Update on Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

If you want to see one of the  biggest casualties of the 2008 financial downturn visit the lobby of the Legal Aid Society on Tuesday mornings.  You will see long lines, many turned away, and the harm inflicted on legal assistance programs for the poor in the United States with the cut in the interest paid in trust accounts and a decrease in public assistance.  Just when millions were in need of a lawyer to help them weed through the foreclosure crisis and battling the big banks and mortgage companies, the legal aid societies across America reduced staff.  In Cleveland, they had to layoff 8 staff last year and had to limit their services.  The Legal Aid Society in Cleveland serves five counties of poor people with both rural and urban concerns.  Neither the state nor the federal government have stepped in to shore up free legal assistance.  There are so many holes in the system to provide access to effective legal counsel that the scales of justice are leaning heavily against poor people. Lady Justice is on one knee,  the blindfold is tattered, her scales are on the ground while she tries to steady herself.

We had a presentation by the Legal Aid Society this past week who struggle everyday to serve the crush of people who need help.   Did you know:

  • They limit their call backs to only 15 per day because there are so many asking for help.
  • They limit their eviction help to only those in subsidized buildings everyone else is on their own.
  • They limit their divorce help to only those trying to cut ties with an abuser--everyone else is on their own.
  • They have scores of people waiting in their lobby everyday that they take cases. 
  • Legal Aid does not have the manpower to help with most domestic issues (child custody, chid support, etc).
  • They are trying to set up brief advice clinics at Senior centers, libraries and community centers to stay connected with the community (50 last year).  For context our program CHLAP did 122 clinics last year with all volunteers.

They were awarded funds by both Cuyahoga County and the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve services to veterans.  If the veteran can make it through the screening either by calling or going into the headquarters on West Sixth Street, they should receive legal help.   We know that if a lower income person is living in a subsidized property and facing an eviction, they will get the best service possible.  Legal Aid is stretched so thin it is amazing that they can keep all these balls in the air.  The lawyers do work with Consumer laws (foreclosures, bill collectors, predatory loans, utility shut off), Family law (domestic violence issues and child support issues for the disabled), housing evictions, education assistance for kids facing expulsion, Immigration issues, public benefits, and employment disputes.   They could double their staff size and still not able to meet the need in the community.  Each section of the law has very specific guidelines of what cases they will accept and those that they will not accept so that each lawyer can provide effective counsel to their clients and to the courts.

We put such a low premium on the judicial system that we expect many people to go to court without any legal help.  We have stripped Legal Aid of the ability to file class action suits which may have helped against the corruption taking place at Countrywide, Chase and Deutsche Bank.  Often the low income defendant is facing a well funded landlord, employer, or the State of Ohio with a high priced attorney.  In addition, many of these times they are thrown into the judicial system to fend for themselves in situations that can dramatically change their life.  They have to figure out the courts for themselves while they are losing their housing, their children, their credit, their licenses or their jobs.   Legal Aid is the one line of defense, but society have set up a dangerous game in which only a small few get to see a lawyer.  If you want to see the impact of federal or state austerity and the push to cut taxes, go to the Legal Aid Society waiting room on Tuesday or Thursday mornings.  See the desperate people trying to save their homes or the moms trying to end a relationship with a spouse who has turned to drugs and crime and is destroying their family.   Look at the immigrants trying to work through a complicated work visa program and immigration law struggling to stay in the only place they feel they will have a chance to feed their children.   Look in the eyes of the Dad facing garnishment from a predatory and corrupt bill collector.  After talking to a few hundred of these people see if you have a different opinion of politicians who say every day that we have to reduce taxes and cut programs.

Brian Davis

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Is Legal Counsel a Right in the United States?

There was a nice article in the Atlantic this week regarding the right to legal assistance marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court case that guaranteed a right to counsel.  NPR also did a similar story this morning.  We wrote about access to legal counsel in the latest issue of the Street Chronicle by Greg and then a follow up question and answer article by a staff member of the ACLU about this issue. 

This is a huge problem within the homeless community, and can significantly increase the stay in a shelter.   As Greg talked about in his article in the Street Chronicle, most of the public defenders meet with their clients for a couple of minutes and then suggest that the individual "take a plea"  from the Prosecutor.   Greg also talked about Prosecutors over-charging people with criminal offenses so that they will take a plea to reduce the offense down to something reasonable.  The risk of going to court and facing a felony that will result in long jail times rather than pleading to a lesser offense and only having a short jail time is real and happens everyday over at the Ontario Court House.  If everyone demanded a trial, the system would grind to a halt and collapse on itself. 

The results of these decisions to avoid a trial are that the individual has a criminal background which could keep them from gainful employment or housing for an extended period of time.  In essence, the individual is bargaining for shorter time behind bars outside to face a longer time in a prison without bars on the outside.  They will face increased risk to their health with sleep deprivation and unstable food intake as well as months waiting for something to change.  They will have to face the humiliation of asking for help with housing and clothing everyday.  Taking the plea can have a negative impact on a person's life for decades.  

We have a homeless legal assistance program in Cleveland.  While we do not deal with the criminal side of the judicial system, we know that the inability to find effective counsel has a devastating effect on low income people even in the civil side of the law.  Often the lack of effective legal assistance results in a person becoming homeless.  About 5-8% of the landlord tenant cases involve issues other than money, and the tenant is at a disadvantage in court.  There are many examples when the employee is improperly terminated or not paid legally, but cannot find legal help.  There are many times when one party cannot afford legal counsel in a divorce and is put in the place to be in debt for the rest of their lives or need some neutral guidance on child support.  On this 50th anniversary of Gideon vs. Wainwright which primarily dealt with the right to counsel for those facing jail time, the right to legal help is tenuous at best.  The right to legal counsel for administrative law and civil law for low income people is a long way from reality.  It is difficult to imagine that legal proceedings that can result in the individual bankrupt and destitute does not require that the individual receive effective legal counsel.

Brian Davis

UPDATE:  The New York Times also featured a story on the 50th anniversary of Gideon and the inability to obtain legal counsel in America.  This article talks about the inability to find help for civil cases.

James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, said, “Most Americans don’t realize that you can have your home taken away, your children taken away and you can be a victim of domestic violence but you have no constitutional right to a lawyer to protect you.”

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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



Upcoming Events

Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting

On Monday July 9 at 1:30 p.m. the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meets at the US Bank/HUD offices at 1350 Euclid Ave. in Downtown Cleveland.  This meeting is a way to educate the public, housing providers and government about new programs or new resources in the community.  The group works to protect and preserve affordable housing locally.  This months meeting will feature representatives from the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority including the CEO Jeffrey Patterson.   We will also hear a presentation from the Cuyahoga Land Bank and all that is going on with that organization as they lead the effort to recover from the foreclosure tsunami.   There is surface parking all around the area.

OHS Meeting was cancelled for July 11

The Office of Homeless Services meets every other month on the second Wednesday of the month.  The meeting next week was cancelled because the county is hosting a cryptic meeting at Visiting Nurses Association. 

Community Briefing on “Pay for Success” &
Conversation on Priority Setting for
Health and Human Services
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 9am - 12pm
Please register online at
For more information call 216 987-7010
Please join us for a community conversation on setting human service priorities and a briefing on “Pay for Success”, a non-traditional funding formula and performance-based contracting partnership.

I have no idea what any of that means, but the County Health and Human Services is inviting the community to this briefing.

Homeless Congress Meeting

The Homeless Congress will meet on July 12 at 1:00 p.m. at the Bishop Cosgrove Center.  We will have a presentation about Central Intake and the changes with the entry shelters in Cleveland at the meeting.

National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference

The NAEH conference is in Washington DC between July 16 and July 18.  This is a very good conference if you work at a homeless service provider especially at a Permanent Supportive Housing Agency, youth program, or diversion/central intake facility.  If you are a homeless advocate, homeless person, or social justice champion, it is not the best place for you.   For the social justice types, you might want to avoid this conference.  You will be dissatisfied and angry at the end of each day. 

Community Service Alliance Fundraiser.

July 21, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is a yard sale for the Procops Transitional Housing Facility.  Support employment programs that target homeless people by attending this fund raiser.  Go to their website for more information.

Legal Aid Clinic

August 14, 2012 at the Veterans Service Commission on Prospect at 3:30 p.m. lawyers from Legal Aid will be present to assist veterans with their legal issues.  Any low income veteran is welcome to attend to get help.