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LRAP fundraising campaign entering final phase

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In 2007, Michael Schoen arrived in Indianapolis with a brand new Juris Doctor and $50,000 due in student loans.

He landed a job as a staff attorney at the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society where he could fulfill his passion of making sure the legal process works as well for those who have few resources as it does for those who have many resources. Although he loved the work, the salary was too small to cover living expenses plus his law school debt.

John Floreancig Floreancig

Schoen maintains he would have had to leave ILAS and take a position at a bigger law firm if not for the funding he received from the Justice Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Program administered by the Indiana Bar Foundation. For nine months, he used the money to make his loan payments and afterward, aided by his wife getting a boost in income, was able to meet his household’s financial obligations without assistance.

Today he continues paying off his loan but instead of working to satisfy his checkbook, he has been able to stay at the legal aid society and serve people who otherwise might not get help.

“There is a right way and a wrong way and to me that’s what public service is about,” Schoen said. “I want to make sure the process lives up to its highest ideals.”

To help keep attorneys like Schoen in legal aid, the IBF is making sure LRAP funds continue to be available. The foundation is in its final push to raise funds for the program. Monies collected between now and the end of 2012 will go into the endowment and will be matched by the Indiana Supreme Court.

LRAP awards short-term grants to help attorneys who are working in low-paying public legal services pay their educational loans. Since the program was established in Indiana in 2006, the IBF has made 51 awards to 30 lawyers.

New life

Mulvaney Karl Mulvaney

Three years after it started, Indiana’s LRAP was temporarily suspended. However, at its relaunch in October 2009, the program had a new moniker and renewed support. The program was renamed in honor of the late Indiana Chief Justice Richard M. Givan. The Indiana Supreme Court re-energized the program by making an initial gift of $25,000 and then offered to match all contributions made to the endowment up to $175,000 by the end of 2012.

As of June 30, 2012, the endowment totaled $170,785, which includes the Supreme Court’s matching donations. In addition, the IBF has another $37,470 that is awaiting matching funds.

howtohelp.jpgNow the IBF is focused on raising just under $71,000 to meet its goal.

Money crunch

At the ILAS, nine staff attorneys deal with the fallout of the economic recession every day. Foreclosures, marital disputes, child support, guardianships, and job loss entangle community members to the point where they need legal assistance.

“Once the line of income dries up, everything just falls through the floor,” said John Floreancig, general counsel at ILAS.

Attorneys at the organization handle between 1,300 and 1,600 cases annually, and they make a salary in the $40,000 range. Floreancig conceded lawyers can struggle to support themselves at that income level when they may owe $80,000 to $100,000 in student loans.

Compounding the money crunch, the agency receives no federal funding so the attorneys do not qualify for federal assistance. About four attorneys have relied on LRAP funds, which has not only helped with their loan payments but also kept them in legal aid.

“It’s probably the most important program I’ve seen in the last 10 years to help us retain these attorneys,” Floreancig said.

abeska-tim-mug.jpg Abeska

Fittingly, the state’s LRAP fund carries the name of an individual who devoted much of his legal career to public service. Givan spent his career in the public sector, serving as the first law clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court, then as a public defender, assistant attorney general and state legislator. He was elected to the state’s highest court in 1968 and served as chief justice from November 1974 to March 1987.

Karl Mulvaney, partner at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, applauds connecting Givan to a program that helps legal aid attorneys. He clerked for Givan at one time, and he is an advocate of LRAP as well as a donor.

The idea to rename the fund the Justice Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Program came from retired Chief Justice Randall Shepard. After Givan’s death in the summer of 2009, his former law clerks, including Mulvaney, were trying to think of a way to honor their mentor when Shepard made his suggestion.

eligibility.jpg“Justice Shepard is one of the brightest people you’ll ever meet,” Mulvaney said. “He’s had a million tremendous ideas, and I think this was one.”

Asking for help

To raise funds for the program, the IBF has focused on individual appeals in part because budget constraints are preventing such tactics as mass mailings. The strategy, said Theresa Browning, director of development and communications at IBF, is to have “key people” talking to others about the program and the financial goal.

“It’s been a challenge to identify attorneys who are interested in it,” Browning said.

However, since IBF is more than halfway to its goal, she is optimistic the support is out there and the last $70,872 will come by the end of the year.

Timothy Abeska, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in South Bend, attributed the difficulty in raising funds to the downturn in the economy. Also, lawyers receive countless solicitations for donations to various worthy causes, and they directly support legal aid services by taking pro bono cases.

Abeska made an initial gift of $25,000 to LRAP in 2010. He was inspired to do so from his service on the IBF board and his desire to support those lawyers going into public service.

His donation, he said, will have a ripple effect by sustaining legal aid attorneys who then provide assistance to marginalized people who might otherwise go unrepresented.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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