Hard times put squeeze on legal aid in Georgia

, Daily Report


Three major groups cut back while demand for their services soars.

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What's being said

  • Torin Togut

    As one of the lawyers recentlly laid off from Georgia Legal Services Program, I am certainly empathetic with the plight of these legal aid organizations and the individuals they serve. For 25 years, I represented low-income families of children with disabilities and individuals with developmental and mental disabilities throughout the State of Georgia. For the past five years, I primarily represented families of children with special needs in the Athens-Clarke County and surrounding counties, but this legal service is no longer available to eligible clients. Suffice it to say these low-income familes - who were often single parents - are now unlikely to secure legal counsel for their special education problems. The signficant loss of funding by Atlanta Legal Aid, Georgia Legal Services Program, and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation most signficantly affects the daily lives of low-income residents living in Georgia. We often forget, as lawyers, how complicated the legal process can be for non-lawyers. Without lawyers, low-income individuals are at a significant disadvantage in legal proceedings involving evictions, unemployment compensation hearings, eligibility for Medicaid and Food Stamps, school disciplinary hearings, child custody and child support disputes, nursing home abuse and neglect of residents, bankruptcy, denial of consumer protections, and a myraid of other poverty law related cases. Legal Aid lawyers and volunteers are the last line of protection for an individual's basic civil rights. Without meaningful access to the courts with the assistance of legal aid or pro bono counsel, low-income individuals are ofen unable to navigate through the legal maze on their own. I applauld the heart-felt leadership of Steve Gottlieb, Phyllis Homen, and Marty Ellin, who have spent decades dedicating their careers and lives to help familes, children, persons with disabiliies, seniors, and countless individuals in our legal system that cannot afford to hire most lawyers. Their job is simply overwhelming in these times of underfunding and support for legal aid. Every lawyer in the State of Georgia should be mindful of the legal needs of low-income individuals. The legal community in Georgia has a well deserved history of providing pro bono representation for low-income individuals and supporting the legal aid organizations that are committed to serve them. They need our help now more than ever.

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