Reports of Legal Services Programs
The true limits of our freedoms may soon be revealed
By Jeff Bleich, Kelly Klaus and Deborah Pearstein
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
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.
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.'
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.'
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Dougherty is communications director for the Campaign for Equal Justice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.