LEGAL AID SUCCESS STORIES

joan
Joan & Matty
When “Joan’s” ex came to her home, violent and paranoid, she got her son “Matty” to safety and filed for a restraining order. When he kept returning and tormenting her and her neighbors, Joan’s landlord tried to evict her with only 24 hours’ notice. With nowhere to go, she felt like the world was falling down around her. She went to the legal aid office, where a lawyer calmly picked up the phone to explain to the landlord that victims of domestic violence cannot be evicted because of the actions of their abusers. Joan has a right to stay safe in her home. The landlord immediately withdrew the eviction and Joan and her neighbors remain vigilant as she continues to build a stable and safe life with the legal protections that are rightfully hers.
vulnerable community
A Vulnerable Community
Legal aid received a call from two community partners about the same problem: a housing complex where the tenants were suffering because the apartments were unsanitary and unsafe. Legal aid met the clients at their homes, and found that there were 8 units in this complex that all had similar problems suggesting that the landlord had not kept up on repairs: extensive mold around exterior walls of most rooms; water damage from leaking toilets; rusted heaters and ovens; leaking fridges; filthy old carpets; and extensive cockroach and spider infestation. The families did not ask for help or complain to their landlord because they didn’t know that they had a right to live in a safe home with a basic standard of livable repair. They were all refugees – an ethnic minority that was persecuted in their own country that fled to the United States for safety. For most of these clients, their only experience with anything like a landlord-tenant relationship was being in a refugee camp. Some feared that they would be attacked or killed if they complained to the landlord, and none felt they could afford to live anywhere else. Legal aid tried to work with the landlord. However, the landlord’s disregard for the tenants seemed deliberate – they did not step up and do the right thing, even when they were advised of their responsibilities. Legal aid then filed suit against the landlord and reached a settlement prior to court. The families immediately got some relief from these unacceptable conditions. There is still a long road ahead for them to acclimate and to feel safe, but positive steps have started – with legal aid’s help, their voices were heard and their rights respected.
Steve
Steve
When new owners took control of the 36 unit apartment building where “Steve” lived, they completely shut off the boiler which supplied heat to the entire building. Tenant requests for repairs went unanswered and the heat remained off for eight months. Space heaters were not an option, as they would blow the breakers in the building and cut off electricity for everyone. Steve finally contacted legal aid. After additional attempts to work with the landlord failed, legal aid filed a lawsuit on Steve’s behalf. The litigation was successful, Steve was awarded modest money damages, and the heat remains on for all of the tenants in the building. After the lawsuit, several elderly tenants in the building thanked Steve, saying that they were too afraid of the landlords to challenge them, but that they appreciated what he and legal aid did for everyone.
Amy
Amy
Amy, mother of five, was 28 and apparently healthy when she suddenly collapsed. She woke up in the hospital to learn a tumor in her spine had ruptured one of her spinal bones. Amy lost her job and her savings in her seven-year battle with cancer, and when she went into remission, she still had intense pain in her damaged bones. Then Oregon Health Plan (OHP) mistakenly stopped covering her pain medication, leaving her as ill as she was during chemotherapy. Amy turned to legal aid, and legal aid worked with OHP to restore coverage. Amy said “If [legal aid] hadn’t stepped in, I would still be in horrendous amounts of pain, unable to function.”
emily
Emily
Emily’s husband was physically and emotionally abusive and the violence was escalating: he had recently tried to choke her in front of their three young daughters, made threats to kill her, and kept a gun hidden from her. Emily and the girls moved to a shelter. Domestic violence victim advocates helped Emily apply for a restraining order, and when her husband challenged the order, they set up a meeting with a legal aid lawyer to assist her in court. Her lawyer helped her prepare and represented her at the hearing. The judge upheld the order, keeping the restraining order in place and providing for safe, supervised parenting time. With the constant fear of violence out of the way, the family feels safer and able to find more stable housing.
Doug & Cathy
Doug & Cathy Jory
Doug and Cathy Jory live on a tight budget consisting of $1,000 social security disability every month. After Doug had two major surgeries, life became more chaotic than ever. When their mortgage was transferred to another company, they began getting an extra $100 per month charge they could not afford. The Jorys did not know where to turn, and then a friend referred them to legal aid. Legal aid helped the Jorys recover all the fees that had been illegally charged and also saved their home from being at risk of foreclosure. Cathy said, “I could not have handled this alone. I didn’t have anyone listening to what I was saying until I went to legal aid. Having someone who knows the law…it was a lot of help.”
Theresa
Theresa lives in a trailer on a rural piece of land she inherited from her father. She is developmentally disabled, and a series of strokes had limited her even more. Her son moved in with her and began behaving erratically, destroying things, and refusing to muzzle his aggressive pit bull. One day the dog attacked Theresa and ripped her arm to the bone. After being hospitalized for several surgeries and grafts, she was afraid to come home and instead stayed with a friend. She tried to apply for a restraining order, but was told by the court clerk she could not appear by phone. Legal aid took her case and reapplied, citing the statute that allows an elder or disabled person to testify for a restraining order by phone. She told the judge about her son’s violence and her fear. The judge granted the restraining order and her son was removed by the police. She is able to feel secure in her home again.
Santa Wayne
"Santa Wayne" is an Eastern Oregon disabled veteran who plays the part of Santa when he serves as a daily holiday bell ringer at a store in Walla Walla. Wayne found himself on the verge of losing his home when he received an eviction notice. He wasn’t able to meet the mobile home park’s regulations and he couldn't afford to move his single-wide trailer to a different park. Pendleton legal aid lawyer Arron Guevara stepped in to help. Arron and the park’s lawyer were able to work out a settlement that allows Wayne to stay in the park and also creates a process for the parties to work together to resolve any future issues. According to Arron, “Wayne not only looks the part of Santa with wavy white hair and beard, but he embodies the spirit as well. He’s truly a jolly ol' soul. We’re happy that he gets to stay in his home.“
Flora
A single mom working three jobs, Flora spoke only Spanish and could not read or write. She had always wanted to own her own business and earn enough to send her sons to college. A national janitorial company representative told Flora, through an interpreter, about the opportunity to buy a franchise — she would receive accounts that would generate $3000 per month within six months. Flora relied on the representative’s word and signed the contract, putting some money down and financing the remaining franchise fee with them. More than a year later, Flora was earning less than $700 per month. The company was also deducting “royalties and management fees” and the cost of her cleaning supplies. Flora turned to legal aid in frustration. Legal aid knew that this corporation and others have been sued in other states for classifying janitorial employees as independent business owners. They were able to settle Flora’s case, with the company terminating her franchise agreement and forgiving her outstanding obligations.
Celine
Nine-year-old Celine was dropped off for a weekend with her grandmother, Victoria. On Sunday, Celine’s mom did not return for her. As the weeks stretched into months, Victoria realized that Celine’s mom wasn’t coming back. Celine had no legal guardian to sign important papers, including consent to medical care. When Victoria went to enroll Celine in school, she was turned away. The school put Victoria in touch with legal aid. Legal aid helped Victoria go through the process of trying to find Celine’s parents. They put notices in papers and sent letters to old addresses, but they got no response. Legal aid then prepared a “relative caregiver affidavit” naming Victoria Celine’s legal guardian, a process made possible by a new Oregon law. With the guardianship approved, Celine is able to get medical care and is enrolled in school — thanks to legal aid.
Zach
Zach is five and has a severe gastrointestinal disorder. He has had eight surgeries so far. “Natalie,” Zach’s mom, worked almost full time while also taking Zach to day-long treatments each week. Social Security benefits helped offset some of the costs. When Zach turned three, he celebrated a milestone—he could take food orally. That’s when Social Security terminated his benefits, despite his doctors’ protests that he was still seriously ill. Natalie tried to hire a lawyer to navigate the complicated bureaucracy, but she couldn’t pay for a lawyer and fees were not available. Legal aid stepped in and benefits were reinstated. Between work, benefits, scrimping, and saving, Natalie was able to relocate closer to a facility with more treatment options, giving Zach a better chance at an active life.
Lynnette
Lynette is a 44 year old busy single mom of a 17 year old daughter. When she had difficulty breathing and started to have chest pains, she went to the hospital and was admitted to the intensive care unit.  Lynette thought that the Oregon Health Plan would take care of the bill.  She was surprised when the hospital and later a collections agency said that she owed them for some of the treatments she received in the hospital.   Lynette’s income covered her rent, utilities and groceries, with almost nothing left over. It would have been impossible to pay the hospital bill and stay current on other bills.  She called legal aid, and the attorney worked things out with the hospital.  Lynette said, “Legal aid was a godsend to me and I’m not sure what I would have done if they hadn’t been there to help.
Flora LittleDove
Flora LittleDove
Flora LittleDove and her husband Joe have owned a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home for over 35 years. Their two children grew up there and Flora, who is now in her late sixties, expects to live out the rest of her life in “her own space on this earth.” Flora is battling cancer. To cover surgeries, they made the tough choice to refinance their home. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Joe was laid off from his job. When the couple was unable to cover the higher mortgage, the bank began foreclosure proceedings. Flora had little energy to face the stress of losing her home. At the last moment, Flora turned to legal aid for help. “One of the best things was that I did not feel alone. When I could not get answers, legal aid did. They helped me carry the burden and stress.” Because of legal aid’s help, Flora and Joe have manageable payments and are able to stay in their home.
Ellen
Ellen was fired after reporting discrimination in the workplace. As a single mother of two, she was concerned about making ends meet. When she was denied unemployment benefits, she turned to legal aid for help. After a long hearing and testimony from a number of witnesses, Ellen won her appeal. With her unemployment benefits she was able to pay her rent. She now has part time employment. Ellen told the Campaign, “I am really appreciative. Without the help I wasn’t going to win. I was very nervous and didn’t know what to say.”
Fatima
Fatima came to the US for a marriage arranged by her family. Her husband was physically abusive and kept her as a prisoner in her home — she was not allowed to leave unless he accompanied her. She knew she needed to get away, but was not sure how to do it. She saved up quarters from doing laundry and one day was able to escape. She took a bus to the only building she had been to downtown – the immigration building. They referred her to legal aid, who helped with her divorce and obtaining custody of her five year-old son. She is now raising her son in a safe household and is no longer held back from fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse.
Angela
Angela and her children lived in fear as they watched their husband and father spiral into mental illness. He refused treatment, became erratic, and verbally, physically, and sexually abusive until Angela said, “Enough.” She obtained a restraining order, and when that did not work, filled out the proper paperwork to move from her apartment with the kids to find a safe place. Her husband contested the restraining order and her landlord attempted to evict her for terminating the lease early. Angela was worried about her safety and the impact an eviction would have on her ability to find housing in the future. Legal aid assisted her with the restraining order hearing, and also got the eviction dismissed. Legal aid helped her renew the restraining order a year later, and her husband eventually filed for divorce. Today, Angela has full custody of the children and their father, who is getting help for his mental illness, is redeveloping relationships with them through regular, supervised parenting time.
Allen and Penny
Allen and his wife Penny are both 63, with four grown daughters. After working for a large company for almost 20 years, Allen was suddenly “downsized.” He received unemployment benefits while he looked for a job, but after more than a year of searching, it became clear that they would soon be living off of Social Security. Since that wouldn’t be enough to pay the mortgage, he decided to cash out his pension and pay off the balance on their home. He reported the pension distribution to the state. Then they got some bad news: the Employment Department said he’d have to pay back all the unemployment benefits. Worse, Penny had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. That’s when Allen called legal aid. Legal aid successfully challenged the case on the basis that Allen was a dislocated worker and this is an exception to retirement distributions. Today, the mortgage is paid off, and Penny is in remission. Allen said “We are just very thankful that legal aid existed, so we could get help in an area that we had no expertise in. [Representing myself] would have been like trying to cure myself of cancer without the help of physicians and surgeons.”
Ruth
Ruth was recovering from surgery in a wheelchair when her husband of several decades grabbed her and yelled at her in a public place. She felt deeply humiliated, and the reaction from those around her was a life-changing moment. “Unless we have someone to enlighten us about abused women, we have no idea what to do, or that you can walk out the door,” says Ruth. She contacted legal aid to help her get protection from his abuse for herself and for their teenage son, who is autistic. Ruth and her son have been thriving apart from the abuser. Ruth says, “I have a right to enjoy my life and our son has a right to explore every avenue out there and not be held back.” She wants everyone to know legal aid may have saved her life.
Julie & Kevin
Julie and Kevin are hardworking parents of four. Their youngest, twin boys, were both born with serious heart problems. Even with two working parents, the family lives on the edge of poverty because of medical costs. Fortunately, they receive help from the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). Things started to unravel when the hospital billed Julie, instead of OHP, for an expensive procedure. Julie contacted the hospital many times to explain that the bill should go to OHP, but the hospital ignored her, and then called a collection agency. Frustrated and unable to get results on her own, Julie finally turned to legal aid. Once legal aid got involved, the hospital called off the collection agency, protecting the family from extreme financial hardship.
Carrie
Thirty-three year old Carrie is a single mother of Mike.  Carrie worked hard to maintain her family home that was given to her when her mother passed away.  When Carrie became disabled after an assault at work, she understood that her mortgage insurance was covering her house payments while she recovered. After a few months, Carrie found out her house was in foreclosure when her brother saw her home listed in a foreclosure sale notice! It turned out that the bank had incorrectly filed Carrie’s paperwork regarding the insurance payments. Legal aid acted quickly to stop the foreclosure. Now secure in her home, Carrie is on the road to stabilizing her life. She is in job training to get a steady job to support her family. Carrie says, “My legal aid lawyer was a blessing to me.”
Tomas
Tomas is two years old and he has three brothers. His mother, Marisol, is a child care worker. Faced with low wages and a tight rental market, the best apartment she could afford was in poor condition. It had roaches, rats, and the stove sparked, so she was afraid to cook. She asked the landlord to fix the problems, and he responded with an eviction notice. Marisol knew that wasn’t right, but she couldn’t get the landlord to listen to her. Then a co-worker suggested calling legal aid. Legal aid negotiated an agreement with her landlord, including cleanup and repairs. The landlord followed through, and now Tomas, Marisol, and the rest of the family have a clean, safe place to live.
Margaret
Margaret is 52 with three grown children. For years, she lived with physical abuse and threats from her husband. After she insisted he move out, he threatened her and her family. Terrified, she called the police, who told her to get a stalking order. She didn’t know how to get one, so she contacted a domestic violence shelter, and the shelter connected her with legal aid. Legal aid lawyers helped her get a protective order, stay safe at work when her husband began stalking her there, and get spousal support so she can complete a vocational program and become self-sufficient. Margaret said, “It was heaven-sent, being able to go to legal aid and get some help when I was between a rock and a hard place and had no money for a lawyer.”
Beth
Beth, age 31, thought she was finally safe. She was focused on taking care of her son, Kaiden, who was born with only one kidney and asthma. But then Kaiden’s father, Frank, came back. He had beaten her while she was pregnant, and when Kaiden was four, he turned up again at her home, kicked down her door, and threatened her. She was scared, but she got a restraining order on her own. She realized later that wouldn’t be enough to keep Kaiden safe. Legal aid helped her get a custody order, and at the hearing, her legal aid lawyer had records to show the judge that Frank was lying when Frank said he had no previous assault convictions. Beth likely would not have known how to do that if she had been on her own. Now Kaiden and Beth are building a safe, stable life, free from Frank’s abuse.
Gloria
Gloria lives in a small town and has six grandchildren. She and her husband, Sam, a military veteran, took out a mortgage on their home for roof and window repairs. Then Sam passed away. Gloria’s arthritis was so bad she couldn’t work, and her social security and VA benefits weren’t enough to pay both the mortgage and the heating bill. She decided to pay for heat, got behind in her payments, and the bank began foreclosure proceedings. Fearing homelessness, Gloria called legal aid. Legal aid gave her advice and support so she could seek a loan modification on her own. After many letters and phone calls, the bank granted her request—the day before the foreclosure sale. Today, she has an affordable mortgage, heat, and a secure home. Gloria said, “[Legal aid was] very helpful, kind, and understanding. I appreciated so much not being treated like some old senile grandmother who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It made a difference.”
Marie
Marie used her body to shield her children, Joey and Sarah (not pictured), from her abusive husband, taking the brunt of his abuse. She saw the emotional toll the abuse was taking on Joey and Sarah and wanted to get away, but she needed help. Legal aid helped Marie obtain a restraining order and temporary custody. Her message to other survivors of domestic violence is, “it’s not easy, but there is help and hope.” Today, Marie is on the road to stabilizing life for herself and her children.
Jennifer
Jennifer is a cancer survivor with three grown children. She was was diagnosed at Stage IV, the most advanced, and got coverage through the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). Today, she has been in remission for four years and has been able to return to work part time, but she must see her doctors every six months. One day, she got a bill from the medical center for a procedure that was done almost two years ago. Jennifer works as much as she can, but still barely keeps food on the table, and she couldn’t afford the bill. When she told them that, they told her she couldn’t see her doctors anymore. They also called a collection agency, and the collection agency sued her. So she called legal aid. Her legal aid lawyer knew that the medical center couldn’t bill her directly, much less after two years had passed, and they had to let her see her doctor—the center agreed to that when they took her as an OHP patient. Once legal aid got involved, the collection agency backed down, and Jennifer was allowed to see her doctor.
Helen
Helen is the mother of five young daughters, all under the age of 11. She endured serious domestic violence at the hands of her husband, which her children often witnessed. Helen’s religious beliefs kept her from showing her injuries to the police, so the police could not arrest her husband. When Helen’s husband threw her out of the home and denied her requests to see the children, Helen turned to legal aid for help. With the assistance of legal aid, she obtained a restraining order so she and her children could be safe. Legal aid continued to represent Helen through her divorce, and ultimately obtained a favorable decision on her behalf regarding custody and child support. Helen and her daughters are now safe from the violence they suffered every day.
Charlene
Charlene is 68 years old and she has breast cancer. She has Medicare, but she still had so many doctor bills that she could barely make ends meet, so she decided to rent out her spare room. But the man who moved in scared her. He threatened her, and when she asked him to pay his rent, he charged at her like he was going to hit her. She was afraid, so she went to court by herself and got a restraining order, and when the judge made him leave her house, she thought the whole nightmare was over. But then the man sued her, saying that she should pay his hotel and food bills for the time after the judge ordered him out of her house. She didn’t think she could handle the lawsuit on her own, especially because the cancer treatments made her confused--a condition called “chemo brain.” So Charlene called legal aid. She said, "Legal aid came to my rescue and helped me. They said he can’t bother me anymore." After winning her case, Charlene was relieved to have the situation over with with so she could concentrate on getting better.
The Martin Family
The Martin Family has owned their home since 2003. A dishonest mortgage broker convinced them he could provide a fixed rate mortgage at 1.5%. In reality, their new mortgage was an “adjustable negative amortization loan,” a type of loan now barred by HUD. The family’s rate increased dramatically after only two weeks and a stiff prepayment penalty made refinancing out of the question. Legal aid helped the Martins save their home from foreclosure. They now have a sustainable mortgage and a stable home for their family.
Mary
Mary was 84 years old and because she had dementia, her daughter was appointed as her guardian/conservator. Mary’s daughter sold Mary’s home, stole the proceeds, and threatened to move Mary to foster care in another county. Mary was referred to legal aid by county protective services. Legal aid stopped the move and also worked to recover the stolen funds and property, some of which went into a supplemental needs trust for Mary.
Lila
Lila, a domestic violence survivor, paid a notario she found in the yellow pages to help her file for divorce and for custody of her young daughter Sara. In Mexico, notario is a title used by someone who has a professional degree, often a lawyer. Months went by without any news from the notario. Lila asked for a copy of her paperwork. He said she could not have it unless she paid an additional fee. A friend referred Lila to legal aid. A legal aid lawyer filed her divorce and custody case and successfully sued the notario under consumer protection laws.
John
John is an 85-year-old World War II veteran who served with distinction. Orphaned at birth in rural Wyoming, John was raised by foster families and joined the military at 16. After military service and a lifetime of work, John applied for Social Security retirement benefits in 1993. His application was denied because he could not produce a birth certificate. John thought he was out of luck until he called legal aid. Legal aid lawyers helped him get benefits. He is now able to pay for rent, food and medical care.
Michael
Bend legal aid helped Michael and his family when they lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Trying to start over in Central Oregon, Michael was penalized by the IRS for unpaid taxes. Legal aid helped him amend his tax return to fully describe the family’s hurricane losses. Instead of penalties, the family received a refund.
Tara
Tara's abusive husband continually violated the restraining order she had obtained. Tara felt the situation was dangerous, so she left a secure job and moved with her young son to another city. When the Employment Department denied her claim for temporary unemployment benefits, she was cut off from the only means of support available during her search for a new job. Legal aid helped her challenge the decision and the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. Tara also testified before the state legislature, helping to refine a law that allows others in her situation to receive their unemployment benefits so they can escape domestic violence.
Stephanie
When Stephanie and her three children left an abusive home, the Department of Human Services provided childcare so Stephanie could work. Stephanie had just settled into a steady job, making a just over minimum wage, when DHS began garnishing her paycheck, saying her unemployed husband should have been providing childcare. In fact, he was under a “no contact” order and could not have provided childcare during that time. Stephanie could not afford both food and rent with the garnishment, so she began working 12 hour shifts that kept her away from her children. Legal aid attorneys helped Stephanie stop the garnishment. Now Stephanie can maintain the delicate economic balance that keeps her family in a stable and safe home.
Charles
Charles, a developmentally delayed senior, almost lost his childhood home, the only place he had ever lived. When his parents passed away, Charles couldn’t afford the property taxes or the liens left by his parents’ medical bills. Legal aid was able to help. They filed a small estate affidavit, secured quitclaim deeds from his siblings, and negotiated with the estate’s creditors. The creditors withdrew their claims. With the house now in his name, Charles is able to qualify for a tax deferral.
Anna
Anna could see that her son Juan was in danger. His father was abusive to Anna and, when he was drinking, he was abusive and neglectful towards Juan. Legal aid helped Anna get an order requiring supervised parenting time. When Juan’s father attacked the supervisor, legal aid helped end the father’s parenting time.
Karri
Karri thought she might lose custody of her children, Austin and Colleen. Although she obtained a divorce from her abusive husband more than two years ago, he continued to visit the children, and those visits sometimes ended with violence against Karri. In an odd twist, Karri’s ex-husband accused her of physically attacking him. He filed for a restraining order and asked for full custody of Austin and Colleen. Legal aid represented Karri at the restraining order hearing, winning Karri’s case and revealing evidence that helped the district attorney prosecute Karri’s husband for domestic violence. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Karri is making a fresh start with her family in a new location.
Tammy
Tammy’s husband severely abused her for many years, and kept her a prisoner in their rural, remote home. She obtained a restraining order, but he broke into her home and attacked her in front of their three-year-old daughter, Turquoise. Tammy was seriously injured and he was charged with attempted murder. Legal aid helped Tammy obtain a divorce. Tammy also has an aggressive form of cancer, and was very concerned about what would happen to Turquoise should Tammy pass away. Legal aid helped her find an attorney to handle her estate planning matters pro bono, including provisions to keep Turquoise safe. Tammy has a strong desire to keep living, improve herself, and provide a better life for her daughter.