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Indiana's legal aid in economic trouble?

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With a legal aid agency closing in Fort Wayne, what's ahead for other legal aid providers in Indiana?

Some organizations - such as the privately funded Legal Aid Society of Evansville and the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society - and Indiana Legal Services Inc., which receives federal money annually from Legal Services Corporation - seem to be doing OK so far. But all are unsure what's to come as 2008 winds down and as United Way campaigns continue through the end of the year.

Budget issues led to the decision to close Legal Services of Maumee Valley in Fort Wayne, which was first reported in a story Oct. 13 by Jennifer Mehalik in Indiana Lawyer Daily. In that story, it was reported Legal Services of Maumee Valley, which had served the community since 1960, has been struggling to stay open for the past six to eight years, and the last two were the most difficult, according to Business Manager Steven Morgan.

Is Maumee Valley's closing a sign of things to come?

Legal Aid Society of Evansville doesn't foresee any reason to close its doors, having enough in the reserves for at least a few years.

The organization has been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, culminating in a courthouse reception Oct. 17 with about 200 guests. City and county government officials delivered a proclamation that day would be Legal Aid Services Day.

LASE receives funds from United Way, the city of Evansville, and Vanderburgh County. It also gets the first opportunity to serve clients in Evansville and Vanderburgh County, while most of ILS' clients are in the surrounding counties in southwestern Indiana: Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Martin, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, and Warrick.

"Legal Aid Society of Evansville and ILS get along well," said Sue Ann Hartig, the organization's executive director. "Not many others can say that. We understand there's more than enough work for both of us, and we're not competing for the same dollars."

In 2007, three attorneys in LASE's office represented more than 800 different cases.

"This organization has a budget of $410,000, but if the work had been done by a private firm it would have come to more than $1.6 million in services to the community," said vice president Cathy Nestrick.

As far as how the budget will go in 2009, Hartig and Nestrick mentioned that at least one employer in Evansville will not be participating in United Way's campaign - Bristol Meyers - which would match contributions and could account for about 10 percent of the funds United Way raises.

As far as funds from the county and city, LASE has been asked to have the same bottom line as last year.

Hartig said that intake "has stayed about the same" over the years.

LASE employees are also involved in the community, working on the root causes of poverty. The attorneys also became certified with the IRS to help low-income people get their earned income tax credit.

"Something like $2 million didn't come back to community," she said. "All three attorneys ... helped prepare taxes January through April ... after work hours."

In Indianapolis, ILAS is doing well, even with other area legal aid providers such as ILS and Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, according to Executive Director John Floreancig.

"We mostly represent Marion County, but do work in some of the (surrounding) counties," he said.

ILS' Indianapolis office represents Boone, Decatur, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Henry, Johnson, Madison, Marion, Randolph, Rush, Shelby, Union, and Wayne counties.

"There's a huge competition for funding, obviously. ILS gets federal funding, and NCLC is constantly in the same room with us for funding," he said.

ILAS budget will increase for next year, "only because of cost to keep the doors open," he said.

As far as what effect the economy will have on ILAS's fundraising efforts, "I haven't seen it yet," he said. "Our gauge is how United Way does. Their campaign started just a month ago. ... But we have to go forward with a budget we think will work for us."

But without question, he said, the number of clients has increased.

"We had a line out the door this morning - our waiting room just isn't big enough," he said. "We don't just see debt issues, but family law issues. With money being tight, the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Other issues run the gamut."

In September alone, Floreancig said ILAS saw 200 more people than in September 2007. "It's a catch-22," he said. "When the economy is bad, you don't get more funding, but you do get more requests for help." Last year the organization helped 8,200 clients and this year's numbers will likely match or exceed that number.

Norman Metzger, executive director of ILS, said funding for the organization that represents all 92 counties has gone up.

"Like other organizations, we do have funding that comes and goes, that's the nature of the beast," said Metzger, who has been with the organization for 41 years."But over the past seven years, I haven't seen our funding go down; instead I saw it go up. ... We're actually in our best shape as far as funding since 2001 right now."

He said the organization has gotten creative in terms of programs and types of grants ILS applies for, based on the needs of the population it serves.

For instance, an IRS grant helps ILS run a tax clinic in Bloomington, and ILS has received a few grants for programs that offer legal assistance for clients facing foreclosure.

As far as the perception of competition around the state, Metzger said, "I don't want to belabor the fact some organizations get along well with us and some don't. But (LASE) and the pro bono plan down there, led by Beverly Corn, is terrific. We all work together and it's a clear example of how one plus one equals four."

He added that the Indianapolis, Bloomington, and South Bend legal aid communities tend to work well amongst themselves.

As far as Maumee Valley closing, Metzger said it wasn't something ILS wanted to happen, even after a failed merger agreement between the two organizations in the late 1990s when Legal Services Corporation required states to have a centralized office to allocate federal funds.

After the merger of other legal aid providers, ILS opened a Fort Wayne office, and the two would refer cases to each other, especially when there were conflicts.

"I'm saddened by the fact they're going out of business," he said,"but that isn't to say between us and Volunteer Lawyers Program (of Northeast Indiana) that we aren't going to be able to move forward and handle the increase in demand."

Two other sources of legal aid have Fort Wayne connections - the Allen County Bar Association's Talk to a Lawyer Today program once a week, and the NCLC has an intake in Fort Wayne once a month.

Those interviewed for this story said while it's difficult to predict the future of funding for legal aid in Indiana, they are trying to be mindful of their budgets and hope attorneys will continue to volunteer their time and contribute to legal aid providers when they can.

"Maybe people will see the need, take the charge, and give more," Floreancig said. •

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  1. I will continue to pray that God keeps giving you the strength and courage to keep fighting for what is right and just so you are aware, you are an inspiration to those that are feeling weak and helpless as they are trying to figure out why evil keeps winning. God Bless.....

  2. Some are above the law in Indiana. Some lined up with Lodges have controlled power in the state since the 1920s when the Klan ruled Indiana. Consider the comments at this post and note the international h.q. in Indianapolis. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/human-trafficking-rising-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/42468. Brave journalists need to take this child torturing, above the law and antimarriage cult on just like The Globe courageously took on Cardinal Law. Are there any brave Hoosier journalists?

  3. I am nearing 66 years old..... I have no interest in contacting anyone. All I need to have is a nationality....a REAL Birthday...... the place U was born...... my soul will never be at peace. I have lived my life without identity.... if anyone can help me please contact me.

  4. This is the dissent discussed in the comment below. See comments on that story for an amazing discussion of likely judicial corruption of some kind, the rejection of the rule of law at the very least. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/justices-deny-transfer-to-child-custody-case/PARAMS/article/42774#comment

  5. That means much to me, thank you. My own communion, to which I came in my 30's from a protestant evangelical background, refuses to so affirm me, the Bishop's courtiers all saying, when it matters, that they defer to the state, and trust that the state would not be wrong as to me. (LIttle did I know that is the most common modernist catholic position on the state -- at least when the state acts consistent with the philosophy of the democrat party). I asked my RCC pastor to stand with me before the Examiners after they demanded that I disavow God's law on the record .... he refused, saying the Bishop would not allow it. I filed all of my file in the open in federal court so the Bishop's men could see what had been done ... they refused to look. (But the 7th Cir and federal judge Theresa Springmann gave me the honor of admission after so reading, even though ISC had denied me, rendering me a very rare bird). Such affirmation from a fellow believer as you have done here has been rare for me, and that dearth of solidarity, and the economic pain visited upon my wife and five children, have been the hardest part of the struggle. They did indeed banish me, for life, and so, in substance did the the Diocese, which treated me like a pariah, but thanks to this ezine ... and this is simply amazing to me .... because of this ezine I am not silenced. This ezine allowing us to speak to the corruption that the former chief "justice" left behind, yet embedded in his systems when he retired ... the openness to discuss that corruption (like that revealed in the recent whistleblowing dissent by courageous Justice David and fresh breath of air Chief Justice Rush,) is a great example of the First Amendment at work. I will not be silenced as long as this tree falling in the wood can be heard. The Hoosier Judiciary has deep seated problems, generational corruption, ideological corruption. Many cases demonstrate this. It must be spotlighted. The corrupted system has no hold on me now, none. I have survived their best shots. It is now my time to not be silent. To the Glory of God, and for the good of man's law. (It almost always works that way as to the true law, as I explained the bar examiners -- who refused to follow even their own statutory law and violated core organic law when banishing me for life -- actually revealing themselves to be lawless.)

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