Passages of Hope andJustice 19 D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Advocacy & Justice Clinic A pro bono case is a rite of passage for many first-year associates at Mintz Levin.But when Darren Abernethy and Matt Cohen decided to work together on a referral from the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Advocacy & Justice Clinic, they were told that the case was an especially difficult one. Their client,“Charles,”is severely mentally disabled,and cannot speak,read,or write.He has lived with his brother-in-law,“James,” under difficult financial conditions for more than 10 years. Early on, James arranged for Charles to live in an assisted living facility temporarily. During that time, a District of Columbia social service agency became Charles’representative payee,receiving Social Security payments to spend on his behalf.When Charles began living with James again,the Social Security Administration (SSA) informed them that Charles’ benefits had been overpaid, and the money would be recouped through significant deductions in his future benefits checks. James had been working with social workers and other counsel to appeal the SSA’s decision,but over $6,000 had already been garnished.“We can’t stress enough how hopeless he was,” says Matt.“He had been dealing with this for years and years, and it was a very steep hill.” With support from the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, a social service agency already working on Charles’ behalf, the Mintz Levin attorneys first tried to collect all of the records and correspondence relating to the case.They soon found that there was no documen- tation proving that the D.C. agency had ever received or spent money for Charles’ care. On that basis, Darren and Matt persuaded the SSA’s district manager to stop withholding money from future checks, giving Charles an immediate increase in his income.“We were really pleased, but this wasn’t sufficient,” Matt says.“They had been deducting money from his checks for seven or eight years already. Even if we could persuade the SSA to stop recouping the money, the vast majority had already been collected.” Even though the SSA had taken a hard-line stance, Darren and Matt respectfully forged ahead. “We worked collaboratively to try to get to the bottom of what had happened,” says Darren. Finally, Darren and Matt were able to tell Charles and James that the SSA would refund all of the money that had been improperly withheld. “James was speechless,” Darren remembers. “It’s going to give them a lot more breathing room, and we think it restored some of his faith in the system.” Breathing Room “ I’m always so impressed at how enthusiastically and creatively our first-year lawyers handle their pro bono cases. These cases not only give our lawyers a better perspective on how daunting it would have been for their clients to face these issues without counsel, but also make them develop into better lawyers because of it.” - Sue Finegan Mintz Levin Pro Bono Partner and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee