Last week, we and the entire civil legal aid community were shocked and appalled as the North Carolina General Assembly approved a budget that eliminated all $1.7 million in state funding to provide legal assistance to people who can’t afford representation in civil legal matters.
The Access to Civil Justice Act is one of the public and private funding sources LSSP relies on to ensure that we can help people in crisis, who have no other source of legal assistance. Our annual budget is a patchwork of diverse support but each source is vitally important to our stability and impact.
One third of Mecklenburg County residents are financially eligible to receive our services. Without our help, thousands of families may lose financial security, health care, housing and the stability that supports upward mobility. In the wake of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force report citing the critical necessity of expanding upward mobility and opportunity to build a stronger city, now is not the time for NC to cut funds that directly support that end.
The elimination of the Access to Civil Justice Act will have devastating effects on civil legal assistance across the entire state. Legal Aid of North Carolina, our partner in justice, will lose $1.5 million in state funding, while the proposed budget from the White House seeks to eliminate federal Legal Services Corporation funding, which greatly supports Legal Aid’s operations.
LSSP and LANC offer critical support to people in crisis, help them address their basic needs, and strengthens our community. This funding cut comes as a huge blow even as we enjoy the success of our annual Access to Justice fundraising campaign, which has raised $525,000 to date – a historic amount under the leadership of campaign chair Cory Hohnbaum. But we must maintain ALL of our support to meet the growing needs of clients.
For 50 years, LSSP has provided legal representation and advocacy to ensure the safety, security and stability of our clients, promote fairness and empower people to increase their economic mobility and opportunity. We now face a loss of funding that will limit our ability to serve the community and hurt those most in need.
We appreciate the ongoing support we receive from local sources – individual contributions and institutional support – that lets us deliver justice to people in need.
Kenneth L. Schorr
Joe Trunzo is an associate attorney at Dechert, LLP specializing in securitization transactions. He moved to Charlotte from New York to join the firm in 2014. Soon after, he began volunteering his pro bono services with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s Legal Services for the Elderly program, helping seniors draft and execute estate planning documents, including wills, powers of attorney and healthcare powers of attorney documents. In his free time, Joe enjoys spending time with his fiancé, their dog, a Goldendoodle named Buddy, and their friends and neighbors in the community.
Summer intern Abby Mitchell conducted this interview.
When did you start volunteering with LSSP?
So, I started volunteering at the end of 2014. I moved down to Charlotte and started working at Dechert in May of 2014 and knew I wanted to do pro bono. I got involved through Jeanine Johnson who was the pro bono coordinator here at the time when she asked if I could help with some wills cases that had come in. I think it was November or October, and I just realized that I really enjoyed doing it, so now, almost any time a wills case comes in, I try to be the first guy to get it.
Yeah, it sounds like it would be really rewarding.
It is. You meet the people you’re working and for and so often they thank you right away. They say, “Thank you so much for doing this for me,” or “It means so much to my son,” or “I’m hoping this will take care of my grandson.” It’s just great. It’s such a contrast to what we do here. So often you can never really put a face to a name. It’s some guy in New York or some guy in London who’s calling you and you never meet him.
And you primarily volunteer with Legal Services for the Elderly correct?
Yeah, so the majority of the work that I’ve done are wills, power of attorney, and healthcare powers of attorney.
That’s such an interesting group because they’re so forward thinking about providing for other people in such a selfless way through estate planning.
Yeah it is. Putting a will together is not an easy thing to do. You’re forced to confront your own mortality. You have to get over that fear in order to take care of people that you care about. When you think about it it’s really a selfless thing to do.
How do you balance pro bono with having such a work-intensive job?
That’s a great question. The biggest thing is making it a priority. Typically when I do these wills, putting the three documents together takes anywhere from seven to 10 hours, sometimes less, sometimes more. Then getting them executed can be at least an hour if not more. I’ve had a couple of cases where clients have had tons of questions. We’ve had to go through things. We had to make changes on the fly, and that took 3 hours alone. And really there were so many occasions where I could have said, “I can’t make it today”, or “Hey, I know we scheduled to set this up for you on Friday morning but I can’t make it” but you just have to do it. You have to treat it like the work you do for the firm, because it is just as important. I think as long as you approach it with that mentality, you’ll always be able to balance it and find a place for it.
And you know, Dechert is really great about doing that. Every lawyer here has a requirement. I think it’s like 28 or 50 hours for every year that you have to do for pro bono in order to be in good standing with the firm. So when you’re getting that kind of support from the firm, it makes it a lot easier to say “I’m thinking about taking on a pro bono project this month.”
It seems like a lot of the law firms around here are really invested in that work, which I think is great.
Yeah that’s one of the coolest things I found about Charlotte. When I was up in New York, the law firms, all do pro bono work, but it wasn’t taken as seriously as it is here. Here, my firm is expecting me to do this, and I should be doing this as part of my development as a person, and part of my development as an attorney. And when you’re not getting that coordination with the higher ups at the firm, it also, then it becomes harder to prioritize it.
What do you enjoy the most about the pro bono work you do?
Really and it sounds so cliché and corny but it really is helping people. Being able to give people a sense of relief. That’s the thing I notice the most when we sign these things up. When people are done, they seem relieved. It’s like there’s this big weight being lifted off their shoulders. You know, I mean you probably live your whole life thinking I should probably put a will together. As you get older, it weighs on you even more.
When we’re able to provide that service for someone, you see that you’ve lifted something that has been troubling them.
Everyone is very appreciative and very thankful which is really cool. You learn about these people and the people that they care about. And so, learning, getting to know them and realizing again, that you’re able to provide this kind of relief by providing this service is the best part.
Do you think working on these cases provides different complications than your everyday job?
Oh yeah, yeah for sure. It’s just a different kind of problem that you never would really think about here. Like with the healthcare power of attorney stuff, people are faced with tough decisions, like if something were to happen, “Do I want to be put in a vegetative state?” You’re forced think about the legal implications of those decisions.
That has to be a really unique way to grow as an attorney also.
Yeah it is. It would be hard to find a lawyer who would say, “Oh I wanted to become a lawyer to represent these big international companies” No lawyer would ever tell you that. No, you wanted to be a lawyer because you wanted to help people. Thanks to LSSP and the pro bono work they offer. I can do that.
What advice would you give to attorneys that want to get involved in pro bono with LSSP or otherwise?
The advice I would give them is get involved as soon as you can. It really is rewarding. It really is such a refreshing change from what you typically do daily. I don’t care how busy you are, force yourself to make it a priority. There’s always time for it. We often like to think we work around the clock, and sometimes we do, but you can always find a half hour, or an hour, you can always find it. If you prioritize it, you always can. Pro bono work is just as important, and it is exponentially more rewarding than probably the work you do in the day to day.
With this funding, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville help people with few options navigate their way out of crisis.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont faces a budget cut that will limit our ability to serve the community and hurt those who can’t afford representation in civil legal matters. In its 50-year history, our organization has provided legal representation and advocacy to promote fairness and empower people to increase their economic mobility and opportunity.
Legal Aid of North Carolina, our partner in justice, also faces peril. In addition to the projected $1.5 million of state funding the organization would lose, the proposed budget from the White House also seeks to eliminate federal Legal Services Corporation funding, which greatly supports Legal Aid’s operations.
These cuts will have devastating effects on civil legal assistance across the entire state, placing greater strains on an already overcrowded court system and increasing demand on community resources.
While the government provides a lawyer to poor defendants in criminal cases, those who can’t afford an attorney in civil matters are left on their own to navigate a complex legal system.
The Charlotte region is fortunate to have two legal services organizations working together to ensure that all people have access to representation that ensures their safety, security and stability.
Many in North Carolina, especially the state’s rural areas, have few options when in crisis. Across our state, there is one legal aid attorney for every 15,000 low-income people who desperately need representation but can’t afford it.
One third of Mecklenburg County residents are financially eligible to receive our services. Without legal representation in civil matters, thousands of families can lose financial security, health care, housing and opportunity.
A 2014 economic impact study conducted by the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission found that for every dollar the state spends on legal services, almost ten dollars flows back into the state economy.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina offer critical support to people in crisis, help them address their basic needs, and strengthen our community.
By providing legal services and advocacy for the last 50 years, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont is a champion for those in need. We pursue justice for all people each day, in hopes of building a just community in which all know stability and are empowered to find opportunity.
What you can do
- Spread the word about the impact organizations like Legal Services of Southern Piedmont have on your community through letters to the editor, social media and by contacting your representatives.
- Support the Access to Justice Campaign, which benefits both Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina. Your support is critical to our organizations at this time, and the Access to Justice Campaign is a valuable tool that you can use to support us today and every day.
Thank you to those who believe in civil legal aid and its vital role in maintaining a strong, democratic society.
Today, the N.C. House of Representatives will vote on its 2017 budget that includes cutting $1.7 million in funding for legal services for low-income families in our state.
With this funding, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services help people with little to no options navigate their way out of crisis to find safety, economic security and stability.
We hope that the N.C. General Assembly will reconsider this provision and restore this critical funding over the course of the budget process this month. The North Carolina Bar Association has more information on how you can contact your representative and share your concerns.
Nearly 10,000 people age 65 and older live in poverty in Mecklenburg County. For this group, the cost of obtaining even simple estate planning documents can be prohibitive, putting them at risk of losing control of end-of-life decisions, such as care and the ability to easily pass their belongings on to family members.
During Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s annual Wills on Wheels event this spring, low-income seniors met with volunteer attorneys from Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Culp Elliott & Carpenter and Mayer Brown to draft and execute simple wills and advance directive documents that outline their end-of-life wishes free of charge, granting them and their families stability that they could otherwise not afford.
Since 2005, pro bono attorneys, paralegals and other volunteers have partnered with LSSP through its Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners program to ensure that all seniors in our community maintain control over the final disposition of their assets and their future medical decisions by assisting them in completing simple wills and advance directives at no charge.
“It warms my heart to see professionals giving their time and expertise to seniors in their communities, and it is truly a blessing to be a part of the program and witness the interaction and the smiles of appreciation,” Deborah Hampton of Bank of America said.
Alberta Carter Bey was one of those seniors expressing her gratitude. Bey worked with Daniel Blackburn, of Mayer Brown, to execute her will and healthcare power of attorney. When her husband passed away last January, and she saw firsthand the importance of having plans in place.
“You need to have everything written down so your wishes can be respected,” Bey said. “It offers so much peace for the family.”
Antonio Claud and Deborah Adams felt the same way as they joined their mother, Betty Jean Hallman, 73, to see her complete her documents with Terry Irvin of Bank of America.
More than 30 volunteer attorneys and legal professionals participated in this year’s events, assisting both English and Spanish speakers and several local veterans.
Thanks to the continued support of volunteers, Wills on Wheels has been making critical legal services available for those in need to our community year after year, serving as a model that LSSP has replicated with other corporate and law firm partners and community organizations to serve more local seniors. This support has reinforced LSSP’s efforts to build a more just community for all people as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall.
“We as volunteers are proud to be a part of this tradition with Legal Services as the organization celebrates 50 years of service in the Charlotte area,” said Todd Stillerman, LSSP board president and Bank of America attorney. “When we join LSSP and partner with other law firms and corporate legal departments to provide end-of-life planning for those who need it, we give individuals and families control over their lives, as well as peace of mind. More broadly, this work builds stability in our community.”
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP) and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte (LANC) hosted their 11th annual Justice for All event April 26, at The Westin Charlotte to celebrate those who support justice for all people in our community as part of the organizations’ Access to Justice fundraising campaign.
As Charlotte recognizes the need for systemic changes that enable all residents to find opportunity and stability, almost 500 attendees at the breakfast event heard about how the work of LSSP and LANC is critical to the community’s viability as one third of Mecklenburg County residents do not have access to resources that help them meet their basic needs.
“When access to justice for some is lacking, it is a burden to us all,” said Ken Schorr, LSSP executive director. “We work to make sure that our community’s most vulnerable and underserved have access to the legal help that they need to achieve safety, security and stability.”
Keynote speaker, Toussaint Romain, a Mecklenburg County public defender emphasized the impact of civil legal aid in Charlotte, explaining that as champions for those in need, LSSP and LANC uplift our neighbors who struggle, helping them soar to reach their potential and alleviating burdens on our community.
“These people are about serving,” Romain said. “These are folks we can entrust our resources to. When we as a community serve Legal Services and Legal Aid, they in turn serve the community.”
Attendees also heard from people the organizations helped in the last year whose stories are a testament to the mission LSSP and LANC began 50 years ago in breaking down barriers to access as advocates and defending policies that provide positive outcomes for all people.
“We focus on the most vital needs of folks—their personal safety, their income, health care, shelter, and their right to remain in the United States of America,” Ted Fillette, senior managing attorney at Legal Aid’s Charlotte office, said to applause. “The staff and volunteers of Legal Services and Legal Aid work closely together. Our legal work helps individual clients survive and achieve justice. But, our work does more than that: we improve the ways in which the judicial system and other institutions in the community treat all vulnerable people.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget released its proposed budget for FY18, which includes defunding the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), departing from the bi-partisan support LSC has received since its founding in 1974. Legal Services of Southern Piedmont does not receive any LSC funding, but strongly opposes any reduction in funding for LSC.
In North Carolina, LSC funding supports LSSP’s Partner in Justice - Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC). LANC and LSSP work together in Charlotte to provide legal assistance to people in crisis, who are struggling to meet their basic human needs. In most parts of North Carolina, LANC is the only legal services provider for low-income people. We stand with LANC and with everyone who believes that LSC should be fully funded to provide legal advice and representation that helps people achieve economic security and opportunity, family safety and stability and access to health care.
LSC responded to the proposed budget with a statement saying that it is confident that bi-partisan Congressional support will continue. LSSP is optimistic that our lawmakers will continue to provide for crucial access to legal services for those most vulnerable in our society. We hope you will stand with us and others to highlight the importance of civil legal aid to our democracy.
The American Bar Association’s HelpLegalAid.org website offers resources that show you how to be a Legal Aid Defender and prevent defunding LSC.
The President’s proposed FY2018 budget would shred other parts of the safety net for people in need. Specifically, it eliminates or cuts funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program; several federal affordable housing programs; the Community Development Block Grant and the Community Services Block Grant; food and nutrition assistance for seniors, mothers, and children; job-training initiatives within the Department of Labor, the Corporation for National and Community Service; and other key programs. These programs support critical services in our community, to help people facing crises and prevent hunger, homelessness and poverty.
I encourage you to make your voice heard on LSC and these other issues, to preserve the critical role our government plays in preventing hardship for friends and neighbors in our community.
Kenneth L Schorr
You can support civil legal aid TODAY
- Contact members of your Congressional delegation in the House of Representatives and Senate and share your concerns on defunding LSC.- Visit DefendLegalAid.org and create a short message for Members of Congress. The American Bar Association (ABA) will print and hand-deliver every message you draft to your representatives.
Spread the word, share this action alert with others and participate in the ABA Defend Legal Aid campaign- Share your story of why #legalaidhelps and how you are a #legalaiddefender on social media
- Support the Access to Justice Campaign with a donation that benefits both LSSP and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte. Your gift would help ensure that all people in our community have access to the legal system to meet their needs, not just those who can afford it.
- Sign Up for LSSP Action Alerts and follow us on social media to stay informed.
This piece written by executive director Ken Schorr was originally featured in LSSP’s monthly newsletter.
Immigrants are in the news, many escaping unspeakable dangers in their home countries – horrific gang violence in Central America, civil war in Syria, sectarian and authoritarian violence across the world.
The United States has been, in some times, a beacon of safety and a model of compassion for the world. In other parts of our history, we have shut our eyes, our hearts, and the door to those in need only to realize the cost of our indifference long after the fact.
Unless you are a Native American, you are a descendant of immigrants, as am I. This is my family’s story.
My paternal grandparents Gedalia and Tillie Tschernomoritz, immigrated in 1912 from the Jewish village of Telechan, near Pinsk, then in Poland, now Belarus. The winds of war were approaching and times, always difficult for Jews there, promised to get much worse. Tillie’s uncle, who was already in America, bought them steamship passage on credit, and they arrived without money and in debt. They arrived speaking no English, and became Louis and Tillie Schorr, names pared by the steamship company or a harried immigration officer. Still, they were lucky.
Telechan was devastated by the first World War. Many died, but it was rebuilt. Two decades later, on August 2, 1941, the Nazis rounded up and killed everyone who had returned and obliterated the town. A few of the family that remained escaped to Palestine or survived the concentration camps, most did not.
My maternal grandparents Benjamin and Dora Girszowicz, emigrated in 1931 from Snov, in the Baronovich District, also then Poland, now Belarus. Benjamin felt the war coming, facing persecution by both the Poles and the Bolsheviks of Russia, who arrested him for undermining the revolution. He was held for several days, threatened with execution and then released without explanation. But it was after 1923, and the doors to the U.S. were no longer open to refugees from eastern Europe.
They went to Argentina, the only place he could find to go, and were there for 15 years, carving a farm from the wilderness until they could get to the U.S. My mother grew up in Argentina, her family arriving in the U.S. in 1946 (Her memoir, “”Finding a Place in the World,” is available on Amazon.). Only a few of Benjamin and Dora’s relatives managed to leave Poland before the war. Forty-two members of the family were killed by the Nazis in Snov on February 2, 1941, 76 years ago, this month.
The U.S. has been good to my family who managed to make it here, literally to refuge. Many of those who didn’t were murdered. Those memories from their odyssey still resonate for my family here, where we all work to make an America for others what it was for us: a refuge, a place to be free and to prosper, to live in peace with neighbors and friends of many races, nationalities, and religions.
A country that repudiates the tradition and principle of refuge and sends children and families back to violence and despotic governments they fled is not the America I know and love. I hope we can work together to protect ourselves from the real threats that this country faces with balanced and thoughtful policies that do not renounce the fundamental values of this country of immigrants.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont helps immigrants in Charlotte and across North and South Carolina every day. We are proud to stand with them, pursuing justice for all people in need, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, religion and political beliefs.
Last week the White House issued three Executive Orders that gravely concern us at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, which serves immigrants in Charlotte and throughout North and South Carolina every day.
These orders expand priority deportations of people seeking legal status to include productive and peaceful immigrants, expedite deportation proceedings to deprive people of an opportunity to fairly present their claims, deputize unqualified, untrained and unwilling local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws, direct federal resources to build an unnecessary and ineffective barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border, and prohibit refugee entry from a selection of countries whose residents are predominantly Muslim without considering whether or not they present a risk to the United States. These orders repudiate fundamental values the United States was built upon by those seeking refuge and freedom from their own oppressors.
Abandoning these principles of granting refuge to people in danger, sending children back to gang violence and abusive homes in Central America, and sending families back to civil wars and despotic governments, is not the America we know and love. We ask that policy makers find ways to protect this country from the real threats America faces with thoughtful and balanced policies that do not conflict with the fundamental values of this country established by immigrants.
We believe that these orders threaten constitutional rights to due process under the law in deportation proceedings, the right to representation and the right to defend oneself.
We believe these blanket policies if continued will:
Adversely affect public safety. Immigrant communities have had a historical distrust of law enforcement, though many police departments have spent years developing stronger relationships. These orders roll back any progress that has been made, and with increased fear of deportation, more crimes against immigrants will go unreported without the protections that were once in place, making victims vulnerable targets, especially victims of domestic violence and their children.
Deny basic rights to due process under the law guaranteed by the Constitution through expedited removal. This process removes the option for individuals facing deportation to challenge their case in court and overrides pending court cases.
Result in broad racial profiling with local police departments being required to inquire about a person’s status and to report any names of undocumented people recorded during routine traffic stops on a weekly basis.
Cause the forced separation of families through deportation and through barred entry into the country. Not all family members have the same immigration status. In many instances, adults in families are undocumented, but their children are U.S. citizens.
Adversely impact the local economy. All immigrants, with or without legal status, pay taxes and contribute to a social safety net they will never reap benefits from. Expanded deportations remove those who have bought homes, opened small businesses, paid taxes and contributed to our community.
Further strain backlogged immigration court systems and other legal resources for immigrants in our community.
This is both a constitutional and a moral issue, returning people seeking refuge to the dangerous and violent situations from which they fled instead of helping them find safety and a better life. Under these orders, the U.S. is no longer a “shining city on a hill,” no longer a beacon to people throughout the world who seek the rights and freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy.
LSSP’s mission is to pursue justice for those in need. That mission extends to all people regardless of ethnicity, national origin, religion or political beliefs. LSSP is proud to stand with and advocate for our immigrant and refugee communities, in opposition to these Executive Orders.