by Kathy Para
JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
Legal house calls give immobile client peace of mind
Debbie Lee-Clark deals in providing senior citizens peace of mind. Though the federal judge law clerk’s day job limits what type of pro bono work she can perform, she has still found a way to help serve Jacksonville’s under served population by drafting advance directives and simple wills for the elderly.
“It is amazing how much peace of mind the existence of these documents can give to our seniors,” said Lee-Clark.
Her latest efforts include work for “a very sweet little lady” in her 80s.
“She could barely walk and her ability to leave her apartment was very limited; in fact, she even had a neighbor who picked up her mail from the mailbox every day,” said Lee-Clark. “She not only needed an attorney who could draft a will and rearrange bank and insurance beneficiary designations, but she also needed one who could make house calls.”
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid turned to Lee-Clark, and Lee-Clark hit the road.
“In all, I only had to make two trips to her home, and the second one was mostly because I just wanted to make it in person rather than by mail and phone contact,” said Lee-Clark. “I have been very fortunate to work through JALA with one pro bono client at a time. I am able to visit the client outside of normal business hours and can discuss the work on the telephone while the drafting is in process.”
Attorney helps win back woman’s transportation rights
“At the end of the day, there is nothing that will make you more passionate about practicing law than becoming an advocate for those most in need,” said Fraz Ahmed of Kubicki Draper.
He had an opportunity to relive that passion recently when he represented a 64 year-old woman who had lost her paratransit service from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA). The service provides door-to-door transportation for those unable to ride the traditional fixed-route buses. Ahmed’s client had undergone two total knee replacements, suffered from degenerative disease in both hips and had arthritis “in more joints than most people could bear,” said Ahmed.
In this condition, and without door-to-door service, the woman would have had to walk more than 10 blocks to the nearest bus stop every time she needed to go to the pharmacy, grocery store or bank. Prior to Ahmed’s being called in on the case, JTA had already denied one appeal by the client. When Ahmed quickly proceeded to file suit, however, JTA reevaluated the case and restored the client’s paratransit service.
“These are the type of people that JALA desperately needs your help in representing,” said Ahmed. “Any amount of time you can give to JALA will have a life-altering effect on someone.”
Pro bono work helps troubled families succeed
Brian Kelly’s job is to bring families together. His firm, Shorstein & Kelly, specializes in adoption law. And while there are many nonmonetary rewards in what he does, he wasn’t quite prepared for the explosion of gratitude he received last summer when, through a JALA pro bono case, he helped a “really, really nice older couple in their 60s adopt their own 6 year-old granddaughter.”
“It really didn’t seem like that much, but they were just gushing over being able to adopt that child,” said Kelly. “It meant so very much to them.”
The couple had already been caring for their daughter’s child since her birth, but the grandfather had since become disabled and their income had plummeted. All three were forced to survive on his disability payments. And they likely would have continued to struggle on that shoestring if not for Kelly’s efforts. By adopting the girl, the grandfather could qualify for slightly larger disability payments to help offset the cost of caring for the child.
“It was not a lot of money, but his payment increased by about 25 percent,” said Kelly, “Which meant a lot to them, and to the child.” While the grandparents technically could have accomplished the adoption on their own, without a lawyer few people are able to navigate the maze of adoption laws by themselves.
“They were so appreciative and just went on and on and on about how they couldn’t have done it without help from legal aid,” said Kelly, who, along with his partner, Michael Shorstein, handles about 10 to 12 such cases a year. “That was a rewarding day in court. The judge made a big deal out of it and the little girl just felt real special.”
ONE: One Client. One Attorney. One Promise.
Requests for civil legal assistance from the Fourth Circuit’s low-income families have never been greater. Attorneys are needed in all areas of civil law for pro bono representation. Contact Kathy Para, [email protected] or 356-8371, ext. 363., Chairperson, JBA Pro Bono Committee, for information on areas of greatest need, volunteer opportunities in Fourth Circuit legal services organizations, and support for pro bono attorneys.