LASC Attorney Kate McGarvey is a panelist on an online chat with the Cleveland Plain Dealer regarding medical billing problems:
LASC Attorney Kate McGarvey speaks on NPR regarding aggressive medical debt collection practices:
LASC Attorney Dianna Parker speaks to 10 TV regarding who should pay for bedbug extermination - landlord or tenant?
LASC Attorney Emily Crabtree speaks on WOSU regarding Regulating Landlords Who Rent Substandard Housing
LASC's Emily Crabtree speaks to WSYX 6 about a "utility eviction" 5/25/2010
LASC's Dianna Parker speaks to NBC 4 about bed bugs 5/19/2010
LASC Attorney Les Varnado is panelist on WOSU's "Facing The Mortgage Crisis" townhall meeting.
LASC Attorney Staska Keefer promotes foreclosure resources on WOSU
LASC Attorney Staska Keefer speaks to 10TV about the foreclosure problem in Central Ohio
LASC Executive Director Thomas Weeks on NBC 4 News
Dianna Parker speaks to NBC4 about landlord duties regarding utilities 9/24/2010.
Ohio's legal services for poor left destitute themselves by downturn
Monday, January 5, 2009 2:54 AM
With a $1 million loss in funding for the Columbus nonprofit organization during the past year, more staff layoffs are looming, Thomas W. Weeks said.
"It's a grim situation and a big challenge, to have that kind of funding gap in any agency," he said. "Most of our costs are personnel, so cutting costs will mean cutting services."
Seven Legal Aid lawyers in Columbus lost their jobs Thursday.
Legal-aid lawyers handle such things as landlord-tenant disputes and family-court cases. They advise people who are victims of domestic violence and those facing foreclosure or the loss of benefits from a federal agency, such as Medicaid or Medicare.
None of the work involves criminal defense, which is handled by public defenders.
Funding for legal-aid services in Ohio comes from a $26 filing fee included in all civil suits as well as Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts. Since 1985, the legislature has required all Ohio lawyers or their firms to create such interest-bearing accounts for the escrow storage of client funds. Interest from those funds goes to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation based in Columbus and is distributed to the state's legal-aid societies.
Foundation directors projected in December that revenue for 2008 would be about $10.7 million, down from about $22.3 million in 2007. Court fees generate $10 million more annually for legal aid to the poor.
The Columbus Legal Aid Society also receives donations from individuals and public agencies, such as the United Way of Central Ohio.
The change in its finances has been swift. Legal Aid had reserves of $586,000 in September 2007. A year later, it was $755,000 in the red, Weeks said. More layoffs are possible.
"The whole problem is related to the money we get from these trust accounts," Weeks said. "As the interest rates have dropped, the revenue from that source has just plummeted. It's not anybody's fault. It's just (that) the primary source of our funding is tied up in this economic circumstance."
The amount available to Columbus Legal Aid has dropped nearly $1 million. Its current annual budget is $4.5 million.
The Columbus office at 1108 City Park Ave. has 32 lawyers who serve more than 4,000 clients each year in Franklin, Delaware, Madison, Marion, Morrow and Union counties.
Weeks also is director of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, which employs 64 lawyers in nine offices serving 10,000 clients a year in 30 of Ohio's most-rural counties. Weeks oversees their budgets and reports to a board of directors.
The health and human services committee of the Columbus City Council was briefed on the financial problems in mid-December by John Harrison, director of community relations for Columbus Legal Aid. He said the staff helped 44 Columbus clients save their homes from foreclosure last year.
"We truly are the defenders of people who would otherwise have no voice in the legal system," Harrison said, according to a transcript of his remarks. "We have now let seven staff go effective Jan. 1."
A report to the United Way showed that the agency is effective in resolving 61 percent of its cases, he said.
The agency is seeking federal grants and an alliance with the statewide legal-services association to keep its doors open, Weeks said."There is enough other funding that Legal Aid will not shut its doors."
For information about the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, call 1-877-224-8374 or visit www.columbuslegalaid.org. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation at 10 W. Broad St., Suite 950, Columbus 43215-3483; the foundation's phone number is 614-752-8919.
National economic woes have slashed a major funding source for Ohio's legal-aid societies by more than half.