“…And Justice For All” serves rights on a silver platter

by MADISON MURPHY

On Jan. 29, 2009, steamy pancakes and sizzling bacon filled the hungry bellies of the Salt Lake community to help raise awareness of the services “…And Justice For All” provides.

Currently the majority of Utah’s low-income families that are facing civil legal problems do not know that legal aid programs exist and are right within their grasp. “…And Justice For All” is a sanctuary for these people, providing them with “silver platter” quality service at no cost to them.

“…And Justice For All” is an organization that receives money from federal and state grant programs. To promote services for all aspects of legal aid, the organization is the umbrella over three other agencies: the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, Utah Legal Services and the Disability Law Center.

The first requirement to receive pro bono help from this organization is to have a low income. Typically, a single mother cannot be making more than $14 per hour through her employment. The second requirement is the obvious one: a legal problem.

Many people are not aware as to what exactly constitutes a legal problem. They would be surprised to know that civil legal problems are so common, two out of three low-income households in Utah encounter a civil legal problem each year. Only 13 percent are receiving legal help.

“It has been around almost 10 years and people still say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you guys existed!’” said Matt Knotts, executive director of the Disability Law Center.

The Disability Law Center mainly encounters abused and neglected clients. The center helps to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Utah.

According to “The Justice Gap,” a survey provided by “…And Justice For All,” about one-third of clients did not know where to turn for help and more than 22 percent felt it was too much hassle; 21 percent indicated they feared the cost. Unfortunately, 19 percent felt nothing could even be done and 17 percent did not think their problem was a legal issue.

“Other reasons for not seeking help included fear of retaliation, waiting to see if things change, feeling the problem is not important enough and an inability to speak enough English to seek legal counsel,” according to the study.

“We would love to get to the point of assisting as many people as other existing states,” said Kai Wilson, executive director of “…And Justice For All.” One of the most successful legal aid organizations is in Washington, which sets a high standard for legal aid organizations in other states.

Civil legal problems range from domestic violence, public housing disputes, police harassment and immigration issues.

Susan, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her from her ex-husband, is a client of Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. She filed a protective order against her abusive husband to keep herself and her two children safe. Despite the protective order, Susan’s husband took the children to Florida without her consent. Legal Aid Society had police arrest Susan’s spouse and extradite him to Utah. With further help from Legal Aid, Susan filed for divorce and now has full custody of her children.

“…And Justice For All” strives to help Utahns like Susan who experience abuse and neglect. The organization works to offer equal and appropriate services to clients who might not otherwise be able to obtain aid due to cost or bad credit.

“’…And Justice For All’ is shedding light on the importance of social justice in our community, and not just the legal community,” Knotts said.

Although it may not literally be on a silver platter, the organization still succeeds in teaching the people of Utah their legal rights, as well as offering pro bono services.

One success story was told in “The Justice Gap” about Maria, a deaf client. A pro bono attorney was able to help Maria regain custody of her children from her spouse. “This attorney donated 50 hours in three months of pro bono work worth over $7,500 of billable hours,” Maria states on the organization’s Web site.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy said, “The poor man looks upon the law as an enemy, not as a friend. For him, the law is always taking something away.”

But for a majority of clients, many said they left feeling positive and unburdened from the legal system.