The Public Justice Center (PJC), which seeks to “enforce and expand the rights of people who suffer injustice because of their poverty or discrimination,” was created in 1985 by professor Michael Millemann and attorney Nevett Steele. Millemannn, who authored the 2005 book Preferring White Lives: The Racial Administration of the Death Penalty in Maryland, today teaches Public Interest Law at the University of Maryland. Steele, for his part, focuses his legal efforts on combating the ramifications of “the gap between the poor and the rich in this country.”
PJC’s major initiatives, which focus chiefly on residents of Maryland, consist of the following:
Tenant Advocacy: Asserting that “everyone deserves a home,” PJC works to eliminate the “injustices” faced by tenants facing eviction or living in “substandard conditions where they and their families are exposed to … health and safety code violations.”
Education Stability: Lamenting that children who suddenly become homeless “are often refused access” to the schools they had been attending up to that point, PJC has filed lawsuits to enforce their “right to enroll or continue in school.”
Foster Children: PJC works “on many fronts to improve the care and education of Maryland’s foster children.”
Prisoner Rights: This program strives “to effect long-term systemic improvements to prisoner health care and conditions of confinement in Maryland.” Of particular concern are such problems as “interruption of necessary medications, unsanitary conditions, and denial of healthcare.”[
Access to Heath Care for Low-Income People: Through this initiative, PJC seeks to “protect and expand poor people’s eligibility for adequate health care coverage and access to appropriate, affordable, effective and culturally competent health care.”
Right to Counsel: Noting that the “guarantee of counsel – bedrock of the American criminal justice system – is conspicuously absent from the nation’s civil justice system,” PJC actively argues that public funds should be made available to pay for legal representation in civil trials.
Workplace Justice: PJC gives pro bono representation to low-wage workers — including illegal aliens — who are “often discriminated against, denied minimum wage, and not compensated for overtime.”
Immigrant Rights: PJC works with an active coalition of immigrant advocates “to ensure that [illegal] immigrants have equal access to the courts and government, and that they receive the protection of laws that apply to them.” This work is largely focused on “stemming the tide of anti-immigrant administrative actions by state agencies and anti-immigrant legislation that comes up every year in the General Assembly.” For instance, PJC in 2008 lobbied against HB 288 in the Maryland General Assembly, a bill that would have required those applying for a driver’s license to prove that they were either American citizens or legal U.S. residents, as an “unnecessary measure that would undermine rather than enhance national security.”
Appellate Advocacy: This project seeks to “influence the development of poverty and discrimination law before state and federal appellate courts,” with an eye toward “accomplishing systemic change of the legal and social systems that create or permit injustice” against PJC’s clients.
Legislative Advocacy: Asserting that “Maryland’s legislators rarely hear the voices of the poor above the clamor of better financed, better organized business interests and lobbyists,” PJC lawyers and lobbyists engage in legislative and policy advocacy to promote “systemic change for the disenfranchised.” Toward that end, PJC collaborates with such groups as Advocates for Children and Youth, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, Medicaid Matters!–Maryland, and the Rental Housing Coalition.
PJC’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2005 featured the billionaire financier George Soros as the keynote speaker. Soros’ Open Society Institute has given enormous sums of money to PJC over the years — e.g., $130,000 in 1999; $115,000 in 2000; $75,000 in 2001; $195,375 in 2002; $169,000 in 2003; $89,000 in 2004; more than $310,000 in 2005; more than $225,000 in 2006; just over $200,000 in 2007; and $578,000 in 2008.