300 North Commercial
Bellingham, WA 98227-5008
Telephone: (360) 733-0212
805 Dupont Street, Suite 6
Bellingham, WA 98225
It is a cornerstone of our democratic society, the Constitutional promise of “justice for all”; the right to an attorney if you are charged with a crime, even if you cannot afford one. But for tens of thousands of people in our state who live in poverty and face civil legal crises, a lawyer is not provided to them.
Access to civil legal aid can mean the difference between homelessness and a roof overhead for families. Legal aid can save the lives of a woman and her children fleeing domestic violence. It can turn around a young person’s life after they end up in juvenile detention, often due to neglect or abuse at home. It can protect disabled veterans, vulnerable elderly couples, or mentally ill individuals from being victimized. Legal aid ensures people can live and work free of discrimination. Take Harriet (name changed for anonymity), for instance.
Harriet was a foster mother for nearly two decades, providing stability and support for dozens of youth and children. In late 2015, Harriet experienced a brain aneurysm, and was unable to continue working because she was in and out of the hospital so much. During this time, her landlord evicted her, took most of her possessions to the dump, got Harriet to sign something while she was not competent to do so (she was very ill), and managed to get a judgment against Harriet for unpaid rent. It wasn’t until she tried to rent a new apartment that she found there was a judgment against her—a new landlord would not rent to her. Thankfully a staff attorney from Legal Assistance by Whatcom (LAW) Advocates assisted Harriet in addressing this judgment, ultimately representing her in court, where the judgment was reversed. Thanks to legal aid, Harriet now has stability and security in her life. She lives with her mother in Bellingham, closer to the healthcare and
social services she needs.
According to the 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study, three out of four of the 1.2 million Washington residents living in poverty face an urgent civil legal crisis every year. But for every person like Harriet who receives legal help, there are three people who are turned away due to lack of legal aid funding. The study also shows the average low-income household in Washington faces more than nine legal issues every year — nearly triple the number a decade ago. Even one unre-solved legal problem can escalate into a series of complex, interconnected challenges that endanger health, safety, and/or financial security.
Taking steps to solve this problem, the trusted Legal Foundation of Washington and their annual Campaign for Equal Justice, are proud to fund the LAW Advocates here in Whatcom County. For every $1 donated to the Campaign from Whatcom County donors, $6 goes to LAW Advocates in their annual grant from the Legal Foundation of Washington. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in volunteering your time.
The justice system works most effectively when there is an even playing field, and in Whatcom County we know this well.
The Whatcom County Bar Association recently received the 2016 Rainier Cup. Presented by the Campaign for Equal Justice, this award is given to the county bar association with the highest percentage of attorneys donating to the Campaign to fund civil legal aid organizations. A full 28% of the Whatcom Bar donated to the Campaign last year, raising over $23,000. This is the second year in a row we’ve won the Rainier Cup.
In this spirit of this friendly competition, please join us in supporting legal aid by making a donation personally or through your firm to the Legal Foundation of Washington’s Campaign for Equal Justice at www.LegalFoundation.org/give-now.
Kirsten Barron (Barron Smith Daugert) and Lisa Saar (Law Offices of Lisa Saar) are board member of the Campaign for Equal Justice, the fundraising arm of the Legal Foundation of Washington.
Posted and edited with the permission of the authors. Originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of the Whatcom County Bar Journal.