by Kathy Para
JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
When problems go unresolved, bad things can happen. Yet many people who cannot afford an attorney feel they have no other choice.
Reese Marshall feels it’s his duty as a lawyer to provide them with a choice. Instilled with a social conscience forged in the heated 1960s, Marshall still makes it his business today to help the underserved population of Jacksonville find solutions to their problems. And for those decades of selfless service, Marshall has been named Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s July Pro Bono Attorney of the Month.
“No person should be denied access to the legal system,” he says. “When problems go unresolved, they tend to become bigger and bigger problems.”
Marshall remembers one of his cases which, but for fate and the span of one week, could have become extremely complicated. “This man moved into his parents’ home after they died and simply continued to make the mortgage payments. When the payments were done, the deed was issued in the parents’ names. But since they were deceased, the deed reverted to the previous owners. Many years later, the son applied for a reverse mortgage and discovered he didn’t technically own the home.”
Marshall tracked down the previous owners, only one of whom was still alive, and was able to get the deed signed over. “A week later, that sole-remaining prior owner died. Had that deed gone into probate, the son would have had a lot more trouble trying to gain legal rights to that property.”
That is just one of hundreds of cases that Marshall has ushered through the legal system for people who could not otherwise afford it, says Pro Bono JALA Manager Sarah Fowler.
“Reese Marshall has been a pillar of justice for the underserved community in Jacksonville for decades,” she said. “There’s no denying that this community and a lot of people would be a lot worse off if not for his untiring efforts.”
Marshall feels that whatever he’s been able to do is simply repayment for the good fortune he’s had in being able to practice law for more than 40 years. A Morgan State University undergrad, Marshall was able to attend Howard University Law School thanks to a grant from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
After graduating, the young attorney was thrust into the turbulence of 1960s New York City, where he worked on NAACP criminal cases for a year. “Oh yes,” he says, laughing. “It was quite an experience. New York City in the ‘60s was a lot different and much scarier place than it is today.”
A year later, Marshall came to Jacksonville and joined a private firm with one other attorney. Several years after that, he served a couple of years at the Public Defender’s Office. Since 1975, he’s been in practice on his own. These days, Marshall works mostly in the relatively calmer areas of personal injury and probate. Still, there are many rewards, especially in the pro bono cases.
“I always get so much more out these types of cases than the clients get,” he says.
For example, he recently was able to complete a probate case where a grandmother was trying to get benefits for her grandson whose mother had died. “These folks, when they qualify for JALA assistance, you know they don’t have much,” Marshall says. “And here’s this grandmother and she’s out there all alone taking on the responsibility for this 10-year-old child. All I did was help get some benefits for the child from the mother’s employer and help the grandmother get insurance for a car But it makes a difference to someone. You just feel like you helped make a difference.”
Marshall practices out of his Ashley Street office Downtown. He and his wife, Leonora, reside in Jacksonville and have three grown children.
For information about pro bono opportunities in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, contact Kathy Para, JBA Pro Bono Committee chair, [email protected], 356-8371, ext. 363.