- Bet Tzedek Legal Services - The House of Justice
Bet Tzedek is a non-profit human and
poverty rightsorganization, internationally recognized for its work in providing unique advocacy and support for people living in poverty, and for communities victimized by discrimination and civil rightsabuses.
One of the United States' leading centers for
social justice, Bet Tzedek is based in Los Angeles, California. It was founded in 1974 by a group of Jewish attorneys determined to address the human rights issues and humanitarian needs endemic to Los Angeles. Their social justice philosophy was rooted in a central tenet of Jewish law and teaching: "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof - Justice, justice you shall pursue."
Bet Tzedek embraces the fundamental commitment of achieving full and equal access to justice for all people. The United States legal system was created to fairly serve all citizens, yet without equal access to the justice system, low-income citizens are disproportionately victimized by unjust and illegal practices such as coercive labor practices, abuse and neglect of developmentally disabled people, unlawful debt collection and racially-targeted victimization.
In a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the United States, Bet Tzedek offers support to the nearly two million residents of L.A. who live in poverty. Bet Tzedek has taken on widespread systemic injustices taking place in nursing homes, slum housing, and garment factories — identifying and investigating the problems, and winning victories that have directly and measurably expanded equal access to justice for the poor, elderly and disabled.
Today, many of Bet Tzedek's initiatives are the only programs of their kind in existence. Its free legal representation helps low-income people of every race and religion in Los Angeles, and directly empowers people with knowledge and tools needed to protect their rights.
Non-profit_name = Bet Tzedek - The House of Justice
NGO non-profit organization
founded_date = 1974,
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Los Angeles County
Civil Rights Humanitarian Aid
homepage = [http://www.bettzedek.org/ www.bettzedek.org/] In the late 1960s and early 1970s,
activiststhroughout the nation began to systemically address the roots of injustice by fighting poverty, disenfranchisement and discrimination. The City of Los Angeles faced overwhelming crises with devastatingly entrenched areas of urban blight, deteriorating living conditions in slums and ghettos, and an increasingly disempowered population of low-income people.
Bet Tzedek's volunteer attorneys provided free legal representation to Angelenos who would never otherwise gain access to the justice system. As the need skyrocketed throughout the mid-1970s, Bet Tzedek rapidly evolved from a part-time, volunteer-run organization into a comprehensive, full-service center providing free legal aid to all of Los Angeles.
By 1977, Bet Tzedek’s lawyers had won several landmark cases that brought hope and empowerment to thousands of the most vulnerable citizens in the rapidly growing metropolis, including successfully blocking the illegal evictions of low-income elderly residents of Venice, California's Cadillac Hotel. Bet Tzedek's victory won health and safety renovations, and guaranteed the residents' right to remain in a for the rest of their lives, at their current low rents. In 1984, Bet Tzedek affirmed its growing reputation as the leading agency offering free services to Holocaust survivors by winning a landmark decision that provided vital support and justice to thousands of low-income, elderly Holocaust survivors. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of Felicia Grunfeder, a Bet Tzedek client and Holocaust survivor who had been denied disability benefits because she received a small survivors’ reparations payment. After multiple appeals, the federal courts ruled that Holocaust reparations payments cannot preclude disability payments—state and federal legislation subsequently codified the decision.
Bet Tzedek provided emergency legal services during and in the aftermath of
The Los Angeles Riots of 1992, when four LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of black motorist Rodney King. The issues central to the riots - racial profiling, civil rights abuses, endemic poverty, poor housing conditions, and unemployment - were also central to Bet Tzedek's work. L.A. Mayor Tom Bradleycommended Bet Tzedek for providing services during and after civil unrest. Advocates continue to see clients at senior centers in the central city during the riots.
In the early 1990s, Bet Tzedek sued a national
HMOalleging fraud and deceptive sales practices in the HMO’s racially-targeted victimization of elderly Spanish-speaking enrollees. Ensuing media coverage prompted a federal investigation and a stockholder suit against the company and Bet Tzedek successfully settled the underlying case.
Following the l994
Northridge earthquake, Bet Tzedek provided emergency assistance to earthquake victims with housing issues, home improvement fraud, and FEMAclaims. For low-income victims, Bet Tzedek was the sole source of free advocacy.
In 1995, Bet Tzedek initiatives revealed disturbingly negligent conditions in Los Angeles area nursing homes. To address this, Bet Tzedek sponsored major state legislation that provided new standards and protections for low-income elderly residents who were most at risk for elder abuse. In 1999, Bet Tzedek's lawsuit against Hillhaven, one of the largest
nursing homechains in the country, resulted in the company agreeing to change business practices that violate state and federal law and led to financial hardship for residents and their families.
In 1998, Bet Tzedek brought a major class-action suit with pro bono counsel against 16 European-based insurance companies who refused to honor insurance policies purchased by Jews who perished in the
Holocaust. With up to 60% of all survivors living in poverty, this advocacy provided desperately needed resources. This advocacy continues to this day, as Bet Tzedek assists survivors with issues centered in the governments of former Nazi nations.
In 2001, when 61% of
Los Angelesapparel contractors were violating wage and hour lawsLobaco, Gina. [http://www.bettzedek.org/PDF/annualreport2004.pdf Thirtieth Annual Report] (PDF). Bet Tzedek Legal Services. Retrieved on June 4, 2007.] , Bet Tzedek opens the Employment Rights Project in the San Fernando Valleyin response to the growing numbers of “ working poor” in Los Angeles, who remain in poverty despite working full-time as garment workers, day laborers, domestics, carwash employees, and gardeners.
In 2002, Bet Tzedek investigated the city’s most-convicted slumlord, unraveling a complex web of fraudulent practices. After filing a lawsuit, Bet Tzedek obtained a major settlement requiring the slumlord to pay $1 million to the City of L.A. and submit to ongoing monitoring of his business practices by Bet Tzedek.
In 2004, Bet Tzedek helped pass a new state law and established a new legal precedent protecting garment workers, ensuring the safety and proper treatment of hundreds of thousands of workers in L.A. alone.
ervices and Programs
Bet Tzedek's services include advice, counseling and representation at trials, administrative hearings, and appeals. [ [http://bettzedek.org/programs.html Bet Tzedek Programs] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.] Bet Tzedek also offers educational programs to clients and other service providers. Services at Bet Tzedek are provided through the following programs:
Bet Tzedek's Consumer Protection Unit litigates
consumer fraudcases in a variety of areas, including home equity fraud, telemarketing, automobile financing, and health care marketing, and door-to-door sales. Additionally the Consumer Protection Unit provides educational programs throughout Los Angeles Countyto help residents recognize and avoid fraud. Bet Tzedek also collaborates with various law enforcement agenciesand legal servicesproviders to target the most notorious scam artists. [ [http://bettzedek.org/consumerfraud.html Consumer Fraud] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.]
Bet Tzedek’s Employment Rights Project advocates on behalf of a variety of low-wage workers, including
day laborers, domestic workers, and those working in the garment, construction, car wash, restaurant and janitorial industries. The Project represents low-wage workers, regardless of their immigrationstatus, who have been illegally denied wages that they have earned. [http://bettzedek.org/employrights.html Employment Rights Project] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.] Client services range from brief advice, counseling and informal advocacy, to representation in hearings before the California Labor Commissionerand litigationin state and federal courts.
Family Caregiver Project
or other debilitating illnesses.
Director of the Bet Tzedek Legal Services Family Caregiver Project, Janet Moris, serves caregivers throughout Los Angeles County with essential education, referrals and legal services. Serving over 300 clients each year Morris is nationally regarded as one of the outstanding advocates and educators in this area of practice. Bet Tzedek Legal Services staff make presentations to over 2,000 family members, social workers, and service professionals annually.
Bet Tzedek represents clients on a range of state and federal government benefits, including Social Security,
Medi-Cal, Medicare, SSI/Disability, in-home supportive services, Veterans’ Benefits, CalWORKS, food stamps, WIC and Adoption Assistance, KinGAP. [ [http://bettzedek.org/govbenefits.html Public Benefits] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.] Bet Tzedek represents clients in appeals, helps clients to apply for benefits, and identifies appropriate programs.
Bet Tzedek Legal Services is the only agency in the world that offers free assistance to
Holocaustsurvivors applying for reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries. Bet Tzedek also has been at the forefront on issues affecting all survivors, including Holocaust-era insurance coverage, the effect of reparations on eligibility for public benefits, and the waiver of wire transfer fees for survivors who receive reparations. [ [http://bettzedek.org/holocaustrep.html Holocaust Reparations] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.]
The Housing Law Project provides legal assistance to tenants in Los Angeles County facing eviction actions and illegal housing conditions. The elderly and persons with disabilities are the focus of much of the service because they are often targeted for eviction in order to circumvent the rent stabilization laws and bring in new tenants at higher rents. The project’s attorney represents these clients, develops solutions to systematic housing legal problems, and recruits, trains, and supervises a network of volunteer attorneys. [ [http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/equalaccess/documents/EAF_appB.pdf Equal Access Fund Projects] . Retrieved on June 5, 2007.]
ydney M. Irmas Housing Conditions Project
Bet Tzedek's Sydney M. Irmas Housing Conditions Project is underwritten by a grant from the Irmas Family Foundation to help low-income families secure safe, affordable housing. In 2001, the Irmas Project brought landmark litigation on behalf of tenants' rights group
Inquilinos Unidosagainst one of the most notorious landlords in Los Angeles. The lawsuit was later joined by the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcherserved as pro bono counsel on the suit. This case represented a landmark victory in the battle against landlordswho subject their tenants to substandard health and safety conditions and set a significant precedent in the ability of tenants' groups to successfully prosecute owners attempting to hide behind a web of business identities. [http://bettzedek.org/housingconditions.html Housing] . Retrieved on June 4, 2007.]
Eviction Defense Project
The Eviction Defense Project at Bet Tzedek Legal Servicesprovides expert advice, counsel and representation those in need of assistance. Bet Tzedek accepts
evictioncases on an individual basis, and screens all cases for merit. Annually, Bet Tzedek serves as counsel for 100 families who face illegal eviction from their apartments, with a success rate of over 90 percent.
. The Kinship Care Project offers a variety of services to grandparents and others who are raising their young family members. [http://bettzedek.org/kinshipcare.html Kinship Care Program] . Retrieved June 5, 2007.] For the last five years, Bet Tzedek has offered free and expert legal services to these families, who are poor and struggle to provide decent housing, education, and health care for these forgotten or abandoned young children.
Bet Tzedek’s Kinship Care Project is unique in Los Angeles County, as no other service provider focuses on this population. The assistance offered by Bet Tzedek Legal Services keeps children out of the
foster caresystem, and ensures that all available government benefits are accessed, that health care is provided, and that rights to decent and safe housing are preserved. Additionally, Bet Tzedek Legal Services published Southern California’s first comprehensive guide for relative caregivers, [http://bettzedek.org/PDF/kinshipcareguide.pdf Caring for a Relative’s Child.] The guide is available in both English and Spanish, and is the primary resource of its kind used by social workers throughout Los Angeles County.
Nursing Home Advocacy Project
The Nursing Home Advocacy Project (NHAP) has been a signature program that has shaped the development of Bet Tzedek’s nationally regarded elderlaw practice. The project was established in response to a critical need for effective legal assistance for frail, elderly residents of nursing homes. [http://www.bettzedek.org/nursinghome.html Nursing Home Advocacy Project] . Retrieved on June 5, 2007.] Today, Bet Tzedek aggressively works to improve the quality of care for the institutionalized elderly and provides legal protection against abuse and neglect through advice, education, advocacy, and litigation. Among the many milestones in NHAP’s history are:
* Comprehensive legislation to reform admissions and discharge practices and financial responsibility and billing practices by nursing homes.
* A landmark study of Los Angeles County nursing homes, which brought to light serious noncompliance with state and federal regulations and prompted the passage of reform legislation
* Major litigation against a national nursing home chain for fraudulent admissions contracts, resulting in sweeping national changes.
NHAP has published the following consumer guides: [http://bettzedek.org/publications.html The Nursing Home Companion (in English and Spanish); If Only I Had Known: Misrepresentations Made by Nursing Homes (published with a grant from the Archstone Foundation), and How to Get Care From a Residential Care Facility.] Over 200,000 copies of these guides have been distributed nationally, and they remain the first resource consulted by ombudspersons throughout California.
enior Legal Services
For more than two decades, Bet Tzedek has comprehensively served the legal needs of low-income seniors in Los Angeles. Because of their expertise, Bet Tzedek is the exclusive provider of free legal services to low-income seniors through contracts with the City and County of Los Angeles. [http://www.bettzedek.org/seniorcitizenoutreach.html Free Legal Services for Seniors in Los Angeles County] . Retrieved on June 5, 2007.] Bet Tzedek staff includes specialists on the legal issues that affect seniors -
consumer fraudand elder abuse, nursing homesand residential care facilities, public benefits, family and kinship caregiver needs, and housing — and Bet Tzedek staff regularly meets with clients at more than 30 senior centers in Greater Los Angeles County. In addition to providing one-on-one services, Bet Tzedek has developed four new legal clinics designed to help seniors help themselves. Each clinic provides an overview of a particular legal issue and guides seniors in the preparation of the appropriate legal documents.
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