News for the Wyoming Legal Aid and Access to Justice Community | Volume 1, Issue 3
July 25, 2013
In this issue:
Access to Justice Commission Receives Grant from the ABA
The Wyoming Access to Justice Commission, through the efforts of Commission Chair, Hon. Justice James Burke, was recently awarded an Access to Justice Innovations Grant from the American Bar Association. Wyoming was one of seven states to receive a 2013 Innovations Grant. The Commission worked closely with the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid to develop a grant proposal aimed at increasing access to legal services in rural areas of the state.
The Commission, in collaboration with the Center, developed a plan to place remote access sites in five underserved rural communities in Wyoming. The Center has identified community partner organizations in each of the communities who have volunteered to provide space for the sites and their staff to man the sites. The Center will equip each site with computers with Skype capabilities. The computers will be used to host Skype clinics in order to match the need for legal advice in rural areas with pro bono attorneys willing to meet with the client remotely using Skype. The remote access sites will also be available for any of the Center’s grantees or the legal clinics at the University Of Wyoming College Of Law to meet remotely with clients in those communities.
The Center will be setting up the sites over the next month and will begin implementation of this project. The communities which will pilot the remote access sites are Cody, Douglas, Evanston, Newcastle, and Thermopolis. Volunteer attorneys will be able to provide pro bono services to these rural areas of the state without leaving the comfort of their office. Attorneys who would like to volunteer their time for a Skype clinic can contact the Center to sign up for the project.
The ABA Access to Justice Innovations Grants are funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation and are administered by the ABA Resources Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. The grants are provided in order to strengthen and promote innovative initiatives by access to justice commissions.
Collaboration Supports First Legal Aid Attorney for Rock Springs
Through a collaboration between the Sweetwater County Family Justice Center, the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid, and Legal Aid of Wyoming, the Rock Springs area now has a full-time legal aid attorney for the first time.
Bethia Hyatt was recently hired for this newly created position. Hyatt obtained her law degree in May 2012 from St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Hyatt was an active volunteer in law school and volunteered 600 hours of service during that time. Her volunteer experience included family law work.
“I’m excited to be a part of the Family Justice Center,” Hyatt said. “I look forward to collaborating with other agencies to provide the best possible service to families in the area.”
The placement of legal aid attorneys in many areas of the state in the past has been cost prohibitive due to the overhead expenses of opening a physical office. However, through this cooperative arrangement, the Sweetwater County Family Justice Center donated space to house the attorney which made it feasible to place an attorney in Rock Springs. The Wyoming Center for Legal Aid provided the necessary funds for the attorney through a grant to Legal Aid of Wyoming, who uses the funds to employ Hyatt.
“We are very pleased that we could provide the funds to locate an attorney at the Family Justice Center. It’s hard to imagine a better situation for all our agencies, and those most in need of access to justice,” said Angie Dorsch, Executive Director of the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid.
This partnership was also made possible through the work of Brett Johnson, County Attorney for Sweetwater County. The Family Justice Center came into existence because of his dedication to the concept. Since opening in September 2012, the Family Justice Center has served more than 200 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual assault, stalking and elder abuse.
After evaluating the effectiveness of this collaboration with the Family Justice Center in Rock Springs, the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid is working with a community organization in Gillette to try to replicate this model and place an attorney in the Gillette area in the very near future.
SPOTLIGHT: Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc., Lander Office
Migrant Labor Disputes and Human Trafficking Happen in Wyoming
Contributed by Valerie Schoneberger, Attorney and Deputy Director of Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc., Lander Office
So far in 2013, Wyoming employers have posted 49 job orders on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website seeking between one to seven workers each. Livestock producers often rely on temporary agricultural workers to tend to the animals because native born workers won’t fill these jobs. Migrant workers come to work legally under the H-2A program. The H-2A temporary agricultural visa program allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature.
In Wyoming, many H-2A workers are Peruvian sheepherders. The terms of the program are complicated and involve interactions with many governmental agencies. The key provisions of the visa program require the employer to pay the worker $750 per month and provide three meals per day and lodging at no cost to the worker. Also, the employer is responsible for the worker’s transportation to and from his country of origin so long as the worker completes his work contract. In exchange, the worker works long hours and is on call 24/7 without paid time off usually living in a primitive sheep wagon, has a contract that ties him to his sponsoring employer, and is exempt from minimum wage and many other labor laws.
Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc. receives a steady stream of complaints from these workers ranging from inadequate provisions of food and water to unpaid wages. Some sheepherders talk about abusive working conditions, being yelled at and completely isolated on the range, threatened with police action, denied access to medical care although covered by Worker’s Compensation, or having their personal documents such as passports and visas confiscated. The remedies range from receiving Worker’s Compensation benefits to being granted a T-visa (for victims of human trafficking.) Several Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc. clients who have been helped, still report living in fear even after the abuse ends and require continuing support from the community. The first step in receiving assistance for victims of human trafficking is contacting the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24-hour hotline at 1.888.373.7888. Victims will be referred to non-governmental entities providing legal assistance and/or case management or connected with law enforcement. Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc. also operates a legal advice hotline at 1.888.432.9955.
Center Funding and Initiatives Continue to Increase Access to Legal Services and Information
Although the final quarterly reports for the 2013 fiscal year, which has just ended, have not yet been compiled, the increase in legal services through the first three quarters of the 2013 fiscal year shows substantial progress in the expansion of services.
In November 2012, a statewide hotline for civil legal advice and intake began operations. The Center works collaboratively with Legal Aid of Wyoming to provide the hotline. The Center provides funding to Legal Aid of Wyoming to staff the hotline with attorneys to provide legal advice and assistance over the phone. From November 2012 when the hotline began operations until June 30, 2013, the hotline attorneys have provided advice and brief services to 2,565 callers. The hotline has made it possible for qualifying individuals to call the toll-free number and speak to an attorney no matter how far they may live from the nearest legal aid office and is a valuable resource for those who would otherwise not have access to the advice of an attorney. The toll-free number for the hotline is 1-877-432-9955. The hotline is available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Additionally, during the first three quarters of the fiscal year, from July 2012 through March 2013, the Center’s funding and grants provided 539 individuals with the direct legal services of an attorney. More than twice as many individuals received direct legal services in the first three quarters of 2013 than in the entire previous fiscal year.
The Center also launched a legal information website in November 2012. The Center’s new website, www.legalhelpwy.org, has received more than 3,200 visits since January 2013. The Center continually adds additional legal topics, information and resources to the site, so if it has been awhile since you last visited the site, take another look to see what is available.
The Center, in cooperation with the State Bar and the support of the Access to Justice Commission, has developed materials and provided training on limited scope representation for Wyoming attorneys over the past several months. The Center offered the CLE in Cheyenne, Rock Springs, and Jackson and will also be offering the same topic at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Gillette. The program has been free of charge because of the many presenters who have graciously donated their time, especially Mark Gifford who has shared his expertise at each of the CLEs. The Access to Justice Commission supports the efforts to increase limited scope representation as a way to increase access to attorneys’ services for low to moderate-income individuals.
All of these programs together have helped to serve many more Wyomingites than have been able to be served in any previous year. The Center will continue to find ways to expand the availability of legal services and information throughout Wyoming.
Center Awards Over $750,000 in Grants for the 2014 Fiscal Year
The Center recently awarded grants for the 2014 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2013. The Center awarded over $750,000 in grants for the provision of legal services to the low-income. The grants were awarded to four grantees: the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Legal Aid of Wyoming, Teton County Access to Justice Center, and the Wyoming Children’s Law Center. The grants will be used to increase the capacity of the grantees to provide legal services throughout the state.
The grant to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence funds the salary and related expenses for one full-time and one third of the salary of a second full-time attorney to handle cases involving domestic violence or sexual assault through the Coalition’s statewide program.
The grant to Legal Aid of Wyoming will continue to fund the civil legal aid hotline as well as a limited number of private attorney contracts and a full-time attorney for the Rock Springs area.
Funds have also been set aside for the expansion of services to the Gillette area. The Center has dedicated funds for the upcoming fiscal year to be used to pay for a full-time attorney who will serve Gillette and the surrounding area. The Center is working to enter into an arrangement with a community organization in Gillette to get this expansion project off the ground.
The increased amount of grants awarded for the 2014 fiscal year will enhance the delivery of legal services throughout the state by providing our grantees with the necessary resources and tools.
Three New Members Appointed to the Center’s Board of Commissioners
The Wyoming Supreme Court recently appointed three new members to the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid’s Board of Commissioners: Jacquelyn Bridgeman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law; Jennifer Hanft, Attorney at Law and solo practitioner based in Laramie; and Stacey Obrecht, Attorney at Law and Consultant at Public Knowledge, LLC. The Wyoming Center for Legal Aid is pleased to welcome the Board’s newest members.
Leigh Anne Manlove, of the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office, and Christopher Reimer, of Long Reimer Winegar Beppler LLP, were inaugural members of the Board whose terms recently expired. The Center would also like to thank our outgoing board members for the extraordinary time and energy they volunteered in the formation of the Center.
For a complete listing of all Board members and to read more about the Center, please visit the Center’s website at, http://www.legalhelpwy.org/index.php/about-us/. Our Board members are dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers who work to promote our mission to serve the legal needs of low-income persons of Wyoming.
Wyoming Center for Legal Aid
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