Justices to present $193,000 from Civil Legal Assistance Fund
Members of the Mississippi Supreme Court will deliver checks totaling $193,000 on Monday, Oct. 29, to civil legal assistance programs which help poor people seek access to justice.
The Supreme Court has directed that the money be divided among the state’s two Legal Services programs and the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. The distribution includes:
Supreme Court Justice Chuck Easley will present a check to North Mississippi Rural Legal Services at 10 a.m. Oct. 29 at the Legal Services office at 221 Commerce Street in West Point.
Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr. will present a check to the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 29 in his fourth floor office at the Gartin Justice Building at 450 High Street in Jackson.
Presiding Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr. will present a check to the Mississippi Center for Legal Services at 3 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Legal Services office at 520 East Pass Road, Suite J, in Gulfport.
Justice Easley said, “The Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Bar have worked hard to fund legal services for the poor and needy and to make sure everyone has the opportunity to be heard and represented by legal counsel. The Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Bar also recognize the obligation to make sure the courts are fair and impartial to citizens.”
Justice Graves, who began his legal career as a staff attorney in a Legal Services office in Jackson, said, “It is important that all citizens have access to the legal system. Legal Services programs are designed to facilitate that access on behalf of those who cannot afford to pay an attorney. Without the services provided by the Legal Services Corporation, there are many citizens who would be denied access to the courts.”
Justice Diaz said the impact of Hurricane Katrina continues to be felt, especially by the people in south Mississippi. Resources of legal services providers were already strained. The storm exacerbated those problems. Access to the judicial system is crucial to those people struggling to recover and rebuild their lives.
Civil Legal Assistance Fund distributions are becoming more frequent as the fund generates more money to assist poor people with their civil legal needs. The presentations scheduled for Oct. 29 will mark the third time this year that the court has been able to make distributions from the Civil Legal Assistance Fund.
The Mississippi Legislature in 2003 created the Civil Legal Assistance Fund, which is authorized to accept money from any public or private source. The Supreme Court in March 2003 ordered collection of a $200 fee from out-of-state attorneys who represent clients in Mississippi courts, with the fees going to civil legal assistance for the poor. The Mississippi Legislature in July 2006 added a $5 fee to each civil case filed in circuit and chancery courts, with the fees going to the Civil Legal Assistance Fund.
The $5 special assessment has increased the amount of money available to assist poor people with civil matters. Between January and September 2007, the $5 fee generated $441,232. Fees from out of state lawyers through September totaled $53,600.
With the checks to be delivered Oct. 29, Civil Legal Assistance Fund distributions for the calendar year will total $724,663. Since the fund was created in 2003, $1,214,663 has been distributed to the Legal Services entities and the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
No tax dollars are involved.
Attorneys employed by the state’s two Legal Services entities provide civil legal representation to poor people in areas such as domestic law, housing, landlord-tenant disputes, land issues, trust and estate matters, will and probate matters, wage and employment issues, bankruptcy, and consumer disputes.
Representation provided by the Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Mississippi Center for Legal Services and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services is in civil legal matters. The programs do not handle indigent criminal defense.
North Mississippi Rural Legal Services provides civil legal assistance for poor people in 39 counties. Offices are in Clarksdale, Greenville, Oxford, Tupelo and West Point. The Mississippi Center for Legal Services serves clients from 43 counties. Offices are in Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Meridian and McComb.
If Legal Services staff can’t handle the case, they may refer the person to a local private attorney or to the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which attempts to match the low income person needing legal services with a private practice lawyer willing to handle a case for free.