Feature

Reports of Legal Services Programs

The true limits of our freedoms may soon be revealed

By Jeff Bleich, Kelly Klaus and Deborah Pearstein


Creating Access to Justice in Oregon
By Amy Dougherty

The stories are all too common - an elderly woman with a limited income paid a man to repair her roof, but the work was never done. Despite her requests for help from state licensing agencies, she was unable to get her money back. Legal Aid Services of Oregon worked with an interagency team on elder fraud to provide her restitution and work toward preventing future fraud.

This client's story is typical of the thousands that Oregon Legal Aid offices deal with every year. The recent Legal Needs Study sponsored by the Oregon State Bar, the Judicial Department and the Governor's Office reports sobering news: less than 20 percent of the legal need among low- and moderate-income Oregonians is met, and many of these people are beyond the effective reach of any existing program.

Our state's legal community recognizes at the highest levels the importance of access to justice and the role expected of lawyers in making it happen. For that commitment, the Oregon State Bar received the 2001 Harrison Tweed Award from the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid Defenders Association. The award cited the bar's 'outstanding leadership and commitment demonstrated through the establishment of a comprehensive state equal justice network to build resources and support for the provision of legal services to the poor, rendering to its community a vital public service to the credit of the legal profession and helping to make real the American ideal of equal justice for all.'

The Campaign for Equal Justice relies on lawyers across the state to fulfill the goal of providing funding for access to justice for the poor in Oregon. More than 2,800 lawyers statewide showed their support last year by contributing to the campaign's annual fund. 'The support from lawyers across the state shows that they believe in the value of Legal Aid programs,' said Tom Matsuda, Legal Aid Services of Oregon director. 'The work we do makes a real difference in people's lives, and lawyers supporting that work is vital for our success.'

Oregon lawyers play an increasingly important role in providing funding for legal services as federal resources have declined. Participation from lawyers is crucial in leveraging greater support from the state legislature and foundations to increase funding for access to justice programs. Lawyer support statewide sends a strong message to our Congressional delegation that they too must be strong supporters of access to justice.

In the 10 years since the Campaign for Equal Justice was established, it has raised more than $6.8 million in annual funds and foundation support for Oregon's legal aid programs. This year the campaign's annual fund goal is $725,000, a $50,000 increase over last year's goal. 'It's important for lawyers to give at any level, but give something,' said David Bean, an attorney with Gevurtz, Menashe, Larson & Howe and a Campaign for Equal Justice committee member. 'I saw the importance of raising awareness for legal aid in law school. Even students were able to participate and donate something because they understood the need and wanted to help.'

Every lawyer can help make a difference. Making a contribution can be as simple as an annual or monthly donation, or a pledge to the campaign through United Way. For more information, please contact The Campaign for Equal Justice at (503) 295-8442 or cej@aracnet.com.

Amy Dougherty is communications director for the Campaign for Equal Justice.


Law Center Starts Two New Projects
By David Thornburgh

It is an exciting time at the Oregon Law Center as we start two new projects funded by grants, one serving indigenous migrant farm workers in the Willamette Valley and the other serving homeless people in Oregon.

Until recently, farm workers in Oregon came from mainstream, Spanish-speaking Mexican society. Now, indigenous people from the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, who speak languages like Mixteco and Triqui, are making up an increasing part of the agricultural work force. They face discrimination at home as despised indios and don't fare much better in the United States, where farm foremen and labor contractors share mainstream Mexican attitudes toward them. Because of their cultural isolation here and in Mexico, and because most of them don't speak Spanish, they are even more vulnerable than other farm workers. They generally work for less money and in more difficult jobs than their Spanish-speaking counterparts.

Julie Samples, a 2001 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School, heads up the project that for the first time in Oregon targets legal services to these indigenous communities. Samples, a southeast Portland resident, has received a two-year New Voices Fellowship from the Academy for Educational Development. OLC obtained additional funding for the project from Portland philanthropist Robert Pamplin and from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Samples, who already speaks Spanish, is taking Mixteco lessons. She clerked for legal services during law school. As part of the project, she traveled to Oaxaca to learn more about the culture and people she will serve. She is now meeting with Mixtec people in Oregon.

Marc Jolin, a 2000 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, heads up the new homeless project. He has a two-year fellowship from the New York-based law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The goals are to increase legal outreach to the homeless community, offer education and training to homeless people and service providers, to increase pro-bono legal services for homeless people, and to advocate for the homeless in the courts and in any other appropriate arena.

Jolin grew up in Portland and has worked on poverty-related issues for many years. In the mid '90s, he worked at Transition Projects (a large homeless shelter), at St. Francis Dining Hall (a free meal program), and he coordinated a homeless legal issues task force. He clerked for Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division during law school. He comes to us after clerking for a year on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

For the past six weeks, Jolin has been visiting homeless camps, shelters and service programs, talking to homeless people and program staff, and documenting the community's unmet legal needs. He has heard repeated complaints about law enforcement, difficulties in obtaining benefits, and struggles of homeless families with shelter and the public schools. He also reports a tremendous need for attorneys on family, PI, employment and criminal law issues.

David Thornburgh is executive director of the Oregon Law Center.


Renewing Our Commitment
By Tom Matsuda

Oregon's legal services programs expect to see greater numbers of requests for assistance from low income residents in our communities who are directly affected by the economic recession. In prior recessions, low-wage and older workers tended to be the most vulnerable to layoffs, while demand for wage-earner safety nets like unemployment, job training and food stamps far exceeded available services. As lawyers to the low income community, our concern in these hard times is that vulnerable clients with legitimate legal claims must have access to, and representation in the legal system.

Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO) is part of a statewide collaboration of legal aid programs that together serve low income clients through 19 offices in urban and rural areas. We continue to achieve success in cases that have statewide and national impact on legal issues for poor people. A good recent example: Ellen Johnson, an attorney in our Hillsboro office, recently obtained a favorable settlement in a federal court case against a large regional property management firm. In a low income subsidized housing complex, the defendant tried to apply a policy of zero-tolerance for violence against a tenant because she was a victim of domestic violence in her apartment, even though the abuser had vacated. On behalf of the tenant, LASO pursued a gender discrimination lawsuit together with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development against the defendant property management firm. As a result of the settlement, the defendant is changing its policies to protect victims of abuse in all of its properties on the West Coast and we expect that many other subsidized housing managers nationwide will take notice and change similar policies to avoid liability. This will protect shelter and enhance safety for thousands of women in low-income housing.

All legal services programs in Oregon continue to have these kinds of successes in thousands of cases for poor people, despite an overall 20-year trend of federal funding cutbacks and office closures. With additional resources we could do a lot more to serve the most vulnerable members of our community who need legal assistance.

In my experiences with a broad cross-section of the bar, I have learned that many Oregon lawyers share the belief that, in order to protect the integrity and credibility of our legal system, all members of our community should have access to a lawyer when needed, regardless of status. Oregon lawyers act upon this belief by contributing generously to the Campaign for Equal Justice, by supporting the Oregon Law Foundation, by working to improve access and diversity in the courts, and by providing many hours of pro bono services to complement the work of poverty law specialists in Legal Aid.

In challenging times such as these, renewed commitments to access to justice by Oregon lawyers are critical to our ability to continue providing services.

Tom Matsuda is executive director of Legal Aid Services of Oregon.

IT'S TIME TO PARTICIPATE
IN THE 2001 PRO BONO CHALLENGE

Show friends and colleagues your commitment to pro bono by logging and reporting your pro bono legal services hours to the Pro Bono Committee of the New Lawyers Division. It's more than a friendly competition to see who can log the most pro bono hours. The competition will continue through December 2001, and the committee will collect reports through January 2002. Awards in several categories will be presented in March 2002, and the results of this competition will be distributed among the bar and law students. For more information, contact Ellen Hawes, chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the New Lawyers Division, at (503) 294-9810.

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