Clallam-Jefferson County Pro Bono Lawyers Programs
We provide three programs to serve low-income residents with civil legal needs:
Legal Representation by Volunteer Lawyers
Our staff recruits lawyers who are willing to donate their time. We have compiled a panel or "bank" of attorneys who are willing to volunteer, listing their specialty and their availability. We ask that all potential clients complete a phone intake with the CLEAR line. Operated by Northwest Justice Project this program stands for Consolidate Legal Education Advice and Referral. Clear determines eligibility (low-income and case type) and creates a detailed intake for each client, which is emailed to us. In 2011, we received 651 Clear referrals. 83% of these referrals involved family law matters, but we also had 28 collection cases, 7 cases involving warranties, 14 cases with employment issues, 5 guardianship cases, 18 cases involving employment issues, and 20 clients who needed wills.
- Direct representation – Volunteer Lawyer’s (VL's) represent clients in all aspects of their cases, such as eviction, adoption or guardianship. We match clients with available lawyers and usually in this situation clients meet directly with lawyers in their own offices.
- Bundled Services – VL's offer in court support or support in a single area of a case.
- Brief Assistance - VL’s make phone calls, review court forms or write letters for clients.
- Consultation and Advice- VL's provide 30 minute appointments with clients at legal clinics in our community office. We try to average 20 appointments a week. In 2011, VL's provided 905 appointments for clients.
Community Office and Outreach Services
We have an office in Port Angeles, which is conveniently located for our clients. Individuals are welcome to drop by, call the CLEAR line, make appointments, pick up paperwork or use our free office resources. Last year 1,563 walk-in visits and phone calls were handled by staff and non-attorney volunteers.
- Advice clinics are held at our office. 20 available appointments each week where clients meet with clinic volunteer lawyers in our office. In 2011, 8 VL's provided 905 legal clinic appointments, which adds up to 518 hours of volunteer service.
- Free legal forms with hands-on assistance filling them out. Filing and service assistance is also provided. 3 non-attorney advocates donated 936 volunteer hours to assist clients in filling out and copying their paperwork for court.
- Emergency help. Potential clients can walk in with emergency matters and get immediate help for such things as protection orders and writs to return children.
- Client Intake. Assistance with calling CLEAR our state-wide intake phone line.
- Referral to other support programs ie, housing, mental health, drug evaluations.
- Participate in community information fairs such as Veteran Standdowns and the "Homeless Connect Expo."
- Distribution in the community of legal information pamphlets.
- Resources and presentations for parenting classes and other educational forums.
- Member of the state Access to Justice planning team for the Clallam and Jefferson County region.
Courthouse Facilitator Program
We fund and operate the Clallam Superior Court facilitator services. We employ a well trained and experienced courthouse facilitator. In 2011, she assisted 487 people, many who made up to 3-4 return visits.
- On site assistance for family law litigants. The facilitator's office is down the hall from the family courtroom.
- Selection and assistance with completion of court forms and the of calculation of child support.
- Information about court procedures filing and service.
- Attendance at hearings to assist the court with unrepresented clients.
- Referral to Pro Bono Lawyers and Northwest Justice Project.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
In the last 2 years, clients have come to us wanting to do something to change their criminal histories. As personal data "mining" and information systems have become more sophisticated, the working poor with criminal histories have been caught without options. Individuals who have old felony records now find that employers and landlords can easily run background checks that identify their criminal histories and then deny employment or housing.
These clients are most often the heads of household with children. Often they have completed recent job training, such as semi-truck driving, health care training or flagging. They are devastated to find that their old mistakes such as drug, assault or theft convictions can now keep them from supporting their families.
Washington State law does allow, in some circumstances, offenders to "vacate and seal" their convictions. This is a complicated and time consuming process; too complicated for our clients to complete without an attorney and too expensive for them to afford their own private attorney.
In 2010, we began to compile a handbook for clients and legal advocates for vacating and sealing criminal records. At that same time, we developed a procedure for our clients to use to complete this process. Even though it took varying assistance, depending on individual client’s skills and abilities, Pro Bono has been able to assist 2 women and 7 men in vacating and sealing their felony convicts. “I feel like a real person, again,” said one man with tears in his eyes. “I’m just as good as anybody else,” said a man who was then able to get a living wage job as a truck driver. I can finally take care of my family,” a single native mom with three children said.
I often sit in court with clients as they complete their last step in the process. Sometimes, the wait is up to 2 hours as we see a parade of men and women led into court in orange jumpsuits and shackles to see the judge. Finally, my client’s name will be called and they will stand before the same judge that sentenced them 10 years ago. I am always impressed with the emotion of this action, when a superior court judge has the pleasure of restoring a “felon” into a valued member of society.
A Current Need
In the last 5 years, our income has diminished by 25%. Our financial story is the story of all Clallam County social services; in fact, it is the current story of our country. I have been waiting for available funding to increase and recently added a $15,600 expense to our office budget for a part-time assistant. We are working with area funders such as Haller and Phillips Foundation, United Way, United Good Neighbors and the Greater Olympic Peninsula federal combined campaign to fund that postion.