Ohio Supreme Court Fund Strives to Assist Underprivileged

By: Sean Newhouse – Staff Writer

While television tends to portray the justice system as a high stakes world of excitement and scandal, the truer picture is not quite as glamorous.

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Americans, many in Ohio, are sometimes unable to access the legal aid that they desperately need. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Civil Justice Program Fund wants to change that.

The fund was created to address poor access to civil legal aid in Ohio. Civil legal aid is defined as “legal services provided at no cost to low-income Ohioans…” to “resolve urgent, non-criminal legal problems.”

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Examples given by the Ohio State Bar Association of civil legal aid includes protecting seniors from unlawful evictions, protecting women and children from domestic violence, and assuring that veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.

However, per the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, Ohio legal aids have had to turn away three people for every one person served due to constrained resources.

In Ohio, a state where 800,000 people live on a household income of $24,250 or less, this is particularly harmful. Many Ohioans require legal services but do not have the resources to hire a lawyer.

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Funded by voluntary donations and recently increased fees paid by out-of-state lawyers who appear in an Ohio court, the fund aims “to provide…increased access to assistance for Ohioans’ civil legal needs such as housing, healthcare, and economic security.”

The fund will provide grants of up to $100,000 to nonprofits and/or public agencies who work to assist those currently underserved with access to civil legal services and to support innovative programs with the same goal.

One example of a nonprofit currently enabling greater access to civil legal aid is the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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On their website, the organization highlights their work for a widow in her 70s who was notified that her Social Security benefits were being terminated. The woman depended on these benefits for economic security.

The reason for the termination of benefits was a bureaucratic error that a Legal Aid paralegal exposed. After months of work done by the paralegal and the LAS, the woman started receiving her benefits again.

This is an example of civil legal aid that the fund hopes to spread to more Ohioans.

Recipients of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Civil Justice Fund will be announced in October.

Photo Courtesy of villarilaw.com