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Attorney offers aid for needy

February 04, 2002

Attorney offers aid for needy



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


As Washington County's family law attorney, Michael Wilson serves as legal expert, counselor and interpreter.

Working out of the Washington County Circuit Courthouse, Wilson dispenses free legal advice to people with limited incomes who are involved in divorce, custody, visitation, child support and domestic violence cases. Wilson does this through the Family Law Assistance program.

"Some people are familiar with the system. With others, we have to start at the beginning," Wilson said.

Many of the cases deal with custody battles or bitter divorces which can heighten emotions, he said.

Wilson, 42, said he has learned to defuse tense situations by letting clients vent and by being patient. Eventually, his clients learn to trust him and know that he has their best interests at heart, he said.

On Thursdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., people can stop in at the Courthouse Master's hearing room and talk with Wilson.

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A person's financial status is first evaluated to see whether they qualify for the program, which is sponsored by the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service. They are then screened for any possible conflict of interest, he said.

For those who qualify, Wilson will explain legal paperwork, procedures and give advice. People can stop in as often as they like, he said.

Most often, people come to Wilson with divorce and custody issues, he said.

Wilson doesn't appear in court with the Family Law Assistance program, but he still considers the people he advises as his clients and the information they discuss privileged, he said.

People will learn what their options are, how to research their cases and defend themselves in court, Wilson said. Wilson recommends people bring in a written list of questions and points they want to discuss.

"For the most part, people are open and absorb the information like a sponge," he said.

His job is to simplify the process, he said.

"The rules of evidence can be like a big maze. Sometimes, getting through is difficult ... even for attorneys," he said.

A former banker, Wilson said he once thought of the legal system as remote and elite.

After law school, he says he learned that the legal system is accessible to the average person with the proper assistance.

With the right information, many people can present a good defense on their own, he said. A law library at the Circuit Courthouse is open to the public.

Being poor doesn't mean you're helpless, he said.

Wilson said he put himself through law school and now operates his own criminal and family law practice on Summit Avenue, so he understands what it means to have a tight budget.

"I've been there," he said.

Those interested in seeing whether they qualify for the Maryland Family Law Assistance Program can find the necessary forms at www.courts.state.md.us /family/forms/index.html.

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