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$256,500 Set Aside to give Free Legal Services

admin - January 7, 2012 - 0 comments

Written By: Don Walker, FLORIDA TODAY

The county will pay $256,500 to provide low-income residents free legal services this year, but Brevard County commissioners want the majority of those services to benefit victims of domestic violence and children.

The commission is expected to approve funding for indigent legal services during its regular meeting Tuesday. Counties are required to fund these services under Florida statute.

Brevard contracts with Brevard County Legal Aid Inc., a private non-profit agency in Rockledge. Executive director Robert Johnson said the agency assists as many as 2,000 clients a year.

“As far as access to the legal system for our clients, all of our clients are low-income. They stand to lose everything; custody of their kids, their homes, and they lose the opportunity to be self-sufficient and be productive members of our community. That’s what it boils down to,” Johnson said.

Money from the county amounts to about 33 percent of Brevard County Legal Aid’s budget. It also receives money though the Florida Bar Foundation, various grants and United Way of Brevard. About 50 percent of its cases are handled pro bono, meaning attorneys take the cases on without charging a fee.

Income criteria to qualify for services through Legal Aid is about $28,000 for a family of four. There’s great demand, Johnson said. About 8 out of 10 of those who qualify for services are turned away.

In 2007, Brevard County initiated a $65 court fee charged to people found guilty of felonies, misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses. Of the amount collected, 25 percent goes toward legal fees for county residents unable to pay for legal services.

Brevard County Legal Aid has been providing legal services for the past 42 years to indigent residents.

“In terms of what people stand to lose in family-law cases, we take the cases where there’s domestic violence or custody of minor children involved,” Johnson said. “We also have a children’s program where we represent kids abused, abandoned or neglected. We focus on family-law issues, and we get most requests for family law, housing and consumer.”

Contact Walker at 321-242-3527 or