Few of those reading today's paper will ever need to contact HELP Legal Aid in Scott County. Count yourself lucky. Our subscribers largely are working homeowners who hire their own attorneys if faced with eviction, domestic violence, or are victims of civil scams.
But those with nothing have no options when facing a dishonest landlord, a fraudulent contractor or an abusive ex-spouse. Our American civil justice system remains largely off-limits to those with a legitimate cause, but no one to represent them.
HELP Legal Aid was founded in Scott County 40 years ago by civic leaders who understood this. Father Marvin Mottett inspired a group to raise money and hire attorneys driven by an ethic for public service. That Quad-City activism came three years before the founding of the Legal Services Corporation, the national nonprofit using contributions, grants and government appropriations to help fund 136 independent legal aid groups, including HELP Legal Assistance.
That federal funding faces deep cuts, forcing HELP Legal Assistance to rely more on the local sources that founded it in 1971. Then, money first came from United Way, still a strong supporter. Legal Service Corp. funding came later, along with a wonderfully reliable Iowa funding source from the Interest on Laywer Trust Accounts. Money held in trust generated interest earmarked for Iowa indigent legal services. But lower interest rates have decimated that source. That interest income for HELP Legal Assistance dropped from a peak of $165,000 annually to just $29,000 this year.
Today, HELP's four staff attorneys each earn about $40,000 annually. Much work is done by private attorneys who volunteer for specific cases. The Scott County Bar Association has committed to $25,000 a year in funding, and set a $16,000 goal for the April 9 Barrister's Ball, an annual HELP fundraiser.
HELP also is hosting an Equal Justice Summit April 8 at
St. Ambrose University to train social workers, attorneys and interested members of the public about some of the most common legal aid cases.
"Lots of lawyers out there want to help, but have no experience in the types of cases legal aid handles," said HELP advocate and Davenport attorney Ed Cervantes.
The support of the county bar association, judges - including new Iowa Supreme Court Justice Tom Waterman in the column below - goes a long way to sustaining HELP Legal Assistance.
A role remains for the public as well.
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A contribution to HELP Legal Assistance endowment can serve our community's most needy: indigent Quad-Citians with bonafide legal claims, but no one to represent them. Money raised helps cover filing fees and other court costs, and sustains the Davenport office.
More importantly, it grants access to justice to victims with legitimate cases, but no one to represent them. For 40 years, Iowa Quad-Citians in precisely that predicament have relied on HELP Legal Assistance. Now, more than ever, HELP Legal Assistance is relying on you.
here's how to help
* Send your check to HELP Legal Assistance, 736 Federal St., Suite 1401, Davenport, IA 52803.
* Participate in the Equal Justice Summit, Friday, April 8 at St. Ambrose University Rogalski Center. The event features panels from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on consumer law, property rights, predatory lending and many other topics. The event culminates with a discussion titled, "An independent judiciary," including Iowa Supreme Court Justices Tom Waterman and Brent Appel, along with retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice Linda Neuman and federal District Court Chief Judge Robert Pratt.
Call (563)322-6216 for information on any of these events.