The Maryland Partners for Justice Conference presents a unique opportunity for legal services program staff, the public and private bar, members of the judiciary, human services agencies, elected officials, and others to discuss critical issues facing the poor and underrepresented in our state and how we can improve access to justice.

Questions? Contact Kiah Pierre, Staff Liaison to the Conference Planning Committee, at or 443-703-3046.


Thanks for your support of another great Maryland Partners for Justice Conference! Missed it this year? The Conference typically occurs in mid-May at the Baltimore Convention Center. Check back again soon about details for the 2020 event.

  Session 1:
9:45 am to 11:00 am
Session 2:
11:15 am to 12:30 pm
Session 3:
2:15 pm to 3:30 pm

Criminal Law: Practice & Policy
Confronting the Discriminatory Impact of Nuisance and Crime-Free Ordinances

Description & Speakers
Policing for Profit: The Ripple Effect

Description & Speakers
Carceral Capitalism: Challenging the Profiteers of Money Bail in Maryland

Description & Speakers

Building a better nonprofit
Effective Events for Fundraising and Friendraising

Description & Speakers
How to Grow Legal Services Leaders from Within

Description & Speakers
Nothing About Us Without Us: The Community as a Resource for Effective Advocacy

Description & Speakers

Consumer Concerns
Holding the Line: Protecting Maryland Consumers When Federal Oversight Fails

Description & Speakers
Impact of the New Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Description & Speakers
Empowering Affordable Heat and Electricity: How to Address the Energy Needs of Low-Income Households

Description & Speakers

Justice in 2019: Immigration and other timely concerns
In Search of Safety: Unaccompanied Children in Maryland

Description & Speakers
Lawyering in the #MeToo Era

Description & Speakers
The Keepers - Collaborating for Social Justice

Description & Speakers

Justice in the Courtroom
Smartphone Evidence – Preserving, Introducing, … and maybe Avoiding!

Description & Speakers
Tell it Like it is: Race Equity Arguments in Court

Description & Speakers
All is not lost! Recovering unpaid wages for low-wage workers in Maryland

Description & Speakers

Seniors & vulnerable communities
(or not?): Advising Families on the Options

Description & Speakers
Learn How Estate Planning Can Keep Your Clients in their Homes

Description & Speakers
LGBTQ Essentials: Best Practices to Assist the Most Vulnerable LGBTQ Communities

Description & Speakers

Tentative panel list

Early AM: 9:45 AM - 11:00 AM  |  Late AM: 11:15 AM - 12:30 PM  |  PM: 2:15 PM - 3:30 PM

Early AM session 1. Confronting the Discriminatory Impact of Nuisance and Crime-Free Ordinances

Speakers from: American Civil Liberties Union; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Maryland Legal Aid

Despite the protections afforded by the Fair Housing Act, discrimination in housing continues to rear its ugly head in both blatant and subtle ways. One method is the implementation of nuisance and crime-free ordinances that are popping up around the country at alarming rates. Jurisdictions like the City of Hesperia, CA have deemed any criminal activity in rental housing a public nuisance, and have thus required landlords to evict tenants if the police notify them of any criminal activity on or near the property, even if tenants were never arrested, charged or convicted. Others penalize “excessive” numbers of calls to law enforcement within a certain period of time. Crime-free ordinances either explicitly or through incentives to landlords, permit discrimination on the basis of alleged criminal activity, even if the tenant is a victim of crime or domestic violence. Jurisdictions use these under the radar civil citations as ways to evict undesirable tenants and developments without the oversight that a criminal standard of proof would require. This panel presentation will cover the ways in which these seemingly benign ordinances have a disparate impact on victims of domestic violence and low-income communities of color, highlight the current efforts of advocates across the nation around this issue, and present various legal and advocacy strategies for challenging them should they pop up in your community.

Early AM session 2. Holding the Line: Protecting Maryland Consumers When Federal Oversight Fails

Speakers from: The Holland Law Firm; Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition; Maryland General Assembly

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in 2011 in response to the financial crisis that caused millions of consumers to lose their homes to foreclosure and slide into ever-mounting debt. Its purpose is to protect consumers from predatory and abusive business practices. However, in recent years, the Bureau has stepped aside, and created a vacuum of oversight that is sorely needed to protect consumers from new and continuing problems in the financial sector. As federal oversight of consumer issues continues to decline, state actors in Maryland are stepping up to protect Maryland consumers. The state legislature, Attorney General, consumer rights groups, lawyers, and others have come together to make sure consumers in Maryland are protected, regardless of what is happening on the federal level. This panel will discuss the efforts of advocates and others in Maryland to protect consumers to date, what is working, the roadblocks to progress, and what is planned for the future.

Early AM session 3. Effective Events for Fundraising and Friendraising

Speakers from: Best Buddies Maryland; Harford County Bar Foundation; Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service

Events can be an effective way to engage existing and potential donors and volunteers - but they're not for the faint of heart! They also require careful planning to ensure a return on investment. Learn how organizations large and small can decide if events are an appropriate tool to reach their goals. Panelists will discuss their experience with a wide range of events, from small get-togethers to walks with more than 1,000 people. Discussions will also include setting strategy, engaging board members, addressing event fatigue and incorporating your organization’s mission into the event.

Early AM session 4. Guardianship (or not?): Advising Families on the Options

Speakers from: Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, LLC; Department of Juvenile & Family Services, Administrative Office of the Courts; Maryland Judiciary

As our population ages, many families will need to act to protect an elderly loved one. At best, these decisions are difficult; at worst, they are heartbreaking. Guardianship may be an option, but by law is a last resort; it results in the significant and often permanent loss of an individual’s rights and liberties. What alternatives exist? What do families need to know about the guardianship court process? What can we all do now to avoid guardianship in the future? Panelists will answer these questions and identify resources available to family guardians and those who support them. Participants will also have an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the Maryland Judiciary’s ongoing guardianship reform efforts.

Early AM session 5. In Search of Safety: Unaccompanied Children in Maryland

Speakers from: Identity, Inc.; Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital; Kids in Need of Defense

Maryland is one of the highest receiving states of unaccompanied children (UACs) in the United States, with over 10,000 UACs released to Maryland sponsors in recent years – including children separated from their families at the border under the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. UACs arrive in the United States seeking haven from abuse, neglect, abandonment, gang violence, and other dangerous conditions. Once here, UACs face a myriad of legal and non-legal challenges. This panel will provide an overview of the plight of UACs; discuss how service providers are working to meet their needs; identify gaps in protection and services; and recommend ways in which Maryland can do more to protect vulnerable immigrant and refugee children.

Early AM session 6. Smartphone Evidence – Preserving, Introducing, … and maybe Avoiding!

Speakers from: Dennis O'Brien P.A.; University of Baltimore School of Law

More than ever, our lives are recorded by our smartphones - where we were, what we saw, who we called, when we texted, what we said... This session will provide practical steps to seek, access, preserve, print, authenticate, and successfully introduce evidence from smartphones. The session will also explore how we might advise clients regarding the evidence-factories they carry - and give us some ideas for ourselves.

Late AM session 7. How to Grow Legal Services Leaders from Within

Speakers from: Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business; MidPenn Legal Services; The Park School of Baltimore

In a world of limited resources, it is typical for employers – legal services providers and otherwise – to promote existing employees as openings arise and needs change. It can be faster and less expensive to promote from within, and dedicated, go-to employees are often hungry to grow and take on new challenges. Yet, many organizations struggle with the important task of developing employees into leaders. This session will create an open dialogue on common leadership skill gaps and challenges in legal services; explore strategies for instilling diversity and inclusion in leadership development efforts; and identify resources and best practices for attendees.

Late AM session 8. Impact of the New Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Speakers from: CASH Campaign of Maryland; Maryland Legal Aid; Taxpayer Advocate Service

In December 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed. This was a comprehensive tax reform bill which brought significant changes in many sectors, especially on its effects on the poor. Join speakers from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Maryland Legal Aid, CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope Campaign of Maryland, and the Taxpayer Advocate Service for a discussion of the impact of the new law.

Late AM session 9. Learn How Estate Planning Can Keep Your Clients in their Homes

Speakers from: Fight Blight Baltimore; Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Medstar Health

Learn about recent efforts in Maryland regarding estate planning, estate administration and deed transfers and how these efforts have directly impacted low-income individuals ability to stay in their homes. The presentation will highlight innovative efforts, new partnerships and community engagement to systematically debunk the myth that poor people don’t need to do estate planning. The panel will include the basics of estate planning and probate, the impact the lack of estate planning has on low-income communities and tips on how to begin to talk to your clients about this often overlooked tool to keep families in their homes.

Late AM session 10. Policing for Profit: The Ripple Effect

Speakers from: Maryland Legal Aid; Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Office of the Public Defender

Civil Forfeiture, the process by which property is seized and kept after an arrest, but not necessarily a conviction, is something that adversely affects many Marylander's when they come in contact with the police. Panelists from Legal Aid, MVLS and the Office of the Public Defender will discuss the different situations residents face whether they have a car, cash, or other property seized. Panelists will elaborate on the collateral consequences of these losses and the profound impact it has on our clients. Further, the panel will address how advocates can work towards collaborative solutions for identifying and representing clients who face these seizures and who are eligible to request their property back. Attendees will receive a Civil Forfeiture toolkit and roadmap, including draft pleadings and forms. Finally, the panel will engage attendees in different hypothetical scenarios.

Late AM session 11. Tell it Like it is: Race Equity Arguments in Court

Speakers from: Civil Rights Corp.; Client community; Public Justice Center

As legal services advocates, we are working to eliminate racial disparities in access to housing, income, health, education and transportation. The courts can be a tool where legal advocates can turn to advance racial equity. But what are race equity arguments and how do we develop them? How do we obtain and analyze data to support our arguments? Are there certain arguments or types of cases that lend themselves to explicitly framing arguments in this way? What is the client's role in developing the argument and how can attorneys communicate about this legal strategy with our clients? What other opportunities are there for judicial education and training? Panelists will share strategies and experiences incorporating racial equity arguments in impact litigation and appellate advocacy, and engage the audience on whether raising these issues in direct services representation in trial courts and administrative hearings is a viable strategy.

Late AM session 12. Lawyering in the #MeToo Era

Speakers from: Maryland Legal Aid; Women's Law Center of Maryland; Family Justice Center of Prince George's County

The #MeToo Movement gave a voice to oft silenced women across the nation, but what impact has the movement had, if any, on family law, employment, and advocacy for low income Marylanders? Join our expert panel as they tackle these tough issues, including recent Maryland employment law changes, clients working in a hostile work environment, the intersection of domestic violence and employment, and legal services family law advocacy in these changing times. Be ready for a vibrant, engaging discussion with takeaways for all practice areas.

PM session 13. All is not lost! Recovering unpaid wages for low-wage workers in Maryland

Speakers from: Center for Progressive Reform; Outten & Golden LLP; Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

This session is a follow-up to the 2018 Partners for Justice session entitled “Death by a Thousand Cuts: How Wage Theft Keeps Families in Poverty and What to do About It.” Participants asked for more nuts-and-bolts information on litigating wage and hour cases on behalf of low-wage workers. This session aims to walk attorneys through the process, from intake to collections, as well as to provide information on using the criminal justice system to advance your clients’ interests. The panelists’ goal is to create a community of practitioners who will represent low-wage workers in wage and hour cases, even when the amount in controversy is relatively modest.

PM session 14. Carceral Capitalism: Challenging the Profiteers of Money Bail in Maryland

Speakers from: Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Office of the Public Defender; Santoni, Vocci, & Ortega, LLC

The system of money bail in Maryland has not only led to the systematic pretrial detention of criminal defendants solely due to poverty, but has also entrapped the family members and friends of defendants in cycles of inescapable debt as a result of contracting with the for-profit bail industry to secure their release. As a standard industry practice, bail bonds companies require multiple loved ones of defendants to co-sign bail contracts, which subject the loved ones to joint and several liability for non-refundable fees. From 2011-2016, $256 million in non-refundable fees were charged at Maryland’s indigent co-signers. Despite widespread abuse and illegality in industry practices, bail bond companies routinely file debt collection actions against co-signers in Maryland state courts. This panel will address (1) the commercialization of money bail in Maryland, and its ramifications for bail reform, (2) direct representation strategies to defend against collections actions filed by bail bond companies against co-signers, and (3) affirmative litigation strategies to challenge bail industry players.

PM session 15. Empowering Affordable Heat and Electricity: How to Address the Energy Needs of Low-Income Households

Speakers from: APPRISE; Independent journalist; Maryland Office of People’s Counsel

All Maryland households should have access to affordable electricity and heat in their homes. This panel will specifically explore the profiles and energy burdens (defined as the share of annual household income that is used to pay annual energy and water bills) of low-income and vulnerable Maryland households, as presented in a report recently prepared for the Office of People’s Counsel (“OPC”). This panel will also examine Maryland's energy supply market, where some unscrupulous energy suppliers may engage in deceptive marketing or inflate the costs of energy services, and why this is a major hurdle for low-income households as they attempt to find ways to decrease their energy burdens. Finally, the panel will discuss a novel Critical Medical Needs Program, developed by OPC and others to expedite energy assistance to medically vulnerable customers. Ultimately, the panel will enable attorneys, paralegals, and other advocates to identify energy-related issues and help clients find solutions to these essential problems.

PM session 16. The Keepers - Collaborating for Social Justice

Speakers from: The Keepers; Maryland General Assembly

The recent Netflix series, "The Keepers" shared the tragic story of the murder of a Baltimore nun and community efforts to solve her case. Non-lawyers and lawyers will discuss how best to coordinate a strategic campaign for justice, including doing MPIA/FOIA requests, community organizing and using the media.

PM session 17. LGBTQ Essentials: Best Practices to Assist the Most Vulnerable LGBTQ Communities

Speakers from: Chase Brexton Health Care; FreeState Justice; Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City

This session will provide attorneys from all areas of practice in-depth exposure to best practices when working with LGBTQ clients, with a specific emphasis on being affirming of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Attendees will learn about the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people, learn essential terms and definitions, receive an introduction to understanding transition, and learn guidelines for how to effectively advocate on behalf of LGBTQ clients. Panelists will share their own experience working with LGBTQ clients, provide live role play scenarios to demonstrate best practices discussed, and discuss how privilege and intersectionality deeply impacts representation of clients living at margins.

PM session 18. Nothing About Us Without Us: The Community as a Resource for Effective Advocacy

Speakers from: Advocates for Children & Youth; Baltimore Action Legal Team; Public Justice Center

As advocates, we speak up and stand up for populations that are historically stigmatized and underserved, like individuals living in poverty. Our clients face many seemingly insurmountable barriers to accessing justice within systems that claim to serve them. Every year, we ritualistically select a few advocacy priorities aimed at eliminating some of the barriers that prevent our clients and their communities from moving forward. But how do we ensure that our priorities are reflective of the most pressing issues that the community needs and expects us to address? How can we support communities to energize and mobilize themselves to fight alongside us for justice? This panel will discuss how to conduct a needs assessment of the community to set your organization's advocacy priorities and community capacity building to effectively carry out the mission of your organization with a focus toward achieving race equity.