Miles’ (he/him/his) project focuses on minimizing the crippling effects of heirs’ property on intergenerational wealth building in Middle Tennessee’s Black communities through free estate planning services, representation in partition litigation, and community education.
Miles’s project uses estate planning to help narrow the Black-white wealth gap in Middle Tennessee. Homeownership is the primary method of wealth-building in the United States, but Black Americans own homes at lower rates than other racial groups, and their homes are disproportionately held in heirs’ property. Heirs’ property is a form of joint ownership created when property owners die without an estate plan, which minimizes the owners’ home equity and makes their property vulnerable to a forced sale. Miles’s project will help community members prevent heirs’ property, maximize equity, and advocate for procedural rights in actions to force sale.
Miles was raised in Sumner County, Tennessee where many of his neighbors and family members own heirs’ property. His firsthand familiarity with the vulnerabilities of heirs’ property ownership has motivated him to pursue community-based legal work to minimize its harmful effects on families’ capacity to build intergenerational wealth.
To promote understanding of how heirs’ property ownership diminishes wealth, Miles will conduct community education clinics throughout Middle Tennessee’s Black communities. By providing free estate planning services to (non-heirs) property owners, Miles will also help prevent the promulgation of heirs’ property and help Black property owners begin a legacy of estate planning in their families. For families that own heirs’ property, Miles will facilitate succession plans and advocate for robust procedural rights during partition litigation.
The racial wealth gap undergirds countless racial inequities in the United States. I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Black communities build wealth through better access to legal services.
Miles Malbrough /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Wesley mitigated the damage caused by contact with the criminal legal system by providing a path toward a life free of a criminal record for individuals who are eligible for expungement but for outstanding court debt.
A single contact with the criminal justice system can keep someone from getting a job, a loan, an apartment, or a professional license for years. Court costs from even a single misdemeanor can add up to thousands of dollars, kickstarting a spiral of criminal court debt that can trigger driver’s license suspension, among other things. In Tennessee, court debt prohibits a person from qualifying for expungement, and has become one of the most common reasons that people do not qualify. Wesley’s project eliminated this obstacle to a clean slate by petitioning judges to waive court costs keeping people bound by a criminal record.
From an early age, Wesley began to see and think about the criminal legal system as many of his relatives were constantly swept up in it. In pursuing a law degree, Wesley knew he wanted to assist individuals who had been affected by the criminal legal system and he was glad to do so in his hometown for his Fellowship.
During his two-year Fellowship period, Wesley:
- Advocated before 15 judges on behalf of over 30 clients to petition for clients’ costs to be waived
- Successfully obtained over 20 orders waiving or reducing court costs, thus eliminating or reducing the final barrier to clients’ ability to have their records expunged
- Provided brief services, advice and/or referrals to many individuals
- Created an intake system to efficiently contact clients, determine the best way to resolve their problem with court debt, and ultimately get their costs waived
- Identified initiatives led by other organizations that could benefit clients and meet their needs when court cost waiver advocacy was not the most useful service for them
- Joined a coalition created to better understand how court costs, fines, and fees affect the lives of people who have contact with the criminal system and to develop policy solutions that address those issues
- Collaborated with other organizations and companies to create a system by which pro bono attorneys can provide reentry-related legal services to individuals in need after this fellowship has ended
Wesley will be returning to Nashville to work at Choosing Justice Initiative. There, his work will include creating and advocating for policies that eliminate or reduce criminal court-generated fines and fees.
It is imperative that we continuously interrogate the criminal legal system—its disparate impact on people of color and the poor, its treatment of individuals’ rights, and its outcomes.
Wesley Dozier /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
This Fellowship provided legal resources to the underrepresented, vulnerable migrant farmworker population in Southern Migrant Legal Services’ six-state service area (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana). Lauren supported workers when they decided to speak out against their employers and were perhaps most vulnerable, and helped to deter employers from such abuses.
This project assisted migrant farmworkers who are victims of labor trafficking in obtaining T visas and in seeking damages from their former employers and/or traffickers via litigation, using the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and breach of contract claims, among others.
Lauren has worked with immigrant victims of crime in prior employment positions. She speaks Spanish, which is helpful in work with migrant farmworkers, where the majority of clients are Spanish speakers, so it facilitates communication and services. She was also suited for the position because of her patience and empathy for her clients during an incredibly challenging, uncertain, and often terrifying time.
Darrius provided legal advocacy in low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by predatory home purchase scams to prevent abusive practices and build wealth.
Throughout the country, communities of color are being targeted for land contracts and other home purchase scams. Land contracts are a predatory form of seller financing wherein the buyer does not obtain title to the home until the final payment is made, and a default at any time can result in a loss of all equity and a swift eviction. Home purchase scams are becoming increasingly common in Atlanta due to several factors including a large inventory of cheap and poorly-maintained homes following the foreclosure crisis, a lack of state regulation, and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Darrius’ work will help prevent more wealth from leaving minority communities.
In the past two years, Darrius has:
- Advised over 200 clients about home purchase scams, home sale scams, and foreclosure rescue scams
- Provided direct representation to 40 clients
- Participated in multi-Plaintiff federal litigation, which resulted in a tremendous settlement for contract for deed clients and created precedent related to contract for deeds transactions in Georgia
- Created “Know Your Rights” materials in areas including foreclosure law, home purchase scams, home theft scams, equity theft, and loss mitigation for those struggling to pay their mortgage
- Participated in more than 40 community outreach events, which reached approximately 400 people
- Featured in a number of media interviews about contracts for deed and other predatory home purchase transactions
Following his Fellowship, Darrius will join Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to work in their Standing with Our Neighbors program. Darrius will provide legal assistance to vulnerable families and manage a legal clinic out of a public school in Atlanta.