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Attorney helps senior citizens stay in their homes

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Sitting in Environmental Court in Indianapolis on a snowy day, a few things stick out in the courtroom.

For one, the setting is fairly informal. On this particular Tuesday everything is either resolved or extended and there are no hearings before the judge. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of activity in the courtroom between the housing inspectors, attorneys, clerk, and residents who are there to address various citations involving their homes.

Indianapolis Legal Aid attorney Orville Copsey with the cleaning supplies he keeps in his car. Indianapolis Legal Aid Society attorney Orville Copsey, 79, keeps cleaning supplies in his car to help clients tidy up their houses if they are in danger of losing their homes. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

One can’t help but overhear a sigh of relief when someone in the courtroom says, “that’s Orville’s case,” referring to attorney Orville Copsey Jr.

Copsey works for Indianapolis Legal Aid Society as a liaison between elderly residents who have various housing issues and the Marion County Health Department’s attorneys and inspectors.

Copsey, 79, officially retired from his 40-year career with an insurance company in the mid-1990s but decided he wasn’t quite done practicing law. He landed with ILAS in 1997 as part of a program that is funded by a grant to help elderly residents stay in their homes. Executive Director John Floreancig said he has been an invaluable addition.

“He works to keep people in their homes as much as he can,” Floreancig said, adding he and the staff respect Copsey’s dedication, which includes the fact that he keeps cleaning supplies in his car and that he wears a second-hand suit jacket to meet with all of his clients.

The opportunity at ILAS was a great fit for Copsey, he said, because not only is his undergraduate degree in social work, but also because he is acquainted with a variety of resources available in Indianapolis. In fact, on Fridays he volunteers for the 211 information line, and he can easily connect his clients with support systems in the Indianapolis area.

He is also fairly successful at keeping residents in their homes, depending on the circumstance.

In some situations, multiple dumpsters are required to clean out homes. Even after cleaning, the home may not be structurally sound; the person may not be capable of keeping up the home by himself or herself; or the sewer, electricity, or heat may not work properly. In some cases, a person may have literally let stray cats take over the house.

In those cases, the client might need to leave his or her home for a better situation. Based on his experience, Copsey can usually tell early in the process if someone will be able to stay in a home or not.

On this particular day, Copsey is representing a client – a widow in her 80s – who has lived in the same home for more than 60 years. When he discussed the situation with Marcus Ballenger, an environmental health specialist with the Marion County Department of Health, Copsey said he couldn’t have scripted it better.

Unlike many of his clients, the woman had family. Her son was still in the picture and wanted to help. He found a senior living facility near his home, and the client has agreed to move there. She also has a brother who lives near her son.

In this situation, the garage was in disrepair and will ultimately be demolished. While that is not a big deal, Copsey said, the home has other issues, such as outdated plumbing and electric wiring, and the homeowner cannot keep up with the needed repairs by herself.

While Copsey knew early that this woman might not be able to stay in her home, that is not always the outcome.

He shared photos from a 2007 case of occlusion, or hoarding as its more commonly known, which do not look much different than the “before” images on the television show “Hoarders.”

“How do you start?” he asked, while pointing out dirty dishes, boxes, and other indistinguishable items covering furniture, countertops, and floors. Going from photo to photo, he described what was done to clean the kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, and basement.

Requirements, Copsey said, for a home to be considered livable include: the bathroom must be useable, one should be able to walk on the floor, doors should be able to be opened in a full arc, there needs to be access to the windows, and “then you need to liberate the kitchen.”

Copsey worked with the client and two other people who volunteered to “rescue the sink” and other parts of the house. The client also needed to arrange a $68 service call to fix the plumbing in her bathroom, which she did.

John Floreancig Floreancig

However, some sewer situations he’s encountered could cost $1,000 to $2,000 to repair if there’s a root obstructing the pipes – not an easy fix.

A few years later, that client he helped in 2007 is still in the house, Copsey added.

Obstacles he often faces when helping to clean the homes are animals and animal waste. In many situations, Copsey has had to remove the animals – particularly cats that have not been spayed or neutered in accordance with Marion County pet ordinances – and he said that can take a toll on his clients.

But at the end of the day, if those animals are a contributing factor to the unclean situation in a home to the point that the person could lose the home, there is no other choice, he said.

To help the clients, Copsey even keeps a cat carrier that can accommodate up to six cats and fits in his car. This way, he is more discreet than an animal control van.

He said that some clients have flat out refused his help. In at least five cases, clients have threatened suicide, but they didn’t follow through, he said.

In his practice, he has probably seen situations similar to those shown on “Hoarders,” and worse, including one yard that was full of old cars and other junk, but had been hidden from the rest of the neighborhood by an 8-foot privacy fence.

In many cases, he added, it’s not that the people bought or collected things they didn’t use, but instead inherited one or more estates around the same time and couldn’t quite figure out how to sell off or donate the items – including large pieces of furniture – that they simply didn’t need and didn’t have room to keep in their own homes.

The attorneys and inspectors Copsey works with both respect and admire the work he does.

“We don’t want to kick people out of their homes,” Ballenger said, adding that Copsey has been helpful in working with people who can manage to stay in their homes.

Marion County Health Department attorney Amy Jones has been with the department for nine years and has worked with Copsey all that time. She said it is rare not to see him at least once a week at a hearing in Environmental Court.

“He goes above and beyond the call,” she said of his work with his indigent clients.

Having been a public defender herself before joining the health department, she said she has an appreciation for the work he does.

“He’s a social worker, a community liaison, an attorney, and a friend to his clients, all in one bundle,” she said, adding it wasn’t unusual for him to provide transportation for his clients to their court hearings and for him to connect clients with resources.

In fact, on that particular day, he had driven one client to and from the courthouse, and he planned to meet with his newest client at her house that afternoon.

“There are cases where I have no doubt that they could not have been brought to completion but for his involvement,” Jones said. “It’s who he is, not just where he works. He’s committed to public service and he appreciates and understands the plight of the people he works with.”

She added that while he is dedicated to helping residents who are part of the baby boomer generation and older, he will help find assistance for those who are too young for him to help or don’t fit the qualifications for his program.

“There are not enough hours and words to talk about him,” Jones said. “He had redefined the representation of indigent people in the civil arena. … He is virtually a one-man show.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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