Jake Kmiech

The Project

Jake will partner with his host organization, CASA, inc. to proudly represent immigrant communities facing housing instability throughout Maryland, ensuring they have access to safe housing and justice.

Housing instability in Maryland has reached a crescendo. Eviction rates and rents have risen hand-in-hand while housing conditions often have not, burdening low-income families already struggling to keep a safe roof over their heads. Housing instability specifically has a disproportionate impact on members of Maryland’s low-income immigrant community, who have unequal access to remedies under Maryland’s legal system due to language and cost barriers.

Fellowship Plans

Jake will provide direct and full legal services to tenants facing eviction, inhumane and unsafe property conditions, wrongful detainer suits, and other legal issues related to housing security. From initial interviews to trial, Jake will help tenants see a fair day in court. Additionally, Jake will host Know Your Rights training presentations. Knowledge is power, and this is especially true within our legal system. Jake will also aid community organizing efforts, campaign for improved laws, and draft legislation on behalf of Maryland’s immigrant communities.

In college, Jake dreamed of becoming an immigration attorney. However, after struggling with unsafe housing conditions while working towards his law degree, and after hearing hundreds of similar stories from almost everyone he knew, Jake switched gears. He believes that all people deserve access to stable housing and hopes to create a pathway for tenants to learn their rights and seek justice.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

I am proud to advocate for the rights of immigrant communities and tenants as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. In doing so, I play an active part in creating a more just and equitable society.

Jake Kmiech /
2022 Housing Justice Program Fellow

The Project

Majesta-Doré’s (she/her/hers) project will partner Legal Aid Justice Center with VCU Health System’s Emergency Department and nearby low-fee community clinics to combat health-harming legal needs that perpetuate health disparities in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.

Healthcare access is fraught for patients with low-income, non-citizen status, and other marginalized identities. Health Justice requires removing discriminatory barriers and providing broader access to legal tools before health-harming legal needs reach crisis level.

Despite VCU Health System consistently ranking in the top 100 medical centers in the country, Richmond and Petersburg County rank at the bottom in the 2021 health rankings. Social determinants of health, such as the high eviction rate, barriers in stable access to care, and access to lifeline benefits such as TANF and SNAP all contribute to these outcomes. Medical-legal partnerships improve patient outcomes, overall wellness, and reduce health disparities.

Majesta-Doré’s experience living with chronic illnesses and navigating the complicated U.S. healthcare system strengthens her resolve to combat barriers to stable access to care.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Majesta-Doré will establish a medical-legal partnership with VCU Health System to provide wrap-around legal services to patients in the Emergency Department. In the MLP, Majesta-Doré will counsel patients on health insurance appeals, appeal improper denials of public benefits, and train medical providers to spot legal needs warranting referral. Majesta-Doré will also work with community partners to provide community education about access to care.

Social determinants of health can change the trajectory of someone’s entire life. No one should have to choose between two life essentials because they need healthcare.

Majesta-Doré Legnini /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zach (he/him/his) will create a national pro bono network to provide legal assistance for traumatically-injured military service members who are denied recovery benefits. He will engage in community lawyering and systemic advocacy to increase access to financial assistance for these service members.

Military service members recovering from traumatic injuries often incur significant financial expenses, requiring medical services, rehabilitation, and caregiving as they recover. Many turn to the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Program (TSGLI) for aid, which was established by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide rapid, short-term financial assistance to these service members. However, applicants for TSGLI are frequently denied access to this benefit. Subsequently, traumatically injured service members are often left to pay for their recovery out of pocket, placing them at risk of incurring financial debt or falling into poverty.

Fellowship Plans

Through the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP)’s Lawyers Serving Warriors® (LSW) program, Zach will create the first-of-its-kind national pro bono network for legal assistance with TSGLI claims and appeals. He will train pro bono attorneys on TSGLI claim representation, place claimants seeking assistance with these volunteers, and mentor pro bono advocates as they assist TSGLI claimants. Zach will also employ a community lawyering model to reach traumatically injured service members by conducting Know-Your-Rights presentations, developing educational resources on TSGLI applications, and hosting legal clinics for TSGLI claim assistance. He will also increase access to TSGLI benefits by using administrative and legislative avenues to engage in systemic advocacy.

As a survivor of trauma and a family member to six Army veterans, I know firsthand the difficulties of healing from trauma and how acute those difficulties can be for our nation’s veterans. That lived experience has motivated me to fight disabled poverty in traumatically injured servicemembers and empower them as they heal.

Zach Outzen /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ndome (she/her/hers) will expand access to maternal healthcare for low-income pregnant people and women of color by addressing legal barriers to midwifery care through impact litigation, policy advocacy, legal research, and community education. 

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality ratio among developed nations. Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes, and Indigenous women are more than twice as likely. Unlike many other wealthy nations where midwives care for most birthing people, the U.S. has imposed medically unnecessary legal and financial barriers to midwifery services. As the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and further endangers maternal health, addressing these barriers has become more urgent than ever. 

Midwifery care has the potential to address many barriers to safe and respectful maternal health care. Expanded access to midwifery care, including more midwives of color, can equitably improve maternal health outcomes and enable low-income pregnant people of color to make meaningful decisions about where, how, and with whom they will birth. 

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Ndome will explore bringing forth a proactive, constitutional challenge to laws that restrict midwives’ practice and birthing people’s access to midwives. Additionally, she will monitor, track, advocate, and analyze proposed legislation at the state and federal level that may impact the ability of low-income people to access midwifery care. 

Media

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

I believe that reproductive rights are human rights and should be treated as such.

Ndome Essoka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Housing stability is an endemic issues across Virginia and particularly in Richmond. Richmond has the second highest eviction rates in the country, which is attributable to landlord-tenant laws that provide tenants with relatively few rights when facing eviction, the lack of knowledge by tenants of those few right, and a lack of access to legal resources to fight evictions. The existing stock of affordable housing in the greater Richmond area is crumbling and/or expiring, and affordable housing tenants are routinely discriminated against on the basis of race, income, immigration status, and criminal records.

Using a community lawyering model, Laura will work with other Fellows and organizers to build networks within high eviction neighborhoods in the Greater Richmond area to assess the greatest housing needs, provide know your rights trainings, and refer clients to partner organizations for emergency legal assistance. In consultation with effected communities, Laura will develop and institute impact litigation to bring about systemic housing reform. Laura will also engage in housing policy advocacy to demand better state and local policies in how landlords bring eviction proceedings, appropriation of funds for public housing, and more.

Media

Hana Hausnerova and Laura Dobbs column: What the end of Virginia’s eviction moratorium means for tenants

The Way Forward: Investing in Legal Representation for Tenants at Risk of Losing Their Home

Pandemic Lawyering: A Year in Review

The Justice Report: This one is about Evictions

The Project

Emily Lienard will advocate for students with disabilities who have been denied special education services due to Texas’s illegal cap on special education services through direct representation and systemic advocacy.

In 2004, the Texas Education Agency implemented an illegal 8.5% cap on the percentage of students who could receive special education services. This cap prevented approximately 400,000 students from receiving special education services, and many of those students have now dropped out, been referred to the criminal justice system, or remained in school with poor outcomes. After Disability Rights Texas encouraged the Houston Chronicle to investigate this cap, the Texas Legislature overturned the policy. The Department of Education has required Texas to develop a corrective action plan to identify impacted youth and offer compensatory services, but the culture of denial of special education services is still prevalent.

Emily has a brother with disabilities and knows how difficult it was for her parents to navigate the special education system. In her work as a student advocate, she became further motivated to use her personal and professional experience to do this work.

Fellowship Plans

Emily’s goal is for Texas schools to change their practices to identify students with disabilities from all backgrounds who need special education services, including compensatory services to address previous service denials through direct representation, community outreach, and expanding legal services through pro bono partnership.

It is essential that we ensure that students with disabilities are found eligible for special education services to accommodate their disability and become successful members of society.

Emily Lienard /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

The Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellowship helped increase access to no-cost, comprehensive civil legal services for survivors of human trafficking in Orange County. Through Elizabeth’s Fellowship, Community Legal Aid SoCal (formerly Legal Aid Society of Orange County) broadened and strengthened its collaboration with law enforcement, community organizations and other service providers to better serve victims of crime in Orange County and Southeast Los Angeles County. Additionally, the Fellowship strengthened pro bono and volunteer capacity through training presentations designed to teach them how to provide effective assistance and representation to trafficking survivors that is culturally competent and trauma informed. 

Elizabeth has long been committed to a career in public service—it is what led her to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for four years, then on to law school, to two internships with non-profits in Cambodia and South Africa, and then to Community Legal Aid SoCal. Each of these opportunities has expanded her knowledge of the law and deepened her commitment to advocating on behalf of those who need it most. 

The Project

I am creating a Special Education Clinic composed of private attorneys who will will meet regularly with parents of children in need of special education services to educate them about substantive topics within special education law, practical advocacy tips, and methods of resolving disputes under IDEA. The result will be a sustainable pool of pro bono attorneys offering legal advice and services to parents of children with disabilities. I will also be providing direct representation and performing community outreach.

The Inspiration

The Project

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.

The Inspiration

The Project

John Paul, a veteran of the United States Army, established a model consortium of higher education institutions to aid veterans and active duty troops with medical and disability issues, reemployment, and reintegration.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Veterans face unique challenges as they reenter the civilian world. These challenges are compounded by the wounds that many veterans bear, both inside and out, after returning from service in combat. Too many veterans return to civilian life to face unemployment, homelessness, and involvement in the criminal justice system. While benefits and services are available to help them cope with disability and the turmoil of returning to civilian life, too many veterans fall through the cracks. Veterans’ benefits and services are often poorly advertised, difficult to obtain, and delayed for long periods of time because of the overloaded system for determining eligibility.

Fellowship Highlights

During his Fellowship, John Paul has:

  • Developed a Veterans Initiative Program in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to assist veterans charged with petty offenses obtain the treatment, services, and benefits that they need to avoid future involvement in the criminal justice system
  • Promoted the development of veterans benefits clinics at law schools across the United States through conference presentations, co-authoring written material on the topic, and assisting in the creation of a veterans clinic consortium to support the work of existing and newly established veterans clinics
  • Educated attorneys, law students, and mental health professionals about the needs of military veterans in Virginia and the benefits and services available to meet those needs
  • Represented veterans in claims for disability compensation benefits and discharge upgrades

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, John Paul will advocate for policies that promote independence, autonomy, and inclusion of people with disabilities in Virginia as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.