Thursday, March 2, 2017


By: Kate Giammarise, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Published: February 27, 2017

Funds for low-income people seeking legal help in civil cases — such as those involving domestic violence protection from abuse orders, child custody issues, evictions, mortgage foreclosures, utility shut-offs, and access to public benefits — could potentially become scarcer.

According to several reports, President Donald Trump’s budget proposal could eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal assistance for low-income Americans. Locally, legal services funds go to the Neighborhood Legal Services Association, Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, Inc. and Laurel Legal Services, Inc.

Defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed the right to an attorney because of the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, but no such universal right to representation exists in civil matters.

In civil cases, basic human needs can still be at stake, however, such as those involving shelter, safety or child custody, noted Robert Racunas, Neighborhood Legal Services Association’s executive director.

His organization’s clients “include hard-working, low-wage earners; victims of domestic violence; veterans; the disabled; abused seniors; and the homeless, as well as countless others without the resources to afford legal assistance even when their need is desperate,” Mr. Racunas noted. The agency serves Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties.

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