Xerox Funding Free Legal Aid For The Poor In Connecticut

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Xerox Funding Free Legal Aid For The Poor In Connecticut

 news 2015-02-17 at 10:10:35 am Views: 157
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    Xerox Funding Free Legal Aid For The Poor In Connecticut
    UTC, GE, Xerox Funding Free Legal Aid For State's Poor

    HARTFORD — Connecticut-based mega corporations General Electric, United Technologies and Xerox, along with several other companies, have chipped in to help provide free legal help to poor people across the state in what's billed as the first program of its kind in the country.

    They have teamed up with the state's three legal aid organizations to start LawyerCorps Connecticut.

    The program will pay the salaries and benefits of young attorneys dubbed "fellows" who will work with the legal aid groups to represent several hundred clients a year in civil and family courts.

    The program comes as judicial officials across the country grapple with how to close what they call a "justice gap" involving low-income people who can't afford lawyers and often are forced to represent themselves in important cases involving child custody, eviction, protection from domestic violence and legal problems affecting veterans and the elderly. Everyone is guaranteed lawyers in criminal cases, but the same isn't true in civil and family courts.

    Studies show that legal aid offices have to turn away half or more of the people who seek help because the agencies don't have enough resources, according Legal Services Corp., the largest provider of legal aid funding in the country. That amounts to nearly a million poor people being rejected each year nationwide, according to the corporation, which is funded by the federal government.

    LawyerCorps was conceived about two years ago by Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and is based on Teach Across America, which recruits and trains teachers to educate students in low-income areas.

    "It's an opportunity to do social justice," said Sandy Broadus, the volunteer executive director of LawyerCorps and former assistant general counsel for Hartford-based United Technologies. "I think people tend to think of Connecticut as a really wealthy state, but we have a lot of people living without basic needs."

    Miledis Vargas, who is out of work on Social Security disability because of health problems, said the New Haven Legal Assistance Association — one of Connecticut's three legal aid groups — was vital in helping her avoid eviction from her Milford apartment last year, when the Section 8 federal housing program initially refused to pay for a rent increase and told her she had to move.

    "It meant a lot to me," said Vargas, 49, who has a teenage daughter in high school. "I was going to have a problem with my daughter changing schools. I didn't want to do that to her and she didn't want it."

    LawyerCorps is now reviewing applications from dozens of young or future lawyers and plans to hire three — one for each legal aid organization in the state — who will begin working by September.

    The program's cost is $225,000 annually and there only is a one-year commitment so far by the corporations, but organizers are optimistic about securing money for future years and hiring more lawyers. Contributions are tax-deductible.

    The program is complementing other efforts across the country to address the justice gap, including getting lawyers to provide more free services.

    Mark Nordstrom, senior labor and employment counsel at Fairfield-based GE, said LawyerCorps is one program in the company's array of corporate social responsibility efforts. He said GE has committed tens of thousands of dollars to the program.

    "It's really about the … people who need help," Nordstrom said. "The access-to-justice gap is just enormous."