Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Legal Services Asks for More Aid

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Legal Services Asks for More Aid

Article excerpt

The main state organization providing legal representation to poor New Jerseyans asked the Senate Budget Committee for additional state aid Wednesday to prevent layoffs and help end an ongoing budget crisis.

Steep drop-offs in several funding sources has forced Legal Services of New Jersey to reduce its staff from 720 in 2008 to fewer than 400 today, and only one in six low-income residents seeking legal representation in cases ranging from domestic violence to tenant issues can get it.

And President Melville D. Miller told the committee he was preparing to lay off 30 more employees Wednesday.

"This is really a make or break it year for us," Miller said. "Every day we're forced to ration justice in New Jersey."

Though Governor Christie has proposed level funding for the organization in next year's fiscal budget, which begins in July, Miller said steep cuts from other sources have gravely hurt the agency.

Legal Services is currently working under a $40 million budget, down sharply from $70 million in 2008.

The group was founded in the 1970s to provide legal assistance to low-income residents who can't afford attorneys in civil cases. Poor criminal defendants receive representation through the Public Defender's Office, a separate state agency.

Christie, who faces a reelection bid this year, laid out a nearly $33 billion spending blueprint last month that would avoid tax increases and increase spending on public sector pensions and education.

The Senate Budget Committee was at William Paterson University in Wayne as part of lawmakers' efforts to gather input on Christie's proposal before voting to approve or modify the budget, which must be signed into law by July 1. …

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