Legal Aid provides essential services to West Virginia’s vulnerable
PARKERSBURG — Legal Aid of West Virginia held its quarterly Board of Directors meeting on Friday in Parkersburg following two days of discussions, training and presentations on a variety of issues and programs.
LAWV Executive Director Adrienne Worthy said Legal Aid is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal services, long-term and elder care advocacy, and behavioral health advocacy.
These areas of focus allow it to reach West Virginia’s most vulnerable people, solving problems and providing meaningful solutions for thousands of individuals and families every year. Legal Aid’s offices are based in Charleston, with 12 regional offices throughout the state.
The types of legal cases Legal Aid typically handles are those affecting safety, livelihood, access to benefits, and other basic life needs. These include protection from domestic violence; divorce and family law; access to government benefits, including veterans benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment compensation and others; consumer protection; housing disputes; and access to health care and education.
“One of the big things we’ve talked about … is what Legal Aid can do to address the opioid epidemic — the impact on families, individuals and the community,” Worthy said.
Legal Aid began a program in 2018 with a pilot in Marion County called “Lawyer in the School” with funding from a federal grant aimed at addressing the impact of the opioid epidemic on children. The program provides families the opportunity to talk to a lawyer about their problem for free, so they can receive information, advice or get help filling out forms.
If a family needs more extensive legal help, volunteer attorneys refer cases to LAWV for additional assistance or agree to handle the cases themselves. Common civil legal problems at the school are custody, adoption, infant guardianship, eviction, housing, economic support issues, and employment issues.
“A lot of the work that Legal Aid is doing now is shifting our focus on responding to the epidemic whether it’s kids, families who are raising children who are not parents or on those suffering from substance abuse disorders,” she said.
Robert Gaudio, board vice president and member for the Wheeling area, believes Legal Aid provides an essential service for many of the state’s more economically-disadvantaged residents. The firm provide a wide range of assistance, including advocacy on issues involving mental hygiene, elderly care, landlord-tenant and other areas.
“Otherwise the folks that we serve would not have an option as to whether or not they would have any advantage in a courtroom, any kind of legal advantage … If you don’t have an attorney in a lot of different situations and you go in against an attorney in that same room, you’re going to lose,” Gaudio said.
Matt DeVore, board member for the Parkersburg area, said the breadth of the help provided by Legal Aid is vital.
“If you’re an indigent person and you’re accused of a crime, you have a constitutional right to have a lawyer appointed to you to represent your interests. But in civil cases — often equally important — you don’t have that right. Without a Legal Aid office to fill that gap, there are many people who would simply not have access to justice,” DeVore said.
“We’re talking about things like people who are being unjustly evicted, horrendous domestic violence, people who are in contentious divorces at risk of losing their children as a result of that. They don’t have anybody that’s going to be appointed to them so when they seek out Legal Aid for help, it’s just an absolutely vital role,” he said.