Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009
Lisa Damon sits with MBA President Edward W. McIntyre at the 10th Annual Walk to the Hill. Civil Legal Aid has helped Damon and her family stay in their home.
Civil legal aid in “crisis” on 10th anniversary of Walk to the Hill
More than 700 attorneys take part
The need to maintain civil legal aid funding is greater now than perhaps ever before, as budget cuts have crippled programs that are now being stretched thin by more needy residents seeking help because of the recession. That was the dismal update provided at the 10th anniversary of Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid last week, which drew nearly 1,000 attorneys and legal advocates to the Statehouse Great Hall.
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest source of civil legal aid in the state, is asking the Legislature for a level-funded budget for fiscal year 2010, or $11 million. Funding MLAC also helps the state save money, according to the agency. MLAC estimates its legal aid programs saved the state $48 million in fiscal year 2008.
The more than 750 lawyers and advocates who attended the Jan. 22 rally visited their legislators and urged they support a level-funded budget. MLAC already had its fiscal year 2009 budget slashed 40 percent. In addition, MLAC’s second source of income, funding from the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts program, has decreased 60 percent.
Massachusetts Bar Association President Edward W. McIntyre said being amongst attorneys who care about legal aid inspired him. He also recalled the honor he felt in joining with other attorneys to work together as one.
“I’ve stood in the back left hand corner of this Great Hall with the same friends for years and I’ve listened to a thousand hearts beat in unison. I’ve closed my eyes and sensed the love that brings us together as one. I’ve smiled with the thought of how proud I am to be a lawyer and among other lawyers who seek to fulfill the promise of justice in the lives of tens of thousands of people,” said McIntyre, who finished his speech with a Sufi teaching.
The assistance provided by civil legal aid has allowed Lisa Damon and her family to stay in their Uxbridge home. Damon and her husband, Army National Guard reserve Spc. Michael Damon, struggled to pay their mortgage when it jumped to nearly 11 percent after he returned home in December 2006, and he was unable to work after more than a year in Iraq.
With the help of Andrew Park and Ray Mastre at Legal Assistance Corp. of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, the Damons and their two small children were able to avoid eviction and are currently working on securing a loan to buy back their home.
“If it wasn’t for people like Andrew and Ray at legal aid, I don’t know where we’d be,” Lisa Damon told the crowd at Walk to the Hill. Her husband could not attend because he is preparing to be redeployed to Iraq again in June. “Thank you very much; they’ve really done a lot for us.”
Walk to the Hill was co-sponsored by the MBA, Boston Bar Association, Equal Justice Coalition and more than two dozen specialty bars.