Petition Granted

Robin’s two misdemeanors and three felonies for drug use and possession prevented her from finding affordable housing and restricted her professional life. “I had to live in a motorhome in the streets of San Francisco because of the difficulties with a criminal record,” she recalls. 

Her last violation, which occurred in January 2000, still haunts her life – 15 years later. Clean and sober for many years since, Robin recalls being ready to leave her past behind: “I am eager to have my rights fully restored and once again be a fully participating member in society.”

Robin decided to seek legal help and she was referred to us through a social worker from The Salvation Army. Her case was taken on by Lolita Fernandes, one of our volunteer attorneys. With Lolita’s help, Robin petitioned to have her misdemeanors in San Mateo County dismissed. The initial petition, however, was denied. In the meanwhile, a referendum approved Proposition 47, which redefined many nonviolent offenses (such as drug possession) as misdemeanors, rather than felonies. Taking advantage of Prop 47, Lolita helped Robin file another petition, which asked San Mateo County to convert her felonies to misdemeanors and reduce her sentence. 

Robin was more than thrilled when she was told her petition had been granted. She is now working with the Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto to try to get her charges completely dismissed. A reduced sentence, however, has already improved Robin’s life considerably: she was recently hired as a maintenance person for a mobile park. Now, Robin has a new goal: “I want to visit my sister in Ireland and I’d like to have my record cleared for purposes of applying for a passport.”

Skills

Posted on

July 7, 2015

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.