Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

More Legal Aid

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

More Legal Aid

Article excerpt

THE noble mission of legal aid agencies is to provide lawyers to clients who otherwise couldn't afford them. We are a nation of laws, after all, and we sort things out through the courts. Everyone in a legal case should be represented by a lawyer.

What happens when these legal groups are themselves too poor to help the poor? That's happening right now, here in New Jersey, according to a report by Legal Services of New Jersey. Whopping state budget cuts and plummeting interest accounts used to fund the program have lopped off the agency's bottom line nearly 40 percent. There are 130 fewer legal services lawyers today than in 2008. And fewer than one in six low-income residents can get legal help for civil legal problems. What happens when there are no lawyers for the poor is that the poor represent themselves in court.

Tenants who have been unfairly evicted, women who have been physically abused by their husbands, people who are wrongfully denied Social Security benefits, parents seeking custody of children, and many, many more, walk into court and try to plead their own case -- without knowing the law, how to properly examine witnesses, proper legal procedure or how to argue their point in a technical way. Last year, 99 percent of defendants in tenancy cases, such as evictions, had no lawyer, and only 27 percent had a lawyer in divorce proceedings. …

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