Civil Legal Aid and the Value of Pro Bono Work at City Club

"...And Justice for All?"

Two recent City Club speeches featured individuals who spoke eloquently about the barriers low income and poor people have with the American Justice system.  On May 1, they featured Thomas Mesereau Jr. of the Mesereau Law Group who talked about the importance of Pro Bono work by lawyers, judges and all those working with the judicial system as part of Law Day.  Then a week earlier they featured Martha Bergmark of Voices for Civil Justice who gave a defense of expanding access to legal representation for those facing civil court cases.  These two together bookend a really nice look at the big holes in the American system for distributing justice. 

NEOCH partners with the Cleveland Bar Association on Homeless Legal Assistance Program, and has struggled with both topics for discussion.  We only serve people with Civil Matters since we do not have the insurance for criminal cases.  We always have a hard time attracting attorneys to the program and the number of civil cases is overwhelming.  As Ms. Bergmark described these are serious cases including the loss of housing, loss of custody of children and the loss of income in bankruptcy.  Bergmark does a great job of describing the need for access to counsel for low income people.  There is a strong commitment to pro bono work in the legal community, but often that is soft legal work like consulting with the Cleveland Orchestra or serving on the Board of the Center for Families and Children.  These are both worthy organizations who need legal help, but it is not the same as keeping poor people out of the shelters or settling income disputes with employers that might save someone's home. 

We have seen a decline in the number of legal clinics that we offer to homeless people partially because we cannot find enough volunteers to help.  It is very difficult to find help with civil matters such as child custody and divorce.  If you are not a victim of domestic violence, it is impossible to find help with a divorce from a lawyer.   These cases go on for a long time and it is just overwhelming for a volunteer to be involved in these cases for years.  Often, a mother can be tied to this guy who is dragging her into more and more financial peril because she cannot get a divorce.  Her credit will be wrecked sometimes for life which makes it difficult to get a job, housing or a college degree all because she is tied to this man.   Almost all of the programs in Ohio with lawyers for homeless people have gone out of business over the last 10 years.

I recommend listening to these two podcasts from the Cleveland City Club.  The great legal minds in Cleveland need to get together to provide funding for bolstering programs like Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance to have those opportunities to serve low income individuals.  They need to expand CHLAP and other volunteer driven projects.  It would be great if we had lawyers at the municipal courts to help with evictions of other matters like we do in the criminal courts.  We need more opportunities for low income people to walk in to see a lawyer to answer the question " I have a case or what can I do to defend myself?" 

Brian Davis

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Posted a New Legal Assistance Schedule

We lost a number of clinics over the last year and are having a harder time attracting volunteers, but we posted our schedule for clinic sites for 2015 here.  We believe that Homeless Legal Assistance is one of the core programs in our community to help homeless people.  We could serve 1,000 people a year if we had the volunteer support.  There is a need for eviction help, debt, child support, divorce, bankruptcy, expungement, and child custody cases.  This program is key to moving people back to stability and getting their finances in shape or restoring their licenses. 

Homeless Legal Assistance is 12 years old and currently does not have dedicated staff assigned to the program.  After the 2008 downturn, we had to step back and layoff the staff.  We rely on volunteers to carry this program, and are so thankful for all their help.  The women at the Norma Herr shelter and the folks over at Cosgrove Center love the program.  The people at North Star drop in center for those re-entering after incarceration use the program as do the people at Lakewood Community Services seeking help with evictions.  This is Doug Lawrence, the first attorney hired to oversee the program. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

County Council Awards Funds to Veterans

I don't know how we missed this, but the County redirected Veteran's Service Commission money to other veterans programs in Cuyahoga County.  Who knew that the Veteran's Commission money (as much as $1 million per year) was being returned to Cuyahoga County general revenue fund every year.  The new government decided that these funds should go to veterans as they were intended.  In June, the Council approved $733,000 to various government and charities that serve veterans locally. 

Homeless veterans will benefit from these programs including MHS now called Frontline Services will expand their housing assistance to veterans, the Office of Homeless Services will receive funds for the permanent supportive housing for veterans.   The VA will have additional funds to serve homeless veterans.   The Community Resource and Referral Center will receive additional funds to assist veterans with central intake.   The Legal Aid Society and 211/First Call for Help will get additional dollars.  This is great news for homeless veterans. 

We were only informed of this when Councilman Julian Rogers attended the Homeless Congress meeting, and reported on the distribution of these funds.  It would have been great if the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance program could hire an attorney to work exclusively with homeless vets.  For $75,000 we could hire one attorney for one year to serve 160  to 180 veterans in need of legal advice.   We have wanted to hire an attorney to serve veterans similar to the Project Salute program in Detroit. It would have been a nice program for homeless vets, but no one told us about the resources available.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Free Legal Services Often Key to Stability

NEOCH assists with the Homeless Legal Assistance Program, and so we understand the importance of attorneys offering help to the homeless community. Here are a couple of free clinic times when a low income individual may be able to find help with their legal question or be assigned an attorney.  These are sponsored by the Legal Aid Society and complement the Cleveland Bar Association/NEOCH program.

The Legal Aid Society has many FREE legal advice events this week and into next month.  Attorneys will be available at each event, providing free advice to those in need.  Please post this list and circulate to those who may benefit.  Thank you! 

Monday, OCTOBER 22 (TODAY!)

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Chardon United Methodist Church

515 North Street, Chardon



1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Wade Park Veterans Center

1563 East Boulevard, Cleveland

A special legal clinic for US Veterans… but all are welcome!



5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

El Barrio

5209 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland


Thursday, OCTOBER 25

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Country Neighbor Program

39 South Maple Street, Orwell


 Saturday, OCTOBER 27

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

This event is ONLY for those seeking information and help with the naturalization/citizenship process!

Appointments encouraged: 888-817-3777

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland


 Saturday, NOVEMBER 3

9:45 am – 11:45 am

Neighborhood Housing Services

5700 Broadway Avenue, Cleveland


 Wednesday, NOVEMBER 7

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Cleveland Public Library – Rice Branch

11535 Shaker Boulevard, Cleveland