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Non-profit offers legal aid to food pantry clients

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On a sunny, brisk Tuesday morning in March, the parking lot for the St. Vincent de Paul Society warehouse on the northeast side of Indianapolis was completely full. Some people visiting the largest food pantry in the state, if not the Midwest, needed to park on the street and walk two blocks to get their free groceries for the week.

On that day alone, Jake Asher, the food pantry's day manager and past president of the all-volunteer organization, said he estimated they would be helping 900 families throughout the day, and the pantry had been helping a total of about 3,000 families each week. The organization also has a furniture and clothes warehouse, and a medical clinic.

A handful of those 900 families visited the Ozanam Free Legal Clinic in a small office space with a phone, computer, a few chairs, a desk, and a handful of legal books.

Available only to clients who've met the income requirements to receive other services from St. Vincent de Paul Society, Indianapolis attorney Kevin Tyra and other volunteer attorneys first started seeing clients at the legal aid clinic in late 2002.

Since then, he and other volunteer attorneys, including Stephanie Crossin, Michael Gabovich, Rick Malad, Judy Hester, Richard Hersberger, and paralegals Amy Heustis and Brenda Davidson have helped clients with issues that include "family law - particularly guardianship, child custody, and support, landlord-tenant, mortgage problems, creditor-debtor, employment, name changes, various Social Security issues, driver's license problems, and the preparation and execution of wills and related documents," according to their 2009 annual report.

Malad compared the variety of issues the clinic sees to his volunteer work with the Indianapolis Bar Association's Ask a Lawyer program.

Another attorney who volunteers for the clinic is Jerry Padgett, who worked with Tyra on a two-day trial in Marion Circuit Court and the subsequent appeal. Those efforts resulted in a decision where the legal aid clinic's client was able to keep her child. The Jan. 29 for-publication Court of Appeals decision is In the Matter of the Paternity of T.P., M. and M.L. v. B.C. and M.P., No. 49A02-0907-JV-685.

In that case, according to the Court of Appeals decision, a child had stayed with caretakers after she was determined to be a Child in Need of Services. The mother went through the appropriate services and got her child back from the caretakers. Claiming circumstances had changed, the caretakers claimed they were the de facto parents and should have custody of the child.

When the mother came to the clinic, Tyra said they wanted to help because the caretakers had more resources and an attorney, making it more difficult for Tyra's client to have a fair chance.

Tyra added even though the mother wasn't a model citizen, she had been doing her best to be a good mom to her child.

That level of work is atypical for the allvolunteer clinic, Tyra said, as many issues that can't be resolved with a letter or phone call are referred to other legal clinics, particularly Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society legal clinic is available to clients every Tuesday. Clients complete an intake form about their legal issue and sign up for a 15-minute time slot a week in advance.

Tyra said many schedules fill up, but often only about half of the clients show up for the scheduled times. So while 15 minutes seems like a short amount of time, the attorneys take as much time as they need to resolve the issue or give the client a referral. Volunteers often don't know what they will get until they get to the clinic.

In 2009, attorney volunteers spent 91.5 hours helping clients during scheduled visits, plus 124 hours on cases outside of the clinic. Paralegals donated 18 hours of their time. Tyra also reported he spent about 30 hours on administrative tasks for the clinic, including "volunteer recruiting and scheduling, and report preparation."

All these hours were spent helping more than 154 clients during the 2009 calendar year. The clinic report defines "client" as anyone who came to the clinic, which includes couples and families who were only counted once and not as the number of people helped.

In 2008, the clinic helped 135 clients, and volunteers gave 90 hours in the clinic and 87.5 hours outside the clinic. In 2007, the clinic helped 89 clients over the course of 80.5 hours in the clinic, and 50 hours outside of the clinic.

Like most legal aid clinics, Tyra said this one has seen an increase during the past few years in issues regarding creditor's rights, bankruptcy, housing, unemployment, and other situations that have to do with decreases in income due to the loss of a job or fewer hours at the jobs clients do have.

While some of the clients can come in with complex cases, Tyra said many can be resolved with the simple involvement of an attorney.

In one case, he said, a client was denied housing through an agency because of an issue they couldn't tell her about. When she had the volunteer attorney at the clinic look into it for her, it turned out the file that explained why she should be denied was missing, so they were able to work it out and she got housing assistance after all.

Malad, who volunteers on a monthly basis when he can, saw a client recently who didn't understand why he was still paying child support for a child in his 20s. In that case, he helped the client learn he would need to pay arrearages on child support, even though the child was older. Malad also helped that client figure out who he needed to contact to determine how much money he still owed and how long it would take for him to pay it off.

As to why he got involved with the clinic a few years ago, Malad said, "I promote pro bono work with everyone - especially younger lawyers - because I feel that's what they should do as a lawyer."

He added giving two hours a month in the clinic, plus driving time, isn't a huge commitment and recommended other attorneys consider getting involved.

The organization appreciates the clinic's work as well.

"I think it's wonderful," Asher said. "Even though our clients could never afford an attorney, amazing people are here to help them."

Tyra said they're always seeking volunteer attorneys. To volunteer, he suggested they contact him at (317) 636-1304 or kevin.tyra@tyralaw.net.
 

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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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