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ILS Medical Legal Partnership gives Midtown clients access to legal services

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The cockroaches crawling around the apartment were not enough to force the landlord to break the lease agreement.

For any tenant, an insect infestation would be unbearable. But for the young man living there, the bugs, along with the loud noises and criminal mischief, were exacerbating his mental illness and pushing him toward the desperate act of fleeing.

His caseworkers at the Midtown Community Mental Health Center reached for a form letter, checked off the deplorable conditions of the living space, and demanded the apartment owner cancel the terms of the lease.
 

ils03-15col.jpg Jay Chaudhary, along with interns Sarah Dunkley (left) and Aishah Shamsi, provide legal assistance to clients as part of the Midtown/Indiana Legal Services Medical Legal Partnership. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Before they sent it, the team from Midtown showed the letter to Abhishek “Jay” Chaudhary, and that, said social worker Lael Hill, made all the difference.

Chaudhary is an attorney at Indiana Legal Services who directs the Midtown/ILS Medical Legal Partnership. He helps navigate through the legal entanglements that can ensnare Midtown clients, all of whom struggle with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and most cope with symptoms of paranoia, depression and hallucinations.

Like the young man in the apartment, legal problems can add to the already overwhelming stress in their lives and make their mental health worse.

When he reviewed the letter, Chaudhary first rewrote it, softening the tone, and sent it to the building manager who rebuffed him. The young attorney then found the landlord’s name and wrote a letter to him, outlining the issues in the apartment that violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

Not only did the landlord consent to releasing the young man from the lease, he also disinfected the tenant’s personal items and delivered them to his new residence.

“Without the help of Jay, probably what would have happened is (the Midtown client) would have left and the landlord would have probably been pursuing a court case against him for rent,” Hill said.

As a result, she continued, the young man’s credit rating would have been ruined, and he likely would have had difficultly finding another place to live.

The Midtown/ILS Medical Legal Partnership began on a limited basis in 2009 and is believed to be one of a few mental health partnerships in the country. Chaudhary is credited with having the vision and the drive to enact the idea, find the funding and offer a much-need service to the mental health clinic.

A 2009 graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Chaudhary said he has always wanted to work in legal services and is “passionate about giving marginalized people a voice.”

Midtown Community Mental Health Center is the mental health division of Wishard Health Care. The hospital established its own medical-legal partnership in 2008 with Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Indiana Legal Services and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Health & Human Rights Clinic.

Like the Midtown MLP, the Wishard partnership is aimed at improving patient health by providing legal advocacy.

Almost tabled

Nearly three years after the Midtown MLP launched, Norman Metzger, executive director of Indiana Legal Services, remains enthusiastic about the program. He gives a great amount of credit for the success to Chaudhary and is haunted by the thought that the idea could have been tabled.

He was intrigued when Chaudhary approached him with the idea of forming a partnership with the mental health service provider, but the economic recession and budgets cuts had reduced ILS funding by nearly $2 million in three years so no money was available to support the program.

The executive director said he “could have blown” the opportunity because of the strained coffers. However, two separate $15,000 grants from the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, filtered through the United Way of Central Indiana, and the St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild got the program going on a part-time basis in 2010 and 2011. A two-year, $120,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust has turned the partnership into a full-time program.

Year to date in 2012, Chaudhary has had 70 referrals. Twenty-one clients were provided with brief service while another 32 clients were accepted for representation.

Before the partnership, Metzger said these individuals were falling through cracks.

“These are poor people who are in such challenging and compromising situations that they can’t, on their own, access legal services,” Metzger said.

He called the Midtown clients “literally most vulnerable people in our society.” In addition to not knowing how to access legal help, they often do not even know their problem can be solved with a lawyer.

Dr. Jeffrey Kellams, medical director of the Midtown Community Mental Health Center and chief of psychiatric services at Wishard, echoed Metzger.

“I think every mental health clinic in the state of Indiana ought to have access to a program like this,” he said.

As an example, he pointed to Chaudhary’s hard work in securing Medicaid benefits for a 40-year-old patient, which prevented the difficult situation for Midtown of providing services without reimbursement.

More help

A key part of the Mason Pulliam grant was the inclusion of legal interns into the partnership. For the fall semester, two licensed attorneys who are enrolled in the Master of Laws program at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law are working with Chaudhary.

Legal services, by nature, are constant triage, Chaudhary said. The unpaid interns enable him to take a step back and still handle the workload. With the extra help, he now has the ability to spend more time with cases, researching and writing well-crafted letters. Before, he was almost to the point of having to put the Midtown clients on a waiting list.

Aishah Shamsi and Sarah Dunkley have just started interning but have already gained valuable insights.

“I think people wouldn’t realize the effect even the small things can have on a person who has mental health problems,” Shamsi said.

For Shamsi, the MLP internship provides the opportunity to explore the medical industry and, she said, help her find a career path. Her concentration in the LLM program is health care law, an area she is attracted to because she sees the opportunity to make a difference.

Dunkley came to the MLP internship with experience working in mental health services in her native Australia. As an LLM student at McKinney studying international and comparative law, she was directed to the Midtown MLP through the school’s pro bono program.

The internship is allowing her to get a better view of the American legal system than she could get sitting in a classroom, she said.

During the summer months, Chaudhary had two I.U. McKinney School of Law students as interns. They shadowed him, drafted pleadings, did legal research and put together a presentation on advance directives for the Midtown Older Adult Services.

Both Kellams and Metzger see the interns as a natural extension of the partnership. The internship not only provides more help with the workload, it also gives the students valuable real-life experience in talking to clients, assembling the facts and applying the law.

“It’s very exciting to run something like this,” Chaudhary said. “The way I see it, it’s going to rise and fall, depending on how much effort I put into it. That’s a constant motivation here.”•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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