Hammond legal aid clinic relocates

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The legal aid clinic for the city of Hammond has moved just one mile away from its old home into a new space donated by law firm Rubino Ruman Crosmer Smith Sersic & Polen in Dyer.

The clinic moved between Christmas and New Year's.

Lawyers who do work for the city or are on contract with the city are required to give hours to the clinic. The firm had lawyers who could be called on to help, which is how the idea came up for them to donate the space near their Hammond office, rent-free.

While the clinic had been housed in City Hall until the move, there was some controversy when city councilmen voted 5-4 to do away with the city's health department starting in 2008 because there was duplication of services that were offered by Lake County's health department.

They argued if they were voting to shut down the city's health department, why not the city's legal aid, which is also offered to the area by Indiana Legal Services? If this were to pass, the clinic would no longer be a part of the city and therefore need to vacate City Hall. Instead, they were able to move before it came to that.

"Philosophically, if you think a city shouldn't offer this service, we can agree to disagree," said Kris Costa Sakelaris, clinic director. But as far as the argument of a duplication of services, she said that "the need is greater" than the combined services available from the city's legal aid clinic and Indiana Legal Services.

The city's legal aid clinic will continue to be funded by the mayor's discretionary funds from gaming and not taxes, which, Costa Sakelaris said, was another misconception about the clinic, considering the state and the current hot issue of property taxes.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. started the clinic when he took office in January 2004. It was even an idea he mentioned as part of his 10-point plan during his campaign, Costa Sakelaris said. While at Notre Dame Law School, McDermott was involved in the school's legal aid clinic and has since continued his passion for providing legal services to the indigent.

The clinic has three lawyers including the director, a paralegal who is also an interpreter, and a few students in externships through Valparaiso University School of Law and Calumet College.

"In four years, almost 1,000 people have come through the door. I would say we were able to help 60 to 70 percent of those people," Costa Sakelaris said.

Client matters range from landlord-tenant issues to living wills for the elderly to custodial parents not receiving child support.

The new address for the legal aid clinic is 5261 Hohman Ave., Hammond, 46320. The clinic can still be reached at (219) 853-6611.

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