A Marine veteran, Joseph had fallen behind on his rent due to unemployment during COVID.  The parent of a 4-year old, Joseph took his young son for a visit to his parents, making the best of difficult times.  When he returned to his apartment on Friday, May 8, he discovered he had been locked out by the landlord. The following Monday, Joseph reached out to Lone Star Legal Aid for help.  By Tuesday, LSLA had filed for a writ of re-entry with the Justice of Peace, which was heard that same day by phone. The judge granted the writ of re-entry and a constable served it on the landlord the next day.  

When the property manager let Joseph back into his unit, he discovered the landlord had taken all of his guitars and music equipment, claiming an alleged landlord’s lien on the items.  One of the guitars was a gift from Joseph to his son – and now it was gone.  After doing some investigation, LSLA’s Nick Whitaker determined the landlord did not have the right to assert a landlord’s lien in this case.  Whittaker then filed a lawsuit in district court for monetary damages for the illegal lockout and filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) demanding the return of Joseph’s items. 

The day before the TRO hearing, the landlord called to settle. He agreed to return all of Joseph’s belongings and let him stay in his apartment through the end of June, forgiving all the back rent in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.  Joseph agreed to the terms and received his guitars and electronics back in good condition.  He can now move forward with his life – without any rental debt – and no eviction on his record.  “I am so appreciative of all the work Nick and the whole LSLA team did to help me,” shared Joseph. “He listened to my issues and kept me informed – all while getting things done very quickly. I couldn’t be happier with the service I received. Thanks, Lone Star Legal Aid!”

Marine Veteran’s Guitars Returned with LSLA’s Help Resolving an Unlawful Lockout

Imagine a young child, almost 14 years of age, being forced into sex trafficking, meeting a variety of men each day and night because your significant other gave you no choice. Kassandra thought this was her new normal and that sex trafficking and physical abuse was acceptable, because that is all she ever knew.

Kassandra met Lilah in San Diego, California in 2012 when she was just twelve years old and instantly knew she was in love with her. She expressed to her mother that she was bisexual and she did not approve. Her mother thought life would be hard for her because she would be judged harshly.

Kassandra’s father was never in the picture and her mother was in and out of jail, leaving Kassandra to learn to provide for herself. Prostitution was the only way she knew how to make money. Lilah pretended to love Kassandra and being so young and naive, Kassandra started to get attached and believed her feelings were real. Not too long after they both made their relationship official, Lilah started setting Kassandra up for sex with different men in different hotels each day.

“The first week into dating, it felt like a real relationship but then soon after, I realized Lilah just wanted me around so she could pimp me out to make money. Every time a guy gave me the money for sex, Lilah would steal it,” Kassandra said.

Kassandra felt like she never had a choice. Even when she didn’t want to have sex with all these different men in the trafficking ring, Lilah forced her into it because that was their source of money as a couple. She was psychologically stuck, she thought this was normal and even believed Lilah still loved her regardless of the fact that she was giving her body to multiple men a day.

“I couldn’t leave her. I was young, dumb and in love. That lifestyle was just so normal for me. It was all I ever knew so I did what she said because I thought that was the only way to keep her around,” Kassandra said. “I couldn’t get out of this situation either. I was already in too deep.”

Lilah would boast about beating past women up for not doing what she said, but Kassandra thought of Lilah’s stories more like a threat and never thought Lilah would do that to her.

Their relationship soon became physically abusive. Lilah would hit and slap Kassandra in the face, but she still didn’t believe she was trying to hurt her. Finally, after a tip was sent out, the police conducted a sting operation and caught Lilah trying to sell Kassandra on the streets. She was arrested and sentenced to prison for two and a half years. Kassandra, still in love and now of consensual age, married Lilah after she was sentenced.  

After Lilah was released, their relationship continued, but they struggled. There was a time during their marriage that they were living out of one car for several months. Kassandra came to the realization she wanted a better life and a life without Lilah. She moved to Texas in 2020. When she arrived, she learned that she was pregnant. Because she was having sex with so many men, the father is unknown. Kassandra, all the way in Texas, was afraid because Lilah’s controlling, manipulative and violent behavior persisted, causing her to fear for her and her child’s life. It got to the point where Lilah would call her wife Kassandra 20 times in one minute or at least 100 times a day.

When Kassandra’s baby was born, Lilah came over and demanded to see the baby. After holding the child for a brief minute, Lilah stole the baby by running to her car. Lilah endangered the 19 day-old child by putting him in the passenger’s seat and drove off, not returning him for an entire day. A second time, Lilah came over to Kassandra’s apartment and tried to steal the child out of his car seat while Kassandra unloaded her groceries.  Luckily, she was able to stop Lilah.

 “I am scared she is going to come after me again and this time it is going to be worse,” Kassandra said. “I have thought about her coming to find me and my child and locking us up.”

Lone Star Legal Aid’s Legal Assistance to Survivors of Sexual Assault project took Kassandra’s case.  Attorney Brittany Hightower is currently seeking a protective order first before finalizing the divorce so that if Lilah tries to come in contact with her or her child ever again, she will be taken to jail. Attorney Hightower did research and found out Lilah has warrants out for her arrest in Georgia, Arizona, California, Texas, and Rhode Island for kidnapping. Kassandra knows she has to do everything she can to keep her baby boy safe from Lilah, who is out of control and dangerous.

“I know I am a victim, however, now that I have a child, it’s not about me anymore. I am getting a protective order from that woman so that my child is safe from her. I would tell anybody who has a child involved, not to stay with their abuser because it is just going to hurt more than help.”

Kassandra wishes she could go back and tell herself what she knows now. She also has accepted the fact that she was young and did not know how to stick up for herself, thinking she was in love with her abuser who trafficked her for years. All Kassandra can do now is tell others who are being trafficked or are in an abusive relationship, to leave.

“Being in a violent relationship is not worth it. You may feel like the process of getting out of your situation may be stressful, but it is worth it in the end,” Kassandra said.

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Sex Trafficking – She was Already in too Deep

The Constitutional rights of several residents were being violated in a low-income housing complex in Center, Texas. They were facing invasion of privacy and unequal protection to the laws rooted by racial discrimination. The Center Housing Authority (CHA) continually violated these residents’ Constitutional rights by breaking multiple federal laws. The landlord’s rules and regulations were so restrictive that the residents’ homes felt more like a penitentiary cell block.

The First Amendment protects the right of association, meaning the residents have the Constitutional right to invite guests in their homes without interference by the right of privacy, right to enjoy their property, and good public policy. The CHA director, Ms. Hemsworth implemented her own rules and regulations, restricting residents from having any an in-town, non-family member guest over and only allowing family members to visit up to two times per month or only 15 days a year.

One of the residents told Lone Star Legal Aid that she watches her grandchild when her daughter goes to work. Ms. Hemsworth told our client she was not allowed to have her daughter or granddaughter over more than two times a month and if she violated this order, she would have her daughter charged with criminal trespassing.

Ms. Hemsworth sent a resident a notice of eviction for having her male boyfriend visit her for overnight stays, something the CHA’ rules outlawed. What was offensive and illegal about this course of punishment was that it was unreasonably reached into the resident’s bedroom in effort to control their personal lives with no legitimate purpose.

A resident explained a time when she came home to find maintenance snooping in her home without a reasonable purpose and was instructed by Ms. Hemsworth to do so. Several residents complained of finding cameras installed in their homes. They later discovered they were being watched for guests and received notices with threatening eviction language.

The Fourteenth Amendment was violated by failing procedural due process and violation of substantive due process stemming from CHA’s outrageous rules. CHA required residents to provide periodic detailed reports of expenses, well beyond what is required by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to verify income eligibility. If their expense report showed a large purchase such as a household appliance or television, CHA would increase rent without notice or right of protest or appeal. Federal regulations require that rent increases can only be determined from an annual review of income, not guesswork or assumptions. The residents still had their right to contest or appeal rent increase, but many residents, including Lone Star Legal Aid clients did not know that or did not know how to do that.

In addition to violating three Constitutional Amendments, the injustice didn’t stop there. CHA would wake up residents at late hours of the night to park their cars how Ms. Hemsworth wanted them parked. She would schedule last minute appointments with the residents and expected them to miss work to make the appointments or otherwise be penalized. These appointments were scheduled to be scolded for parking wrong or about the type of guest they had over the prior day. CHA continually threatened to terminate their leases if they didn’t follow these unreasonable and illegal lease provisions and policies.

Lone Star Legal Aid attorney, David Guillory, took on the case and was determined to fight for their rights amended by the United States Constitution. Each of the clients were a resident of the CHA receiving rental assistance under provisions of the revised U.S. Housing Act of 1937. Contents of the lease are federal law within what is allowed by the HUD. CHA denied any action was unlawful. The overreaching crisis created by the CHA’s rules was that each of the three named clients or plaintiffs was being evicted for the violation of illegal, unconstitutional rules.

 “When I first heard the client’s stories, I not only knew that there were Fair Housing Act and constitutional violations, but I knew she had a story that if a stranger told it to you in the five minutes you had while waiting for a bus, you would be outraged and instantly in her corner,” David Guillory said. “This was a good jury story that screamed injustice regardless of whether it violated any laws and regardless of the race of the parties.”

As a result, Lone Star Legal Aid filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas challenging all of the rules and policies. The residents alleged that the housing authority’s policies and practices violated their rights. After a one-year fight, the housing authority redrafted its policies and standard lease to comply with federal law and to be more sensitive to the rights of its residents. The case was settled and by agreement, Lone Star Legal Aid now has the final right of the approval of language when it comes to its clients lease and the rules set forth in it.

“By forcing the Center Housing Authority to revamp and rethink its policies, we improved the lives of more than 200 families at two large housing complexes,” David Guillory said. “This was what the Legal Services Corporation was formed for. Very few of our clients have big damages cases, so to make a difference in our communities, were are always looking for impact cases where one or two named plaintiffs can change policies and business practices that improve the lives of many similarly situated people.”

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Invasion of Privacy and Racial Discrimination: Violation of Constitutional Rights in Housing

Cheryl was 75 years old when she lost her husband. In addition, her vision is failing and she suffers from stage 4 renal cancer. When Lone Star Legal Aid first met Cheryl, she was living alone with no nearby relatives and sleeping on her couch. She relied upon Meals on Wheels for food, receiving only 4 meals a week, and had no way of getting to the grocery store on a regular basis. She was financially unable to pay for the gas in her vehicle that her Home Health provider used to do her errands.

Cheryl presented herself as a very proud woman and was not used to asking for help. Her husband had cared for her until his own health declined, sending him into a nursing home, to later unexpectedly pass away.  It was her husband’s death in January 2020 that connected Cheryl with the Lone Star Legal Aid Conroe Branch Office. She was given our number and convinced by her Home Health provider to reach out. 

Although she had only reached out for assistance with probating her husband’s will, it became apparent that she had little to no assistance with other necessary aspects of life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the course of the interview with the Lone Star Legal Aid Conroe Branch paralegal Natalia Reese, these needs were addressed. Natalia was able to provide advice on pertinent COVID-19 issues like Stay at Home orders and Public Utilities. Natalia was also able to assist her with applying for Food Stamps online, to get the maximum benefit for the COVID-19 period. 

When Natalia asked how Cheryl was able to get provisions from the store, she said that her Home Health provider can do so from time to time, but they use her car, and paying for gas to do so is a hardship. Natalia Reese immediately researched Food Pantries in the area and after speaking with San Jacinto County Emergency Management, was given a resource to contact; Crowdsource Rescue. Crowdsource is a Houston-based non-profit that uses next-generation technology to quickly connect both professional first-responders and vetted volunteers with response cases immediately before, during, and after a disaster. One such response is taking food to those without the means to obtain it for themselves.

Working with this new coalition, Natalia Reese helped Cheryl apply online for all of the services referenced above.  Natalia was able to reach out to Crowdsource Rescue and give them a list of items that Cheryl needed. They were able to coordinate and deliver the items on the very same day. Crowdsource Rescue is also going to assist in getting Cheryl a bed to sleep on.

Conroe Branch Managing Attorney Deborah Concepcion and Conroe Branch paralegal Mary Rodriguez personally drove to Cheryl’s home to begin the process of opening the matter to assist her in Probating her husband’s estate. They were also able to assist her in notarizing some documents that she had not been able to do because she lacked the resources and transportation to get out.  

Now that all of that is taken care of,  Natalia Reese will be assisting Cheryl with applying for Social Security Disability and Social Security Income.

Probate & Public Benefits – Holistic Legal Services

Being verbally and physically abused is a difficult affliction to tolerate. Being stalked and not knowing when your stalker just might show up is even worse. It causes fear and takes a mental toll on the victim.

Cody met Delilah in high school but their relationship did not take off until they reunited 23 years later, after Delilah divorced her first husband. The beginning of Cody’s relationship with Delilah was easy, they got along and were happy, but he soon came to realize Delilah was hiding behind a mask of aggression. As their relationship continued, Delilah’s true colors began to show.

“She would verbally and emotionally abuse me by trying to scare me into things. It was straight manipulation,” Cody said. “She didn’t display these behaviors at first, but then she slowly started showing this other side of her.”

They dated for six years on and off,  all the while she controlled Cody and was unfaithful. “She was always aggressive. She would punch me in the face in front of my friends, jump on my back and choke me, and spit in my face. I had to walk on egg shells around her because I never knew what was going to happen.”

Since they had a continuous on and off relationship, Delilah would call Cody’s place of employment and harass him. She sent harassing email to his manager by hacking his accounts.

Cody ended up quitting and transferring locations but Delilah found him. She took extreme measures and went to every store within a 60 mile range to find him. Cody felt he couldn’t escape her.

He could not take it anymore and feared she might show up anywhere he went so he called Lone Star Legal Aid for legal guidance. The attorney assigned to his case gave him safety planning advice that would prevent further contact and communication with Delilah as well as help keep his whereabouts private.

“I was advised to block her from all platforms, change my number and change all passwords on my social media and email accounts. It has been helpful in keeping me safe from her.”

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Domestic Abuse and Stalking – The Advice

Kacey was well in her pregnancy when her aunt promised to help her and her boyfriend Trevor with the coming of their new child. They were excited to have a nurturing home to bring their child home to. After Kacey and Trevor moved into her aunt’s house though, Trevor began getting close to her cousin Juliana. Juliana was not even a teenager at the time. He initiated what was later discovered to be a sexual relationship by protecting her, speaking for her and taking care of her. She had not admitted this to her parents at the time, but she felt emotionally attached to him, almost like if he were her boyfriend.

Everyone went to the hospital for Kacey’s newborn baby, excited to meet their new family member. Mrs. Williams, Juliana’s mother, noticed she was displaying unusual behavior. She seemed agitated and would not interact with Trevor. Mrs. Williams began to connect the dots and had a suspicious feeling about Trevor. Later that day, Mrs. Williams learned that Trevor had sexually abused her daughter multiple times. 

“He manipulated her by telling her he loved her and wanted to be with her,” Mrs. Williams said. “He promised her that when she got older, they would run away together.”

The county victim services unit referred Mrs. Williams to Lone Star Legal Aid should she or her daughter need any additional help. Mrs. Williams and her husband wanted to make sure Juliana never come into contact with this man ever again. LSLA got Juliana a lifelong protective order which prohibits Trevor from communicating with her, using third parties to communicate or physically coming into contact with her. Once Juliana turns 18, she has the option to see Trevor in which she would have to file a new motion with the court. 

Trevor has been in jail now for 5 months awaiting trial. He is facing life with or without parole depending if he is convicted on one or both charges. They both thank LSLA for their support during this emotional journey. 

“Lone Star Legal Aid was amazing and the process was so quick. Our attorney never questioned what we wanted for our daughter. She got us the lifelong protective order we needed to keep her safe.”

Juliana is now safe from her offender and is protected under law. “I feel safe because now he won’t be able to hurt me, my family or future families,” she commented. She knows how dangerous he was and has been reassured he will not be able to violate her anymore. 

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Child Sexual Abuse – She Is Safe Now

Walking on egg shells around your abusive partner can be terrifying, especially when you are constantly being threatened and assaulted. Kaitlyn was just a teenager when her boyfriend began violent tendencies.

When Peter was 23 he met 19-year-old Kaitlyn. Soon thereafter, she became his girlfriend and then she got pregnant with his child. Early on in their relationship, she learned that if she said something he did not approve of, he would punch her in the face. If she tried to leave the house during an argument, he would threaten to kill her. Immediately following her pregnancy, he got into drugs.

“He was addicted to heroin and crystal meth which made him angry.” Kaitlyn said. “He already had a bad temper, but the drugs made him violent.”

In addition to the abuse, every little aspect of Kaitlyn’s life had to be monitored by Peter. Unfortunately, Kaitlyn didn’t know how to stand up her herself or escape. Her fear outweighed all options. She felt as though she had no choice but to put up with him for the sake of their baby boy.

“I was scared to talk or do anything around him because I feared he would hurt me or my child. He has always been emotionally unstable and very controlling,” Kaitlyn said. “He would control what I wore and wouldn’t ever let me leave the house. If I wanted to hang out with friends or go to the grocery store, he would assume I was cheating.”

The police were called multiple times for domestic violence and child endangerment. Peter didn’t just physically abuse Kaitlyn while she was alone, but would also aggressively punch and slap Kaitlyn while she was holding their newborn baby.

“Every day he would threaten me with physical violence. He told me if I tried to leave the house, he would shoot me,” Kaitlyn said. I believed him because he actually attempted to kill me several times. He’s tried running me over with the car and shooting me. One time he fired his gun and the bullet nearly missed my head.”

Two weeks after Peter attacked her and their baby, Kaitlyn called the police again. While they were at Peter’s mother’s house, Kaitlyn’s received a phone call from her friend, but since Peter didn’t approve of her friend, he punched Kaitlyn in the face. This altercation ended in his sister and mother pulling him off of her.

He was arrested, charged with domestic violence and sat in jail for a year awaiting his trial in 2020. In the meantime, Kaitlyn gathered the strength to seek help from Lone Star Legal Aid for her and her one-year-old son. He voluntarily relinquished his parental rights and was ordered to take an anger management class while Kaitlyn was granted a protective order.

“Lone Star Legal Aid helped me get full custody of my son and I definitely feel safer,” Kaitlyn said. “I want to tell other teenagers like myself that are experiencing dating violence that it might be hard to leave a violent relationship, but life will get easier once you do.”

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Teen Dating Violence – Walking on Egg Shells

Lucy didn’t know what else she could do. Her husband would rape her, beat her, and punch her. Being that she is a legal permanent resident in the United States and not a citizen, he would threaten to call immigration officials and have her deported. Lucy sought help from a neighbor when Jimmy, her husband, put a knife up to her throat. Her neighbor recommended she get out as soon as possible. She went to a women’s shelter, and they helped her apply for housing assistance, but she was denied. 

Unbeknownst to her, Jimmy’s abuse expanded far beyond her and her children’s personal safety. Her housing application was denied because the IRS was pursuing her to collect over $300,000 that it claimed she owed for income she received over the years, and therefore she made too much to qualify for housing. However, she hadn’t worked at all in those years, as Jimmy was very controlling. Turns out, Jimmy used her Social Security number to hide his construction income, and after he was confronted, told Lucy there was nothing she could do about it because they were married. 

Stealing Social Security numbers was nothing new for Jimmy; he’d used many over the years. It’s how he was able to afford two homes for himself as well as homes for his mother and siblings in Honduras. The women’s shelter referred Lucy to LSLA, and she was then referred to the LSLA’s Low-income Taxpayer Clinic. After analyzing the facts of her case, the Clinic determined she had a good chance of being granted innocent spouse relief. 

Taxpayers are eligible for innocent spouse relief when:

  • A joint return is filed that has an understatement of tax that’s solely attributable to your spouse’s erroneous item. An erroneous item includes income received by your spouse but omitted from the joint return. Deductions, credits, and property basis are also erroneous items if they’re incorrectly reported on the joint return;
  • It is established that at the time you signed the joint return you didn’t know and had no reason to know, that there was an understatement of tax; and
  • Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understatement of tax.

The Clinic submitted her request, and she was granted full relief of the liability.

* Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Tax Identity Theft – Innocence Affirmed, Debt Relieved

It wasn’t unusual for the police to arrive at Cynthia’s home in the middle of the day, however this time, they expected to find her dead. They always came and checked on her and warned her to never leave her house at night. Cynthia was a victim of domestic violence for two years until she got a divorce from her husband who was a man with a fiery temper.

After one week of marriage, Cynthia knew she had made a mistake. Jacob got addicted to his prescription opioids and began to brag and insinuate that he knew how to murder people and hide their bodies. He boasted on how he could get away with the crime and this frightened Cynthia. She feared for her own life and had to walk on egg shells around him.

Jacob constantly abused Cynthia with threats of violence. He was the type of husband that would act out aggressively and verbally abuse her. Even though she was able to make it through two years of marriage, Cynthia always feared her husband might kill her. 

“He had a horrible temper,” Cynthia said. “If I said something he didn’t like, he would go into a screaming rage and it terrified me because I never knew if he would reach for a gun.”

Since the divorce, Jacob refused to move out of the property Cynthia was awarded. For revenge, Jacob killed two of her three pets. He shot her dog to death, then proceeded to poison and kill her cat with ethylene glycol and watched her stuffer to death. He also attempted to poison her other dog. Cynthia was devastated at the loss of her animals, so she left the house and went to live with her sister.

Almost two months later, she returned and Jacob was still living in her house. She called the police and they threatened to charge him with trespassing if he did not leave the house within three days. He refused.

“He called the police back and told them I broke into his home, stole thousands of dollars and put a gun to his head,” Cynthia said. “When that didn’t work, he called them again saying I vandalized his car.”

Cynthia realized what Jacob was trying to do. Jacob was setting her up to make the police believe she was the abusive one with a violent and explosive temper.

She told him “I know you are setting me up to murder me so that you can use me as your excuse for defense. You are making me out to be the crazy, bad guy,” Cynthia said. “I knew if I went to my house, he would have shot me dead.”

She got the call.

Firefighters rushed to her home which was up in flames. Jacob’s son from his previous marriage told Cynthia that Jacob had a history of burning personal property for insurance money and that this was in fact an act done by Jacob. His daughter from his previous marriage also confirmed her father’s habit of insurance fraud.

It was ruled arson and Jacob was arrested. Their investigation led them to discovering the fire had been started at the doorway of the master bedroom. After being taken to jail, Cynthia spoke with him about how the fire started while he was in the home. His story kept changing from he had an oil lamp and knocked it over to he was burning rats out of the house. In addition to his story changing, the police said he was displaying suspicious behavior. 

Cynthia later learned that there were kitchen appliances missing from the house and that Jacob took them to a storage unit the same day he set fire to the house. She attempted to retrieve her belongings, but since the unit was filed under Jacob, she was not granted access.

Lone Star Legal Aid took on the case and first began with filing an injunction, which is a court ordered motion that compelled the storage facility to comply with her request of returning her belongings or be charged with contempt of court. 

With the additional evidence against him, Jacob was also charged with insurance fraud. Lone Star Legal Aid was able to get Cynthia’s belongings back, get her a protective order, and change her name.

Jacob faces sentencing of 40 years starting in February of 2020. Cynthia is grateful for Lone Star Legal Aid helping her in every way they could to protect her.

“I am very appreciative for Lone Star Legal Aid and the attorney I had. She was understanding and caring towards my situation,” Cynthia said. “If I can help other domestic violence victims, I would encourage them to get out as soon as they can.”

  • Names were changed to protect the identity of the client.

Domestic Violence and Arson – A Man with a Fiery Temper

Image result for sad daughter with mom

His subtle behavior only lasted so long before his blood boiled and his rage was unstoppable causing him to physically and psychologically abuse his wife and neglect his two children. Living a life of anger and controlling behavior, Michael refused to treat his family with care. His wife Brittney not only feared for her life but was afraid Michael would put their two little girls in danger.

Brittney and Michael’s relationship had been off and on for three years. In the early stages of their relationship before they got married, Michael never displayed any type of abusive behavior until he started using and drugs such as meth, cocaine and marijuana. Brittney was unaware Michael was doing drugs until she caught him shooting meth into his body. Furious with Michael, she ended the relationship.

After one year, Michael stopped using drugs, was clean, got a job, and got back together with Brittney. Shortly after, she got pregnant with their first child. Little over a year later, they had their second child. After the second baby was born, Michael became mentally unstable. He became short tempered, violent, abusive, and forceful. His controlling behavior kept Brittney from leaving the house.

“He would take out the car seats so that I couldn’t leave with my children. He would hide my keys so I couldn’t go to work. It came to a point where I wasn’t allowed to work,” Brittney said. “I wasn’t even allowed to see my own friends or family. It was depressing.”

Image result for dad neglecting  children

Their marriage was not how Brittney pictured it. They would argue every day resulting in Michael screaming, name calling, pushing, and throwing things around the house.

“If he didn’t like my dinner, he would throw it against the wall or anywhere but the trashcan,” Brittney said. “I told him you can’t behave this way. We have children to take care of.”

His behavior got worse and worse. He would plant his own drugs in Brittney’s car and then call the police and tell them she was selling drugs. He would take a knife out and start cutting his arms. Worst of all, he began to neglect the young girls.

“He never spent any time with them. If I needed to go to work, he wouldn’t take care of them and refused to be alone with them,” Brittney said. “He wouldn’t feed them, hold them or even put them to bed. His excuse was that he couldn’t handle them crying.”

Their marriage finally came to an end and they had a mutual agreement to date other people before finalizing the divorce. Michael started making false allegations and accusing Brittney’s new boyfriend of molesting the eldest girl. Child Protective Services (CPS) got involved and had to do an evaluation on the three year old girl. They determined that she was not molested and that his claims were fabricated.

For revenge, Michael took both girls away from Brittney for three days and would not let her have any communication with them. She was afraid he would hurt them or abandon them. Once he brought them back home, the eldest child started repeating what she heard her father say. She was usually a happy and energetic little girl who always had a smile on her face, but she came home mimicking her father’s behavior by screaming, getting angry, and using curse words. She was only three.

Lone Star Legal Aid was Brittney’s way out. She filed for divorce with full custody rights of the children along with a protection order and supervised visits for Michael. Her attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus which asked the judge for an order before the hearing which would allow law enforcement to get the children and bring them to Brittney. The judge granted the order and set a full hearing to hash out the full temporary orders.

At the temporary orders hearing, the judge ordered supervised visits for Michael through a professional monitoring agency, anger management classes, and that he pay child support.

At the final trial, Michael was ordered even more rigorous terms for visitation and treatment for his anger issues. After the trial, Michael filed a motion for a new trial asking the judge to set a whole new trial in hopes he would get a better ruling, however, the judge denied his request of a new trial and the prior order stayed in place.

Michael was required to take the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP). He needed to attend 12 consecutive classes to be granted less strict visitation rights. By the fifth class, he only attended one and was officially kicked out and banned from ever returning to the class. During that time period, he also violated his protective order and was arrested and taken to jail for two days.

“I am thankful I was able to get help from Lone Star Legal Aid and grateful that my attorney cared. My girls are now safe with me. Their safety is my only concern and my top priority.”

*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.

Child Neglect and Domestic Violence – Safety is a Top Priority

Sarah Miller and her husband Jacob were excited to get the news that he would soon be stationed in Hawaii after spending the last four years in Killeen, Texas. Both, originally from South Texas, felt that this would be a whole new chapter for them in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Sarah knew that in order for her to move with her husband and their children, she would have to alert her oldest son’s father. She had her oldest, John, 4 years before she met Jacob. When she called John’s father to let him know about their big move, he reminded her that their custody documents did not allow her to move so far away with their son. Sarah was unsure about what to do. If her husband missed his report date, it could lead to his eventual discharge from the army. As a matter of fact, if the family did not make the flights already paid for them by the military, it would have been considered a waste of government spending. New orders would need to be issued to keep the family stationed in Fort Hood, or new airfare for a later time would need to be arranged. All of which would have reflected poorly against Jacob’s military career.

Sarah applied for legal assistance with Lone Star Legal Aid and was referred to the Military Veterans Unit, which helps veterans or active duty military, their spouses, and dependents. Lori Fergie, a staff attorney, took Sarah’s case and began working on a modification of custody. While John’s father’s attorney tried to push back the hearing dates, attorney Fergie knew that Sarah and her husband had a short timeline to get this sorted out and report to Hawaii on time. Fergie spoke frankly with the judge regarding the urgency and the timeline. With a full docket, the judge fit them in and the case was completed within two days. Sarah and her husband were able to move to Hawaii with all their children.

*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.

Veterans (Family Law) – Hawaiian Modification

Doctors diagnosed Joseph with Progressive Glaucoma, which is an eye condition that causes damage to the optic nerve resulting in permanent vision loss. He was told his eyesight would gradually fade over several years until he was blind, but little did he know he would be involved in an accident that would dramatically change his life sooner than he thought.

While at work in late 2009, a heavy box fell on the back of Joseph’s neck, back and shoulders, damaging his optic nerve, which controlled his vision. Joseph went completely blind in a matter of months instead of years.

Being remarried and raising a teenage son, Joseph realized he needed to apply for social security disability in order to have an income that, along with that of his new wife, would support both of them and allow them to support their household. After a few months, Joseph was granted Social Security Disability. When someone is awarded Social Security income of any kind, they are no longer required to file a tax return because their income is no longer earned. Although he was no longer required to file, he was included in his wife’s filing as her dependent.

Upon filing, Joseph and his wife were confused and frustrated because they did not understand why they did not receive a tax refund. In addition, his social security benefits were cut off because it appeared to the Social Security Administration that he was working. Joseph did his research and started to believe he might be a victim of identity theft.

LSLA accepted his case and got started right away, requesting 2848 to access his tax refund history, which included a timeline of submitted documents such as W2’s. LSLA instantly noticed W2’s posted from Florida. Also uncovered were three dependents in Florida listed on his report which made no sense since Joseph and his wife only had one child. His attorney immediately knew and confirmed that he was in fact a victim of identity theft.

On top of not receiving a refund, Joseph’s disability income was discontinued since the IRS was able to see reports of a steady income, actually reported by the identity thief. With continued efforts, LSLA made a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to identify the back and forth communication Joseph had with the IRS, proving his attempts to inform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that he was disabled and the W2s from Florida were not his own.

All of this overwhelming information about his social security being discontinued due to identity theft was stressful for Joseph and his wife. Over time, his wife became ill and could no longer work. Without her supportive income and no income from his disability award, the family was getting desperate for money.

LSLA submitted an identity theft claim to the IRS, which was accepted. The IRS ended up giving Joseph a protected PIN number that can block others who are trying to access his tax information. LSLA helped Joseph re-qualify for social security disability. LSLA also obtained all of Joseph’s wife’s refund money. Finally, LSLA obtained a determination that Joseph did not owe any money to the IRS.

“I really appreciated the great work you did. The IRS can be a stressful process. Your legal services helped my family recover from financial loss.” Joseph said. “You brought me peace of mind and besides being able to get a refund, getting a peace of mind was by far the greatest result.”

*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individuals involved.

Identity Theft – Financial Eligibility & Identity Restored

The children were crying, screaming and covering their watery eyes while their mother starved them, neglected them and continually drowned herself in drugs. The children deserved to be loved, looked after and cared for. They didn’t deserve to be abandoned, neglected and left to fend for themselves, especially at the ages of seven and nine.

Valerie, the daughter in law of Sarah, had legal trouble her entire adult life. She had been in and out of jail, wanted for stealing cars, and arrested for prostitution, dealing drugs, and possession. Ever since the children were babies, Valerie would neglect them in ways that were coldhearted. She starved them, ignored them when they cried and left them in the hands of their grandparents so that she could take off and not look back.

The children told their grandmother about the neglect and abuse they were experiencing and how they were deprived of their most basic needs.  “She was a horrible, horrible mother. She would verbally and emotionally abuse those children. She wouldn’t take them to school, she broke their belongings, wouldn’t wash their clothes, and talked to them like they were trash,” Sarah exclaimed. “She would hit her daughter with spoons. And worst of all, she would lock up her step son in a closet and wouldn’t feed him all day.”

In addition to neglecting the kids, the living conditions were astounding; Sarah could not believe the filth they were living in. Valerie would sleep with men who had body lice, then bring said lice into the house. You could not walk through the house because there was trash everywhere.

Sarah knew the kids would never make it in life if they did not have proper care, love and affection. They desperately needed parents to nurture them. Enough was enough. She knew what she had to do. She turned to Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) for a protective order and full custody of both children.

As soon as LSLA accepted Sarah’s case, her lawyer prepared and filed the necessary paperwork with the county court. Soon thereafter, Sarah was able to get a protective order and custody rights over the children.  Sarah is pleased with how the children are doing since they came to live with her and her husband. Sarah wants both of them to have the most normal life as possible. This includes learning their manners, going to school and giving back.

Both children have depression, anxiety, ADHD and PTSD resulting from the traumatic conditions they were faced with. Even though they both see therapists and are working on their mental health, they are still afraid to go to school and even go outside. It took a while for them to get comfortable being at their grandparent’s house.

“They now have a nice, clean bed to sleep in, in a bed of their own. They get three meals and a snack every day,” Sarah said. “We help them with their homework, they are learning to do chores, learning to have friends, and learning how to volunteer in the community.”

Sarah’s grandchildren were mistreated until LSLA helped her gain custody rights to call those children her own and save them from growing up in an abusive home.  “Lone Star Legal Aid changed our lives. They fought for us and made it beautiful. Your office did amazing things by helping us get those kids. Now they have a chance at life.”

  • Names were changed to protect the identity of the individuals involved.

Child Neglect – A Chance at Life

Mary’s insurance denied her the coverage she needed to keep seeking treatment and surgeries for the genetic illness that she was diagnosed with when she was born. Von Hipple Landau (VHL) is a type of cancer that causes malignant tumors to form in multiple organs of the body which initiated her permanent blindness in 2007. She also experiences numbness, weaknesses and loss of balance throughout her body. She cannot eat with her hands as they are asleep at her sides. Constant treatment including scans and MRIs are necessary to keep up with her changing body. After 10 years of receiving insurance coverage at MD Anderson, her provider refused to pay for the rest of her treatment.

MD Anderson is one of the most respected cancer treating facilities in the United States. As a Medicaid recipient, Mary was informed MD Anderson was no longer in network with her provider, United Health Care. United Health Care suggested she request out-of-network treatment stating it was medically necessary. Mary was able to continue to receive treatment until 2018. In the same year, United Health Care denied her request for out-of-network treatment.

United Health Care suggested an in-network provider that could see her and assist with her treatments. However, the in-network doctor had limited knowledge on her illness and even failed to diagnose her with a pancreatic tumor. Mary was skeptical of his diagnoses as her long-time treating physician told her that he was surprised the in-network doctor didn’t detect any tumor, as the one he diagnosed her with had actually increased in size since he last examined her.

Mary exhausted all of her appeals through United Health Care and was referred directly to Texas HHSC. She then appealed directly to Texas HHSC. Texas HHSC held a hearing where Mary and her treating physician were able to testify regarding the medical necessity of treatment at MD Anderson. The treating physician testified that the in-network provider did not specialize in her form of cancer and misdiagnosed her with a pancreatic tumor. Texas HHSC upheld United Health Care’s denial for out-of-network treatment.

Mary turned to Lone Star Legal Aid for assistance. Her attorney, Channing Guidry, filed an Administrative Review of the Texas HHSC decision within 30 days, as required by their policy. With her attorney and enough supporting documents, Texas HHSC reversed its decision to uphold United Health Care’s denial of out-of-network treatment. As a result, United Health Care is ordered to cover Mary’s treatment at MD Anderson.

“Lone Star Legal Aid has given me confidence and made me a stronger person. Working with them taught me to not let negativity stop me from getting what I deserve.” Mary said. “Don’t let obstacles slow you down.”

  • Name changed to protect the client’s identity.

Healthcare – Coverage by Medical Necessity

Imagine not knowing if you would be alive to see the next day. Imagine having to protect your children from someone who would hit them, push them and drag them out of the house. Sharon Smith was terrified when she was married to James, as he would threaten her and abuse her to where she thought she would never escape her fear. She felt trapped.

James was an alcoholic, an abuser and an attacker, but he was also a husband and a father to a wife and four children; two daughters ages 23, 20, and two sons ages 9 and 7. James had a habit of driving the children while drunk. He would also emotionally harass them with hateful, descriptive text messages. All four of the children were terrified of their father and did not want to be near him. They feared he would hurt them again. Sharon didn’t tolerate his behavior but when she attempted to call the police, James threatened her life.

“If I tried to call the police he would tell me I would be dead before they got here and I believed him,” Sharon said.

There were times when their 20-year-old daughter would supervise visits if her mom wasn’t home to look after the young boys. She would not only have to take care of her brothers, but respond to James’ violent behavior and physical abuse.

“She would stand up for what was right. She would get in his face and do whatever it took to protect those boys,” Sharon said. “She was the other parent. Not him.”

Sharon knew she was a victim of crime and turned to Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) to file for divorce. She knew enough was enough. “God had answered a prayer,” she said about LSLA accepting her case. LSLA fought for Sharon and won. She was able to keep her property, her children and James was only allowed supervised visits on every first and third weekend of each month. Sharon felt relief for both herself and her children.

To overcome the trauma and abuse she and her family suffered, she has begun counseling and has her friends for emotional support. Sharon wants others going through domestic violence to always keep searching for justice.

“Never give up. There is a way out. Someone will help you and accept you. You can’t keep living in that situation, Sharon said. “Lone Star Legal Aid impacted my life. They have changed my life. If I hadn’t of found them when I did, I would have been dead by now.”  

*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.

Domestic Violence – Filing for a New Life

 
Richard Deed made a career out of his service in the United States Army. For the seven years preceding his discharge, he was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas where he met his now ex-wife Molly. He and Molly had a child two years after he moved there. He never imagined planting roots in Texas as he envisioned himself back in Nevada where he grew up. “I guess a year is not long enough, I didn’t know her as well I thought,” he says when referring to how, and when, his relationship with Molly dissolved.
 
After their divorce was final, Molly claimed that Mr. Deed had attacked her and quickly sought a protective order against him. He was arrested and ordered to complete a pretrial intervention program through the Bell County Veterans Treatment Court. Life seemed to be quickly rolling downhill as the charges resulted in Mr. Deed being booted out of the military.
 
A veterans’ treatment court serves a large segment of the justice-involved veteran population as opposed to business as usual: having all veterans appear before random judges who may or may not have an understanding of their unique experiences and issues. A veterans’ treatment court judge better understands the issues that a veteran may possibly be struggling with, such as substance addiction, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma. A veterans’ treatment court judge is also more familiar with the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, State Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations, and volunteer veteran mentors and how they can all assist veteran defendants.
 
Upon completion of the pretrial intervention program, Mr. Deed’s criminal case was dismissed, but his arrest record was still preventing him from getting the government job he desired as well as visitation with his child. Without work, he was living on limited means and facing the possibility of homelessness. To keep busy, he volunteered with local police and firefighters.
 
The Bell County Veterans Treatment court referred Mr. Deed to LSLA’s Belton branch office, where he sought the legal assistance he required to remove the arrest from his record so that he could find a job as well as start seeing his child. His case was accepted and a Petition for Expungement was filed on his behalf. His attorney argued that the assault charge should be dropped because there was no evidence to support it. The matter was set for hearing and Mr. Deed’s petition was granted, allowing his criminal arrest records to be expunged. Mr. Deed says he is “carefree of charges and now I can get my life back together. If it was not for legal aid, I would probably be in jail or in the system somewhere. I would probably be up a creek.”

 

 
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).

Nondisclosure – Put The Record Straight

Although 17-year-olds in Texas are not allowed to vote, buy cigarettes, serve on a jury, join the military, or enter into a binding contract, they can be charged as adults in criminal matters and even sent to prison. Irene Andrews, now 22 years old, found herself being charged as an adult when she was 17. Still in high school and forced to defend herself against the typical cause of most teenage angst, school bullies, she fell into a confrontational situation with some of her peers that led to her arrest for assault. While Irene is far from proud of the fight she was involved in, she is ready to move on with her life without this record preventing her from reaching her full potential. She is currently in school working to earn a Bachelor’s degree.
The Texas Government Code Section 411.081 allows an individual who has successfully completed probation (or deferred adjudication community supervision) to petition the  court that placed him/her on probation for an order or nondisclosure. An order of nondisclosure prohibits criminal justice agencies from disclosing to the public the criminal history record information related to the offense that is the subject of the petition. Criminal history record information subject to an order of nondisclosure is exempt fro mthe required disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.
Successfully completing probation (or deferred adjudication community supervision) is required in order to get an order of nondisclosure approved by a judge. But, Irene’s case wasn’t black and white. Irene was arrested a few months after she completed her probationary period, which would normally disqualify her from such a benefit. The reason for her arrest: protesting on behalf of raising the minimum wage for all low-wage workers, especially those of color. Irene applied for legal assistance with Lone Star Legal Aid and was assigned to attorney Fallon Hamilton in the Civil Matters in Criminal Justice Project. Attorney Hamilton reviewed Irene’s criminal record and believed that if given a chance to explain Irene’s subsequent arrest, a judge might grant an order of nondisclosure for her.
At the hearing, the prosecutor contested the petition for nondisclosure claiming that Irene was not eligible as she was arrested within the two years following the completion of her deferred adjudication. Attorney Hamilton knew that this client deserved a chance to be heard despite the objection of the prosecution and asked to approach the bench and provide testimony as to Irene’s criminal past and how despite her violation of probation, she should be granted a nondisclosure. The judge agreed, granted the petition for nondisclosure, and Irene was ecstatic! She no longer dreads the “have you ever been convicted of a crime” question listed on apartment applications as well as applications for jobs and school. As of the date of the signed order, Irene’s records will be sealed from all criminal record databases.
*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.

Nondisclosure – Winning a contested case

Water had never entered the home Pamela McCarty has lived in for over 20 years.  Spending most of her life in Texas, she spent time in New York and Ohio before moving back in 1994 to care for her aging father after her mother’s passing. As the youngest of 13 children and her father’s caregiver at the time of his death, the home was left to her.
 
Slowly, but surely, McCarty was fixing up the home. Fresh paint here, new furnishings there. She loved her home. Her world was completely turned upside when along came Harvey. She had seen the streets fill up, but water had never entered her family home. Her sister’s home, a few streets away, flooded before hers, so she came over to stay with her and borrowed some dry clothes. They both got comfortable for the night and fell asleep. “I jumped out of bed in the morning thinking I was going to go make us some coffee and I stepped into the water.” The water was rising fast, so she and her sister decided it was time to get out of the house. They walked outside, through the water, to find a man driving a city dump truck rescuing residents. “He took us to the corner store where other people were waiting for help, waiting for someone to tell us all where we could go.” No one could go home at the time.
 
McCarty stayed with a nephew for about a week before staying with another one of her sisters. She was never required to have flood insurance in her area, so she didn’t have it. She lost everything in the home; the water rose higher than the top of her bed. Even with her low/fixed social security income, FEMA denied her assistance for repairs to her home because it was still legally titled in the name of her deceased father. She called everyone she could think of to see who could help her. Lone Star Legal Aid had helped her with other legal matters years ago, so she dialed straight in.
 
FEMA’s rules require a registrant or disaster survivor to prove ownership by having their name on documents such as a Deed or Official Record for the home, Mortgage Payment Book or other mortgage documents, Real Property Insurance Policy, Property Tax Receipts or Tax Bill and/or a Property Title or Mobile Home Certificate of Title. Many families in Texas live in an inherited property that has not gone through a formal probate procedure, meaning their names are not referenced in the approved/required documents and they are being denied assistance.
 
Disaster staff attorney Lasonya Mahoney took Ms. McCarty’s case. She drafted and executed an affidavit of heirship and filed it with Jefferson County property records. Once that was done, attorney Mahoney was able to send a letter on Ms. McCarty’s behalf enclosing supporting documents. After waiting about a month, constantly checking her status online and conferring with her attorney, Ms. McCarty said “I was checking my bank account to see what little money I had and I was flabbergasted. I was so happy; it was just a blessing to see. I called Ms. Mahoney right away and she was so excited for me. Now I have the money to get some contractors to come and fix my house.”

Disaster – There’s no place like home

She never thought she would be locked up by someone who was supposed to love her. He had a messed up way of loving, she thought. Hope Jones* wished she would have never gotten mixed up with a man like Carl*, but it was too late.

He was a meth dealer and they met on a binge. With his abusive tendencies disguised as intense love, Hope fell quickly in love and soon after, they exchanged vows. Then she began to notice his outbursts. Often it was when he needed a fix. He couldn’t be sober. To support his habit, Carl would often break into houses. He took whatever he could sell for a quick score. He was sent to prison for a few years once. Hope’s rage towards him heightened when her 17-year-old daughter told her that he had raped her when she was 12. Hope filed for divorce and finally felt as though she had taken a step toward safety.  He was in prison after all.

As Carl’s release date approached, Hope convinced herself that everything would be okay. She thought that since he would have an entire year to get over the divorce, that her drama with him was finally over. As she was walking home from work one day, a van pulled up beside her and Carl jumped out brandishing a machete. Hope knew better than to fight him. She got in the van and he drove her hours away to his new home. Hope’s family figured she must have gotten back together with him, as had happened so many times before.

Carl acted as if he and Hope were still together. He began a jealous psychotic path. When he accused her of cheating for the first time, he tied her up and held her mouth shut with his hands and threatened to hit her if she screamed.  That time, he choked her, pulled her hair, called her names, and raped her. She tried to tell someone, but anytime she tried to get away – he would always force her back and throw away her phone. She began to feel low and worthless and all of the other things Carl constantly told her she was. He must be right, she thought. All she wanted to do was run away, back to her children.

She’ll remember the day she got to run away forever. As much as it was a miracle to her, the day was also a nightmare. She woke up, her hair still with bits of blood and sweat from the night before, and decided to take a hot shower. As the door burst open, chills swept through her. Here it comes, she thought. Carl was shouting at her, asking her why she was cheating on him with the men pumping gas at the station across the street. She was terrified – why was he holding a drill? Carl began securing the room with screws. He dragged her out of the shower and started hitting her over and over. He covered her mouth with his hands and began raping her. She was paralyzed with fear and stayed awake all night.   When Carl woke, he told her not to go crazy and he unscrewed the doors.  Knowing this was her chance, she ran out of the house.

With nowhere else to go, Hope went to a local shelter for battered women. She began to piece her life back together. Knowing that she couldn’t stay there forever, she contacted LSLA and was put in contact with an attorney who specializes in legal assistance to survivors of sexual assault. LSLA attorney Victoria Smith filed a petition for a protective order. The judge granted a lifetime protective order to Hope Jones and her children, with whom she is now reunited. They are now safe from their abuser and he is facing charges for his crimes against Hope and her family.

*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.

Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault – She Had Enough

Ms. Ora Morrow met Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Amanda Bosley at the George R. Brown Disaster Recovery Center shortly after Hurricane Harvey made landfall off the Texas coast on August 25, 2017. The GRB was Harris County’s first DRC and also operated as a shelter for hundreds of people who lost their homes as a result of the storm’s flooding rain. Ms. Morrow is 77 years old and has lived in her home for almost 50 years.
 
Although Ms. Morrow’s house did not flood during the storm, the water did rise to the point where it flooded her vehicle that was parked in the driveway. When she met Attorney Bosley at the DRC, she had already applied to FEMA for transportation assistance but had not yet received a decision from them. Attorney Bosley followed up with her a few weeks later and Ms. Morrow said that she had received a nominal amount from FEMA for her lost vehicle, but it was not nearly enough to fix her car or even to put a down payment on for a new one. Attorney Bosley provided Ms. Morrow with advice on how to draft a FEMA appeal letter and what documents to send them. Ms. Morrow took the appeal letter and documents to the DRC to present to FEMA. Ms. Morrow said that the FEMA representatives she spoke to refused to review her documents and sent her on her way. When Ms. Morrow called and told Attorney Bosley, she agreed to make a visit to her home. Attorney Bosley took with her a FEMA appeal letter that she went over with Ms. Morrow along with the supporting documents needed so that she could send them off on her behalf.
 
Ms. Morrow says that she feels as though her independence has been taken from her. She has to call upon her daughter and nieces to take her to run simple errands; to the grocery store and the bank. Although they are happy to do it, they know that she is struggling with having to call them for help. Attorney Bosley hoped that FEMA would offer Ms. Morrow more in transportation assistance so that she can get herself back into a vehicle and regain her sense of independence.
 
On December 5, 2017, Attorney Bosley called to follow up on Ms. Morrow’s appeal. She was informed that Ms. Morrow was being awarded additional funds that will allow her to repair her vehicle. She was also informed that should Ms. Morrow face mechanical difficulties in the future with this same vehicle, she is to send a new estimate marked “Flooded – Water Damage Due to Disaster Harvey,” they will pay for that too.
 
There are many post-disaster stories like Ms. Morrow’s. When disasters strike, survivors think of finding shelter and food for their families. They think of replacing things they lost and repairing their homes or cars. Attorneys can assist when survivors are confused or when they are not being given the proper benefit they are entitled to by either federal assistance or through their insurance policies. Lone Star Legal Aid’s disaster recovery team has already picked up hundreds of cases related to Hurricane Harvey and will continue to do so.

Disaster – Personal Independence Restored

Survivors of sexual assault often fear to raise their concerns because of the possibility of retaliation from their abuser as well as feelings of shame, anxiety, and humiliation. It is essential that survivors never feel as if they have nowhere else to turn. Thanks to Texas Access to Justice’s LASSA grant, Lone Star Legal Aid is taking big steps in improving the quality of life for survivors. Here is the story of Nadia and her daughter Keira, a 4-year-old girl who was sexually abused by her father Raajeev.

Nadia married Raajeev in Bangladesh and shortly thereafter, he brought her with him to the United States. She was an immigrant, stay at home wife and mother and her husband operated multiple game rooms of questionable legality. Over their six years of marriage, Nadia found evidence of his involvement with other women. When she confronted him, he beat her. He beat her with his hands, with his shoes, with their daughter’s toys and any other object within his reach.

One day, in July of 2015, Keira showed her mom some photos that her father took of her on his iPad. The photos were of Keira naked. Overcome with feelings shock, fury and anguish, Nadia asked Keira more about the photos. Keira told her mother that her daddy took those pictures of her. Nadia felt hopeless and disgusted. She was in a state of disbelief, but she knew that it was true. How could she not? There were photographs. She feared Raajeev would beat her like he had done many times before, if she confronted him, attempted to leave him, or called authorities. Raajeev would often tell Nadia that she could never leave him because she had no family in the US and she did not even speak English. When Nadia finally felt as though she could no longer take it, she confided in a friend. Her friend supported her and urged her to contact the police and report Raajeev. The police quickly stepped in and secured a safe place/shelter for Nadia and Keira to stay. The shelter assisted Nadia in acquiring a safety plan from CPS. However, it was not legally binding. If Nadia wanted to make sure that Raajeev could not harm her daughter again, she needed a protective order.

Ethan Bishop-Watt, Staff Attorney in LSLA’s Individual Safety Unit, interviewed Nadia and reviewed all of the evidence and documents she brought him. Attorney Bishop-Watt advised her regarding her rights to a protective order for herself and for Keira. After review, research, and discussions with Nadia, Keira and the CPS staff that assisted her at the commencement of her safety journey, Attorney Bishop-Watt filed an Application for Protective Order for a Victim of Sexual Assault in state district court. In his application, Attorney Bishop-Watt requests that a protective order prohibits Raajeev from committing future physical or mental harm or sexual assault to Keira, threatening or harassing Keira, owning a firearm as well as require him to complete a battering intervention and prevention program. The protective order was granted as to family violence. Nadia is currently in divorce proceedings with Raajeev. Concurrently, Raajeev is facing a super aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 6 charge, which is a first-degree felony and one of the most severe charges in the criminal code. This charge has a mandatory sentence of 25 years and can go up to life in prison. Because of the protective order currently in place, Nadia does not have to worry about custody being an issue in her divorce and she can rely upon it for her daughter’s safety throughout Raajeev’s criminal proceedings.

(Name(s) have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual(s).)

Photo Credit: Flickr – Nayeem KALAM

Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault – A Journey to Safety

Lone Star Legal Aid’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic helps families with tax problems. Sometimes the tax problems are extreme. Here’s the story of Alamenia and her amazing recovery from a million dollar tax debt.

Alamenia had never seen the box in her attic. She was surprised when “Marty,” her ex-husband, called to tell her to find the box. Her surprise turned to curiosity as she headed to the attic. Marty had gone to prison after their divorce; he had kidnapped an elderly woman and demanded $500,000 in ransom from her family. Even though they had divorced before her husband kidnapped his victim, Alamenia was devastated and didn’t understand why her ex would commit a heinous crime when they had two beautiful children. Why risk missing out on all the milestones and events in their young lives?

The box held the shocking answers. Inside the box, Alamenia found three years’ worth of letters from the IRS. It turns out that the IRS was trying to collect back taxes that Marty had failed to pay and had kept hidden from Alamenia. Marty owed the IRS an astounding $1,000,000 in back taxes. During the 9 years they were married Marty operated a construction business and assured Alamenia that he was handling all of the accounting and tax obligations. The business was doing well and Alamenia was able to focus on raising their children, including their autistic son, while Marty ran the business and provided for the family. Alamenia hoped that when the children were old enough to attend school she would have the time to pursue her own dreams. Alamenia and Marty spent many hours apart while he worked and she cared for their children. Over the years, Marty changed from a supportive husband into someone Alamenia didn’t recognize. The vague rumors of cheating were followed by Marty’s trips abroad. Marty purchased expensive cars and jewelry, not for Alamenia, but for himself. With her focus on raising their children, Alamenia missed the signs that Marty was not the man she had married. After the rumors intensified and became her reality, Alamenia divorced Marty.

Karyna Lopez, the manager of LSLA’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, immediately knew what to do to help Alamenia with her tax problem. Attorney Lopez interviewed Alamenia and advised her regarding her rights to an Offer in Compromise. Attorney Lopez wrote Alamenia’s story and presented it to the IRS, along with documentation of her financial hardship. Attorney Lopez argued for a reduction in liability based upon community income, asking that the debt be forgiven due to the uncertainty of its collectability. The IRS granted Alamenia’s Offer in Compromise, lowering her debt from over $1,000,000 to $1. Alamenia gratefully paid the $1.

Legal aid helps families move forward to realize their dreams. With help from LSLA to successfully resolve her tax debt, Alamenia is now able to focus on providing a better life for her family.

Tax – A Million Dollar Tax Story