2019

Annual Report

Fighting for justice, equity, and hope for people living in poverty throughout Greater Los Angeles.

RESOLUTE IN THE FACE OF UNCERTAINTY

Dear Friends and Supporters,

As we write this, we find ourselves in unprecedented times: The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our community in many ways – the pandemic has laid bare the systemic racism that has resulted in the health disparities in the Black and Latinx community; the virus has brutally affected poor communities; the full extent of this inequality remains to be seen. There is now a national dialogue regarding racial justice and structural racism, with a force we have not seen in years: perhaps signaling a paradigm shift. The youth of this nation are leading this movement with their drive and demands for change. The work of economic justice and racial justice are separate, but intertwined; we are committed to addressing both.

With gratitude,

Silvia R. Argueta
Executive Director

James M. Burgess
President, LAFLA Board 2018-2020

WHAT WE DO

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles created the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Community Outreach Project to serve APIs who do not speak English as their dominant language, providing the full range of services that LAFLA offers.

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles upholds the rights of employees to earn a fair wage, work in a respectful environment, and receive the benefits to which they are entitled. We ensure low-income workers are treated with dignity and are able to provide for themselves and their families.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ reentry work focuses on removing barriers to employment related to criminal records, so that individuals can become or stay employed. The stability that comes from obtaining employment helps reduce rates of recidivism and improves clients’ lives overall.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles works toward systems change through litigation, policy, and education aimed at increasing and preserving housing. Our team also provides legal services to households facing homelessness, and upholds the civil rights of unhoused individuals.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles aims to change the delivery of health care by providing free legal services to vulnerable patients through our Medical-Legal Partnerships.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ consumer work focuses on assisting clients who cannot afford to repay their student loans and/or have attended for-profit colleges that engaged in predatory, deceptive, or illegal practices.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Veterans Justice Center is the oldest free legal services program for Veterans in Los Angeles County. We help Veterans obtain life-sustaining income, health, and housing benefits, and rebuild their lives through our full scope of critical legal services.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ family law practice focuses on helping survivors of domestic violence leave abusive relationships and rebuild their lives. We meet survivors where they are and provide access to a full range of critical legal services.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles provides free direct representation for those facing wrongful eviction. We also defend public housing residents and Section 8 voucher holders; preserve rent-stabilized units; and help clients living in uninhabitable conditions.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ government benefits advocacy keeps poor individuals and families housed, clothed, fed, and taken care of when they are sick. If you need help applying for government benefits or have been wrongly denied benefits, we may be able to help you.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ immigration work focuses on adults and minors who have been the survivors of crime, either in the U.S. or in their home countries. We help survivors adjust their status, navigate the immigration process, and keep their families together.
Nonprofit organizations are a key part of any community, providing services and support in a variety of ways. LAFLA assists nonprofits with important legal needs so they can do what they do best, helping communities become healthy and economically vibrant places to live.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Torture Survivors Project helps immigrants who are victims of torture that occurred outside the United States. We provide legal assistance and community education to a diverse community of asylum seekers, asylees, and refugees.

HIGHLIGHTS

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

# of people who qualify for LAFLA services:
0

 million people Living in Poverty across LA County

Short-term economic benefits to clients includes earnings like social security, food stamps and child custody awards
$ 0
Million

Calls handled through LAFLA's Call Center

0

Survivors helped at our domestic violence clinics

0
Veterans served
0
Percentage of cases that are housing-related
0 %
0
People helped at our self-help centers
0
Volunteers

Client Stories

Retiree’s Overwhelming Student Loan Debt Discharged

“I just needed someone to care enough to fight for me.”

Displaced Residents Reach Settlement with Former Property Owner

“I could go to work without worrying what’s going to happen to us.”

LAFLA Fights for Domestic Violence Survivor to Obtain Restraining Order, Child Custody

“It was because of LAFLA that I was able to have a voice.”

Financials

Revenue & Support

Income Total: $17,604,952
0%
Government Grants: $13,777,363
0%
Misc Income: $1,532,628
0%
Grants & Contributions: $1,488,607
0%
Special Events: $806,354
0%
Donated Services: $12,529,122
0%

Expenses

Expenses Total: $17,383,313
0%
Program: $12,345,042
0%
Support: $4,579,538
0%
Fundraising: $458,733
0%

Who We Help

By Race

BY GENDER

Thank You

Thank you to the following institutions for their support in 2019:

Weingart Foundation
California Community Foundation
Munzer Foundation
Weingart Foundation
The California Endowment
Green Foundation
Rose Hills Foundation
Josephine S. Gumbiner Foundation
Munzer Foundation
L.A. Care

TITLE SPONSOR

Kirkland & Ellis
Munger, Tolles & Olson

ANGEL

Morgan Lewis
Gibson Dunn

GUARDIAN

Sheppard Mullin
Jenner
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP
Skadden
O’Melveny
Rita Tuzon & Rick Stone

ADVOCATE

Sullivan & Cromwell
TM Financial
City National Bank
Loeb & Loeb
Cheryl & Haim Saban
Orrick
Proskauer
Sidley Austin
Latham & Watkins

PATRON

Moldex-Metric
Northrop Grumman
Susman Godfrey
Hogan Lovells
Venable
Fox Corporation
Quinn Emanuel
Wilkinson Wlash + Eskovitz
Debra Fischer & Sherwin Frey
Nossaman
King & Spalding
Irell & Manella

PARTNER

Edison International
Reed Smith
Polsinelli
Seyfarth Shaw
MATT/House & Robertson Architects
Integro Insurance Brokers
Morrison & Foerster
JAMS/ Richard Chernick
IOA Insurance
KPMG
Paul Hastings
Greenberg Glusker
Akin Gump
Steve English & Molly Munger
EPIC Brokers/Cipolla & Calaba
Theodora Oringher
First Republic Bank
Cooley LLP
TSG Reporting
TELACU
Bird Marella
Bryan Cave
Glasser Weil
Pasich, LLP

James M. Burgess ♦ President
Michael Maddigan ♦ Vice-President
Sean Eskovitz ♦ Secretary
Amy Lerner-Hill ♦ Treasurer
C. Cleo Ray ♦ Client Chair
Patricia Vining ♦ Client Vice-Chair

Karen J. Adelseck
Eric J. Bakewell
Wendy R. Cabil
Colin G. Cabral
Sean A. Commons
Phyllis Coto
Carissa Coze
E. Martin Estrada
Joseph B. Farrell
Marc Feinstein
Amber S. Finch
Debra L. Fischer
Felix Garcia
Silvia Hernandez
James E. Hornstein
Robert B. Hubbell
Zella Knight
Jason Linder
Clementina Lopez
John Maldonado
Louise Mbella
Kevin J. Minnick
Phillip Mobley
Fanny Ortiz
Adam S. Paris
Joseph Paunovich
R. Alexander Pilmer
Craig O. Roberts
David Lewis Sagal
Kareen Sandoval
Kahn A. Scolnick
Marc M. Seltzer
Linus Shentu
Jeff A. Taylor
Ronald B. Turovsky
Brianne Wiese

RESOLUTE IN THE FACE OF UNCERTAINTY

Dear Friends and Supporters,

As we write this, we find ourselves in unprecedented times: The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our community in many ways – the pandemic has laid bare the systemic racism that has resulted in the health disparities in the Black and Latinx community; the virus has brutally affected poor communities; the full extent of this inequality remains to be seen. There is now a national dialogue regarding racial justice and structural racism, with a force we have not seen in years: perhaps signaling a paradigm shift. The youth of this nation are leading this movement with their drive and demands for change. The work of economic justice and racial justice are separate, but intertwined; we are committed to addressing both.

We at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles remain resolute and hopeful in the face of uncertainty and hardship; and continue to meet the needs of our clients, who have suffered the most throughout the COVID crisis. The communities we serve had already possessed the fewest resources prior to the pandemic; now many have lost what little they did have. The need for civil legal aid – and equal justice – is stronger than ever.

Our history as the largest and longest-serving legal aid organization in California has bolstered our abilities to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and renewed our commitment to racial equality and the dismantling of sysems that promote racism. In 2019, we had the good fortune to celebrate our 90th anniversary, reflecting on other turbulent periods in our nation’s past, and our perseverance in overcoming these trials. 

We also had new reasons to celebrate: the Whole Person Care LA Medical-Legal Community Partnership (MLCP), which includes LAFLA, received the National Impact Award from the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership; the County opened its first Reentry Opportunity Center with LAFLA staff on the frontlines, providing legal services to those in the justice system; and our annual Access to Justice Dinner brought together more than 20 former LAFLA board presidents in celebration of our organization’s achievements and longstanding commitment to our community.

But most importantly, we honored the spirit of our clients in all that we did, and continue to do: Their strength, dignity, and resolve, in spite of the hardships they face, motivate our staff to fight harder to keep our clients housed; remove undue burdens such as overwhelming debt; prevent violence at the hands of abusive partners; and much more. In this annual report, you will read about how our staff helped clients in these very situations last year – and the other ways we helped more than 100,000 residents of Los Angeles County living in poverty.

The future may be unpredictable, but our commitment to serving the most vulnerable residents of Los Angeles County remains steadfast. We thank you for being a part of LAFLA’s mission over the last 90 years – and for your continued support as we begin to write the next chapter of our journey.

With gratitude,

Silvia R. Argueta
Executive Director  

James M. Burgess
President, LAFLA Board 2018-2020

Retiree’s Overwhelming Student Loan Debt Discharged

“I just needed someone to care enough to fight for me.” 

Cynthia is a retired social worker who prides herself on her perseverance: An immigrant from Panama, she earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Washington. But the price of her education was steep: Over the decades, her student loan debt ballooned to more than $200,000. “I have no regrets about my education, I am grateful I was able to receive it,” said Cynthia. 

However, Cynthia suffers from medical conditions that make it difficult to work: “Job offers don’t come as easily anymore,” said Cynthia. “I didn’t realize that I would be close to 65 and be in the position where I could not pay back my student loans.” 

Cynthia was seeking help for her conditions at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center when she saw a flier for LAFLA’s on-site Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) clinic. She shared with the LAFLA staff that she had struggled to make payments on her student loans for more than three decades – and immediately received a referral to the student loans team for help. 

“I was so overwhelmed with my student loan, wondering how I would ever pay for it,” said Cynthia. “I went [into the clinic] and asked if I could talk about my concerns, and they set up an appointment for me, and that was it.” 

“Our team of legal advocates work in tandem with health care workers to transform lives by enforcing consumer and other legal protections to restore fairness, dignity and self-reliance for Los Angeles’ sickest and most vulnerable residents,” said Managing Attorney Ronnette Ramos, who oversees our MLP clinics. “LAFLA’s Medical-Legal Partnerships push to improve individuals’ lives by treating their whole being – medically and legally – to reach optimal health.” 

Attorney Josephine Lee quickly went to work, evaluating Cynthia’s disability and student loan options. She contacted Cynthia’s physician and worked with her doctor’s office to complete a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge application, which “provides full federal student debt cancellation for disabled veterans or eligible borrowers who receive Social Security disability benefits or obtain a doctor’s certification of their disability,” said Josephine. “The TPD discharge ensures that borrowers like Ms. Springer, who worked hard to complete her education but now cannot work due to her disability, can obtain relief from a lifetime of debt burden.” 

With the certification from Cynthia’s doctor and the discharge request prepared by LAFLA, the Department of Education granted Cynthia’s TPD discharge. As a result, Cynthia received a tax-free cancellation of more than $200,000 in outstanding federal student loan debt. 

“I am extremely grateful. I thought I would never get out from under this,” said Cynthia. “I just needed someone to care enough to fight for me.”

Displaced Residents Reach Settlement
with Former Property Owner

“I could go to work without worrying what’s going to happen to us, what’s going to happen to my place. The settlement enabled us to have a better life.” 

For months, the displaced residents of the Royal Park Motel awaited word that they would be able to return home. A fire had ravaged parts of the residential hotel, which offered affordable housing for more than 100 residents, many of whom were among the most vulnerable in Los Angeles – seniors, those living with disabilities, and the working poor. 

“We weren’t bad people, we worked every day, we paid our rent on time,” said Misty, who lived at Royal Park for five years with her fiancé. The building owner told residents to stay elsewhere while they made repairs; yet most received little to no money to cover their moving costs or increased rents. Misty and her fiancé relocated to a cramped studio and waited for two years to return home. 

Unbeknownst to the residents, the owner was remodeling their building in the hopes of turning it into a tourist hotel, removing more than 100 units of low-cost housing. According to Misty, “They gave us the runaround. We would go to the [property] office to see if we could talk to someone, but they had replaced the whole staff and no one recognized us.” 

Another resident, Peter, lived in his van with his service dog, Sascha, while waiting to return: “It’s so hard living and choosing where to park every day, it was very daunting.” Eventually he learned the building owner had gutted their apartments and changed their door locks to hotel key entry systems: “They were redesigning the units, turning them into hotel rooms. Even if they had [reopened the building to residents], they had completely removed our kitchens,” said Peter. 

Misty and Peter were part of a group of tenants who came to LAFLA for help. Senior Attorney Paul Estuar teamed up with Kirkland & Ellis and a local tenant advocacy group, Inquilinos Unidos, to file a lawsuit on their behalf. “We [the litigation team] were stunned at how brazen the building’s owner was in violating long-standing laws prohibiting conversions of this kind,” said Paul. “We knew that immediate and decisive intervention was necessary not just to restore our clients’ tenancy rights, but also to save further diminution of our City’s affordable housing stock.” 

After several months of litigation, the parties were able to reach a settlement which included a tenant relocation assistance fund for all displaced tenants; the right of former tenants to return to the building under their former rents; and the restoration of the Royal Park to permanent affordable housing. 

“The [legal team were] complete lifesavers, they were amazing,” said Misty, who chose to move to a larger apartment with her fiancé. “I could go to work without worrying what’s going to happen to us, what’s going to happen to my place. The settlement enabled us to have a better life.” 

Peter was also elated to finally afford a new home of his own: “Your whole self-esteem subtly drops,” said Peter about being unhoused. “You don’t realize it as it’s slipping away when you’re going through it. But when your self-esteem comes back, you can look people in the eye again. It’s just really huge.” 

Domestic Violence Survivor Granted
Restraining Order, Sole Child Custody

“It was because of LAFLA that I was able to have a voice in the courtroom before the judge, and able to stand on my own two feet and defend myself.” 

Holly feared for her daughter’s life and for her own: Her partner, Sam, had violently attacked her in front of their toddler, Ella. Holly could not call the police because Sam had confiscated her cell phone. While Sam was distracted, Holly was able to flee with Ella. At the police station, she obtained an emergency protective order and medical help – then received a temporary civil restraining order with custody of Ella. Police arrested Sam and criminal charges were pending. Yet Holly’s ordeal was far from over. 

Shortly after his release from jail, Sam filed his own request for a civil restraining order – lying to the court with claims that police had arrested both of them, and omitting crucial details, including Holly’s pending restraining order. He even left out the criminal case pending against him. The court granted his request and custody of Ella. Distraught, Holly was forced to turn Ella over to Sam because his was the most recent order. 

“I was going nights without sleeping and without eating,” said Holly. “I was constantly stressed about the case and losing my child and losing my job – which I did end up losing because I was so worried.” 

Sam had already had Ella for two weeks by the time Holly arrived at LAFLA’s domestic violence clinic at the Long Beach Courthouse. Senior Attorney Paula Cohen (pictured) sprang into action on Holly’s behalf. 

“Paula saw the case was quite complex and that it would be difficult to navigate on my own,” said Holly. “It’s already an intimidating process and very frightening. Paula had to untangle everything.” 

“Cases where each party has filed and obtained competing restraining orders with competing custody orders are some of the most challenging cases we see,” states Paula. “Abuse victims feel confused and demoralized when it appears the court system is further victimizing them. Even if the other party has made blatant lies in their pleadings, a domestic violence victim can feel too overwhelmed to challenge those statements in court.” 

Paula obtained criminal records proving that Sam’s arraignment took place prior to his civil filing; as well as proof of Holly’s civil case, showing Sam had been served with her restraining order prior to filing his. Paula put together a detailed response to Sam’s restraining order request, which outlined the omitted facts and described the abuse he had inflicted in front of Ella. 

Fortunately, the judge read the pleadings. Excoriating Sam for misleading the court, the judge made a finding of abuse against Sam; denied and dismissed Sam’s restraining order; granted Holly’s restraining order; and awarded sole legal and physical custody of Ella to Holly. 

Holly feels grateful for LAFLA’s help, stating she felt bewildered and overwhelmed by the legal system until LAFLA rescued her, told the court the truth, and helped her to obtain just orders, including sole custody of her precious Ella. 

“It was because of LAFLA that I was able to have a voice in the courtroom before the judge, and able to stand on my own two feet and defend myself,” said Holly. “I want to give hope to another woman – so many women remain in abusive relationships and they don’t have to. Paula truly put everything in a clear context, and spent endless hours working on my case – she showed so much dedication to me alone, and I’m so grateful.”