Grantee Spotlight: The Human Dimension of how IOLTA helps in Kentucky

Dear Legal Aid,

I was really scared when a policeman came to my door and told me I had to go to court because a debt collection agency said I owed them money. I am an 86 year old grandmother and I have never failed to pay the bills I owe. I thought they were going to take away my house or put me in jail! My Legal Aid attorney explained things to me and made me feel much better. She discovered I did not owe any money to this bill collector and my case was dismissed.

I am truly glad that Legal Aid was there for me. — Mrs. Elizabeth Mahoney

Ms. Mahoney is one of thousands of Kentuckians who have found help and relief through their local legal aid programs in Kentucky, thanks to the financial support of the Kentucky Bar Association's IOLTA program. The IOLTA program has been a long–standing partner with the four regional legal aid programs which serve the nearly 800,000 Kentuckians who live in poverty. IOLTA funding to each of the four legal aid programs over the years has helped to address specific regional needs as well as new and emerging issues. This partnership has resulted in strengthening services in the poorest of communities, as well as sparking new and innovative projects in urban areas.

Kentucky is geographically diverse and within each region the low–income communities face unique barriers to accessing legal services. The four legal aid programs in Kentucky tailor services within their region to meet the needs of the local community and to increase access for services.

The Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (APRD)

The Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (APRD) serves 37 counties in eastern and south–central Kentucky, a region largely encompassing rural Appalachia. Historically, this region has had the largest concentration of poor people living in Kentucky. Only a small percentage of the state's lawyers live and practice in this region, making it difficult for a person to access legal help, even if the person has the resources to pay for it. For low–income residents who lack the resources, their difficulties in accessing legal help are compounded by remoteness of the region. Oftentimes, a person must drive an hour or more to the closest town to find a lawyer to help.

With funding from Kentucky's IOLTA program, APRD represents residents in Owsley County, the county with the highest poverty rate in Kentucky. Residents can access an attorney on a variety of legal problems.

One of the recent clients in the Owsley county office had a dispute with her divorced spouse over the ownership of a parcel of property. The client believed she had received the parcel as part of the divorce and she and a disabled adult son were living on the property. The ex–spouse attempted to evict them, claiming he owned the parcel. An APRD staff attorney intervened and secured a court order granting the client sole ownership of the property so she and her disabled son could continue to live there.

Legal Aid of the Bluegrass

Legal Aid of the Bluegrass serves 33 counties in central and northern Kentucky. This region consists of rural counties, as well as two urban centers. IOLTA funding for Legal Aid of the Bluegrass supports its pro bono programs and underwrites targeted work by a staff attorney in the area of consumer law, particularly foreclosure prevention and defense. This staff attorney is designated an IOLTA Fellow and focuses on securing or maintaining housing for low–income people through the use of the Bankruptcy Code or in defending foreclosures.

In one notable case, the IOLTA Fellow filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy on behalf of an 82–year–old grandmother to stop the foreclosure sale of the home she had lived in for the past 46 years. The grandmother had previously deeded her home to a grandson and, in return, the grandson promised her she could remain in the house for the rest of her life. Sadly, the grandson borrowed against the house and then defaulted on the mortgage. The grandmother did not become aware of this until the Sheriff posted a notice on her door of the pending foreclosure sale. She contacted Legal Aid of the Bluegrass and the IOLTA Fellow persuaded the grandson to quitclaim his interest in the home back to the grandmother. This allowed the grandmother to cure the claim owed to the lender through her Chapter 13 plan and protected her from becoming homeless and losing the one asset she had a worked a lifetime to achieve.

The Domestic Violence and Advocacy Program (DVAP) of the Legal Aid Society in Louisville

Legal Aid Society, located in Louisville, Kentucky, serves low–income clients in Kentucky's largest metropolitan area and its surrounding counties. It has a long history of helping struggling families become economically stable. When family members are at risk of domestic violence, Legal Aid Society places a high priority on obtaining court protective orders for the victims and helping them get to safety and rebuild their lives free from violence. However, the requests from victims for legal help have always exceeded the program's capacity. With initial funding from the Kentucky Bar Foundation and a local foundation, Legal Aid Society created the Domestic Violence and Advocacy Program (DVAP).

Since 2009, the DVAP has provided legal help to over 2,000 victims and secured orders protecting them from violence. Kentucky's IOLTA program was instrumental in adding program capacity by allowing this program to hire a full–time staff attorney to coordinate this effort and recruit volunteers. Today, the DVAP has recruited more than 150 volunteer attorneys to cover the ten family court dockets in Louisville. Legal Aid Society is able to help any eligible victim in seeking help at a protective order hearing.

Kentucky Legal Aid

Kentucky Legal Aid, the legal aid program serving western Kentucky, covers 35 counties and 13,895 square miles. It has six satellite offices to serve approximately 150,000 eligible clients. With IOLTA funding, Kentucky Legal Aid hired a full–time staff attorney to help clients in Muhlenberg and Webster counties. The staff attorney provides legal help to clients in those counties on issues impacting their economic stability or health.

Kentucky Legal Aid's assistance was particularly essential for a divorced mother with a child disabled by a neurological condition. In the divorce, the father was ordered to pay child–support and to provide a vehicle specially modified and equipped to transport the child to medical appointments. He refused and one day the mother found herself by the side of the road with an inoperable vehicle, unable to make the scheduled medical appointment. Kentucky Legal Aid intervened and helped the mother secure a court order against the father to comply with his obligations. The mother now has reliable transportation to ensure that her daughter attends medical appointments and physical therapy.

Conclusion

While the demand for legal aid services has reached an all–time high, during this past recession, Kentucky's programs experienced severe cuts from traditional sources, such as federal, state and local funds — a reduction of over $3.3 million statewide. As a result, the programs have fewer resources to meet the increasing demands. Never has community support been more essential for this work to continue. Kentucky's IOLTA program has been an essential funding partner in making these successes possible. The individual stories and the lives transformed reveal the human dimension of how a funding partner can make a difference for legal aid programs and the clients they help.

Jeffrey A. Been is an attorney and Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society. He serves as an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and is a member of the Indiana and Kentucky Bar Associations.