legal services. Patients referred from ICHS’s Bellevue Clinic can meet with ELAP’s attorneys for advice on issues impacting their ability to stay in good health.“ICHS cares for patients holistically. There are many factors that impact whether someone can access and benefit from quality, preventative health care,” said Vanja Knezevic, ICHS Bellevue health center manager. ”Often, low-income and marginalized patients face social issues that can exacerbate health issues. For example, a person who is facing eviction is more likely to be stressed or depressed. Someone who is wrongfully denied public benefits might be prevented from providing healthy nutrition for their family. We’re seeking to lessen these potential health impacts.”The health care teams at ICHS’s Bellevue Clinic will work closely with ELAP’s legal aid attorneys to identify patients who qualify. Referred patients will meet with an attorney for sessions that will be scheduled at ICHS’s Bellevue Clinic.
“We are excited to move forward with ICHS,” said Gerald Kroon, ELAP executive director. “This innovative partnership will increase access to much needed civil legal aid, addressing legal issues that adversely affect a person’s medical wellbeing.”
The new partnership is being announced as a six-month pilot program, initially only available by referral through ICHS’s Bellevue Clinic, with the possibility of being extended to include ICHS’s three other full service clinics as future funding and interest allow. Services will be available to qualifying King County residents who fall below 200% of the federal poverty level, which was $50,200 for a family of four in 2018.
FAMILY SEPARATIONS AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
Statement from ELAP Executive Director, Gerald Kroon:
Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP) vehemently opposes the policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.‒Mexican border. As a nonprofit committed to justice for all – particularly society’s most vulnerable ‒ we cannot sit back and idly watch as the moral fiber of our country is ripped apart.
The Executive Order signed by the President – as numerous legal experts have pointed out – does nothing to help the families already torn apart by the Administration’s cruel and misguided policies. It also raises serious concerns about the impact of future actions on innocent children and families fleeing unbearable situations.
We are also deeply troubled by the President’s recent assertion that immigrants should be denied due process, which suggests an outrageous disregard for what this country stands for and what our organization champions.
ELAP pro bono attorneys work tirelessly to meet the civil legal needs of low-income residents – including the increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees now living in King County. We will do everything in our power to unite with other decent people working to ensure that humane treatment and legal protection is available to everyone, no matter where they came from or how they got here.