Bar News - April 19, 2013
Event Launches 2013 Campaign for Legal Services
By: Kristen Senz
"My dad used to tell me that there’s a distinction between charity and justice," NH Gov. Maggie Hassan told the sold-out breakfast crowd at the Campaign for Legal Services (CLS) kickoff at the Bedford Village Inn earlier this month. "… and we should never confuse the urge to be kind with the obligation to be just."
Linda Greenhouse, who covered the US Supreme Court at the New York Times for 30 years, was the guest speaker at the 2013 Campaign for Legal Services Kickoff on April 5 at the Bedford Village Inn.
The NH House in early April approved a proposed state operating budget for the next two years that includes increased funding for civil legal aid, which Hassan recommended. The governor told the audience at the CLS event, which included legal services representatives, members of the bench and bar including justices of the Supreme Court, and business leaders, that she "would have frankly liked it to be more."
The 2013 Campaign for Legal Services begins about six weeks after the release of a NH Bar Foundation-funded study titled "The Justice Gap." The study showed that the civil legal aid providers – principally, the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC), NH Legal Assistance (NHLA) and the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program – were only able to serve about 6 percent of the civil legal needs among low-income New Hampshire residents in 2010. A companion study, funded by an ABA grant, found that doing a better job of meeting these needs would not only better satisfy the obligation to be just, but also would have a boost the state’s economy, to the tune of about $84 million over 10 years.
The legal services organizations in New Hampshire work together and with volunteer members of the bar to provide free civil legal representation to victims of domestic violence, veterans, people with disabilities, families and other vulnerable residents. Leanne Bourgeois of Dover, one of these vulnerable residents, told her story at the campaign event. She spoke about her struggle to obtain Medicaid and Social Security benefits after at major heart attack at age 44 and subsequent complications left her jobless and nearly homeless.
With the help of Megan Mahoney, a paralegal at NHLA, Bourgeois successfully appealed the denial of her benefits. "I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t a freight train," she said.
Linda Greenhouse, who covered the US Supreme Court for the New York Times for more than 30 years, gave the keynote address at the campaign kickoff. Her talk hinged on this year’s 50th anniversary of the famous Gideon decision as she painted a picture of the legal landscape of 50 years ago. Despite a steady expansion of the meaning of equality, she said, the definition remains largely unsettled today.
The Campaign is a joint fundraising initiative to benefit three New Hampshire’s civil legal aid organizations: LARC, Pro Bono and NHLA. For more information or to donate to the NH Campaign for Legal Services, visit the campaign website.