Legal services advocates and pro bono attorneys are part of an honorable tradition entrusted to advance the cause of the impoverished, defenseless, and oppressed. By giving their time, money, and assistance, they make the difference between justice for some and justice for all. The stories below are a handful of examples of successful pro bono and legal services cases.
Settling Consumer Disputes
After purchasing a car, the client lost her job. Once she realized that she could no longer make payments to the dealer, she contacted them to return the purchased car and redeem her trade-in. The dealer refused to return the client's trade-in car, citing a clause in the contract that stated any misrepresentations about employment would nullify the contract. The dealer claimed that the client misrepresented her employment status when she purchased the car.
Unable to convince the dealer that she'd lost her job after signing the contract, the client turned to the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. VOCALS attorney John Coulter was given the case. He negotiated a settlement with the dealer without the need for litigation and helped the client recover the value of her trade-in.
Advocate: John Coulter, VOCALS Pro Bono Attorney – James, Carter & Coulter
The client was receiving SSI Benefits. Her already-limited source of income was suddenly reduced by $224 per month, a third of her income. With nowhere left to turn, the client contacting the Center for Arkansas Legal Services.
The case was assigned to Stacy Fletcher, who obtained a copy of the client's Social Security file to investigate. Upon review, it became clear that the client's Section 8 subsidy was being included in her income, even though Federal statute specifically excluded it. Fletcher contacted the local Social Security office to point out the mistake. In a matter of days, the client's files were corrected, the full amount of her benefits were restored, and Social Security would pay her back benefits up to two years.
Advocate: Stacy D. Fletcher, Staff Attorney – Center for Arkansas Legal Services
Protecting Families and Homes
In the divorce, a young mother without legal representation lost custody of her child to the father and was granted visitation only. After the divorce, problems began to arise when the father reported the mother to the Department of Human Services on two occasions. DHS determined that the accusations against the mother were untrue. However, the mother began noticing bruises on the child and reported the injuries to DHS. In response, the father filed a contempt action against the mother to try and restrict her visits.
Desperate to protect her child, the mother called the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. The case was assigned to staff attorney Mark D'Auteuil. After working 40 hours on the case, D'Auteuil presented sufficient evidence at the final hearing to prove to the court that the child was being abused at the home of the father. The court ordered that custody of the child be awarded to the mother and ordered that the father's visitations should be restricted.
Advocate: Mark D'Auteuil, Staff Attorney - Center for Arkansas Legal Services
Partners for Justice
The client took her great-niece to Arkansas Children's Hospital for a myriad of medical problems, including seizures, cerebral palsy, and gastrointestinal disorders. The child's mother felt unable to continue caring for the child, and after the father died the year before, the child was in danger of being removed from her mother's care.
The client wanted to provide the child a stable home and sought help for her legal problems through the newly-established Medical-Legal Partnership at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Jamie Goss Dempsey was given the case and successfully assisted the client with the adoption of her great-niece as well as a durable power of attorney for the client's son.
Advocate: Jamie Goss Dempsey, VOCALS Pro Bono Attorney – Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow
A Christmas to Remember
The client was referred to the Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly (AVLE) Program by the East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging for a debt collection issue. The client, a permanent resident alien and Spanish speaker, wanted help negotiating lower monthly payments on her debts. Legal Aid of Arkansas referred her to volunteer attorney Joe Barrett, who waived his fees.
Rather than negotiating lower payments, Mr. Barrett helped the client discharge more than $17,500 in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The client thought that she still owed the attorney for his fees, and Legal Aid called to tell her during the Christmas shopping season that she did not owe Mr. Barrett any money. The client was so pleased that she sent thank you notes and Christmas cards to Legal Aid, thanking them for all that they had done for her.
Advocate: Joe Barrett, AVLE Pro Bono Attorney – Joe Barrett, Attorney at Law
Protecting Arkansas Homes
The client's ex-husband died and left her with a large sum of money, which she used to buy two properties. A few months later, she gifted the properties, which had an estimated value of $60,000, to a man based on his promise to take care of her and her property. The client was vulnerable and suffering from bipolar disorder. A month after he was granted the warranty deed to the properties, he served her with an eviction notice. The client, who had been living in one of the properties, turned to the Center for Arkansas Legal Services for help. Center attorney Cecille Doan filed a complaint on the client's behalf, which led to the man settling the case and conveying the real property back to the client. In addition, he paid for filing fees and court costs.
Advocate: Cecille Doan, Staff Attorney – Center for Arkansas Legal Services
Guardian for the Guardians
The client, a grandmother whose daughter had stage four cancer, wanted to make sure her grandchildren would be taken care of. The father's whereabouts were unknown, and the family feared that the children might be placed in foster care if they couldn't find help.
The Reynolds Cancer Support House had been assisting the family and called the Center for Arkansas Legal Services on behalf of the family to express the urgency of the matter. Kathryn Stocks volunteered to handle the case, even though three days earlier, she'd accepted another guardianship case.
Stocks obtained the guardianship for the grandmother of three and managed to resolve the entire matter in less than 25 days, helping the children secure a stable home.
Advocate: Kathryn Stocks, RVAP Pro Bono Attorney – Jones, Jackson, & Moll
In the Name of Justice
On disability for several years, the client was involved in an automobile accident that broke his neck. While he was recovering, his mortgage company repossessed his house, changed the locks on the doors, and began garnishing his disability checks.
The client called Legal Aid of Arkansas to see what his rights were and was assigned to Jeannette Robertson. Ms. Robertson advised the client to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in order to protect his income.
The matter was resolved in the client's favor, and the client had an assured income as he continued his recovery.
Advocate: Jeannette Robertson, EAJP Pro Bono Attorney – Robertson Law Firm