Posted November 2, 201510:36 am
October 2015 -- Marking the end of the weeklong National Pro Bono Celebration, a few dozens local attorneys and judges gathered at Willoughby Municipal Court for a daylong judicial forum on Oct. 30.
Organized by The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, attendees discussed timely topics in local law and the importance of pro bono legal work.
Willoughby Municipal Court Judge Harry Field said he hoped that while the relaxed summit was a gift to the attorneys that had given their time to those in need, it also helped inspire others to get involved in the Legal Aid Society.
In the five counties that the LASC serves, including Lake, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties, in 2014 the agency worked on about 8,000 cases, helping more than 20,000 people who otherwise may not have had the means to afford adequate legal help, Field said.
But the society still has to turn away many people, as funding has decreased in recent years, Field said.
Melanie A. Shakarian, director of development and communications for The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said in an email that LASC helps with civil court issues. While a right to counsel is guaranteed in criminal court, there is no such guarantee in civil court in the U.S.
Issues that the society worked on in 2014 included foreclosure, bankruptcy, housing, domestic relations and immigration. In 2014, the society prevented 99 percent of evictions that its clients faced, Shakarian said.
The forum featured nine different sessions, featuring judges and other legal system officials.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven Dettelbach discussed the recent consent decree with the Cleveland Police Department after a series of high-profile use-of-force cases.
Dettelbach said that while those cases may have gotten much media attention, the problems in the relationship between the community and police had been brewing for several decades.
Changes were long overdue, and the difficult conversations and debates happening now are much needed, Dettelbach said.
“It’s not the time for ostriches,” he said.
Dettelbach also highlighted the pillars of the consent decree that will seek to improve the training and behavior of Cleveland police: crisis intervention; use of force; community policing; resources, support and equipment; accountability; and bias free policing.
“The consent decree is a good blueprint ... but it is not the finish line,” he said.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor also spoke during the forum.
“Access to justice should be an ever-present goal,” O’Connor said.
In recent years, The Legal Aid Society has had to close four offices in Ohio. Due to decreased funding, about three out of every four people seeking help from the society are turned away, she said.
“Less is not more. Less is less in this case,” she said.
To combat this, O’Connor said the state is looking at possible solutions, including alterative revenue streams and enabling retired lawyers who meet certain specifications to volunteer their services pro bono.
An estimated 13,500 attorneys would currently meet those requirements.
Following the forum, a fundraiser was held at The Morehouse in Willoughby to support The Legal Aid Society, which is a nonprofit organization.