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.

Personal Independence Restored

Survivors of sexual assault often fear raising 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

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.

Pictured left to right:
Attorney Karyna Lopez, mom Alamenia Luna, Alamenia’s son

A Million Dollar Tax Story