All Americans - including the poor - must have access to justice. Without this access, America's pledge of "justice for all" has no meaning.
Providing access to justice for the poor helps resolve real and traumatic problems that often affect the very core areas of people's lives - safety, shelter, and medical care. Those most affected by a lack of legal services include domestic violence victims, families wrongfully forced into homelessness, children caught in custody battles and senior citizens whose medical benefits may be mistakenly terminated.
The Ohio Response
The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, a statutorily-created non-profit organization committed to equal access to justice, was originally created in 1990 to address the unmet civil legal needs of Ohioâ��s low-income population. In 1994, the Foundation became an independent, nonprofit organization with a board of 35 members: appointments to the board being made by the Governor, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, the State Treasurer, the State Public Defender, the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate President. Other bar leaders and executives concerned about equal justice serve as trustees and are appointed by the OLAF board to three-year terms.
The Foundation is charged with administering the Legal Aid Fund for the charitable public purpose of providing financial assistance to Ohio's legal aid societies. The Legal Aid Fund derives its income from the interest earned on lawyer trust accounts (IOLTA) and the interest earned on residential real estate trust accounts (IOTA) and from a civil filing fee surcharge.
Ohio's legal aid societies serve low-income Ohioans in all 88 counties. Thus, the majority of the money disbursed by the Foundation from the Legal Aid Fund is distributed based on the percentage of the poverty population residing in each county. In this way, the Foundation ensures that the money is spent in the counties in which low-income Ohioans reside and experience legal challenges.
Foundation Actions - Striving to Meet the Challenge
Since the need is massive, the Foundation board, staff and volunteers work to improve access to justice through multiple approaches.
The Foundation conducts educational programs to inform all segments of Ohio - the legal community, state and national legislators and the general public - about the importance of civil legal services for the poor.
The Foundation works with financial institutions, lawyers and title agents to enhance revenues from IOLTA and IOTA programs.
A statewide, ongoing fund development campaign called "Justice for All" is used to augment funding resources for civil legal services. This private fundraising campaign is directed toward the legal community and other potential revenue sources.
The Foundation explores other funding resources and has received funds for new programs aimed at improving access to justice, including:
A statewide pro bono initiative allows OLAF to work with local bar leaders to enhance the quality and quantity of pro bono legal services provided to those in need.
The Foundation constantly explores innovative methods of delivering legal services to those in need and supplies technical support in the development of these programs.
The Solution - An All-Inclusive Approach
Access to justice is not just a problem for lawyers, but is a concern for all of society. Our country was built on the foundation of equal justice. If an entire portion of the American public believes it has been shut out of the justice system, our system of laws will have little or no meaning for those Americans.
There are ways everyone can help. Whether it is through a financial contribution, providing volunteer services or talking to legislators or reporters about the importance of access to justice - everyone can get involved and make a difference.
Please contact the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation at 1-800-877-9772 for more information or to volunteer to become part of the solution.