E-Alerts & Press Releases

Public Justice Center Honors Recipients of John P. Sarbanes Courage Awards and Volunteer Award

December 16, 2010: Each year, the staff of the Public Justice Center selects clients or partners to receive the John P. Sarbanes Courage Award. The award honors a long-serving board member who was, like all of us, inspired by the courage of people to stand up for justice, especially when they found themselves in the darkest moments of their lives. This year, we honor:

Earline Augustus-El, who stood up for thousands of others by adding her name and story to our lawsuit filed against the state for their failure to respond to her application for emergency benefits within the required 30 days. Ms. Augustus-El, a former social worker, was forced to leave her job when her daughter was tragically killed by a drunk driver. She assumed responsibility for her young grandchildren and struggled to make ends meet. Her story helped convince a Baltimore judge to issue a permanent injunction and order the Department of Human Resources to achieve absolute compliance with application processing deadlines within 12 months. The agency immediately began making improvements to long-neglected infrastructure and reduced the mountainous backlog of applications.

Read more of Ms. Augustus-El's story here.

Michelle Parham was wrongly denied unemployment benefits in August 2007. Her employer had hired a consultant company specializing in blocking unemployment benefits to represent it in the dispute. Based solely on rumors that Ms. Parham had quit, the consultant convinced the state agency that Ms. Parham should be denied benefits. Undeterred, Ms. Parham appealed to the Maryland trial court, and lost. One year after the initial denial, and still undeterred, Ms. Parham again appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, where her case came to our attention. We worked with Ms. Parham to argue that the state should not deny workers crucial, often life-saving benefits based solely on unconfirmed hearsay. In December 2009, more than two years after her benefits were denied, the court found in her favor. Their decision is published, which means that state agencies and lower courts will have to comply with the Court’s decision in judging future unemployment benefit disputes, potentially assisting tens of thousands of unemployed Marylanders facing similar denials.

Tia Dingle walked out of her rented house one morning to find a foreclosure notice slapped on the door. She was shocked. She had been faithfully paying rent each month, but when the bank took over the house, they began the proceedings to evict her. But Maryland’s new laws protect tenants like Ms. Dingle, and she was able to work with the PJC to stop the eviction. The court found that the bank had the legal obligation to issue a 90-day notice to vacate before moving for possession of the property. This gave Ms. Dingle time to find new housing for her family.

The Public Justice Center also chose to honor a long-serving volunteer, Shahed Alam, with a special award this year. While an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Alam learned about the deplorable conditions inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. He remembers feeling appalled, and decided to help make things better for inmates in the jail. He began volunteering with the PJC’s Prisoners’ Rights project three years ago. He visited men and women in jail, helping them gain access to medical services inside the facility. He was so moved by his experience that he decided to continue his studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and then go on to medical school. He says that working with the PJC dramatically altered his life plans. We know that his steadfast advocacy greatly improved the lives of many inmates. We are proud to honor Shahed Alam and wish him the best for a bright future.

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