Civil legal aid ensures fairness for all in the justice system — not just for those who can afford it. The elimination of federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation, as proposed by the Trump administration, would seriously jeopardize the ability of low-income Coloradans to secure the legal help they need.
Colorado Legal Services (CLS), our statewide, staffed civil legal aid program, is the backbone of Colorado’s legal aid delivery system, and 40 percent of its annual budget comes from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Even at current funding levels, CLS is forced to turn away at least one income-eligible person for every person it is able to serve as a result of inadequate resources. If Congress approves the proposed elimination of federal funding for legal aid, the problem will get much worse.
Through a network of 13 offices across the state, CLS provides free legal services to more than 10,000 Coloradans a year: victims of domestic violence, families facing foreclosure or eviction, veterans seeking lawful benefits, seniors, and people with disabilities. CLS also plays a vital role in supporting pro bono programs across the state by screening cases and training private attorneys, many of whom have limited experience in the kinds of civil problems experienced by low-income Coloradans.
Real Stories of Legal Aid in Colorado
Supporting access to justice is an investment in people. The following stories of six CLS clients illustrate the lifeline that legal aid represents for families who desperately need help navigating the legal process. Without the continuation of this vital assistance, thousands of Coloradans will be denied the equal access to justice that is fundamental to our democracy.
Cancer Patient Facing Eviction
For many people dealing with housing issues, legal aid is the difference between keeping their homes and being forced onto the street. CLS recently assisted a client in the final stage of terminal cancer who had fallen behind on her rent because she had not received her Social Security benefits in a timely manner. Due to her illness, she was unable to appear in court to defend herself in the eviction proceedings and was being forced out of her apartment despite only having a matter of weeks or months to live. CLS’s Homeless Prevention Unit in Denver got involved and was able to successfully negotiate with the landlord to dismiss the eviction judgment and vacate the writ of restitution. This enabled the client to stay in her home for the remainder of her life.
Abuse Victim Seeking to Escape Dangerous Marriage
Legal aid reduces domestic violence by helping victims escape violent situations and achieve independence. CLS’s Grand Junction office assisted a woman who suffered second- and third-degree burns over a large portion of her body when her husband of nine years threw fuel around her legs and feet in anger and set her on fire. The woman underwent a lengthy series of treatments followed by daily visits from a homecare nurse and was unable to work for three months. CLS helped her obtain a permanent civil protection order and divorce from this abusive and dangerous man, who is also being prosecuted for his crimes.
Grandparents at Risk of Losing Their Family and Mobile Home
Legal assistance can also help keep families together. CLS’s Colorado Springs office assisted a couple who had lived in a purported age “55 and older” mobile home park since 1990. In 2016, they sought temporary custody of their grandchildren following a finding of parental neglect. When the grandparents informed the mobile home park owners that their grandchildren were moving in with them, the mobile home park initiated an eviction proceeding. The threat of eviction was even more devastating for the couple because the mobile home they owned was too old to be moved to another park. After unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a resolution, the couple sought help from legal aid in filing a lawsuit against the mobile home park in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on discriminatory housing practices based on familial status. During the early stages of the litigation, and after the federal magistrate chastised the park’s owners in open court, a settlement was reached that allowed the grandparents to remain in the mobile home park with their grandchildren.
Disabled Woman Abandoned and in Need of Home Health Care
With the assistance of legal aid, individuals with disabilities are able to secure necessary home health care benefits so they can continue living independently. A disabled woman sought help from CLS’s La Junta office when her husband and in-home caretaker abandoned her. Her husband had taken her to a doctor’s appointment and then never returned to pick her up, taking her motorized wheelchair with him. Eventually it became clear that it was his intent to leave the marriage and their together life in Colorado. The woman was heartbroken by her husband’s sudden abandonment and desperately needed assistance to meet her multiple medical needs. With the help of legal aid, she was able to find new home health care services and obtain a divorce.
Veteran Harmed by Illegal Employment Practices
Legal aid can also help hold employers accountable when they engage in illegal behavior. A veteran sought assistance from CLS’s Grand Junction office after being told by a prospective employer that Americans need not apply because the employer was bringing in low-paid “H2A” employees from South Africa. The law allows for the employment of foreign workers only if there are no U.S. citizens willing to do the job. CLS represented the veteran and brought a suit against the company and the company’s employment recruiter for employment discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, EEOC and ultimately in federal court. CLS was able to secure a favorable monetary settlement for the ex-marine and convinced the recruiting company to change its practices in positive ways that should protect other U.S. citizen workers in the future.
Woman Threatened with Foreclosure Following Ex-husband’s Bankruptcy
Individuals unable to navigate complicated legal processes on their own often seek help from legal aid. The CLS Consumer Unit in Denver recently assisted a woman who was facing foreclosure as a result of her ex-husband’s bankruptcy filing. She and her ex-husband had owned the home jointly, and he had transferred his interest in their home to her, via a quitclaim deed, as part of their divorce. When her ex-husband later filed for bankruptcy, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee took the position that the conveyance of the house by her ex-husband to her for no consideration was fraudulent and demanded she submit $40,000 in equity in the house to the court. The client was terrified and unsure how to handle the situation, so she did not respond to the demand and the trustee ultimately filed an adversary proceeding against her in bankruptcy court. CLS defended the client arguing that the transfer did not meet the definition of a fraudulent conveyance and provided the trustee’s counsel with documentation showing substantial consideration for the transfer. The adversary proceeding was dismissed, and the client did not lose her home.
These stories vividly illustrate the value of legal aid, not only for those who receive services, but for all of us who believe that people should not be denied the rights and protections afforded by the law simply because they can’t afford counsel.
How Can You Help?
- Support the Legal Aid Foundation’s 2016–17 Campaign for Justice, which ends on June 30.
- Give online at legalaidfoundation.org or send a check to 1900 Grant St., Ste. 1112, Denver, CO 80203.
- Register as a Legal Aid Defender to let Congress know you oppose the proposed elimination of federal funding for civil legal aid. You don’t need to be an ABA member to register, and it’s easy to do so at defendlegalaid.org.
The Docket thanks Jon Asher, Diana Poole and Kelly Bossley for their time in compiling these stories that are all the more poignant because they are real.