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Attorney finds rewards in CASA work

June 02, 2003|By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Kelly Clopper, CASA's first full-time attorney, said her mentor gave her some valuable advice she plans to use as she represents clients involved in domestic disputes.

"Hagerstown attorney Martin Palmer told me the legal profession is 99 percent understanding human nature and 1 percent the law," Clopper said. "And it's true."

CASA, which stands for Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, is at 116 W. Baltimore St. It provides counseling, crisis intervention and shelter to victims of domestic violence and to homeless women and children. Vicki Sadehvandi is its executive director.

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"Kelly has been a great asset to our clients," Sadehvandi said, noting that before she was on board full time, legal services were available on a reduced-fee basis.

Clopper began her work at CASA in January through a program called Project Empower, a partnership between CASA and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service funded through a U.S. Department of Justice grant.

When clients first come to CASA seeking legal services, they meet with Lisa Enderlin, a legal advocate, who can give out information to begin the process though she is not an attorney.

"I have a limited caseload, so I have time to do the protective orders," Clopper said. She tries not to have more than 15 divorce/custody cases at a time.

Getting a protective order is often the first and biggest step in the process. "It can be scary, but I can lead them through it," Clopper said.

Only about 5 percent of CASA's clients can afford an attorney, Clopper said.

"I feel I am really making a difference," she said. "It's good to see when clients feel they have gotten some power back."

When she started at CASA, Clopper made a point to meet all the judges in Washington County. "I told them what I was going to be doing and they said they were glad someone was now doing this full time."

In addition to providing legal representation to clients, Clopper meets with them and with their therapists in case a legal question arises.

"We all go through safety plans with clients, as well," Clopper said.

Clopper, 29, grew up in the Williamsport area. She graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and then the law school at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Married with children, she was admitted to the bar in 1999.

"I was leaning toward domestic/family law from the start," Clopper said. She worked as Palmer's intern during the summer at his firm at 21 Summit Ave.

And when she passed the bar, Clopper took over Palmer's domestic practice.

The work Clopper performs at CASA is all free to the clients, or "pro bono" as lawyers call it.

"Some of the outcomes I have had in court have been as I hoped and others not," Clopper said. "It's a tough area but I like that I can focus my energies on these kinds of cases."

Everyone who comes into CASA is going through difficult times. Clopper said the goal at CASA is to help ease those woes as much as possible.

"We stress to people that they need to talk to someone who can help them understand what they are feeling," Clopper said. "That is so important."

For more information on CASA in general or legal assistance in particular, call 301-739-4990. To inquire about the services of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, call 1-410-547-6537.

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