Check out the “Pro Bono Matters” issue of COMMUNIQUÉ (October 2018), the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association online today. This issue features content written by members of Nevada’s legal community, including the following articles:
- Help Somebody on the Road to Recovery: Take a Pro Bono Record Sealing Case” by Kristine Bergstrom, Esq.
- “Pro Bono Tax Opportunities for the Modern Attorney” by Szu-Ju Chang, Esq.
- “Helping Seniors with Problematic Consumer Matters” by Sheri “Sugar” Vogel, Esq. and Elana Graham, Esq.
- ” Volunteering for the Ask-A-Lawyer Program” by Jeffrey P. Luszeck, Esq.
In the 48-page issue (published in print and PDF versions), readers can find features related to the practice of law in Nevada, written by leaders from the bench and bar, including:
- “New Board Member and Flash Sale” by CCBA President John P. Aldrich, Esq.
- Changes on the Horizon for 2019 By Las Vegas Justice Court Chief Judge Joe Bonaventure
- Nevada Appellate Court Summaries by Joe Tommasino, Esq.
- Pro Bono Corner: The Legal Community Comes Together to Close the “CAP Gap” By Noah Malgeri, Esq.
- Departments: Bar Business, Member Moves, New Members, and Court Changes
© 2018 The content on this page was originally published in COMMUNIQUÉ*, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association. (October 2018). All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this content, contact the publisher Clark County Bar Association, 717 S. 8th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Phone: (702) 387-6011.
Help Somebody on the Road to Recovery: Take a Pro Bono Record Sealing Case
By Kristine Bergstrom, Esq.
In May of 2017, Jared (client’s name has been changed for privacy) stood in a courtroom waiting for the outcome of his criminal record sealing petition. Fifteen years earlier, Jared had racked up a number of felony charges while addicted to opiates. At the time of his hearing, Jared had been sober for fifteen years. He’d remarried and had been holding down the same job for a number of years. He came to Nevada Legal Services (NLS) for help sealing his record because he wanted a better paying job at his company, but he couldn’t get promoted with a criminal record. Jared was nervous the day of his court hearing, but he shouldn’t have been. The judge told him he was exactly the sort of person the criminal record sealing statute was designed for and then led the entire courtroom in a round of applause for Jared—including a hug from the bailiff. Jared got his new job and continues to rebuild a life that was almost destroyed by his addiction.
Attorneys who are interested in making a huge impact on a client’s life should consider taking a criminal record sealing case pro bono. In 2017, the Nevada Legislature changed the law regarding criminal record sealing to shorten the waiting period and allow people who were honorably discharged from probation to seal their records. These changes have resulted in a skyrocketing demand for help with record sealing petitions. However, the record sealing process is often confusing and frustrating for pro se clients. They get tripped up by things that are relatively easy for an attorney, such as reading online court records or submitting an unsigned order to a judge. Almost all eligible record sealing petitions that make it to a judge are granted, but many pro se petitioners drop out before they even get to that stage. Help from an attorney is essential in ensuring that a record sealing petition makes it to the finish line.
There are two ways attorneys who are interested in working on criminal record sealing can help clients. The first is to take a criminal record sealing case. NLS will ensure that the pro bono client has all of the documentation necessary for the petition. NLS will also provide training on criminal record sealing and auto-populating court forms that will create an entire record sealing packet based on the answers to a few simple questions online. This support makes the record sealing process as easy and streamlined as possible.
Attorneys who don’t feel ready to take on a full case can help by coming to the Pro Se Record Sealing Clinic that NLS holds at the Clark County Law Library. Every Monday, NLS takes over a section of the law library computers and walks pro se filers through the process of filling out the forms. NLS also assists people who have filed their forms, but have questions about the next step in the record sealing process.
A criminal record can be a major barrier to finding work. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that around 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their incarceration. Even when a person with criminal record is able to find a job, studies suggest that they may earn 40 percent less than pay than if they had never been incarcerated. However, Nevada’s current low unemployment rate has created a demand for workers. This demand creates a rare opportunity for people with criminal records who haven’t been able to find a job to join the workforce. But they can’t do it without help sealing their records. If you would like help a person seize the opportunity for a better life, please consider taking a record sealing case pro bono. You can contact NLS by calling (702) 386-0404 or email Yrene Chavez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristine Bergstrom, Esq. is the Directing Attorney at Nevada Legal Services. She has worked as a legal aid attorney at Nevada Legal Services since 2008. Before that she was a staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center in Concord, New Hampshire. Kris graduated from Cornell Law School in 2004 where she was the winner of the Stanley E. Gould Prize for Public Interest Law.
Pro Bono Tax Opportunities for the Modern Attorney
By Szu-Ju Chang, Esq.
Attorneys are busy, and finding balance amidst the chaos is not a simple task. Nowadays, attorneys not only have to deal with various deadlines and long hours at work, but also have to deal with a competitive job market and increasingly poor public image. To further squeeze out free time for pro bono work is not easy. Yet, we still do it for the sake of the social justice causes in which we believe.
Nevada Legal Services (NLS) understands this mission and wants to make it easier for attorneys to do pro bono work. To help attorneys, especially tax attorneys, find suitable pro bono work in their spare time, NLS has put together a short list of traditional and non-traditional pro bono work in tax law. Granted, this short list does not cover all tax related pro bono work around the legal community. Nonetheless, it is a start. Now, please look through it, pick one that suites you, and give back in any way you can.
Participate in the Tax Court Calendar Call Program
The U.S. Tax Court sits in 74 cities throughout the United States. Unlike other areas of law, more than 70 percent of tax court petitions are filed by pro se taxpayers who are often unfamiliar with the legal process. Through the Calendar Call Program, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) attorneys provide advice and assistance to unrepresented taxpayers and help them to navigate the system.
In Nevada, the Tax Court generally hears cases in Las Vegas twice a year and in Reno once a year. The upcoming trial sessions take place in Reno on October 15, 2018, and in Las Vegas on both October 29, 2018, and December 4, 2018. The calendar call starts at 10:00 a.m., and LITC attorneys begin their consultations at 9:00 a.m. Tax attorneys are encouraged to attend the calendar call and join the LITC attorneys. Pro bono tax attorneys are expected to provide advice to unrepresented taxpayers, but are not expected to enter their appearances or accept a case for representation.
The general time commitment is about two hours. This is a great short-term pro bono opportunity for tax attorneys with busy schedules.
Volunteer with Low Income Taxpayer Clinics
Congress enacted legislation on July 22, 1998, to authorize funding for tax clinics as part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. Currently, there are 134 LITCs in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Fortunately for Nevadans, there are two LITCs to serve the low income community, and NLS houses one of them. The main missions of LITCs are to represent individual low income taxpayers who have disputes with the IRS, educate low income and English as Second Language (ESL) taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities, and advocate for tax issues that impact low income taxpayers. The three main types of pro bono opportunities with LITCs are:
- Take a case. LITCs provide a wide range of areas of representation, including audits, appeals, collection disputes, and tax court representation. Cases are generally assigned based on a pro bono tax attorney’s experience and a taxpayer’s willingness to accept representation. Once a case is assigned, LITC staff will serve as a liaison between the pro bono tax attorney and the taxpayer to ensure smooth workflow. The time commitment depends on the type of tax issues involved.
- Teach a class. LITCs conduct educational classes throughout Nevada to low income taxpayers and ESL communities. Popular class topics include the refundable tax credits (such as Earned Income Tax Credits), tax reform update, and identity theft protection. LITC staff generally prepares the educational material. The time commitment is about two hours for each class.
- Join an Ask-a-Lawyer event. At the Ask-a-Lawyer event, each taxpayer has 15 minutes to ask a pro bono attorney about his or her individual and/or business tax issues. There are no income or tax liability limitations at the event. After the event, LITC attorneys will bring those qualifying cases back to their offices. The general time commitment is one to two hours.
- Volunteer at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA). The VITA program is a nationwide program sponsored by the IRS. The program offers free tax assistance to people who generally make $54,000 or less per year, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. You may volunteer by becoming a certified volunteer and working with a local VITA group during the tax-filing season. The time commitment is about two to four hours per week during the tax season.
For more pro bono opportunities in Nevada, please contact the NLS Pro Bono Coordinator, Martha Menendez, at (702) 386-0404, extension 170.
Szu-Ju Chang, Esq. is a tax attorney at Nevada Legal Services’ Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. She focuses her practice on resolving federal tax controversies and is licensed to practice in D.C., Illinois, and Nevada.
Helping Seniors with Problematic Consumer Matters
By Sheri “Sugar” Vogel, Esq. and Elana Graham, Esq.
We all know the importance of reading a contract carefully before signing and thoughtfully considering the terms of a purchase. Many of the seniors we assist at the Southern Nevada Senior Law Program (SNSLP) find themselves with a problematic consumer matter. It may be related to a solar matter, a contract negotiation, overinflated labor costs, homeowners’ association (HOA), etc. Seniors really need assistance when they find themselves in a mess!
One of our clients had a dispute with a solar company. The client wanted to obtain solar panels for her house in 2012. The company presented her with numerous documents to sign, which according to our client, were never explained or reviewed with her. In lieu of a lease or purchase agreement for solar panels, our client executed a second Deed of Trust and Note. The Deed of Trust and Note were for $25,000 and secured against title of her house. The client was on a fixed income of only $893.00 and should never have qualified for the Note, since the property was a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) home with a first mortgage financed through HUD. The client never received executed copies of the loan documents. The client attempted to negotiate a surrender or modification of the monthly payment amount; however, the solar and finance companies refused to negotiate and merely threatened her with verbal and written notifications of foreclosure. Our office attempted to negotiate a rescission of the loan by arguing predatory behavior; however, the solar and finance companies failed to respond to our efforts. Without being able to resolve the matter in pre-litigation, our office referred the matter to private litigation counsel. Our office would have benefited from a pro bono litigation/predatory loan attorney’s consultation to determine the client’s litigation rights.
Another senior client had a dispute with a debt negotiation company which was regularly charging her a monthly amount of $379.02 and had failed to negotiate any settlement of debts. She wanted to cancel the contract without penalty and seek reimbursement of some of the money she paid. Our attorney reviewed the contract and wrote a demand letter to the debt negotiation company. After our demand letter, the company stopped taking monthly charges out of her bank account and refunded our client $1,563.39.
A 92-year-old woman took her car in for repairs. The mechanic convinced her she needed to replace the motor mounts or the engine would fall out of the car and charged her $500 in labor costs; he talked our client into applying for financing because she could not afford the $500 service charge. The client paid, had her vehicle inspected by another repair shop who told her the labor costs exceeded industry standard. Our attorney wrote a letter to the corporate office on behalf of our client. Labor costs were refunded to our client’s satisfaction.
All these cases had one important point in common, a senior in distress due to a consumer problem. We are committed to resolve these consumer issues and are passionate about making a difference in the lives of our seniors.
There is another way you can assist our program, too. We are at an exciting point in our development and have started a capital campaign to acquire a permanent home.
If you would like to assist our program by accepting a consumer case, or by making a donation, please contact Sheri (Sugar) Vogel, Executive Director, (702) 229-6644 or email@example.com, or sending your donations to Southern Nevada Senior Law Program, 411 E. Bonneville Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89117.
Please help us make a difference!
Sheri “Sugar” Vogel, Esq. is the Executive Director of the Southern Nevada Senior Law Program, a non-profit organization focused on serving senior citizens. Elana Graham, Esq. serves as Deputy Director for the Southern Nevada Senior Law Program.
Volunteering for the Ask-A-Lawyer Program
By Jeffrey P. Luszeck, Esq.
One of the biggest impediments to providing pro bono service is time. Most attorneys, including myself, do not have a substantial amount of time to devote to non-paying clients, especially if you already have a heavy caseload. Luckily, the Ask-A-Lawyer program provides attorneys the ability to provide meaningful pro bono service without a long-term commitment. The Ask-A-Lawyer program provides unrepresented individuals with free twenty-minute consultations in a range of areas, including family, landlord/tenant, foreclosure, probate, small claims, veterans, small business, and child support law.
I have had the opportunity to participate in the probate Ask-A-Lawyer program on a number of occasions. It is held on the second Tuesday of each month between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. at the Civil Help Center at the Regional Justice Center. The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada typically staffs each session several months in advance; however, there are instances where last minute assistance is needed. Below are a few things that I like about participating in the program.
First, no preparation time is necessary. I did not need to schedule the consultations, prepare consultation worksheets, and conduct legal research, etcetera. All I had to do was show-up! Upon arrival, I received the schedule for the session, a client intake sheet containing a brief description of the legal issues, and case numbers for any estates that had been opened.
Second, each twenty-minute consultation was different. During some consultations, I contacted financial institutions regarding accounts titled in the name of a decedent, assisted family members fill out paperwork for issuance of letters of special administration, and assisted with the transferring of assets for small estates. The forms were on hand at the Civil Help Center.
During one memorable consultation, I helped a woman access her deceased neighbor’s safe-deposit box to locate documentation so that the decedent could receive a military funeral honors ceremony. It was rewarding to see that this woman was willing to sacrifice her time and energy to ensure that her neighbor, who had no known relatives, would be buried with military honors. Not every consultation ended on a positive note. During some consultations, I was forced to tell the unrepresented individual(s) that they lacked standing or were otherwise unable to obtain the relief they were seeking.
Third, during each Ask-A-Lawyer session, I assisted up to six people/families, all of whom were extremely grateful for the services rendered.
Finally, when I left the sessions at 3:00 p.m., there was a sense of satisfaction knowing that I had provided meaningful pro bono service.
If you are interested in participating in the Ask-A-Lawyer program for probate or any of the areas listed above, please contact Mr. Noah Malgeri, Director of the Pro Bono Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
Jeffrey P. Luszeck, Esq. is a member of the Las Vegas law firm of Solomon, Dwiggins & Freer Ltd., where he focuses his practice primarily on trust and estate litigation and small business litigation. Mr. Luszeck is a member of the State Bar of Nevada and serves on the Nevada State Bar in capacities as Secretary of the Legislative Committee for the Probate and Trust Section, and Vice Chair of the State Bar of Nevada Publications Committee.
COMMUNIQUÉ is published eleven times per year with an issue published monthly except for July by the Clark County Bar Association, P.O. Box 657, Las Vegas, NV 89125-0657. Phone: (702) 387-6011.
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