As part of the AIDS Legal Assistance Project, the Legal Check-up program focuses on providing preventive legal assistance to low-income Orange County residents living with HIV/AIDS. The project seeks to unearth areas of legal instability and confront them before they become serious, thereby holistically ensuring the well-being of clients. Through direct representation, community clinics and the distribution of educational materials, I assist clients with a diverse array of legal issues related to their HIV status.
Amy’s project, a medical legal collaborative, focused on providing access to legal services for vulnerable individuals by partnering with physicians and health care providers to meet the needs of their patients. She worked with our Family Advocates project which is a partnership between The Public Law Center and St. Joseph Health System in Orange County, California. Through the project Amy provided holistic legal services to patients which can range from access to benefits, estate planning, employment issues, landlord tenant disputes, and consumer issues.
Our clients face complex issues and social barriers every day. Providing access to the legal system allows them to focus on maintaining their health and the well-being of their families.
Amy Mejia /
2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Boatemaa broadened the scope of legal services available to low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Baltimore, Md., and its surrounding counties by providing comprehensive legal services.
Combined, the city of Baltimore and the six counties surrounding it have the tenth highest rate of HIV diagnoses of all metropolitan areas in the United States and account for 60 percent of Maryland’s HIV-positive population. Baltimore also has the highest rates of poverty and uninsured in Maryland, which are two of the most significant challenges faced by HIV-positive residents. Baltimore’s HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a severely disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities and low-income people. Providing legal services to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS is vital to removing barriers to public benefits and defending against pervasive stigma and unlawful discrimination in accessing health care, housing, and employment opportunities.
During her Fellowship, Boatemaa:
- Established a partnership with a local specialized medical care provider to identify low-income HIV-positive patients with unmet legal needs
- Provided comprehensive legal representation, advice, and support to more than 200 clients, many of whom were patients referred by the partnering HIV medical services provider
- Trained and educated health care staff and the general community about the importance of legal assistance to stabilize the health of HIV-positive residents of Baltimore and its surrounding counties
Together, we have the power to break down barriers in access to justice and to ensure representation for all.
Boatemaa A. Ntiri-Reid /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Malissa provided direct legal representation in family law matters to people living with HIV in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties.
AIDS diagnoses in this country have not slowed, but people are living longer and fuller lives than they ever could have imagined at the beginning of the epidemic. People with HIV are getting married, having children, and encountering an array of legal issues that come with family creation and dissolution. The client base, predominately people living in poverty, people of color, and members of the LGBT community, is already at a disadvantage when it comes to equal access to the legal system. Once HIV is added to the already intensely emotional realm of family law, justice free of the influence of misinformation and discrimination often seems out of reach. This project will work to eliminate HIV stigma in the family law context and provide people living with HIV sort of stability that makes HIV a manageable chronic illness. This project fills a service gap in the mission of the AIDS Law Project.
In the past two years, Malissa has:
- Completed standby guardianship documents for ill parents who wished to make arrangements for their children’s custody in the event that they became too ill to parent.
- Advised clients on the intersections of HIV criminalization and Intimate Partner Violence and helped clients navigate the tenuous legal climate in Pennsylvania to obtain Protection from Abuse Orders.
- Conducted public benefits analyses for couples considering in marriage in the wake of the legalization of same sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
- Created a Pro Se Representation Guide for clients with the capacity and desire to represent themselves in common family law matters including divorce and child support.
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Malissa will begin work the Paris-based tech legal start up Wonder Legal and further their mission to bridge the gap in civil legal assistance between individuals who qualify for legal aid and those who can afford to hire private attorneys.