Economy hurting low-income legal help

by TYLER COBB

The legal organization “And Justice For All…” helps about 33,000 people every year who can’t afford legal advice. But with fewer donations coming in annually, the organization may have to find alternate ways to fund services.

Romaine Marshall, a board member and attorney for the firm Holland & Hart, said most of the organization’s donations come in from law firms and other corporations. However, it is seeing fewer donations with the economy suffering.

“It’s a real problem,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to be more aggressive in getting law firms and companies to donate.”

The organization, which combines work by the Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services, has been around since 1998 to help people in need of legal representation. They help people who can’t afford legal services based on disability, poverty, age, migrant status or race, according to the “…And Justice for All” Web site.

Marshall said it also raises money through fundraisers such as hosting golf tournaments and other activities, or by sending board members out to help fund-raise.

“It’s forced me to go to other law firms to ask their firms to give donations to ‘…And Justice for All’,” Marshall said. “And we need to raise more.”

Kai Wilson, executive director for “…And Justice for All,” said the three main legal aid groups have made enormous progress in the past 10 years.

Since its inception, the organization has increased legal aid services to nearly 13 percent of the low-income population in Utah.

“[We’d] love to get to helping 20 percent of the low income in the state,” Wilson said.

The groups may in the future if numbers keep rising and alternate sources of income are located.

Marshall said the need is there, and the organization can do a lot of good if it continues. “The most common cases I’m seeing involve assistance,” Marshall said. “It’s going to families dealing with poverty issues, being evicted unlawfully; people who haven’t been properly helped and don’t know what to do.”

Since 1998, the “…And Justice For All” has been able to quadruple the amount of funding from the Utah State Bar’s membership. In 1998, only 5 percent of members donated to legal aid funds, but with the campaign, the amount rose to more than 30 percent, which adds up to about $400,000 every year.

Marshall said “…And Justice For All” expects the numbers of people requesting help to increase as well. “If we prorate the number of people who have asked for help this year, we will see that next year’s numbers will be much, much more,” Marshall said.

In the event donations drop off, Marshall and Wilson are looking for alternate ways to find resources. Part of the organization’s mission statement is to share and consolidate “resources so that services are delivered in a cost-efficient and effective manner, enabling service providers to serve additional clients,” according to the group’s Web site.

And many clients need the help. Some of their stories are posted on the Web site. A mother of three fled from Idaho to escape an abusive husband, who then followed her to Utah and hit her youngest child.

Police officers advised she get help from the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, which was able to help the woman obtain an ex parte protective order requiring her husband to stay away and assist financially.

“So many people need that legal help,” Marshall said.

Wilson said the problem is that many low-income families and people can’t afford legal services, which is where “…And Justice for All” steps in by raising the necessary funds.

The organization has plans to keep donations steady and keep increasing the number of people being helped every year.

“I haven’t been on the board for very long, but this is a good organization,” Marshall said. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to help everyone.”