Success Stories

Whether it’s keeping the heat on for a few more days or advocating for better patient treatment in our healthcare system, the impact of DCBF’s funding is as diverse and as extensive as the legal needs of DC’s low-income residents. Below are stories that illustrate, in real terms, that impact.

  • Mr. Smoot, a combat veteran who had served in Vietnam, was homeless for many years and suffered from PTSD, as well as other mental and physical health issues. He visited our grantee because, even though he was considered totally disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011, the social security administration later found that he was “not disabled,” and denied him social security disability benefits. Mr. Smoot’s subsequent appeal was quickly denied.

    Our grantee filed another appeal on Mr. Smoot’s behalf and gathered and submitted voluminous medical evidence from Mr. Smoot’s treating doctors and other health care providers to the Social Security Administration. In 2015, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) reviewed the medical evidence, decided that a hearing was unnecessary in Mr. Smoot’s case, and issued an on-the-record, fully favorable decision.

    However, a few months after the ALJ issued that decision, Mr. Smoot still had not received any of the back benefits he was owed and began to fall behind on his rent. Mr. Smoot tried reaching out to different people in the agency to understand the cause of the delay but was continuously rebuffed. When our grantee reached a supervisor at the Social Security Administration, he was told that an administrative error had caused the delay and that it would be fixed immediately. The following week, Mr. Smoot received a check for $31,000.

  • Our grantee represented Ms. Knight in a Civil Protection Order (CPO) modification case against the father of her two young sons. A modified CPO was granted after a judge found that Ms. Knight’s ex-boyfriend assaulted her and broke into her home, and Ms. Knight was awarded temporary custody of her sons, with no visitation for the father. Shortly after this decision, Ms. Knight filed a complaint for custody, and our grantee again agreed to represent her in obtaining permanent custody of the children.

    Ms. Knight has serious health problems, and it was a challenge for her to sit through trial and testify about the lengthy abuse. Our grantee’s attorney helped her present witnesses in support of her case — social workers who had provided counseling and support to Ms. Knight and her children and Ms. Knight’s family members who witnessed her ex-boyfriend abusing the children. The attorney also called a court security guard as a witness to testify about an altercation the ex-boyfriend got into with court security when entering the court on the first day of the custody trial. At the conclusion of the lengthy trial, the judge encouraged Ms. Knight to come to an agreement with the father. With the support of our grantee attorney however, she decided to wait for the judge’s decision.

    In the end, the judge issued a fully favorable decision for Ms. Knight, granting her sole legal and sole physical custody of her children.

  • Catalina, a Washington, DC resident who is illiterate in Spanish and English, paid a non-attorney a total of approximately $7,000 for what she thought was immigration legal work. In the end, the work performed was frivolous and provided her no actual immigration legal benefit. The non-attorney was the executive director of a business that has been in the DC metro area for over 25 years in which she presents herself to clients as an attorney. When Catalina first came to one of our grantees, she believed the non-attorney was a licensed immigration attorney.

    Our grantee helped Catalina request her complete immigration file back from the non-attorney and filed a Freedom of Information Act request on her behalf to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Virginia Employment Commission to assess her case. After reviewing the files, our grantee prepared an Unauthorized Practice of Law complaint with a five-page summary of the legal mistakes performed in her case, a detailed timeline of the business’s actions, and organized the evidence in her case. Our grantee assisted three other victims of the same business over the past two years. Nearly two years after the first complaint, the Virginia Bar referred the four victims’ matters for criminal prosecution.

    On October 20, 2015, the non-attorney was arrested and charged with multiple misdemeanors and felonies. Shortly after the arraignment, our grantee received ten additional referrals of other victims of this non-attorney.