Pro Bono Spotlight

Bringing you news of pro bono opportunities and accomplishments.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. July 27, 2009
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by Kathy Para

JALA Pro Bono Development Coordinator

These are just three of hundreds of low-income clients for whom pro bono attorneys have achieved positive outcomes. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) staff and clients gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of each and every pro bono attorney. Attorneys in Northeast Florida are encouraged to represent a low-income client in a civil legal matter.

“It’s pro bono that’s manageable. It’s pro bono that matters.”

Advance Directives Completed for Nursing Home Resident

Associate Professor Karen Millard of the Florida Coastal School of Law gets a lot of satisfaction every day in helping to train America’s next generation of attorneys, but recently taking on a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid pro bono case with one of her students offered her twice the satisfaction.

“First, I was able to help someone who could not afford legal representation and who would not have been able to prepare the documents without assistance,” she said. “Second, it was a great opportunity to mentor a law student.”

Millard and student Kelsey Bledsoe recently attended a three-part elder law and advance planning training series offered by JALA. Afterwards, the two volunteered to handle the pro bono case in that area of law. The case involved an elderly woman who was living in a nursing home after suffering a stroke. She needed help preparing advance directives. Millard and Bledsoe met with the client in the nursing home.

“We explained the contents of the documents and she informed us of some changes she would like completed,” Millard said. “Consequently, the client was able to obtain the authorization for assistance in financial and health matters that she desperately needed. It was a terrific experience.”

Essential Benefits Restored for Disabled Woman

A 39-year-old disabled woman who was in danger of losing her independence is continuing to live life in her own home thanks to the pro bono efforts of Jacksonville attorney Valarie Linnen and the hard work of Felicia Daugherty, an independent Waiver Support Coordinator. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), in a cost savings effort, had cut the client’s benefits and assigned her to Tier 3, meaning she was at risk of becoming institutionalized.

“In the past, the client had suffered severe behavioral problems,” Linnen said. “However, through the Developmental Disability Waiver program, she had made great strides in becoming independent, including being able to live and care for herself.”

When that independence was threatened, the client turned to JALA and JALA turned to Linnen, who accepted the case and soon found an ally in Daughtery.

“Ms. Daughtery and I made a deal that while I waged a legal battle against APD, she would advocate for the client within the agency itself by applying for additional benefits and a tier change,” said Linnen.

Despite losing her father during the course of the case, Daughtery continued to help Linnen restore the needed level of benefits for the client.

“I owe my deepest gratitude to Ms. Daughtery and her efforts on behalf of the developmentally disabled,” said Linnen.

Probate Expertise Allows Client to Collect on Estate

Most of us would say that hiring a lawyer to claim $700 doesn’t make much sense. But after 40 years of donating his legal expertise to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid clients, Hamilton “Ham” Cooke will be the first one to tell you that pro bono work is about so much more than any bottom line.

“I know I get more out of helping these people than they do,” he says. 

So even though Cooke could clearly see the irony in a lawyer spending hundreds of dollars of his time to collect $700, the veteran attorney also knew that to his client, an indigent woman, and her indigent brother, this was money that would make a significant, positive difference in their lives. Cooke, who practices in the area of probate and wills at Cooke & Meux, advised his client to wait for the second anniversary of her father’s death to make a claim on the bank account, otherwise the $700 would be wiped out by creditors. In order to save the siblings even more of the money, Cooke worked to officially establish their “indigent” status so that they could avoid paying filing fees. Six months later, the client and her brother were rewarded with $350 apiece.

“She was the most patient client I’ve ever seen,” Cooke said, knowing very well that she and her brother were in immediate need of her share of the money.

Requests for civil legal assistance at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid have never been greater. Attorneys are needed in all areas of civil law for pro bono representation of JALA clients. Contact Kathy Para, Pro Bono Development Coordinator, for information on areas of greatest need, volunteer opportunities, and support for pro bono attorneys. [email protected]; 356-8371, ext. 363.