Justice & Diversity Center’s Medical-Legal Project Helps Vulnerable Community Members

Marie Appel

Marie Appel

This month, we are highlighting the work of the Justice & Diversity Center’s (JDC) Medical-Legal Project (MLP), which provides legal services to low-income patients in community health centers. Project Supervising Attorney Marie Appel is on-site weekly at the Southeast Health Center in San Francisco’s Bayview District and the Saint Mary’s Sister Philippa Clinic near the Western Addition. She provides patients with the legal help they need to improve their health, safety and overall well-being.

Legal services, even seemingly simple ones, can make a huge difference in a person’s life. In one recent example, a client came to the MLP with a MUNI citation for fare evasion. Although the client qualified for free MUNI services because she is developmentally disabled and surviving on $889 a month from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), she didn’t have a valid pass in her possession. The client disputed the citation on her own but was denied. She appealed with the MLP’s help and, thanks to the vigorous advocacy of JDC staff, the citation was dismissed.

The MLP relies on volunteer attorneys to protect its low-income clients’ health and well-being. For example, a disabled woman recently came in with a notice from the Social Security Administration stating that she is no longer disabled and thus ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The notice also stated that the client had been overpaid by $8,000, which she cannot afford to repay. With the MLP’s help, she has requested reconsideration of both the termination of disability and overpayment. If it proceeds to the next stage with an Administrative Law Judge hearing, the MLP will try to place the case with a volunteer attorney to help the client keep her SSDI benefits, her primary source of income.

The Medical-Legal Project provides legal assistance to our community’s most vulnerable members during trying moments of their lives, and cannot carry out its mission without the pro bono contributions of volunteer attorneys. JDC is in need of more attorneys who can take on administrative hearings similar to the SFMTA matter described here, and/or Social Security issues.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Medical-Legal Project, please reach out to JDC’s volunteer coordinator at probono@sfbar.org.