MJ Smith

The Project

Through a medical-legal partnership between the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Community Violence Intervention Program, MJ (they/them/theirs) will provide civil legal help to survivors of gun violence and collaborate on systemic advocacy efforts with clients and colleagues.

Gun violence negatively impacts hundreds of Washington D.C. residents every year. 81% of gun violence survivors receiving services from MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Community Violence Intervention Program have at least one unmet civil legal need. Many survivors do not seek legal help due to distrust of lawyers and the legal system. Survivors of gun violence are at risk for reinjury and retaliatory violence when their civil legal needs go unmet.

Fellowship Plans

Through one of the first medical-legal partnerships in the country with a hospital-based violence intervention program, MJ and their colleagues from the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia will promote the recovery and stability of gun violence survivors through trauma-informed civil legal services and systemic advocacy. Areas of civil legal help will include public benefits support, criminal record expungement, consumer debt relief, and family and housing law matters. Systemic advocacy will address chronic barriers to stability faced by gun violence survivors, such as food and income security, homelessness, access to healthcare, and the collateral consequences of over-policing and over criminalization.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

I want to be part of efforts to address community violence through compassion and harm reduction rather than criminalization and incarceration.

MJ Smith /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Carly (she/her/hers) will provide emergency legal care by addressing the unmet civil legal needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) survivors of intentional violence on Chicago’s South Side.

Chicago has seen a 139% increase in monthly homicides in the last two years. Chicago recorded more than 1,000 homicides in 2021, and 90% of those impacted by gun violence were BIPOC. Nationwide, Black men are fourteen times more likely than White men to be shot to death. BIPOC men are nationally underserved by legal service providers who could supply a path from justice involvement to economic stability. Individuals in Chicago who received emergency financial assistance were 51% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime. This decline in crime is causally connected to greater housing and economic stability.

Fellowship Plans

During her fellowship, Carly will establish a new point of access for civil legal services in Chicago through one of the country’s first medical-legal partnerships with a hospital-based violence intervention program (HVIP). Carly will provide trauma-informed legal advocacy in the emergency department alongside the credible messengers and community leaders at UChicago Medicine’s HVIP. Services will primarily focus on public benefits and will include wraparound civil legal support. Carly will also train medical staff on how to screen for civil legal needs to demystify the legal process for both providers and patients.

Working as an Emergency Medical Technician, I have seen firsthand the need for legal care in the emergency department.

Carly Loughran /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Megan’s Fellowship will provide legal services to vulnerable cancer patients in Washington, D.C. and will help clients address unmet needs surrounding health insurance matters.

The impact of a cancer diagnosis is life-changing and often devastating for patients and their families. In addition to the physical, mental, and financial issues associated with cancer, many patients also face unexpected legal challenges. Unfortunately, it is also at this critical time that patients are more likely to lose health insurance coverage, have a gap in coverage, or not be able to access the services they need.

Fellowship Plans

Megan will work with the Cancer Legal Assistance and Wellbeing (Cancer LAW) project at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, a collaboration with Georgetown’s Health Justice Alliance, which provides pro bono legal services to cancer patients receiving care at the hospital. After developing a new screening tool to identify patients with health insurance needs, Megan will work with patients referred for these and related legal issues. She will enroll patients in coverage, appeal improper denials of coverage, pursue retroactive Medicaid funds, and create resources to train future attorneys in this work. She will also collaborate with pro bono partners to create a Medicare Part D enrollment clinic to ensure that patients enroll in the best plan for their needs.

Cancer invites complicated legal problems. When I can help with their legal issue, patients can focus on their healing.

Megan Gordon /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ian’s (he/him/his) Fellowship will clear criminal records, restore driving privileges, and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in southern Mississippi.

Most people leaving prison find their ability to work, drive, access quality housing, and participate in our democracy severely hindered. These collateral consequences burden formerly incarcerated people long after their prison sentences end. In Mississippi, nearly 10% of adults have had their voting rights permanently stripped after a felony conviction; thousands more are blocked from meaningful employment and even from driving by their criminal records. It is no wonder that many formerly incarcerated people report feeling shut out of society.

In Mississippi, a state short on legal service providers, people need advocates dedicated to easing the collateral consequences of their convictions and helping them participate more fully in society.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Ian will represent formerly incarcerated individuals who seek to expunge their criminal records, restore their driver’s licenses, and petition for their voting rights back. He will hold intake clinics at public housing properties throughout southern Mississippi and take client referrals from local non-profits that serve re-entering people. Finally, Ian will develop a toolkit for pro se litigants who seek to remedy their collateral consequences.

“How can we justify placing barriers to employment and civic participation for formerly incarcerated individuals while simultaneously demanding their seamless return to society?”

Ian Gustafson /
2022 EQUAL JUSTICE WORKS FELLOW

The Project

Austin (he/him/his) will seek the release of individuals subject to prolonged immigration detention in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) through federal habeas corpus litigation and coordinated public advocacy campaigns.

Civil immigration detention has expanded rapidly in recent years, reaching an all-time peak in 2019. Due to challenges such as the lack of adequate medical and mental health services in detention centers, difficulty securing legal representation, long-­term separation from family members, and the risk of contracting COVID­-19 in confined settings, detained immigrants are often forced to give up on their viable immigration cases and accept deportation to their home countries. Individuals subject to prolonged immigration detention have a right to seek release through habeas corpus litigation challenging the constitutionality of their detention in federal court and may be able to advocate for their release outside of court with the help of community groups. Yet due to the capacity constraints of non-profit organizations and the realities of social isolation in detention, many detained immigrants have to fight their cases alone.

Austin draws inspiration for his project from his late grandfather, who showed him the importance of standing in solidarity with those in prison, and from his former clients, who have experienced and bravely fought through the trauma of immigration detention.

Fellowship Plans

Austin will employ litigation and public advocacy to secure the release of individuals subject to prolonged immigration detention and build a broader anti-detention movement in the DMV region. Austin’s project has three core prongs. First, he will litigate targeted habeas cases in federal court with the aim of building favorable precedent in the Fourth Circuit and beyond. Second, Austin will train and collaborate with a network of pro bono attorneys to litigate habeas cases across the region. Third, Austin will work alongside local community organizations to coordinate public advocacy campaigns seeking clients’ release.

Immigration detention, not only on the border but across the United States, is a form of family separation. I hope to fight the rest of my career to get people out of cages and back with their families.

Austin Rose /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madison (she/her/hers) will create a medical-legal partnership that serves low-income survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence in immigration, protection order, and family law cases. 

Every day in Washington, D.C., survivors of gender-based violence go without needed legal services. 88% of petitioners in the D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Division lack legal representation. Survivors may fear seeking protection orders or a divorce without representation due to concerns about retaliation or losing custody of their children. Survivors also experience immense immigration needs, but they often do not know their legal remedies, usually due to immigration-related abuse. Seeking legal services referrals from police or state actors or walking into a courthouse can be inaccessible for survivors. Two D.C. health care clinics, Children’s National Primary Care and AIDS Healthcare Foundation, noted a need among their patients for on-site legal services, particularly for domestic violence and immigration issues. 

Fellowship Plans

In collaboration with DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP), Madison will implement a medical-legal partnership co-located at Children’s National Primary Care in Columbia Heights and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Madison will conduct legal intakes on site and provide survivors with direct representation in protection order, immigration, and family law cases. Madison will also train health care providers to spot potential signs of violence and identify immigration issues to refer to her clinic. 

Access to legal services can drastically impact a survivor’s life—I am dedicated to creating this medical-legal partnership to aid D.C.’s survivors.

Madison Glennie /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through the Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance, Abby (she/her/hers) will increase vulnerable cancer patients’ access to free healthcare and estate planning documents by providing low-barrier direct services and integrating pro-bono and student volunteers into the Cancer LAW Project.

Cancer diagnoses generally highlight the importance of planning for life’s inevitable heartaches—of having answers to the questions confronting individuals facing debilitating medical treatments or approaching the end of their lives. In Washington, D.C., not all patients have a chance to make these plans with dignity.

Abby’s project seeks to address the racial health injustice in Washington, D.C. that manifests not only as disparities in disease incidence and outcomes, but also in advance planning. Black patients are less likely to have healthcare planning documents providing end-of-life quality indicators, which results in patients not having end of life wishes followed. Additionally, white families are 5x more likely to inherit than are Black families, reflecting the cumulative effects of living within systems of pervasive racial inequality. Healthcare providers know that future planning legal services can protect the health and well-being of patients and their families, meaning more equitable health outcomes. Up until now, providers could not write a “legal prescription” for patients’ future planning needs. Abby will fill a void in the healthcare system while also creating a robust referral network of pro bono attorneys and student volunteers to scale the project to meet needs. 

Fellowship Plans

Abby’s project will advance racial health equity in Washington, D.C. by increasing healthcare and estate planning legal services for cancer patients at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. She will meet patients where they are and will collaborate with the medical team to tailor legal documents. Abby will establish a pro bono program and referral network that includes recruiting, training, and case placement. Abby will also integrate volunteers into the MLP to address patients’ non-legal needs.

Even with a terminal cancer diagnosis, my Nana dedicated her final months to helping me as a first-year teacher, volunteering in my classroom and later grading student worksheets when she became too sick. Nana’s choice to live her life as she wanted—in solidarity with her granddaughter—should not be a privilege afforded only to some.

Abigail Sweeney /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Using litigation, advocacy, and coalition building to change systems that trap families in homelessness and poverty.

Needs Addressed by the Project

Sczerina created systems for parents who were at risk of becoming homeless or had become homeless to connect to a free legal advice and representation at the main DC intake center for homeless families. By being present at the moment of housing crisis, Sczerina could help parents fight evictions or illegal lock-outs, improve housing conditions, stop the condemnation of housing, connect parents to additional income sources, assert the rights of victims of domestic violence, stop wrongful terminations from housing programs or appeal illegal denials of shelter.

Fellowship Highlights

The project was vital in the relocation of families out of illegally operating communal shelters into apartment style units. Sczerina helped to restore millions of dollars to DC in the form of federal McKinney Vento funding. Sczerina was also vital in the creation of hundreds of local Section 8 vouchers for families, especially for children in the foster care system seeking to be reunited with their families. The project work continues today as an integral part of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless legal services. Families that are homeless have access to representation, resources, and the supports that they need to be safe, remain strong and ultimately move their and their children’s lives to a better place.

Next Steps

Sczerina was an adjunct Professor and a Clinical Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. Today she counsels seniors about their legal rights at the Legal Counsel for the Elderly Hotline.

Media

Housing is a human right: Sczerina Perot at TEDxASL

John Hopkins Approaches for Community and Political Organizing

The Project

Sabrina provides legal services and legislative advocacy for girls of color to ensure access to education that is free of discriminatory discipline, harassment, and violence from school-based police.

Sabrina’s Fellowship project seeks to address how school resource officers (“SROs”) contribute to the overrepresentation of Black girls in every aspect of school discipline and exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline. As victims of “adultification” bias, Black girls are often viewed as less innocent than their peers. This bias creates a barrier to connecting girls of color with the supports they need to thrive in school, such as mental health resources or even legal representation after facing discrimination. When paired with school policies that allow discipline to turn on subjective impressions of student behavior, this bias leads SROs to harshly discipline, sexually harass, and exclude girls of color—ultimately pushing them out of schools and into the criminal legal system.

As a first-generation Haitian-American, Sabrina grew up relying on spaces and mentors in schools to help her explore her identity as a woman of colorToday, she is dedicated to educational equity work as a means of keeping schools safe for girls of color as they similarly come into their own. 

Fellowship Highlights to Date

So far during the Fellowship, Sabrina has:

  • Reviewed, edited, and collaborated with Congressional offices on 8 federal school climate and discipline bills, set to be introduced in the 117th Congress.
  • Authored a 21-page public comment on behalf of the National Women’s Law Center in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for information on the “nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline.”
  • Convened 15 partner organizations focused on racial justice, gender justice, and disability rights and justice to strategize on advocating for the use of an intersectional approach when analyzing civil rights claims under Title VI, Title IX, and Section 504.
  • Developed strategy in partnership with other civil rights organizations to bring intersectional discipline discrimination claims on behalf of students to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office for Civil Rights.

Next Steps

In the next year, Sabrina plans to:

  • Host a series of back-to-school webinars, focused on school advocacy at the local level, school policing myths, adultification bias, and intersectionality.
  • Identify and represent girls in Title VI and Title IX intersectional administrative claims brought to the ED Office for Civil Rights on the basis of discrimination in school policing and exclusionary discipline.
  • Draft a model school discipline and climate bill for the 2022 state legislative sessions and support target states in introducing their adopted versions of the model bill.

Media 

‘Sexist,’ ‘Racist,’ ‘Classist’: Georgia 8th Grader Challenges School Dress Code

Eighth grader protests 'sexist' school dress code

How a 13-year-old girl is challenging a 'sexist,' 'racist,' 'classist' school dress code

Georgia 8th grader fights school dress code that she claims is sexist

Sacrifice the Status Quo, So Families Don’t Have to Sacrifice for Education

Will Democracy Keep Black Girls Safe?: The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act

Will Democracy Keep Black Girls Safe?: The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act

Will Democracy Keep Black Girls Safe?: The Ending PUSHOUT Act

In 2020, Black Women Kept Democracy Safe, but Will Democracy Keep Black Girls Safe? A Series on Creating Better, Safer Schools for Girls of Color

DeVos’ Hypocritical Power Grab at the Department of Education

Hair: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Behind the scenes, civil rights groups urge Biden administration to place limits on school police

At a very young age, I witnessed my parents make significant sacrifices for me to obtain a quality education. Since then, I have viewed education as a powerful doorway to opportunity, the access to which should not depend on someone’s race, gender, income, or zip code.

Sabrina Bernadel /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Julia brings litigation and engages in advocacy in Washington to expand the right to shelter for youth and reduce the criminalization of homelessness.

Many systemic gaps limit the prevention of and pathways out of youth homelessness. These include a severe lack of shelter beds and transitional housing for youth; restrictions on shelter stays; and inadequate transition planning from youth detention. Many jurisdictions in Washington have implemented policies and practices that criminalize young people for being poor, which only exacerbates these issues.

As a first-generation American raised substantially below the federal poverty line, Julia’s personal experience, as well as her professional legal experience, motivates her commitment to housing justice.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Julia has:

  • Submitted a comment to the Washington Supreme Court that advocated to pass a new rule proposal to quash all warrants for youth who are not a serious danger to public safety. Permanently limiting the issuance of warrants would positively impact unhoused youth by ensuring that they were not incarcerated for behaviors like missing a court hearing. This new rule passed in an 8-1 vote!
  • Filed six amicus briefs to the Washington Supreme Court which advocated on behalf of housing unstable youth and the rights of unhoused people, and advocated against the criminalization of youth.
  • Supported the ACLU in filing two lawsuits, one challenged the Seattle’s “sweeps” of encampments and one challenged Pierce County’s practice of referring court debt to collection agencies.
  • Involved youth who have experienced the juvenile court system, the child welfare system, and homelessness to write recommendations for the Washington Supreme Court and Washington Legislators.
  • Joined the Washington Coalition of Homeless Youth Advocates and attended monthly meetings.

Next Steps

In the next year, Julia plans to:

  • Submit and present a report to the Washington Supreme Court about the intersection of the juvenile court system and youth homelessness.
  • Bring litigation challenging ordinances that effectively ban shelters and housing services in municipalities and potentially also advocate to enforce a law which ensures that youth exiting systems of care do not exit into homelessness.
  • Create more resources for youth experiencing homelessness, such as a pamphlet, zine, or app.

Media

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

Safe and stable housing is not a theoretical issue for me, it is a life-changing necessity; one that allowed me to be here today only because my family secured housing when I was fifteen.

Julia Mizutani /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow