Support legal aid this #GivingTuesday

“I’m here, I didn’t forget you.”

For a domestic violence survivor Lucy Parker,* these words from her legal aid attorney brought comfort in the midst of trauma.

The mother of three young children, Lucy came to legal aid just days after she was released from the hospital. Although her husband had been abusing her for years, the most recent assault required emergency surgery to save her life. She was ready to escape her relationship and file for divorce, and her legal aid lawyer had the right tools to help.

Legal aid got her a divorce, helped her obtain full custody of her children, and secured child support. All along, her legal aid lawyer offered comfort and support, setting Lucy on the path to self-sufficiency and a new life free of fear.

This #GivingTuesday, supporters of Ohio’s legal aids can amplify donations to legal aid through The Columbus Foundation’s “Give Two on #GivingTuesday.”

Here’s how:

  • On Nov. 27, donate $20 or more to two nonprofits listed in The Columbus Foundation’s The Giving Store.
  • Select the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, The Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, or Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.
  • Receive a $20 Columbus Foundation Charitable Gift Card, redeemable at any of the 1,000+ organizations listed in The Giving Store.

“#GivingTuesday is a holiday tradition that really matters,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. “By donating through The Columbus Foundation, together we can give the gift of justice for all this holiday season.”

Attorneys recognized for legal aid leadership and advocacy

Attorneys Pamela Hayman-Weaner and Gary Weston, both of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, are the 2018 co-recipients of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF) Denis J. Murphy Award.

The Denis J. Murphy Award is presented annually to recognize outstanding leadership and advocacy within Ohio’s legal aids.

“We’re pleased to recognize legal aid attorneys who go above and beyond in improving access to justice for Ohioans struggling to make ends meet,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of OLAF.

Hayman-Weaner has spent her career working with survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and human trafficking. A skilled litigator and a tireless advocate for her clients, she has built strong coalitions to support domestic violence survivors.

Since 2006, Hayman-Weaner has led the Family Justice Center of Northwest Ohio, the first Family Justice Center to be based in a multi-county rural area and one of the few centered on the civil legal system. Under her leadership, Defiance County has been recognized as a model for community-based support and advocacy.

Gary Weston has been leading and managing legal service organizations, projects, and teams for more than 30 years. He has developed and implemented many innovative programs and partnerships at Legal Aid of Western Ohio to meet the legal needs of Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.
His most recent work involves helping seniors. He created and leads a project, “Plan Ahead and Protect Yourself,” that helps to combat elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Hundreds of “Plan Ahead” presentations have been made to seniors throughout the Dayton area, with follow up scheduled as-needed.

In 2006, Weston was the first recipient from the Miami Valley to receive the Distinguished Service Award from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and Legal Aid of Western Ohio. In 2012, he was recognized as a Dayton Bar Association Foundation Life Fellow.

Clinic helps Ohioans get their driver’s licenses back

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Oct. 22, 2018) — More than 150 citizens with driver’s license suspension issues attended a Driver’s License Reinstatement Clinic on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Franklin County Judicial Center.

The Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk’s Office, Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF), Legal Aid, and Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) partnered to provide guidance and assistance to those who qualified for driver’s license reinstatement services. In Franklin County alone, there are more than 370,000 drivers with suspended licenses. Across Ohio, there are approximately 3.3 million active license suspensions.

OLAF, Legal Aid, and OSBA offered free legal assistance, and volunteer attorneys helped participants navigate the step-by-step process. The Clerk’s Office accepted payments for court costs, fines, and provided access to the BMV online reinstatement website.

“Volunteering at the clinic was so satisfying for the attorneys,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of OLAF. “People are thankful for the help, because getting their driver’s license back means they can get to work, school, and to doctor’s appointments.” For Ohioans who need to get to work, reliable transportation is crucial.

This clinic was a collaborative effort with AA Affordable Insurance, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Columbus City Prosecutor, Franklin County Child Support Enforcement, Franklin County Public Defender, Franklin County Job & Family Services, Franklin County Municipal Court Judges, and Franklin County Municipal Court Self-Help Center.

“Friday’s clinic was a great success and we would like to thank all for sparing their valuable time,” said Lori M. Tyack, Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk. “The clinic is a precursor to a larger BMV Driver’s License Reinstatement Workshop which will be held next spring on April 4, 5 and 6. The workshop will assist drivers in taking advantage of the BMV Amnesty Program included in House Bill 336.”

National Celebrate Pro Bono Week kicks off Oct. 21

Ten years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, the American Bar Association created the National Celebration of Pro Bono, a week dedicated to recognizing pro bono attorneys and growing pro bono participation. Ohio attorneys such as Michael Sermersheim heeded the call to action, and volunteered legal help to those affected by the financial crisis, including Ohioans in danger of losing their homes.

“I had always felt the tug of pro bono work throughout my career, but I had a concern about the unknown,” Sermersheim said. “Community Legal Aid provided the training I needed to start taking on foreclosure cases.”

While the economy is much improved since 2009, there remains a substantial need for legal services for the more than 2.2 million Ohioans who qualify for civil legal aid. As the Tenth Annual Celebration of Pro Bono launches Oct. 21, private attorneys remain crucial to Ohio’s legal aids, who depend on volunteer service to help meet the civil legal needs of Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.

“Only lawyers solve legal problems,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. “Through pro bono work, attorneys can make a life-changing difference for Ohio’s children, seniors, veterans, and families.”

Pro bono service can be as simple as volunteering at a brief advice clinic or it can involve accepting a case for extended representation. Throughout the process, volunteers can count on Ohio’s legal aids for training, mentoring, and support.

“Legal aid provides a wealth of resources for volunteers,” Sermersheim said. “When you don’t fully understand an area of the law, they are there to help and assist.”

Sermersheim was recently named Community Legal Aid’s 2018 Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney of the Year. He sticks with the work because he knows his efforts are making a difference.

“We get people that have faced hardships, and they feel that they’re not listened to or considered,” Sermersheim said. “They don’t have a voice in anything. Just giving them the time and the care is a kind gesture that is very helpful to them.”

Attorneys can search Ohio Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for clinics, trainings, and recognition events statewide throughout October. For information on volunteering year-round, contact the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation’s Pro Bono Director Sophia Chang.

Emeritus attorney Michael Sermersheim commits to pro bono for the long haul

Community Legal Aid’s 2018 Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney of the Year Michael Sermersheim has made the most of his retirement. After 35 years as general counsel at The University of Akron, Sermersheim now enjoys a busy schedule of pro bono legal work that is making a difference in the lives of Akron residents who can’t afford an attorney.

It was during the financial crisis ten years ago that Sermersheim’s pro bono career began. He answered a call to Ohio’s attorneys to help Ohioans in danger of losing their homes from then Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.

“I followed up on that request and was referred to Community Legal Aid,” he said. “They provided the training I needed to start taking on foreclosure cases.”

One of his earliest clients was a man in his nineties who had refinanced his home to pay off his wife’s debt. After he fell behind on his mortgage payments, he was in danger of foreclosure. Sermersheim’s efforts stopped the foreclosure and saved the man’s home, a house he had lived in since the 1950s.

Years later, while volunteering for Community Legal Aid’s Credit Card Debt Clinic, Sermersheim taught a woman how to file a motion disputing a complaint about a debt owed on a credit card. Several months after he initially helped her, the woman returned to the same clinic to thank Sermersheim in person. She had followed his instructions, filed the motion, and the charges against her were dismissed.

“We get people that have faced hardships, and they feel that they’re not listened to or considered,” he said. “They don’t have a voice in anything. Just giving them the time and the care is a kind gesture that is very helpful to them.”

Sermersheim currently heads up the Peace of Mind Debt Clinic, where he advises Akron residents with significant debt. Some situations, such as student loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, are particularly challenging.

“Many times I’m not able to make the problem go away, but I can help them deal with it and move on,” he said.

All attorneys should commit to pro bono service, says Sermersheim, because there should be fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of the ability to pay for a lawyer. While it may be intimidating to practice an area of law that’s unfamiliar, Ohio’s legal aids are available to offer training and support.

“When you have a large segment of society that’s denied access to the legal system, because they don’t have money, I think that has an effect on our overall judicial system and our democracy,” he said. “It should be seen as a responsibility of those who are admitted to practice law to help those who are less fortunate.”

Oct. 21-27 is the Tenth Annual National Celebration of Pro Bono. For more information, visit the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.

Sophia Chang joins the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation as pro bono director

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF) has hired Sophia Chang as pro bono director. Chang is an attorney with eight years of experience practicing in both government and the private sector.

As pro bono director, Chang will support local and statewide efforts to grow pro bono resources in Ohio. She will collaborate with legal aids, the Supreme Court, and state and metro bar associations to implement a statewide vision for pro bono partnerships and alliances.

Chang joins OLAF from the Court of Claims where she was a magistrate presiding over hearings for cases brought against the State of Ohio and its agencies. Prior to serving as magistrate, Chang was a staff attorney with the Court of Claims and was previously an attorney with American Electric Power.

“Sophia is a terrific addition to our team,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director. “We look forward to her fresh ideas and expertise as we expand and develop new pro bono resources, a crucial component to improving access to justice for Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.”

Chang has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Ohio State University. She holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration from The Ohio State University John Glenn School of Public Affairs and a Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Akron attorney Bill Dowling receives pro bono award

Akron attorney William Dowling has been named a recipient of the 2018 John and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award.

The award recognizes a lawyer’s pro bono legal work in Ohio to provide access to justice for all. Bill has demonstrated exceptional commitment to pro bono legal services throughout his career and most recently through creating and sustaining the VALID program, a free monthly clinic that helps low-income Akron-area residents navigate the driver’s license reinstatement process.

Read more in the Akron Beacon Journal.

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