Everyday Justice Blog

Insights and Law News

Remembering the Fallen: It’s the Law

5/15/19

by Ed Farmer, IL-AFLAN Staff Attorney

Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in 1868 as a way to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Never before had so many American soldiers died in battle, and as a result, the national cemetery began to be formed. On the first Decoration Day, 5,000 participants gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. After World War I, it became known as Memorial Day and changed from honoring those who died in the Civil War to those fallen in any war.  It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Unfortunately, over time the true meaning of Memorial Day has been forgotten in place of pool parties and BBQs. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as a three-day weekend, which marks the official start of summer. Congress wanted to renew the legacy of paying tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country, so in 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act as a way of honoring America’s fallen heroes. This Act asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity for a duration of one minute (3 p.m. was chosen because it is the time when most Americans are celebrating the national holiday). At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day 2019, 200 Amtrak trains will blow their whistles, 500,000 Major League Baseball fans will pause for a moment of silence, Americans everywhere will wave flags, and “Taps” will play throughout the nation.

Here at CARPLS, through the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN), we honor the fallen by providing legal advice and services to these heroes’ families, active duty service members, and veterans.  Two attorneys at the IL-AFLAN hotline are U.S. Army veterans with a passion for helping fellow veterans. IL-AFLAN lawyers are equipped to handle a variety of legal issues, whether it’s helping a surviving spouse obtain benefits from the VA, assisting with an issue regarding a landlord, or providing advice on a consumer law issue.  IL-AFLAN’s partner network has helped over 6,500 clients since its inception in 2017.

In one of our cases, a U.S. Navy veteran moved out of his apartment and the landlord kept his security deposit. IL-AFLAN prepared a demand letter on his behalf arguing that as a tenant, he was not liable for “reasonable use and wear.” The veteran was given instructions on how to serve the letter. The landlord received the letter and several days later the veteran received his security deposit back in full. He was very appreciative of our services and said we, “helped him immensely.”

When another Navy veteran was sued for over $6,000, he called IL-AFLAN for assistance. Our attorneys provided him advice on how to respond to the lawsuit. The veteran appeared in court and got the lawsuit dismissed. He said, “”I contacted CARPLS because I was referred to them by two different non-profit organizations and by a friend of mine. It couldn’t be a coincidence that I was referred to the same program by more than one person. I felt completely lost, and I didn’t even know where to start. The attorney was very pleasant and answered all my questions. Without a doubt, I will definitely recommend CARPLS to a friend in need.”

These are just two stories of many that we hear every single day working on the IL-AFLAN hotline. Ultimately, it’s important to remember the meaning of Memorial Day. If we can do that, future generations will grow up understanding that Memorial Day is more than just the first long holiday weekend before summer: it’s truly about honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Ed Farmer is a CARPLS staff attorney who works on the IL-AFLAN hotline. A service-disabled veteran himself, he also runs his own law office serving veterans and military service members.

Remembering the Fallen: It’s the Law2019-05-15T14:18:30-05:00

A Need for Economic Justice

4/15/19

by Ashlee Highland, Supervising Attorney

When I started college, I knew that I would become a corporate lawyer because I wanted to make a lot of money. With my father and grandfathers all being lawyers, it was an easy career decision. Dad recommended that I attend business school first. So, when I attended business school and volunteered at a domestic violence shelter, I then realized that I really wanted to devote my career to helping people have a voice in their legal problems. While at law school, I was committed to working in legal aid, but I didn’t truly understand how big a role poverty plays in impacting our clients’ legal problems.

Legal Aid Problems Exacerbated by Poverty

With any legal problem that CARPLS hears on the hotline or at our court-based advice desks, poverty has always made it worse. Day in and day out talking to clients, we hear about poverty regarding a myriad of legal problems, stemming from civil, criminal or family matters.

Talking to a client who has received an eviction notice of nonpayment of rent, you find out they could not cure their rent owed because their bank account was frozen due to a credit card judgment. In different instances, a client cannot purchase medicine because their bank account has been frozen, and another client faces foreclosure because he/she is disabled and has not yet received a Social Security disability award. In discussing their legal issues, clients often mention the loss of a job, their own health problems, sickness or death of a family member, not receiving benefits, child support, or other roadblocks—a circle nearly impossible to escape. In these cases, poverty hindered their ability to get help.

Like the chicken and the egg, it is hard to discern what comes first: does poverty cause the legal problems or do the legal problems cause poverty? In my opinion, it is both.

A Glimpse of Poverty

People may not realize that 1 in 3 Illinoisans are living in poverty, and most of them are women and children and/or people of color. Poverty remains higher than pre-recession levels.

Being poor often impacts how our clients experience the services we are providing, and how we deliver legal services to this population in a system that sometimes stigmatizes the poor. Because of all this, it ironically costs more to be poor. This also explains why low-income clients do not always follow up on instructions and next steps given to them by their lawyers. It’s often because they can’t miss work, must deal with child care, take care of a sick family member, or don’t have the transportation to make multiple trips to court, to see a lawyer, or go to other government offices.

Throughout the last several years, the Illinois Lawyers Trust Fund/Chicago Bar Foundation has offered an interactive poverty simulation called Walk a Month in My Shoes: a Poverty Simulation to help advocates understand the issues of low-income clients and their economic challenges. It was one of the best seminars I have ever attended and still strikes me years later.

We were divided into different groups or families and assigned varying scenarios to act out: trying to get temporary government assistance or a link card, accessing unemployment benefits, facing eviction, trying to obtain employment, and how to live on those limited means just for a month. The goal was to understand what it is like to try to make ends meet.

In the simulation, I remember needing to go to the public aid office during my lunch break, but the line was too long, and I had to return to work, so I could not get the service I needed. I then got a payday loan to purchase groceries, even though I was supposed to be eligible for a link card (food stamps). My pretend family then had to pay the huge interest rate to prevent my wages from being garnished. At the end of the three-hour seminar, unlike my clients, I was able to leave the poverty in the room, but the experience still haunts me.

So, how can we make sure advocacy surrounding poverty remains at the forefront? I do not know the answer to this question. Raising the minimum wage is not the only fix for the problem. On February 19, 2019, Illinois passed legislation to progressively increase minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2025. This new law will positively affect about 1.4 million people. This is a start to economic justice, but we need to challenge ourselves to actively discuss the roots of poverty and how we can help those in legal need to escape it.

CARPLS Helps People Access Justice

The reason I enjoy working at CARPLS is that our goal for the future is to have anybody be able to talk to a lawyer for free. We are not there yet, but we are on our way. I love that we help the working class, and those who are low-income or living in poverty. I am also proud of the fact that CARPLS has court-based advice desks that can talk to clients before court, sometimes that same day. Having the hotline open late on Mondays and Wednesdays allows clients to contact us at different hours. We are constantly striving to make legal aid accessible. I am also proud of my work over the last several years with the Access to Justice Commission, which makes court forms more user-friendly.

At CARPLS, our goal is to remove the barriers to obtaining legal aid, and we will continue to work towards this vision of access to justice for all.

A Need for Economic Justice2019-04-15T11:25:11-05:00

A Dirty Secret in DIY Car Purchasing

3/14/19

By Mary Jo Rosso, CARPLS Staff Attorney

 

Joe thought he got a deal when he purchased a salvaged-title car on an auction website from a registered broker. He needed the vehicle to get to work across town, an improvement over the long commutes he was taking via public transportation at all hours of the night. When the police pulled him over for failing to signal, he was shocked when he was told that there was no registration for his car in his name and that the license plates are fake. He received a ticket for his moving violation and his car was impounded.

Joe comes to the CARPLS desk at the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings and wants to get his car back, but he has to prove that he actually owns it. In these cases, the City doesn’t see Joe as the owner. And, if Joe proves he is the owner, he will owe thousands of dollars in fees at usually no fault of his own. He needs a car, but he can’t afford to reclaim the one he thought he rightfully owned, and buying another car will be very difficult.

We are seeing more catch-22 cases like these at the advice desk at the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings. Often, we recommend that clients decide if they should show ownership and be liable or just walk away from an unwinnable situation.

How can this be when the state of Illinois refers to their vehicle titles as some of the most secure in the nation?

Insurance companies typically discard vehicles with salvage titles after total losses due to accidents or natural disasters. A car with a salvage title cannot be registered with the state and cannot be driven, but they retain some value. These vehicles can be certified as “rebuilt” through a specific process performed by licensed rebuilders. However, some unscrupulous registered brokers, independent agents working with online and in person auction sites, will skip this step. There’s a low bar to entry as a registered broker and not all of them act according to the law. Instead of properly rebuilding and registering a vehicle, they will place fraudulent plates on the car and place it for sale.

This is just one of the perils of buying a car at auction. Unscrupulous insurers may fail to accurately brand the titles as salvaged vehicles. In addition, rebuilders may “cobble them together so they appear pristine, but in fact, they are structurally unsound and may not offer protection in a subsequent collision.”

By far, the biggest problem we see is that often consumers have no way to know the true history of a used car they seek to or have purchased. Even more problematic is that many of the touted sites, such as Experian and Carfax, are not always able to help consumers avoid dangerous vehicles because not all the information is provided to them.

So, what is the solution? At this time, we encourage clients to make complaints with the Illinois Attorney General’s office and to file suits against the company or individual that sold the car. The concern here, however, is that the registered brokers are generally individuals or small businesses in different localities or state, so it can be impossible to track down and collect from.

The best way to address the problem is through consumer education and prevention.

Many people rush through the process of purchasing a car for a myriad of reasons: they desperately need it for childcare or a job, they do not understand the process, or they have little money. A prospective purchaser can do their due diligence by first reading the materials available to them online via the State of IL and the City of Chicago. Even if they’re not buying at a public auction, we encourage them to follow these steps to start.

And remember, “just because a used car is cheap and seems OK during a test drive doesn’t mean it’s safe to buy.” Consumers can hire a qualified mechanic to inspect the car before making a purchase and should obtain a vehicle history report from more than one provider. Additionally, consumers can check for signs of previous damage by looking for rust or grime behind the gas or brake pedals.

We need to advocate for disposal of damaged beyond repair vehicles and track salvage titles through a more comprehensive national electronic database available to the public. The current system, created in 2009, is incomplete. “Some states don’t supply information on totaled cars to the database, and others don’t make inquiries to the system before providing clean titles to people.”

Illinois’ law made progress toward protecting consumers of used cars. In July 2017, Illinois enacted a law, which provides an implied warranty of powertrain components (the parts of a car that provide power and make it move) on cars purchased within 15 days or 500 miles (whichever is lower). This law doesn’t apply to salvage vehicles or those with more than 150k miles but allows consumers some protection against cars that show immediate issues soon after purchase and also gives them a little more time to get it into a mechanic for a thorough check. This is just a start in the legislation necessary to protect purchasers.

Because of the way the current system is set up, we in the legal aid community strongly advise clients to be very skeptical in the car buying process, whether through a used car dealer, auction, or individual seller.

 

This blog entry is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please consult with an attorney. CARPLS legal aid hotline can be reached at 312-738-9200.

A Dirty Secret in DIY Car Purchasing2019-03-15T09:13:39-05:00