Anthony Medina: Closing the Justice Gap
By Mario A. Cortez
After completing several legal internships and fellowships in San Diego and throughout Southern California, attorney Anthony Medina noticed an unfair trend in law he did not agree with.
“If you have the money to hire a competent attorney then the law is at your disposal, but if you don’t, and then you go into say a family court case where custody or child support is on the line, you will get steamrolled,” Medina said to La Prensa San Diego. “Law really can be a two-tiered system.”
Looking to fix this unjust dynamic of high prices and lack of privilege putting quality lawyers out of reach for underserved communities, often referred to as the justice gap, Medina founded People’s Legal Services (PLS), a nonprofit legal practice aimed at providing legal equity and fair access to top-notch law experts.
Medina recalls many of his classmates and acquaintances from internships had similar thoughts on the unjust aspects of access to legal practitioners, which allowed them to come together to form this project.
“Some people around me and I began to kick some ideas as to what we could do for those around us because we wanted to be part of a solution. So when a very good mentor from law school introduced us to the sliding scale model, the concept took off from there,” he said.
PLS’ sliding scale model looks at gross annual income and family size, which is tied into federal income poverty levels in order to set its lower, transparent fixed price points.
Today, PLS offers its affordable services in the areas of family law, small claims, and landlord/tenant cases with a team which includes Spanish-speaking professionals and lifelong San Diego residents who understand the multicultural backgrounds of their clients.
Having grown up in Chula Vista in a working class environment to immigrant parents from Mexico, Medina takes cues from his experiences to approach and understand people’s needs instead of dictating clients through litigation. Connecting on a personal level through culture and experience is a paramount component of PLS.
“Our first focus is on community and cultural competency,” he detailed. “We have people on our board who are born and raised here in San Diego. We also have DACA recipients on our roster and we are familiar with the binational, bicultural nature of the San Diego region.”
Accessibility in terms of cost might be of great help to many, but hiring PLS attorneys is not an option if they cannot be met at their offices. This is why in-person accessibility is another key to this community-oriented approach.
“It’s one thing to be affordable and accessible in just that one way. It is another thing to be in the community because if you’re from City Heights and can’t make it downtown, you can come by to the Employees Rights Center every Tuesday,” he explained. “We just had a workshop at SDSU and if we are trying to reach DACA or undocumented students and their families we want to do it where they are comfortable, so we go out to the campus on their home turf.”
While he bears a lot of responsibility as founder and CEO of PLS, Medina wears many other hats around the organization, as do many of its staffers. On any given day, Medina might be in court with a client, handling the practice’s finances, or doing community outreach clinics in neighborhoods such as Chula Vista, or Southeast.
Medina points to his sense of empathy and integrity as a moving factors in his service, believing that when he promises something, he must do it well and with tact for the experiences of others.
“I think if more people put themselves in others’ shoes things would be different and that sense comes a bit more naturally to me,” he stated.
Medina is also a firm believer in the idea that true fairness in court benefits everyone, even those not directly involved in the case.
“In the context of family law, which is my specialty, the children benefit because fairness leads to strong family units which in turn benefits society extrinsically. In immigration cases, in dollars and cents, if we have protection for educated people like DACA recipients then that’s more talented people making money in the community which, leads to more businesses and more talent in the market for companies looking to hire.”
“There is no negative to greater access to good legal services,” he closed.
For more information on People’s Legal Services, you can call (619) 810-7010, email email@example.com, or visit the firm’s website at https://peopleslegalservices.org/.