Free legal clinic still available locally

MARIETTA – Every month, dozens of Washington County residents file through the side doors of St. Luke’s Episcopal church to talk to attorneys providing free legal advice.

Whether they need guidance with oil and gas leasing, help filling out paperwork, or simply want to know if they have a legal standing for a case, the clinic has helped individuals who are unable to afford legal representation for more than seven years, said Robin Bozian, a member of the Washington County Bar Association and a managing attorney for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

“This clinic all started because legal services can’t serve anyone above 125 percent of the poverty level. There were a lot of people above, but not a lot above, that needed help and could not afford it,” she said.

A family of four making $30,000 annually would fall slightly above the threshold for aid from legal services. However, they would qualify for the clinic, which asks that its services be used by those under 187 percent of the poverty level – approximately $44,000 for that same family of four.

Now, with the Marietta office of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services closed, the free legal clinic will become even more important, said Bozian.

“With legal aid losing their funding, we have even less resources. This is an important piece to help people get legal information,” she said.

The clinics, which are sponsored by the Washington County Bar Association, are held at the church from 6-8 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month except December. The attorneys volunteer their time and offer information, assistance and advice but not full representation, said Bozian.

At a recent clinic, five attorneys saw 19 individuals. Some simply wanted help filling out complex paperwork. Some, like Marietta resident Barbara Bradley, wanted legal advice.

Bradley and her daughter have been living in the same apartment for nearly 15 years, but lately more and more safety and noise concerns have been arising at the complex. In addition to disturbingly loud neighbors, a car in the parking lot continuously leaks gasoline and kitchen fires in a neighboring apartment have filled Bradley’s residence with smoke on more than one occasion.

“We don’t have money to move. If I could pack up and move I would but that would mean we’d have to save a security deposit and first month’s rent,” said Bradley.

Living on a fixed income is frustrating for Bradley, who said she raised three children without the help of child support and served as the director of a nonprofit in Massillon for years until a brain injury forced her to leave her job. But she is happy to have a service like the clinic.

“There are times you need legal help,” she said.

It is heartening to see how people are helped by the clinic, said Cathy Knox, who volunteers as the clinic’s intake coordinator.

Knox recalled one woman who came to the clinic because she was denied unemployment benefits.

“By coming here, she was awarded benefits. She was so grateful. She still talks about it,” she said.

Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane said he often refers people to the clinic.

“There are so many people that have legal questions and I’m not allowed to give them advice. At the clinic, they can find out whether they have a case or a good defense,” he said.

As more and more people file their own divorce paperwork, the clinic has made a noticeable difference in the accuracy and completeness of divorce paperwork, he added.

The clinic gives people the opportunity to give feedback after they receive advice, and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, said Bozian.

“We even have some people give us money… They appreciate what we’re doing,” she said.