Richard, 64, and his siblings, inherited the father’s home in 2018 along with roughly $9000 in past due property taxes including penalties and interest. After their father’s passing, Richard moved into the home, maintaining the property and paying the bills which included making payments towards the taxes.
When the Covid pandemic hit, Richard had trouble keeping up with the payments and with the threat of foreclosure looming, he sought relief in the form of a loan to pay off the past due taxes.
After falling behind on his loan payments, Richard was sued for the delinquent taxes and the threat of foreclosure continued. Richard believed the tax loan company took advantage of him when he was in a vulnerable position and forced him into agreeing to enter into an unfavorable and unfair payment agreement. Richard reached out to Lone Star Legal Aid’s Justice for Older Adults (JOA) Unit to help him stay in his home.
Upon intervening and investigating, the JOA team discovered that Richard’s options were limited because he voluntarily entered into the payment agreement with tax loan company, however, per Texas law, Richard was entitled to defer payment of property taxes once he turned 65 or if he is designated as a partially disabled veteran. At the time, Richard was several months away from turning 65 and was in the process of receiving a disabled veteran status. The JOA team delayed any action in order to allow time for Richard to gain age and status that would qualify him for property tax deferral. Once the age and status required was obtained, the JOA team assisted Richard in applying for and being granted the tax deferral which then entitled him to abate or end the tax suit.
JOA Attorney, Trong “Mike” Nguyen, filed a Plea in Abatement requesting that the Court end the case per the Texas Tax Code. Attorney Nguyen represented Richard at the hearing and was able to obtain an abatement of the case. Richard got to remain in his home with some assurance, therefore relieving his anxiety and fear of being homeless and from being exploited out of his home.
*Name(s) have been changed to protect the client’s identity.
Foreclosure and Exploitation: Older Man Coerced into Agreeing to Enter an Unfair Payment Agreement
In 2019, Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) Staff Attorney, Cheranda Robertson represented Samantha, a survivor of severe domestic violence and continual sexual assault from her husband Josh. When Robertson entered the case, the trial was in about a month and mediation resulted in a dead end. The property they shared consisted of three real estate properties, four vehicles, and personal effects.
The couple came to California from Mexico in the 1980’s. They moved to Texas in the late 1990’s and had four children over the years. Shortly after moving to Texas, they bought their first property, then, then they formally married in 2001. Around 2006, they purchased their second Texas property.
The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure allow for discovery to be conducted. Discovery is in the form of legal documents that ask questions of the opposing party, questions that the asking party believes would lead to admissible evidence that supports their case. The discovery done by Samantha’s former attorney was incomplete. The most important thing Robertson found out was that the deed for the first Texas property, listed Samantha’s birth name and referred to her as an unmarried woman.
At trial, Samantha testified to the domestic abuse that Josh had inflicted upon her over the years. She testified about how she did not know how to swim, yet he had pushed her into a pool in front of her young children, allowed her to sink to the bottom, and did not pull her out until she had nearly drowned. She testified about how he had punched her in the stomach while pregnant and fractured the baby’s skull, resulting in a complicated delivery, an extensive NICU stay, and permanent damage to their son. She testified about how he would always come home in the middle of the night, wake her up at 2 or 3 AM and force her to cook him food, chronically sleep depriving her. She testified to years and years of endless, violent, and gruesome sexual violence, sending her into surgery for injuries, and about how he had many extramarital affairs. Samantha testified that Josh would always introduce her as “his sister,” which goes against the statutory requirements of “representing to others” that they were married as well. The judge heard it all.
Samantha testified about how she paid the down payment on the first Texas home with her own savings that she had earned from cleaning homes and ironing clothes. Opposing counsel tried to argue reimbursement, but Robertson pointed out that Josh had never pled for reimbursement, and they certainly had not included any evidence of it.
During cross-examination, the opposing counsel was awful to Samantha. Their questions consisted of things like “If he was so abusive, why did you marry him in 2001? It is not like he ever hit you hard enough to land you in the hospital, right? Why didn’t you call the police more? Why didn’t you tell your doctor that the baby’s skull fracture was a result of his punching you?”
Samantha and Robertson were overjoyed when the court ordered a finding of family violence and that Samantha be awarded the 1st property as her separate property, 100% of the marital residence, the two newest vehicles, all personal property in the two homes awarded, and a permanent protective order against Josh for her peace and safety.
Robertson immediately called Samantha after the trial in which Samantha was sobbing tears of joy and relief. Robertson was in tears herself. “My client had been so brave to testify to everything. It was the first time she had ever told her story to anyone except her therapist and me. It was so liberating for her to proclaim her truth – in front of Josh – and to work as hard as she did to get what she deserves,” Robertson said.
“Justice is an ethereal concept. True justice would be for our JCS clients to have never had to endure what they endured. There is no court order that can ever undo what has been done or make things completely right. No amount of property award can ever heal the pain they have encountered. But when they get to bravely stand up for themselves and tell their stories, that is the beginning of a long road to healing for them. Additionally, property awards and financial compensation do go a long way toward giving them that extra boost they need when starting an independent lifestyle apart from their abuser,” Robertson said.
In Samantha’s case, this victory was so much more than a financial award. It meant that she will not be left financially destitute and unable to provide for herself as she quickly approaches retirement age. She is financially secure, and she is finally free.
“I will always fondly remember this case as my greatest victory in my career thus far, and I will always remember this client as my very favorite I have ever had. She was just the most amazing, brave survivor I have encountered. This just added to the pleasure of representing her and fighting for her. What a win for LSLA and for her! I love what we do,” Robertson said.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the client.
Domestic Violence – Finally Free
In December of 2020, Anita started a Medicaid application for her two children, ages 13 and 15, while her 13 year-old child was still in the hospital, not able to breathe after contracting COVID-19. Anita was awarded the Medicaid Spend Down Program for both of her sons which is awarded to help with medical payments. The children were denied regular Medicaid and CHIP benefits because, according to HHSC, Anita’s income was too high to qualify for either. Anita was confused as to how she could make too much and be denied Medicaid and CHIP benefits when she was only receiving a disability income.
A month later, Anita’s youngest son passed away from COVID-19. She contacted Lone Star Legal Aid’s Connecting Texas Kids to Coverage Unit for legal help appealing the decision made by HHSC.
First, LSLA noticed she was only being granted Spend Down benefits for December when most of the grand amount of medical bills accrued during the time her youngest son was under inpatient care in January. They also noticed her living child was being denied Medicaid and/or CHIP benefits while Anita was surviving on a very low-income. Nothing seemed right about this denial.
After investigation, LSLA learned that HHSC believed Anita was employed. LSLA drafted an appeal stating and proving information as to Anita’s only income, social security disability. Anita’s living son was finally approved for Children’s Medicaid benefits in June 2021.
*Name(s) have been changed to protect the identity of the client.
Connecting Texas Kids to Coverage – Child Denied Medical Benefits
Michelle applied for services with Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) at the Spring Branch Family Development Center Outreach Enrollment Clinic in May 2021, as a minor, with her mother signing as her guardian. Michelle was 28 weeks pregnant at the time and needed health and nutritional benefits so she could regularly visit her doctor for pregnancy appointments and make sure she is eating healthy.
Michelle had applied for Pregnant Women Benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Benefits (SNAP), and a renewal of her Medicaid Benefits. Her pregnancy was moving along and she had not seen a doctor. Upon approval of eligibility, she was given 15 days to find a provider. If she didn’t find one herself, HHSC would assign one to her. She found a provider, but then didn’t hear anything from HHSC.
LSLA complained to the agency for not acting on her application. HHSC had not responded to Michelle or even interviewed her so that she could begin utilizing her benefits.
In the meantime, Michelle went to the hospital and declared her situation an emergency, since she desperately needed a doctor. While there, Michelle received the call from HHSC, and they interviewed her by phone. They granted her CHIP prenatal benefits, but denied her SNAP benefits because she was living with her mother.
We investigated further and appealed this decision based to HHSC asserting she should still be approved for SNAP since she rents a room from her mother and pays all her own bills. Within a few days of receiving Michelle’s appeal, HHSC approved her application and granted her SNAP benefits.
*Name(s) were changed to protect the identity of the client.
Connecting Texas Kids to Coverage – Pregnant Teen in need of Medical and Nutritional Benefits
Mrs. Martinez’s son Jason was 13 years old when he passed away from a severe illness. Jason was in the hospital from December 2020 to January 2021. With medical bills piling up, Mrs. Martinez applied for Medicaid and was never sent an approval or denial letter for the deceased child. While he was still living, the hospital continuously reached out to collect the mounting debt and insensitive phone calls were the last thing Mrs. Martinez needed while caring for her fading son.
Mrs. Martinez contacted Lone Star Legal Aid for help with her Medicaid application in hopes that she can focus solely on her son’s health. LSLA contacted HHSC to inquire about the situation and, although she never received any correspondence from them, they confirmed that the deceased child had actually been approved to Medicaid in January. Mrs. Martinez could now the submit hospital bills directly to their Managed Care unit so they can get paid.
Mrs. Martinez is happy about the LSLA’s help.
“I am really appreciative and grateful for the assistance I was provided with,” Mrs. Martinez said.
Names were changed to protect the identity of the client(s).
Family In Need of Health Care Benefits to Cover Deceased Child’s Medical Bills
Julie and Jeffrey got married in 2006 and share two young children. Jeffrey had always been abusive throughout their marriage. He would physically hit and choke her, bully his two children, and had several affairs with male partners. In addition to his violent behavior, he was an alcoholic and once under the influence, his abuse worsened. Because of his constant intoxication, he also failed to care for the children while Julie worked.
At the same time, Jeffrey used Julie’s personal information and took out several loans in her name to buy a new truck which ended up getting both of them into severe debt and credit trouble. Due to his alcoholism, inability to hold a job, and financial trouble, the house they owned was foreclosed and Julie and her children were forced to move in with her mother.
In May 2019, Julie decided to leave Jeffrey and file for divorce. She could see the abuse was affecting her children’s lives. “I decided to leave because I didn’t want my children to feel worse. My eldest son was becoming depressed from all of the abuse. His school counselor told me he was suicidal and that is when I knew I needed to leave my husband,” Julie said.
Jeffrey was furious when Julie decided to leave their marriage. First, he tried shooting Julie in the head, when he couldn’t, he threatened to burn her mother’s house down and kill everyone inside.
When she left and moved in with her mother, Jeffrey ended up not sending money like he promised and never tried to contact the children. Concerned for her family’s safety, Julie stayed away from Jeffrey. Still, he tried to see her. He told Julie that he was leaving the state and wanted to see the children one last time before he left. Julie knew he already moved in with his uncle locally.
Julie did not agree to see him and had made up her mind that she wanted a divorce from her abuser. Soon, he began contacting Julie and the children constantly, speaking belligerently and attacking them emotionally. He would threaten to kill himself and tell his children he was going to burn down their home with them inside.
Julie sought assistance from LSLA’s Richmond branch office and her case was assigned to Attorney Cheranda Robertson and Paralegal Nicola Ostlund. Robertson and Ostlund helped Julie with a divorce and a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), which asks the judge to create a custody and visitation order.
Julie was able to leave after she had enough and has advice for other victims of domestic abuse. “Speak up about what you are going through. I was so scared other people were going to find out about my situation and shame me. I kept silent but I shouldn’t have. Let people know what you are going through otherwise you are just hurting yourself,” Julie said.
LSLA filed for divorce in Fort Bend County. We helped her obtain a default divorce with a just and right division of the community property and debts as well as Sole Managing Conservatorship and a very restricted visitation plan to help keep her and the children safe.
Julie is very pleased with the work done at Lone Star Legal Aid. “My attorney Ms. Robertson and Paralegal Ms. Nicola were awesome. They helped me resolve all of my issues.”
Robertson is passionate about her work advocating on behalf of survivors which motivates her to continue doing rewarding work like this in the future.
“Positive outcomes like these give Nicola and I the momentum and inspiration to continue serving crime victims to the best of our ability and trying to make a difference wherever we can,” Robertson said.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).
Domestic Abuse and Divorce – Mother and Children Feared for their Lives
Because Jordan was incarcerated for 10 months, he was unable to file a tax return for the 2019 tax year. As a result, when the pandemic hit in 2020, he did not receive Economic Impact Payment (EIP) or stimulus payment. H was frustrated and confused because he understood that every American was eligible as long as they made under $75,000 in 2019. He hadn’t even made enough to file a tax return, so he knew he qualified. Then he learned his daughter claimed him as a dependent without his permission, which sent him down a hole of financial distress.
Jordan and his daughter had previous conflict, which is why he felt she was taking advantage of him and lying on her tax documents. According to Jordan, his daughter claimed him as a dependent so that she could pay as little taxes as possible for the considerable amount of money she earned that year.
Jordan contacted the IRS to inform them he did not authorize his daughter to claim his as a dependent. They responded saying she must release him as a dependent. Jordan then called Lone Star Legal Aid and was informed that this is incorrect and that Jordan’s daughter had committed tax fraud.
Since Jordan didn’t notice the identity theft until 2020 due to not receiving an EIP, LSLA worked with Jordan to report the identity theft and claim his stimulus payment through the Recovery Rebate Credit on his 2020 tax return.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).
Tax Fraud and Identity Theft – Daughter Frauds Father Out of Receiving his Stimulus Check
Eric Allison is an honorably discharged Army veteran who has a four-year-old daughter named Marley with his former partner and two children from another relationship. Though he and his former partner had never been married, Mr. Allison is listed as the father on their daughter’s birth certificate.
In June 2019, Mr. Allison’s partner was granted custodial rights and Mr. Allison was given a visitation schedule and an order to pay monthly child support. Later, the child’s mother was eventually reported to CPS for biting her new boyfriend’s child and causing injury; the investigation that followed uncovered that all the children in the mother’s household had been subjected to this abuse. His former partner was arrested and jailed for the incident, allowing Mr. Allison to receive custody of his daughter.
After being released in January 2020, Marley’s mother came by to retrieve her daughter, but Mr. Allison was afraid to let her go. He contacted Lone Star Legal Aid’s Military Veterans Unit to obtain a court order naming him the parent with the authority to determine the exclusive residence of his daughter for her best interest. LSLA attempted to work out an agreement with the mother, to no avail. After a contested hearing, the court granted Mr. Allison the right to determine where his daughter should stay, and she was able to remain with her father, siblings, and the school where she had made tremendous progress.
LSLA Helps Veteran Receive Custody of His Four-Year-Old
Alvin was controlling, abusive and constantly playing the victim when, in reality, his victim was his wife, and he was the bully. He constantly forced his wife of almost two years, to believe she was in the wrong and that she contributed to his unhappiness. It took Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) to help Jennifer stare from the outside in at her situation. It was not her fault.
Jennifer contacted the Texas Attorney General’s office about child support services and that is when she confided in them that she was experiencing abuse at home and wanted a divorce. They directed her to LSLA for free legal assistance. Jennifer didn’t know where to begin when her case was accepted because this was the first time she had finally escaped and was ready to move on.
Alvin was previously married and Jennifer had a son with a previous person who she was never married to. She was a single mother with a supportive family who was unfamiliar with the physical, verbal and emotionally abusive behavior signs Alvin displayed. They were on and off together for 10 years before deciding to get married, but in those 10 years, he constantly broke up with her and then manipulated her with violence. He took advantage of her emotions and knew he could get away with it every time because it had become a normal routine for them.
“He manipulated me into getting back together with him by cutting his wrists and threatening to kill himself. We are off and on for so many years and I just kept going back to him. It became a habit. I felt like he could get anyone else and I could only have him, so I stayed. It felt normal,” Jennifer said.
He always had a violent temper but never actually hurt her physically. Alvin would throw things, and break and punch objects. He would insult Jennifer and emotionally attack her. When Jennifer came home late from work, Alvin would violently take out his anger on her, accusing her of cheating. She didn’t realize at the time it was wrong to be treated this way. She tolerated his behavior. It was always the same argument, the same conversations and the same accusations. Alvin blamed everything on her.
“They helped me change the way I saw things and made me realize I didn’t want to be around a person like that anymore. If your team didn’t help me, I would never have left,” Jennifer said.
When Jennifer became pregnant with their child, Alvin constantly accused Jennifer of lying and said it wasn’t his. He even went as far as saying he was going to kill the baby because it wasn’t his. The constant emotional abuse about the father of their baby triggered Jennifer to become depressed and suicidal.
“When I was six months pregnant, I was depressed from all the abuse, so I grabbed the shotgun and I put it in the car and planned on never returning. I was going to kill myself, but I stopped halfway to my destination and I called for help,” Jennifer said. “Fort Bend County showed up and took me to Ben Taub Hospital where I ended up staying for a week to get help.”
After speaking with her attorney Cheranda Robertson, Jennifer realized it wasn’t her fault. After going through all the messages, screenshots, and crying for hours, she realized she could not take the abuse any longer. Cheranda helped her understand that it was not her fault for being abused.
“I was a mess when I first called LSLA. I was crying, talking in circles and couldn’t get my sentences straight but then LSLA helped me more than I could ever imagine and now I am doing so much better,” Jennifer said. “I decided not to keep living a miserable life and to put my foot down and move on.”
Attorney Robertson got Jennifer divorced from Alvin and is in the process of obtaining a temporary protective order that way Alvin can still see his son, but won’t be allowed to harm them. Jennifer now realizes she is a survivor of domestic abuse and has some words of advice for other victims experiencing unhealthy relationships.
“I called the police for help three times and I hung up twice. It’s not easy going through an abusive relationship and you doubt yourself a lot. Change is also never easy. Right is right and wrong is wrong and everything about this was wrong,” Jennifer said. “Even though everyone’s situation is different, no one deserves that type of treatment. There are many women out there that are still in these situations, and so I hope they get the help they need. For me, I have received more than enough help from LSLA.”
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the client.
Domestic Abuse and Suicide – From the Outside Looking In
Gregory, a Houston father, contracted COVID-19 and then his family’s life took a turn for the worst. Gregory lost his job due to contracting the virus, his landlord illegally locked the entire family of their home for not being able to come up with enough money to pay the rent, and they had no medical coverage.
Gregory could not work due to being sick and having to quarantine for two weeks. Since he was unable to work, his job let him go. Not being able to provide an income, Gregory did not have enough money to pay for his daughter’s medical costs or even buy food for his family.
Gregory originally contacted the Central Intake Unit (CIU) at LSLA for assistance with an application for Medicaid and SNAP benefits for his daughter. During the process of assisting the client’s family with applying for benefits, they also sought assistance with the unlawful lock out by their landlord from their apartment. Cristina, a paralegal for LSLA in Connecting Texas Kids to Coverage Unit, worked with the Housing Unit so that together they can deliver a signed CDC Declaration to the client’s landlord to halt any attempt of eviction.
The CDC Declaration is for tenants, lessees, or residents of residential properties who are covered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 virus.
LSLA got the tenants back into their home, protected them from eviction, and assisted with enrollment for Medcaid and SNAP benefits so that they can purchase food and cover health care costs.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the client.
FACES OF EVICTION AND HEALTH CARE -Family Illegally Locked out of Home and in Need for Health Benefits
Lori, a Marine veteran, was being emotionally and verbally abused during her relationship with Kenny, a police officer and detective. Lori had never experienced abuse in a relationship before until she met Kenny, so it took time for Lori to see her boyfriend’s true colors. As soon as she could, she decided to get out. At this point though, she was pregnant with Kenny’s child. Kenny continued to emotionally abuse her and even attempted to gain full custody of their child on the day she was born.
“I had never been in a toxic relationship before so it took me some time to realize how his behaviors really were. He started getting upset over things that weren’t actually happening. He would give me rules like not to stand a certain distance within other men. He would also hover over me when we would go to bars so that he could ensure everyone in the bar knew I was with him. I started noticing these patterns of behavior and broke up with him,” said Lori.
After a seven month separation, Lori decided to give their relationship one more shot during which she became pregnant with their child. Kenny’s behavior worsened and Lori made a brave decision to break off the relationship and leave Texas.
Lori moved back home to Montana, enrolled in school, obtained a job, and became established in that state. Soon thereafter, Kenny filed a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) in Texas. He sought to be the primary conservator of the child and exclude Lori from access to the newborn including denying her access to breastfeed the child.
Kenny filed a complaint against her with Child Protective Services (CPS), claiming Lori had prior history of substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, which was a lie so her case was quickly closed out.
“He immediately called CPS on me to try and leave a paper trail as if I am an unfit parent. He lied to CPS about things that happened in my previous marriage and divorce.”
Lori contacted Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) and applied for legal representation. Because Lori lived in Montana, the case against her fell under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) as the courts had to decide which state had jurisdiction to hear the case. LSLA filed pleadings arguing jurisdiction and asking the court to dismiss the Texas case. After the hearing, the judge set up a judge’s conference between the Montana court and the Texas court.
Cheranda Robertson, staff attorney in LSLA’s Richmond office, called Montana Legal Aid Association (MLAA) and spoke with the managing attorney who agreed to take her case after Lori applied for their help with the case in Montana. Robertson and MLAA attorneys worked together to research legal arguments, sorted through case law, and develop a game plan for the case in Montana.
The two judges ruled in favor of Lori and ordered that Montana was the proper venue for the case. Lori was extremely relieved that she did not have to move to Texas to participate in the case. She never had to leave Montana and was able to participate in every Zoom meeting as part of the remote process.
“It was a big victory for LSLA. I feel confident that Lori is now in the hands of Montana’s legal aid agency and is in a great position to proceed with the case up there,” Robertson said.
Lori’s attorneys are working with the Montana courts to set up a visitation agreement. Lori is still experiencing stress but is glad she has a supportive family network to help her through the trauma. She wants other victims of domestic abuse to know about the outstanding work LSLA did to get her and her child away from Kenny. In addition, she also has advice for others being victimized in a relationship.
“Cheranda went above and beyond to help. She represented me well and got the points across and won what we needed to win in order to get the Texas case closed. She also helped get me fully represented here in Montana. She spoke with MLAA multiple times. She always kept me in the loop and made me feel at ease when I was very stressed out,” Lori said. “The best thing I could have done in my situation was to leave. I was not happy and it was a continuous cycle of events where I was left feeling defeated, guilty, or afraid. The abusers will not change and they always make you feel like you’re the one that’s wrong,” Lori said.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).
Elizabeth Villareal came to LSLA after being served with an eviction petition and having her water shut off for three weeks. She, her husband, and two daughters were struggling financially as a result of COVID-19; Elizabeth contracted COVID and lost her job as a result. By the time she had recovered, the business had gone under. Elizabeth’s landlord, who was also facing hardships due to the pandemic, shut off the water claiming that he couldn’t afford to pay for any water bills or to keep a tenant who could not pay.
When Elizabeth contacted Lone Star Legal Aid, its Conroe Branch Managing Attorney took immediate action by filing an application with the Court to have Elizabeth’s water immediately turned on. She also filed a motion to stop the eviction, sent a letter to the landlord with Elizabeth’s Declaration, and a demand for a copy of the lease Elizabeth never received. The Court acted swiftly and ordered Elizabeth’s water to be turned on immediately. Elizabeth and her family were overjoyed to have access to water again. However, their troubles didn’t end there.
Elizabeth’s landlord requested a hearing challenging both the issuance of the writ as well as Elizabeth’s CDC declaration. The court ordered the parties to appear in court the very next day even though the formal eviction hearing was not scheduled to take place for another week. Once again, LSLA’s Conroe office staff sprang into action to prepare the defense of the landlord’s challenges and prepared the client for the hearing.
Assistant to the Managing Attorney, Linda Hyatt, worked on coordinating the meeting time with the client and organizing the documents while Attorney Deborah Concepcion prepped the witness and prepared for court late into the evening. The next morning during the hearing, the Court ordered that Elizabeth would not be evicted and that utility services, such as water and electricity, must stay on as long as Elizabeth resided there.
After being informed about the Eviction Diversion Program, both parties were interested in filling out a joint application. Always prepared, Deborah Concepcion provided blank copies of the application for the Eviction Diversion Program to the parties and helped Elizabeth fill out her application while the landlords filled out their own. After the applications were complete, the Landlord and his wife thanked Lone Star Legal Aid for the information about the program and for supporting them, even though they lost the case. The landlords said they felt that Lone Star Legal Aid was a blessing and that the Eviction Diversion Program was exactly the kind of help people needed during the pandemic.
COVID-19 Faces of Eviction – Texas Eviction Diversion Program
Mr. A was bound to a wheelchair with a physical disability and suffered from severe diabetes. Having to depend completely upon someone else to care for him, he fell victim to abuse and was taken advantage of physically, emotionally, and financially. The abuse led to severe mental health concerns leading him into the hands of legal aid.
Mr. A found out that people were taking advantage of his disability by using his apartment like a hotel by breaking in, taking advantage of his air conditioning and other utilities, running up the bill in which he could not afford. They knew Mr. A was a vulnerable person who couldn’t defend himself. Someone also got a hold of his social security number and started rerouting all Mr. A’s employment checks to another bank account, completely stealing his identity. In addition to people breaking into his home, using his utilities, and stealing his personal information, the utility company was threatening to shut off all utilities in his apartment unit if he did not pay. He informed the utility company that he was out of money because his identity was stolen. They told him that he needed to seek legal help.
Mr. A contacted Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) for assistance with the threat of losing electricity, gas, water, and shelter, knowing it was not his fault and didn’t deserve to suffer. Mr. A felt helpless and was therefore angry and frustrated. Mr. A had a caretaker and a psychologist who was always on call, but he didn’t notify them when he started to feel suicidal. He feared he would be sent away if he confessed his alarming thoughts.
While LSLA was working on his case, he expressed his mental struggles to his attorney. His attorney reached out to one of the LSLA social workers, Gina Mayfield. Mayfield supported Mr. A and all his psychological needs. She followed the protocol and started assisting him immediately by asking him if he had a plan to hurt himself and if he had a plan for responding to his emotions. She proceeded to ask him if he had a support system of friends or family and if he had access to the suicide prevention hotline. She provided information on coping mechanisms he could use when feeling down.
“I could tell he was in a tough place. He was so overwhelmed. He looked at everything he was going through in one big package. I taught him to break it all down into priorities to put him in a better headspace,” Mayfield said.
His attorney did submit documents proving his disability and that they were legally restricted from turning off his utilities which improved his situation and psychological state. When Mayfield followed up with Mr. A, she could tell his mental health had dramatically improved.
LSLA’s Crime Victim Unit social workers, like Mayfield, assist survivors of crime who need additional help mentally and emotionally.
“It is a calling to be in this field. I get a lot out of it. I get to help people during trying times when they thought there was no hope, and that is where I get my joy from,” Mayfield said.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).
Disability Abuse and Identity Theft – Legal Aid Saved his Life
Melissa Flores was renting a house with her husband and children when the pandemic first hit. Shortly after businesses began shutting down, her husband lost his job. The Flores family tried making arrangements with their landlord, but he demanded full payment. He didn’t just want their past due rent, but he tacked on an additional $1,100 in interest. Melissa even asked if he could take their security deposit as part of what they owed and he refused. Melissa and her husband felt harassed by the landlord, as he tended to stand outside of their property. Because of this, they’ve called the police twice.
Already overwhelmed, Melissa learned that the landlord started eviction proceedings and sought legal help with LSLA’s Clute Branch Office. The landlord, the owner of the Flores family home, and several other single-family residences in the area did not have any legal representation and had not done any due diligence towards determining whether the CARES Act applied to the home. The CARES Act prohibits evictions from being filed if the property in question has a federally backed mortgage.
Attorney Kory Kittel took the case and met the landlord just before the eviction hearing. Kittell was able to work out a deal in which Melissa and her family would move out of the home over a week in exchange for the eviction—and a claim for several thousand in back rent—being dismissed. The Flores family was able to move out and have the house fully cleaned by the date in question. The landlord was thrilled at the condition they left it in and was more than happy to drop the proceedings. The Flores family has since moved on to other housing. *Names were changed to protect the client(s) identity.
COVID-19 FACES OF EVICTION – CARES ACT VIOLATION
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!”
COVID-19 FACES OF EVICTION – 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 Aid to Survivors of Sexual Assault Project took Kassandra’s case. Attorney Brittany Hightower got a lifetime protective order for her and her child. She also got her a divorce from her trafficker and abuser. Attorney Hightower was also able to update vital statistic records for Kassandra’s son, declaring that Lilah had no blood, marriage, or adopted relation to him. This was necessary as Lilah declared herself his co-parent at the hospital and was using that as an excuse to remain in contact with them. Once all of this was done, Kassandra could finally exhale and live in peace.
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
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.
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.
addicted to heroin and crystal meth which made him angry.” Kaitlyn said. “He
already had a bad temper, but the drugs made him violent.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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
“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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
marriage was not how Brittney pictured it. They would argue every day resulting
in Michael screaming, name calling, pushing, and throwing things around the
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.”
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
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
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
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
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.
temporary orders hearing, the judge ordered supervised visits for Michael
through a professional monitoring agency, anger management classes, and that he
pay child support.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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 failed recognize she had 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
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
“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).