Lending Hand to Legal Aid
Monday, December 29, 2008
- The Daily Oklahoman
During the past year, my husband, Drew, and I have worked with attorneys from across the state to raise money for the statewide program that provides free civil legal aid to low-income and elderly Oklahomans. We have served as statewide co-chairs for the Campaign for Justice and raised more than $700,000.
This holiday season we celebrate the hundreds of law firms, individual attorneys, foundations, businesses and other generous Oklahomans statewide who have decided that legal aid is one of their top personal and professional responsibilities.
The caliber of attorneys working on the Campaign for Justice is impressive. They are prominent members of firms, well-known in the Oklahoma State Bar Association and willing to dedicate the time necessary to raise money to strengthen Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. William G. Paul, who presided over the American Bar Association in 1999-2000, essentially founded this campaign, serving three years as statewide chair from 2003-05. Since then the annual campaigns have been chaired by retired federal Judge Thomas J. Brett in 2006, Burns Hargis and Mike Turpen in 2007 and this year by Drew and me.
Throughout the year, we met with dedicated groups of Oklahoma City and Tulsa attorneys who strategized about how to make Legal Aid stronger in all 77 counties. The Oklahoma City team, co-chaired by Laura McConnell-Corbyn and John Kenney, and the Tulsa Team, co-chaired by Doug Dodd and Jim Green, met with managing partners of law firms and private practitioners to educate them about the role of Legal Aid in Oklahoma.
The work of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is all civil, meaning these are not criminal cases. LASO is part of a network of legal aid programs in every state, which receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C. LSC receives its funding from Congress and so it has a list of restrictions for all of the programs it funds. These restrictions include strict prohibitions on class-action cases and cases representing incarcerated persons.
Legal Aid's clients are generally not served by the private bar because of their low income level. In order to qualify for Legal Aid, the basic income eligibility level is 125 percent of poverty, which is $12,762 a year for a single person and $25,812 a year for a family of four. For extremely compelling cases, the income eligibility level sometimes is raised to 200 percent of poverty. Legal Aid's casework deals with family issues such as child support and custody and guardianships; consumer scams; housing problems including wrongful evictions; and problems with Social Security and Medicaid.
Oklahoma's justice community includes the private bar, three law school clinics, a few church legal clinics and Legal Aid's 22 offices around the state. The critical service performed by Legal Aid helps clients keep their families healthy, safe and under one roof despite their low incomes.
I salute Oklahoma attorneys, foundations and businesses for their support of the Campaign for Justice and Justice for All for Oklahoma.
Edmondson is the wife of Attorney General Drew Edmondson.