During 21 years as a trial court judge, I saw the devastating effect poverty had on people who appeared in my courtroom. Many didn’t get their stories told in civil court because they couldn’t afford lawyers. Unlike criminal defendants, who can have attorneys appointed to represent them for free, poor people with non-criminal legal problems often get no help.
The nonprofit organization I now lead, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, serves poor people who are conned, sold lemons or suffer in abusive, unhealthy living situations. Sadly, though, we can help only one in four income-qualified clients who call us.
That’s why we are launching Friends of Legal Aid, a first-ever public support group designed to spread awareness about our mission and raise funds to help us add staff to pursue justice for all. Few outside the legal profession understand the good we do for veterans, the elderly and victims of abuse, discrimination, fraud and uninhabitable housing. Our work also helps the community at large.
As Missouri Supreme Court Judge Paul Wilson recently publicly stated: “The increasing number of unmet civil legal needs presents an existential threat to the legal system in this state. The tide of unmet needs for legal services is rising, and Legal Aid is the seawall holding that tide back.”
To learn more about our mission and the work of Legal Aid, visit www.lawmo.org or join us at our Justice For All luncheon at noon June 14 at the Marriott Muehlebach Tower banquet room.
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