Technology Making Law Accessible?



As we have talked about before, the amount of civil law lawyers available to the public is dramatically less than what is needed in this country. Civil cases do not have a right to defense, even though a civil case can end with a person going to jail, losing custody of their children, losing health care coverage, or losing a home. Out of the five people who need a civil lawyer’s help, four of those people do not have access to it.


Landlords, creditors, and companies always have lawyers, tenants and debtors almost never do.


While most state bar associations support a civil right to counsel, and 18 different states are considering laws to guarantee a lawyer in certain civil situations, but we may have a long time to wait until that time. So what can be done in the meantime? Well, Matthew Stubenberg may have an answer that can help ease one of the burdens associated with lack of available civil law help.


While a student of law at University of Maryland in 2010 doing a clinic full of expungements -helping clients fill out and file petitions to erase qualifying parts of a criminal record. Even if there is no conviction, and even if there is, there are some lifelong ramifications to the effects of the records that can include homelessness from inability to get a job.


Maryland has a public database called Case Search that you can use to pull up relevant information to help you fill out the required parts of the forms, but the information transfer process can be long and tedious. “We spent all this time moving data from Case Search onto our forms,” Stubenberg said. “We spent maybe 30 seconds on the legal piece. Why could this not be easier? This was a problem that could be fixed by a computer.”


After law school he dusted off his coding skills and built a software that automatically transferred the tedious work into the new forms, helped determine if the case can, in fact, be expunged under the guidelines, and prints a completed form needing only a signature and filing with the court. Called MDExpungement, it puts one more thing that a civilian can do into their own hands. In October of 2015 there was a change in a Maryland law that made more cases applicable for the expunging process. Between October 2015 and March 2016, people filed almost eight thousand petitions in Baltimore City District Court, and more than two-thirds of those petitions came from MDExpungement.
While there are legal groups that are fighting to help bring civil law aid to those who cannot afford a lawyer in almost every state, the more that people can utilize technology to build systems that help, rather than disenfranchise, those who cannot afford legal counsel, the better off we all will be in the long run. We have made some strides in this area in regards to credit, taxes, and other financial applications. The next step is to make civil law easier to navigate on your own.

Religious Freedom Law in Texas

Abogado Aly Religious Freedom LawThe quest for agreement in the socio-political realm is hard to take on, and often leads to unsettling discord that calls for a compromise from all sides in argument. When issues of political reform are up in the air, advocates from both sides come into the forefront and offer their unabating, often conflicting perspectives. In Texas, however, the merging of two ideas which have historically caused disgruntled unrest passed with relative ease and is inspiring residents of the state to push neighbors to come to a similar understanding.
The law passed in Texas under then-Governor George Bush in 1999, peacefully bridged the gaps between a strong religious community and equally strong proponents of civil rights who wanted to secure anti-discrimination laws. Fifteen years later, Texas still shows a strong balance between the freedom of religious practices and the protection of civil rights. The members of the state, however, worry about the slowed resolutions in Indiana and Arkansas whose laws for religious freedom leave out important language explicitly protecting against discrimination of individuals, for example gays and lesbians, who pose a threat to the liberty of following religious tenets. That is, the freedom of religious practice granted under their laws may leave questions of bias unanswered. Indiana’s Governor Pence assures nobody will have the right to discriminate and deny someone an opportunity based on personal principles. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect July 1 and “would prohibit laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s freedom of religion” unless the government has more compelling reasons for doing so.2
In 1997 the Supreme Court overruled a 1993 decision saying laws that apply generally on a federal level do not apply to state laws, urging states to draft their own responses to growing questions and concerns over civil liberties. Today, Texan Republicans aim to add an abridged version of the law to the constitution solidifying its legitimacy for future rulings. More than anything, civil rights groups are worried the freedoms of practicing religion granted under law will be enough to reinterpret the protections guaranteed to groups facing discrimination. Still, lines are not evenly split as many churches, religious groups, businesses and civil groups are coming together with intentions to craft the fairest legislation that denies none his unalienable rights.


2015 Law Changes in Texas

Abogado Aly Texas Civil LawThere were several laws changed in Texas at the beginning of this year. Below are a list of some of the critical laws that became instated January 1st, 2015.

House Bill 62 – Prohibits all judges from holing financial interests in private rehabilitation or community residential facilities and correctional facilities.

House Bill 500 – An amendment in the Tax Code to broaden the definition of what is retail trade. The new services included in what is considered retail trade are rental-purchase agreements, auto shops, and the leasing or renting of event supplies, tool, construction equipment and furniture.

House Bill 3838 – A new requirement for motorcycles that are made to carry more than one individual. These types of motorcycles are required to have handholds and footrests for the use of the passenger.

Senate Bill 492 – A prescribed pediatric extended-care center without their appropriate license will be charged with a class B misdemeanor. Everyday the care center operates without the appropriate license will count as a separate offense.

Senate Bill 1806 – This gives the Harrison County Court at law, which was a misdemeanor court, jurisdiction with the 71st Judicial District due to high volumes of family law and civil law cases.

HB 41 – Raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

HB 48 – This law establishes review commissions after an individual is exonerated of a crime.  This law is put in place to prevent wrongful convictions.

HB 76 – Allows individuals to register to vote for the first time. The secretary of state will be responsible for implementing an official state website to allow voters to register online.

HB 80 – This law is set in place to prohibit texting and driving. The offense is now a misdemeanor with a fine of at least $25 dollars and at most $99 for first time offenders. For multiple offenders, the crime is punishable by $100 – $200.

HB 97 – Abolishes the statute of limitations for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault.


Lawyer Discusses Civil Law and Ferguson

Abogado Aly Civil Law Charles OgletreeAfter the ruling of the grand jury involved in the case of police brutality in Ferguson, Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School Professor, answered a few questions on the legality of the ruling, according to an article recently completed by The Daily Illini.  His thoughts were issued in the question and answer section of a presentation he was making at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center; the talk was about civil rights, police brutality and what comes next in the nation.  The grand jury involved in the case was ruling on the legality of the actions of police officer Darren Wilson, for the death of Michael Brown.  For Ogletree, the legality of the case is cut and clear—he believes Wilson should be arrested and indicted.  However, alternatively, the grand jury was unable to indict the police officer.  Ogletree wasn’t necessarily surprised; he claims that he did not think Wilson would be indicted because he’s a police officer, and officers of the law are rarely indicted, according to him.

As a result, students at the university that was hosting Ogletree for the presentation organized a march.  This was only one march of many that resulted around the country; Ogletree himself organized one for his students at Harvard.  In the question and answer portion of the presentation, one audience member asked Ogletree what was needed to keep a movement like this mobile.  For Ogletree, numbers are crucial; groups need to always be growing, allowing the initiative to become bigger and different than any others in the nation.  Ogletree also said that this is very feasible for those against the Ferguson ruling; he declared that here isn’t one state that the citizens can say people of color aren’t treated differently based in their race.

Ogletree isn’t just leading marches to make a stand against this issue.  The legal team representing Michael Brown’s family has already approached him, expressing interest in approaching the case from a civil law perspective.  Ogletree responded that that is a prospect he would be very much interested in, and has agreed to lend his support to the case.

Civil Law Presents Conflicts for Republicans

Abogado Aly Civil Law Houston TexasIt has become a standard amongst American society that when the individual sees they have been wronged, they are able to take their assumedly powerful foe to court.  The proceeding trial is often envisioned as a dramatic battle between good and evil, with the wronged party assuming they will always win, and manage to extract some monetary compensation out of the ordeal.  However, this standard amongst society in the United States can often be taken too far, in the eyes of some Republicans.

In an article recently completed by The Gilmer Mirror, the court proceedings of the state of Texas against the federal government of the United States were summarized.  The list of items the Lonestar State is suing over included air quality, health care, banking regulations and money for education.  In addition to this, school districts across the state are suing their state government.  The issue has become so extensive that Texas has been forced to hire “trail lawyers,” which specialize in civil law to defend against criminal indictments.

This conflict has resulted in two separate groups of opinion.  One side firmly believes that there should be limits placed on the number of lawsuits filed against businesses; however, this same group often encourages proceedings against the federal government, in the name of the cause they are fighting for.  Republicans in the state of Texas believe the court system is being taken advantage of by these very people.  Twenty years ago, George W. Bush, who was running for governor at the time, saw this problem, and proposed a possible solution.  The result was his four pronged campaign approach, which focused on a reform to civil justice, education, juvenile justice and welfare.  Conveniently, this sought to both rectify the “lawyer bashing” that had started to become popular, while also serving as an attack on his Democrat opponent; Democrats were notoriously a favorite in terms of donations from lawyers at the time.  Essentially, the reform made it harder to file some civil lawsuits.  While civil justice lobbyists have continue to fight the reform, the beliefs started with Bush’s campaign remain cemented into Republican campaigns to this very day.


Texas Companies Under Heat for Violations Against Americans with Disabilities Act

Abogado Aly Americans With Disabilities ActA new online article done by the “Austin Business Journal” discusses recent action taken by Texas civil right groups. The civil rights groups are suing cab companies for violations regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. The two civil rights groups in question are ADAPT and Texas Civil Rights Project. They have filed over 30 lawsuits across Texas against Uber, Lyft, and Yellow Cab stating that these companies do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ADAPT is a grassroots organization fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities. The Texas Civil Rights Project is a non-profit organization focusing on educating people and aiding litigation for economic, social, and racial injustices. ADAPT and Yellow Cab have been battling in litigation for years regarding the companies disability practices. Uber and Lyft are new to the industry; however, they have been completely absent in their efforts to make their service accessible for people with disabilities.

These startups are content with catering to a more young mobile group rather than complying the Americans with Disabilities Act because it makes their business move faster. Lyft, for example, does not have cars that are wheelchair accessible, in Austin, yet. Yellow Cab has been known to leave people with disabilities waiting for hours.
Both Yellow Cab and Lyft have released statements saying that their companies are committed to servicing the entire community with emphasis on people with disabilities.

Other businesses in Texas have been sued as well. Some of these businesses include residential lofts and condominiums, the Austin Club, La Michoacana Meat Market, and a Pizza Hut. Nightclub roof decks that are only accessible by stairs are a violation of the disabilities act and are also being sued. Medical facilities that do not provide deaf patients with an interpreter are also subject to litigation.

These are basic civil laws that many businesses seem to be ignoring. These civil rights groups have to take the law into their own hand and make a stand against businesses not complying with this basic civil law.

The Laws for Federal Minimum Wage in the United States

Abogado Aly Civil Law Minimum WageIn a recent article by United States Department of Labor, wage and hour division is discussed. In this article, many questions about minimum wage law are answered. A common question that many US citizens ask is, “how much is federal minimum wage?” The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This has been in effect since July 24, 2009. In many states, citizens are entitled to both the state and federal minimum wage laws- meaning the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage. That being said, there are also numerous exceptions apply under certain circumstances such as to workers with disabilities, full-time students, youth under the age of 20 and tipped employees.

Employees that fall under the “tipped employees” category often wonder how their minimum wage differs from other employees who are not tipped. An employer can not pay an employee less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at the least the federal minimum wage amount. On the other hand, if an employee’s tips combined with the direct wages received do not equal the federal minimum wage by the hour, then the employer has to make up the difference.

For people under the age of 20, there is also a different minimum wage for them. In the first consecutive 90 days working for the employer- the minimum wage is $4.25. After those 90 days are over, the employee is allowed to receive $7.25 per hours for minimum wage. In addition, there are also exceptions for full-time students. This applies to students who work in retail or service stores, agriculture, or college and universities. The employer that highers the full-time students can receive a certificate from the Department of Labor that allows the student to be paid not less than 85% of the minimum wage. In addition, the certificate also limits the number of hours the student works during the school year to no more than 8 hours a day and 20 hours a week. The certificate also requires the employee to follow all child labor laws and once the student graduates, they are allowed to receive $7.25 per hour.

To make sure everyone receives the correct amount of minimum wage they are allotted, the FLSA states that minimum wage applies to employees of enterprises that have an annual gross of at least $500,000. For additional information about minimum wage laws- people can visit the Wage-Hour website here.


New Voter Registration Laws Unsettling for Minorities

Abogado Aly Voting LawsA recent article in the Latin Post is claiming that the new voter identification laws in Texas are geared towards rejecting Black and Latino voters. The article sates that these newly passed laws are seen to be some of the most restrictive laws in the United States.

One member of the local NAACP, Edna Griggs, noticed that in the 2012 elections, poll watchers were not allowing her to bring water of chairs to many African-American senior citizens. This seemed reminiscent of the first elections where African-Americans were allowed to vote, but many poll watchers forced a fee for them to enter the voting booths.

The president of the Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoe, fears that the news laws will cause poll watchers to act discriminatory towards minority voters. Many fear that this will take away from the minority vote in for the upcoming midterm elections, as minority voters do not want this type of mistreatment when heading into the voting polls.

On the other side, Texas voting officials saw that these new voter ID laws are not discriminatory in any way. The purpose of these new laws is to prevent illegal voters from voting. The Voter Integrity Project and other conservative grassroots organizations have advocated for these new laws, saying that this will help screen for voter fraud and find fraud at homes. North Carolina has scrapped same-day registration and enforced photo IDs.

The article states that these new laws primarily target potential voters in low0income areas and college campuses. These laws came into effect in Texas in 2011. Several of these voting laws have been challenged across the country as minorities feel that they are being unfairly discriminated against in many strongly conservative areas.

This article that this blog post is written about can be accessed by clicking on this link.

Civil Cases – Wrongful Termination

Abogado Aly Wrongful Termination One very common type of civil law case is that of wrongful termination. Wrongful termination can fall under many categories. The first is discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee because of their race, religion, sex, nationality, age, and in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation. A couple of weeks ago, a Houston man by the name of Odell Hyden, filed a lawsuit against his company for age discrimination. Hyden had worked for Hagemeyer and its predecessor for over 50 years, and in April of 2013, he was let go for “poor performance.” Hyden alleges that this had nothing to do with performance and everything to do with his age. He is accusing his company for age discrimination, retaliation, and violations of the Human Rights Act.

This brings us to our second type of wrongful termination: retaliation. Retaliation is when the employer fires his or her employee because they have submitted a discrimination claim or are participating in a discrimination investigation. Retaliation is forbidden in the United States under civil rights law.

The next type of wrongful termination is an employee’s refusal to commit an illegal act. This should go without saying; however, it is still written in the constitution. If an employer asks an employee to perform an illegal act and he refuses, the employer may not fire the employee.

The last type of wrongful termination is when an employee is fired for not following the company’s termination procedures. Most companies have a procedure when terminating and employee. If that employee is let go before finishing the procedures, they might have a claim for wrongful termination.

In the US, there is no single wrongful termination law. There are several laws and court rulings that define the concept. Wrongful termination has become the most common labor claim in the United States.