Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Remembering Our Roots: HELP Legal Assistance, Forty Years of Service

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Remembering Our Roots: HELP Legal Assistance, Forty Years of Service

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

When Justice Neuman2 asked me to make some remarks today, she did not request a title. But I chose to discuss a topic that will give me the widest possible room within which to maneuver. As those of you trained in the law know, there is a rule of evidence used for refreshment of a witness's recollection.3 It is said that the purpose of that rule of evidence is to jog the witness's memory.4 Another rule of evidence exists for past recollection recorded.5 While these evidentiary rules are different, their purpose is the same, and that purpose is to remember what has happened in the past.61 think it is important to review very briefly some of our history regarding legal services to the poor.

II. History of Civil Legal Services for the Poor

I know that a celebration of the forty-year history of HELP Legal Assistance is important to all of us, but it is most important to the people of Scott County. The HELP legal assistance office in Davenport is closely affiliated with Iowa Legal Aid, but it is an independent corporation. Iowa Legal Aid has subcontracted with the HELP legal assistance office since Iowa Legal Aid came into existence as the Legal Services Corporation of Iowa in 1977.7 This explains why Iowa Legal Aid will be celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary in 2012, but HELP is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year.8 As all of you know, the HELP office is fully integrated into Iowa Legal Aid, even though a separate board of directors, separate personnel policies, and a separate foundation exist. I think it is vital to remember those pioneering lawyers and lay people who started this program long before it was the Legal Services Corporation.

Some perspective is necessary in order to adequately view the value of legal services here in southeast Iowa and in all of the United States. One hundred years ago, the United States was primarily a rural country, and very few people, with the exception of the very well off, saw any need to ever access the legal system in this country.9 Ninety-eight percent of the population had little or no economic power,10 the constitutional guarantees of our Federal Constitution were not yet extended to citizens of the various states,11 and the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided Plessy v. Ferguson.'2 While our Constitution referred to the need to "establish Justice,"13 there was little effort on the part of any of our three branches of government to leave the Gilded Age for a more egalitarian country.14 Let me make note here in passing that because of the foresight and courage of the state courts in Iowa, Iowans were by and large better off than the inhabitants of other states due to the decisional law established by the Iowa territorial and state courts.15

Private clubs or groups from newly arrived immigrants saw the need for some legal advice, and as a result, the German Immigrants Society began in 1876 in New York City and was the predecessor to the Legal Aid Society of New York.16 These charitable organizations took many forms, but most of the organizations were located in urban areas and were in isolation to their counterparts in the rest of the country.17 Many depended exclusively upon private lawyers donating their time.18 It was estimated that less than one percent of the people who needed either civil or criminal justice help received it.19 In 1919, the Carnegie Foundation provided Reginald Heber Smith with a grant to research the then-current legal system and its effect on the poor.20 Smith wrote Justice and the Poor, a book that challenged the legal profession to ensure that access to justice was available to all without regard to ability to pay.21 In his book, Smith explains that without equal access to the law, "[t]he system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but it places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever invented."22 As a result, the American Bar Association (ABA) responded by creating the Standing Committee on Legal Aid, now the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, to ensure continued ABA involvement in the delivery of legal assistance to the poor. …

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