CONTACT: Maggie Ostrowski
By long-standing tradition and (thank you, Governor Kasich) by formal proclamation of the Governor, May 1 is Law Day. Though our modern calendars seem to be filled with awareness days, Law Day holds special meaning for the attorneys, judges and legal professionals who make up the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It's our day to take a moment and celebrate the rule of law and its contributions to the freedoms Americans enjoy.
It sounds lofty, I know—it's what you expect from lawyers—
but, it's a principle we encourage all Americans to celebrate because the rule of law is so fundamental to who we are as a people and as a country. Sadly, for too many Americans, it just feels like words on a parchment. Though most know they have a right to expect equality and justice under the law, far too many (across the political spectrum), are feeling left behind.
I just returned from Washington, D.C. where members of the OSBA and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation
visited Ohio's Congressional Delegation to advocate on behalf of those most in need and for the importance of legal aid funding. Just as defendants in our criminal justice system are entitled to counsel regardless of their ability to pay via public defenders, there are many Ohioans interacting with our civil justice system who also need access to counsel. In fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans go unaddressed.
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was created in 1974 during the Nixon Administration to help those Americans. It is the single largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the nation and unfortunately, it is also among the federal programs slated to be zeroed out in the executive budget blueprint released earlier this year. Eliminating LSC would have a devastating impact in Ohio, as LSC provides nearly a third of the funding for legal aid programs across our state—
a total of $12.4 million in 2015.
This modest public investment pays tremendous dividends. Legal aid programs, working in all 88 counties of Ohio, help more than 112,000 Ohioans annually, including veterans in need of housing, domestic violence victims in need of timely protection orders, senior citizens seeking access to health care and retirement benefits, not to mention the countless families trying to put their lives back together under the scourge of opiate addiction. It's legal aid that mobilizes and trains the thousands of attorneys who volunteer their time to help low-income Ohioans. In 2016, private attorneys across Ohio volunteered more than 76,000 hours of free legal services—
a value of more than $10.3 million—
through legal aid.
The economic benefit of legal aid to Ohio is real, but I submit that the intangible benefits can be even more valuable. For when we can help someone who's been down on their luck in navigating a complex legal matter and getting back on their feet, we help close the access to justice gap, and thereby do our part to reinvigorate American confidence in our rule of law.
Now would be the worst time to cut legal aid funding. LSC has long enjoyed bipartisan support and I am confident that our Congressional delegation will work with us to keep these programs up and running. Ronald S. Kopp is president of the Ohio State Bar Association and administrative partner at Roetzel & Andress LPA in Akron.