Janeille (she/her/hers) will advocate for the veteran population in and around Marion County, Florida, to offer an accessible and holistic legal experience that tackles their housing insecurity, family instability, reemployment ventures, military sexual trauma, and other civil law issues.
Almost one-quarter of all veterans in the United States return from active military careers to rural communities. They face higher poverty rates, fewer housing options, less access to technology and affordable healthcare, as well as many other legal and social issues. The veteran population is also uniquely affected by physical and mental afflictions due to their service to this country, compounding the unfavorable situations they often face when they return home. This project will bring services to rural veterans through holistic legal services, education, and partnerships in the veterans’ local areas.
Through the hard work, determination, supportive words, and actions, Janeille rose above her situation’s limitations. She went to law school to save the world one community at a time, and her journey has begun.
Janeille will offer holistic direct civil legal assistance to the veteran population. She will create sustainable partnerships with community leaders and organizations to offer assistance and build trust with the veteran population. Additionally, Janeille will develop an educational outreach initiative called “Access to Resources,” which will be geared towards increasing accessibility and empowering veterans who may feel overlooked and powerless in connection with their rights and benefits.
There is a saying where I'm from, ‘Those who feels it, knows it.’ I know what it is like to feel powerless in a ‘dead-end situation,’ but I was able to grow beyond it because of the support of many, so now it's my turn to support those who feel powerless.
Janeille McPhail /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brianna worked to prepare the Central Florida area in the event of a future weather-related disaster. She also aided in efforts to serve the region as it endured some of the worst economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing free civil legal services and free community education opportunities.
In addition to being an area that experiences frequent weather-related disasters, Central Florida has also been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment in the area is heavily tied to the tourism sector. When Central Florida employers downsized their companies or shut down altogether due to the pandemic, whole communities were left jobless, leading to a higher number of civil legal issues. Brianna aided in the stabilization of the Central Florida community by assisting with those civil legal issues. Furthermore, Brianna aided residents of Central Florida in preparing for the upcoming hurricane season and provided counsel to residents following any future disasters. An essential part of this project was to educate community members so they knew how to be prepared for and respond to a disaster. Briana also aimed to make informational materials accessible to the community as they navigated the different issues that they were faced with.
When Brianna was a child, Hurricane Katrina struck the State of Louisiana and caused a flood that destroyed the homes of many of her loved ones. After witnessing the initial impact of the storm on her family, observing the inequitable recovery efforts, and seeing the long-term effects of the storm on the entire region, Brianna made the decision that she would become a lawyer and that she would use her legal knowledge to advocate for vulnerable people. Before becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Brianna worked in indigent criminal defense in Orange County, Florida, where she observed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on her clients. As a result of these experiences, Brianna knows what can happen when communities are destabilized and left without a safety net.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brianna provided direct legal services to residents in the areas of eviction defense, unemployment assistance, bankruptcy, and other civil legal issues that arose. To ensure community members were informed, Brianna sought to provide the local clerks of court with up-to-date guidance on the relevant COVID-19 response legislation so that the clerks could provide this information to residents with current legal issues related to the pandemic. Additionally, Brianna created “Know Your Rights” leaflets with pandemic-related information and provided these leaflets to COVID-19 testing centers. Finally, Brianna conducted virtual information sessions where she provided guidance to community members and leaders on key issues related to the pandemic.
To prepare for weather-related disasters, Brianna has:
- Maintained a good working relationship with other disaster response organizations
- Reviewed and updated her organization’s disaster response system in preparation for upcoming disasters
- Created accessible materials to disseminate to community members on the importance of disaster preparedness
- Provided direct legal services for different civil legal issues (i.e. FEMA appeals, public benefits, insurance claims, etc).
Avery’s project provided direct civil legal services for older victims of crime in North Central Florida. Additionally, Avery conducted training and outreach on elder abuse and exploitation to the local legal and advocate community.
Avery’s motivation to pursue public interest work stemmed from a desire to help people whom the law often overlooks. Avery heard attorneys say that their motivation to seek public interest work stems from “wanting to give a voice to the voiceless,” but that phrase has always struck her as problematic—all clients have voices; the job of an attorney is simply to amplify them. Avery worked with immigrant children who survived abuse, neglect, gang violence, and state violence and with women who have survived domestic and dating violence. Avery’s Fellowship worked with a new group-the elder community to combat abuse and exploitation and to amplify their legal needs.
Avery provided holistic civil legal services to stop abuse and ameliorate the effects of abuse and exploitation, including securing injunctions and discharging debt incurred due to exploitation. The project also obtained, preserved, and increased public benefits that allow elderly victims of crime to obtain or maintain community-based care.
Maria established a mobile legal clinic to provide legal services and educational outreach to vulnerable military veterans throughout Florida. Her Fellowship aims to empower at-risk veterans to obtain employment, stable housing, financial security, and VA benefits they deserve.
Inadequate access to justice is an acute problem for Florida’s veterans due to a variety of reasons including mental and physical conditions, misinformation, inadequate outreach, and logistical obstacles. Moreover, veterans facing Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma may struggle to (1) access VA healthcare and benefits, (2) obtain employment, and (3) avoid homelessness and incarceration. The veterans mobile legal clinic eliminates these barriers by serving veterans where they are.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Maria has:
- Provided legal services to over 50 Veterans throughout the State on a variety of legal issues, including family law, housing, guardianships, VA benefits, and discharge upgrades
- Met with six community stakeholder organizations, including members of the Florida Bar Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and other organizations providing legal services to veterans
- Promoted the mobile legal clinic project in various meetings throughout the state with stakeholders that included homeless coalitions, local service providers, community groups, legal services organizations, and national advocacy groups for veterans
- Established a collaborative relationship with the local law schools to create partnerships
- Completed a trial prep multi-day course with NITA and applied for VA certification
In the next six months, Maria plans to:
- Work with sponsors to increase the project’s pro bono capacity
- Work with grant writers to identify and begin to establish sustainability opportunities
As a family member of veterans who have served in every military branch, I understand veterans need access to legal services to minimize the negative impact combat-related trauma has on their lives and the lives of their family members.
Maria Ceballos-Zagales /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Katherine focused on the failure of the criminal justice system to identify and accommodate individuals with developmental disabilities who have been charged with a crime. Focusing first in Alachua County, Florida, Katherine provided education and resources to those working within the criminal justice system and caretakers of people with MR/DD. Additionally, Katherine created an avenue for all involved to communicate their concerns and ideas.