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Laying down the community law

I write in regard to Edward Ericson Jr.’s Feb. 16 article about a liquor board case in Pigtown (“A Bitter Taste,” Mobtown Beat) to correct and clarify Community Law Center’s process for providing communities with legal representation before the Baltimore City Liquor Board. Unfortunately, we were not contacted about this article and were therefore unable to provide comment.

In contrast to the impression given by the article, Community Law Center, Inc. responds to requests for legal assistance within a day in most cases, letting the potential client know if we have everything needed to complete our intake process. We are able to make decisions about accepting cases only when all required information is provided. In addition to staff attorneys, over 250 volunteer attorneys provide free legal services to nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Maryland that otherwise would be unable to afford an attorney. Community Law Center frequently provides representation to clients on very tight deadlines, and rarely turns clients away.  We have enjoyed many long-term relationships with clients over the years, but do not offer ongoing general counsel to any organizations, as we represent clients on a “per issue” basis.

In the matter of Ambrosia, Community Law Center was contacted but we were unfortunately unable to provide legal representation to Citizens of Pigtown, with whom we have enjoyed a working relationship for some time, because of a conflict of interest involving another client. The Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to decline cases that present a conflict of interest, and Community Law Center follows these rules very carefully. We are eager to assist community organizations in need of legal assistance, but sometimes we are simply unable to do so.  We also find that community lawyering is most effective when the entire community stands together.

On Feb. 22, 2011, Community Law Center hosted a workshop for community groups interested in protesting the renewal of liquor licenses interfering with the quality of life in their neighborhoods.  We welcome community organizations grappling with problem liquor establishments, or other nuisance properties, to contact us for help. Every year, Community Law Center represents dozens of neighborhoods in negotiating good neighbor agreements with licensees, protesting licenses when negotiations fail, and ensuring that residents enjoy the opportunity to live harmoniously with businesses in their community.  Over the years that we have worked with communities and liquor licensees, we have found that the licensees that communicate openly with grassroots community associations in a neighborhood enjoy the most productive relationships with communities.

Legal tools can provide a community a powerful force in ensuring peace and safety. For 25 years, Community Law Center remains Baltimore’s only legal services organization dedicated solely to strengthening neighborhoods.

Robin Jacobs
Staff Attorney, Community Law Center

Editor’s note: Next week: our annual EAT dining guide.

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