PJC In The News


OF SERVICE The Public Justice Center shows an appetite for justice JOE SURKIEWICZ Special to The Daily Record April 13, 2007 First, a brief look at some of the important work underway at the Public Justice Center, a Baltimore nonprofit law firm dedicated to addressing the underlying causes of injustice and poverty. Then I’ll get to the spring soiree. In February, a 12-year-old boy in Prince George’s Co. died from a toothache — literally. Deamonte Driver died of a brain infection caused by an infected tooth. Had the tooth been pulled, the infection may not have spread to his brain. The family had turned to the PJC when they were homeless, and PJC staff attorney Laurie Norris worked with the family to get them dental care. Norris was helping Deamonte’s younger brother (who had been complaining of pain) when he silently developed the infections. The preventable tragedy attracted national and international media attention. “I think national policymakers have taken it to heart and are working to address dental access issues,” Norris said. “Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund is taking this tragedy to persuade Congress to enact universal healthcare for all of America’s nine million uninsured children. “As someone said at a CDF event the other night, a Medicaid card shouldn’t be like Monopoly money — you should actually be able to get the healthcare you need with it.” Last month, the Office of Legislative Audits released a report on its study of prison inmate healthcare that looked at six different contracts totaling $110 million. Some of the problems uncovered in the audit (conducted at the urging of the PJC) include underreporting of infectious diseases, including Hepatitis C, by 400 cases a month — and the state didn’t even notice. Nearly half of those with Hepatitis C weren’t enrolled in chronic care clinics and nearly a quarter didn’t get follow-up appointments. “Maryland really needs more comprehensive oversight of its prison system,” concluded Sally Dworak-Fisher, a staff attorney in PJC’s Prisoners’ Rights Program who lobbied politicians for the audit. Other work the PJC has tackled over the last two decades includes making sure homeless children get an education, helping migrant workers get fair wages, and advocating for tenants. Want an even closer look at the critical work the PJC performs year-round? Mark your calendar for the first staff-sponsored fundraiser in the PJC’s 20-plus year history Wednesday, April 18 — a mid-week soiree with food and drink at a trendy Baltimore restaurant. “We want to have an event that’s fun and introduce new people to the PJC,” explained staff attorney Wendy Hess, who is helping to organize the evening at the Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar in the Baltimore neighborhood of Federal Hill. “We’ll share some food and drink and talk about what we’re doing.” Metropolitan owner Bruce Dorsey and chef Antoine Petteway are donating the restaurant’s second floor and “over the top delicious” culinary creation and special selections from the wine and beer list. “Bruce has been incredibly generous,” Hess said. “They’re very excited about doing something for the community.” Dorsey, a University of Maryland School of Law grad and former DLA Piper lawyer, has been a PJC fan for years. “But now I can’t write a check as easily,” Dorsey said. “Sally [Dworak-Fisher] is a regular customer and I asked her what I could do to help. So we’re donating our time, the atmosphere of Metropolitan and our expertise with food and wine to fund a worthwhile cause.” Another factor is one of Dorsey’s professors in law school, Michael Millemann — a PJC founder. “He was my constitutional law professor,” Dorsey recalled. “The class had a clinical element that combined his superb academic background with his big heart. I liked it so much, I did another seven credits with him. I asked they make sure Mike comes.” In addition to fine food and drink, the evening will feature a silent auction. Items up for grabs include a weekend getaway in a Pennsylvania cabin, dinners at some well-known Baltimore restaurants, arts and crafts, Center Stage tickets, an authentic Baltimore painted screen door, cooking lessons at home, knitting lessons and a visit from the PJC “clean your home” team. That’s not all: Hair salon appointments, gift certificates to Zelda Zen (a gift shop in Federal Hill) and Dangerously Delicious Pies, passes to the American Visionary Arts Museum, bottles of wine, and lunch with WYPR talk show host Marc Steiner will be up for auction. “It will all go to support our very good work,” said Dworak-Fisher. “A lot of what we do isn’t fee-generating — like much of the state work we do, which doesn’t award lawyers’ fees. Plus, we also do a lot of public education. The money we raise will allow us to do more of it.” The Metropolitan is located at 902 South Charles St. Tickets are $50 per person and available by calling the PJC at (410) 625-9409, extension 239. (Joe Surkiewicz is the director of communications at the Legal Aid Bureau. His email is jsurkiewicz@mdlab.org.) We hope you've enjoyed this article. For more news stories please visit us at The Daily Record Online!

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