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Mid-Shore Pro Bono offers new tenant counsel services

August 31, 2022

Mid-Shore Pro Bono recently received funding from two grants to help provide access to pro-bono legal services for tenants facing eviction.

The program enhances Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s housing justice program, with funding awarded by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation and from Equal Justice Works, ​allowing significant expansion of legal assistance for tenants, including in-court access to representation.

“As a result of getting these grants and the new statewide legislated funding, Mid-Shore Pro Bono is now able to provide in-court services for income-qualified tenants in eight counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” says Mid-Shore Pro Bono Legal Director Laura Chafey, Esq. “The income qualification is determined at 50% of Maryland’s median income for individuals or families.”

Chafey says the funding will bring four new staff to support MSPB’s housing initiative, with two attorney-organizer teams serving the Lower and Mid-Shore regions.

Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s tenant counsel services can help tenants who have received a notice of failure to pay rent and can address other issues including breach of lease, tenant hold-overs, rent escrow, constructive evictions, subsidy terminations, and more.

“When tenants have counsel, the outcome is always better for everyone,” says Mid-Shore Pro Bono Executive Director Meredith Lathbury-Girard, Esq.

Girard says Mid-Shore Pro Bono initially expanded its tenant services in 2020 to meet demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. She says MSPB participated in ​the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force Implementation Subcommittee ​created after the Maryland General Assembly passed HB18 in 2021, making Maryland the second state in the U.S. to provide statewide access to counsel in eviction proceedings. The Task Force issued recommendations for funding, implementation, and evaluation of statewide access to counsel for income-eligible tenants. The task force members were appointed by Attorney General Brian Frosh.

The 2021 legislation designates Maryland’s priority areas for tenant counsel, with areas eligible for the first phase roll-out of the program including Baltimore and counties that already have legal assistance for tenants, including those served by Mid-Shore Pro Bono.

“We are gratified to have Mid-Shore Pro Bono providing much-needed representation for tenants facing eviction,” said MLSC Executive Director Deb Seltzer. “This program is especially timely as COVID-19 relief funds and restrictions are either expiring or being lifted right now.”

MLSC is a statewide funder of civil legal aid and the administrator of the Maryland Access to Counsel in Evictions program. MLSC also distributes funds from the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program and other sources to fulfill its mission of ensuring low-income Marylanders have access to stable, efficient, and effective civil legal assistance through the distribution of funds to nonprofit legal services organizations, with more at www.mlsc.org.

Mid-Shore Pro Bono has also qualified as a recipient of the Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Fellowship as a host organization, with two fellows soon to be hired for the nonprofit’s Salisbury offices.

“Equal Justice Fellowships are very competitive and ​prestigious,” says Lathbury Girard, Esq. “So, we’re especially grateful for the funding and the recognition of being a part of this program.”

“This is a great investment in mobilizing the next generation of public interest lawyers,” says Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program Coordinator Touri Goode. “By hosting our Fellows, Mid-Shore Pro Bono is joining a community of legal services organizations on the frontlines of working toward equal justice.”

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, advocates, legal services organizations, and supporters to build a community committed to fulfilling our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. Learn more at www.equaljusticeworks.org.

Mid-Shore Pro Bono delivers a mission of helping Maryland’s Eastern Shore residents obtain access to legal assistance, with offices in Easton, Chestertown, and Salisbury. Tenants needing counsel can complete an online intake form at www.midshoreprobono.org, or call 410-690-8128 or 443-298-9424 during normal business hours.