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Free legal advice offered July 19 at Department of Social Services

Maryland Legal Aid Pro Bono Day means people with limited incomes can get help with civil issues

July 08, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

Indigent criminal defendants have a right to legal counsel, often provided through the Public Defender’s Office, but people of limited incomes often have legal issues that are civil in nature.

While defendants or plaintiffs in civil matters are not guaranteed free representation, free legal advice will be available in Washington County at the Maryland Legal Aid Pro Bono Day on Thursday, July 19.

From 4 to 8 p.m., volunteer attorneys will be at the Department of Social Services, 122 N. Potomac St., to provide answers and advice on issues including family law, landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosures, business law, Social Security disability and other topics, said Katie Cox, a paralegal with Mid-Western Maryland office of the Legal Aid Bureau Inc.

There is no charge to attend and no registration is required.

Pro bono is short for the Latin “pro bono publicus,” or “for the public good,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary. It often refers to work done by attorneys on a volunteer basis.

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“I’ve seen the greatest need is for family law,” said Cox, a category that can include divorce, domestic relationships, child support and child custody. However, with a lackluster economy, Cox said many low-income individuals and families are also in need of advice on debt collection, bankruptcy and foreclosure, she said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michele Hansen is a member of the Washington County Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Access to Legal Services Committee, and will be a volunteer attorney on family law at the clinic.

So far, volunteer attorneys have been lined up for that and unemployment, landlord-tenant issues, bankruptcy and foreclosure and general consumer advise, she said.

The committee is looking for one or more volunteer attorneys to provide advice on serious traffic and motor-vehicle issues and expungements — clearing records of probation before judgment, inactive cases and dismissed charges, Hansen said.

“I’ve been very heartened that the paralegal divisions of the local colleges, Kaplan University and HCC (Hagerstown Community College) are sending volunteer paralegal students to support Pro Bono Day,” Hansen said.

They will be providing information on public benefits and housing, she said.

People planning on attending the pro bono day should also plan to bring relevant documents, such as lease agreements, income information, letters from landlords and intent-to-foreclose letters, Cox said.

“We’re also going to be working with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service” to provide possible pro bono attorney services for qualified individuals, Cox said.

This is the first pro bono day in Washington County, Cox said.

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