Legal Assistance: Professional Problems

“The courts are just as much a shield to a teacher who has acted prudently as they are a weapon against him if he has neglected his duty...”

For many years, the Maryland State Education Association has provided assistance to school employees faced with difficulties in their professional lives. However, with the dramatic increase in the number of cases which ultimately require legal services, it has become necessary to standardize somewhat the procedures for handling such cases in order to provide efficient service to members. Generally, the procedure is as follows:

1. Any member having a legal problem in connection with his/her employment should contact the UniServ representative assigned to that particular area. UniServ representatives shall act as the initial contact for those members needing legal help.

2. If the problem is one where a violation of the collective bargaining agreement is alleged, it will be handled initially by the UniServ representative in cooperation with the local association, which has been designated under the law as the exclusive representative.

3. If the problem involves a claim covered under the Educators Employment Liability Policy, the UniServ representative will forward the appropriate papers to the MSEA Center for Legal Issues.

4. All other requests for legal assistance should be initiated with the UniServ representative who will forward same to the MSEA Coordinator of Legal Services.

5. The Coordinator of Legal Services is authorized to review and provide legal assistance at the initial stage of the legal proceedings so long as the case or controversy meets the definition and criteria outlined hereinabove. The Coordinator of Legal Services is not authorized to provide legal services in any of the following:

  • any case where an individual member is requesting legal assistance to appeal a decision of the State Board of Education or a decision of a Maryland Circuit Court;
  • any case where an individual is requesting legal assistance for an action at any level in the Federal court system;
  • any case involving legal services to a non-member, or to a member where the event giving rise to the request occurred before the individual joined. This provision does not apply to cases which fall within the local association's obligations under the collective bargaining law.  Similarly, this provision does not apply to cases approved by staff and counsel where a non-member plaintiff who is not eligible to join is being utilized by a local association which lacks standing to sue in its own behalf.

6. MSEA may decline to provide representation or continued assistance when:

     1. the case involves support of a position contrary to the policies of MSEA or NEA;

     2. the member/affiliate does not fully cooperate with MSEA;

     3. MSEA determines that the facts of the case as alleged by the member/affiliate are not true;

     4. the member/affiliate rejects a settlement proposal or other disposition of the case as recommended by MSEA;

     5. the member/affiliate retains an attorney without the knowledge and consent of MSEA;

     6. budgetary constraints or other bona fide reasons render such action appropriate.

     7. the member does not maintain membership as required by this policy, except that membership is not required where legal services are provided to a local association for contract enforcement consistent with the duty of fair representation.

If legal services are terminated pursuant to 1-7 above, there is no right to appeal the decision.

It is important to note that MSEA members expecting either financial or legal assistance must seek help from MSEA before initiating any legal action. Normally, legal assistance will be provided only through MSEA legal counsel. Finally, it is important that members contact the UniServ staff member as soon as the problem arises. An early response by staff and/or counsel may result in resolution of the difficulty and avoid a protracted controversy.