Organization tackles legal issues for underprivileged


More than 92,000 low-income households in Utah are affected by civil legal problems each year, including University of Utah students. One particular organization is working to help get voices heard.

“…And Justice For All” is an organization encompassing three groups of civil legal services: Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and Utah Legal Services.

Together, these organizations assist low-income and disabled individuals who often have nowhere else to turn.

One University of Utah student who uses a wheelchair ran into a dilemma last year when road construction on campus blocked the entry at his regular bus stop. This oversight forced the student to find a new route that took an additional 30 to 45 minuets every day. It also prohibited him from ever making it to class on time.

After calling the Disability Law Center, the problem was solved within a week and the student was able to return to his regular route.

“What may seem like a minor inconvenience to some became a major obstacle to my education,” said the student in an interview with “…And Justice For All.” “I am so glad there was someone at the DLC who could help me and that the University was eager to find a realistic, workable solution,” he said.

Most of the problems brought to the organization are very basic legal issues that impact everyday life. Certain individuals facing these problems are invited to utilize the organization’s services free of charge. The eligible individuals include those in poverty conditions, those with physical or mental disabilities, as well as those who are victims of domestic violence.

Kai Wilson, executive director of “…And Justice For All,” describes their typical caseload as issues “that impact what we all do every day, from the relationships we have … to how our houses are built and what landlords have to do to make sure we are in safe and stable housing.”

Since 1998, “…And Justice For All” has been striving to equalize the playing field for those in need. The services offered at “…And Justice For All” provide aid that Wilson estimates can improve the quality of nearly 20 percent of low-income households in Utah.

The United States legal system can seem complex and confusing. Wilson said only 13 percent of the households that are considered very poor are receiving help with their civil legal problems.

Wilson describes one of the goals of the program as self-advocacy. “…And Justice For All” emphasizes teaching people to fight for their own rights and showing them the necessary steps to take.

Often “…And Justice For All” partners serve by giving simple legal advice to those who need it. If necessary, however, the organization also has the capacity to represent clients in trials.

Of the individuals who contacted ULS last year, Wilson said only about 8,000 were represented at trial. In taking cases, needs are prioritized and those with the most pressing issues are assisted first. Domestic violence is one example of a pressing issue that is prioritized.

“…And Justice For All” acts as an umbrella organization to its affiliates. The combination of three of Utah’s existing legal aid services allowed all of the organizations to save money through shared logistics and staff support. This situation also benefits individual clients who need to utilize more than one of the three affiliate organization’s services.

“…And Justice For All” has an official mission to create and sustain resources to provide effective civil legal services while strengthening individual agencies in its distinct roles. Wilson estimates that together these organizations assisted around 36,000 people in 2008.

The government subsidizes 80 percent of funding for Utah Legal Services and Disability Law Center. Other sources of income include donations from members of the Utah State Bar in the form of monetary gifts and pro bono work. Fundraisers are held throughout the year to raise money for the program.

Assistance is also available to immigrants, refugees and American Indians in Utah through further affiliated organizations, such as Navajo Nation Legal Services (DNA), Catholic Community Services and the Multi-Cultural Legal Center.

Growing organization creates legal assistance for Utahns in need


“…With liberty and justice for all.” When the Rev. Francis Bellamy drafted those words in 1893, he intended that they be awarded not to only a select few, but everyone. Over time the ideal that he strode for began to fade just like the paper on which it was written.

Using the words of Bellamy’s “Pledge of Allegiance,” the organization “…And Justice For All” has created a web of pro bono legal assistance for those who cannot afford or understand it in an effort to truly restore “…liberty and justice for all” throughout the state of Utah. Due to massive federal funding cuts to legal services nationwide 13 years ago, “…And Justice For All” was created to offer pro bono legal services to Utah’s community as well as create fundraising opportunities. Leading the group is Kai Wilson. Wilson joined the program in its infancy and since then the organization has come to be a fundraising umbrella agency for Utah Legal Services, Disability Law Center and Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.

“…And Justice For All” is the essential glue that binds the three legal bodies together by raising money, directing clients to the proper agency and attorney and educating people who need a legal edge but cannot afford consultation.

“The agencies offer help, anywhere from brief consultation to full representation in cases such as family law, disability claims, domestic violence cases and help with many other substantive matters,” Wilson said.

Although the attorneys in the agencies can fully represent their clients, many of them don’t need that amount of assistance. “Last year the agencies associated with ‘…And Justice For All’ assisted over 36,000 people,” he said.

Among the agencies, Utah Legal Services assisted 22,000 of those people, of which 8,000 received full legal representation in their cases.

The basis for the creation and continuation of “…And Justice For All” and its sister agencies is that people in the community who have the smallest voice and the least amount of resources typically need the most help with legal issues. Wilson said there is growing concern with the lack of legal access in America.

“Utah politicians are recognizing the problem that we face,” Wilson said. “One Utah lawmaker said that the state of the judicial system is that a lot of people are looking in at the party through the window, but can’t get in.”

Although the state and federal judicial systems are capable and accepting of pro se cases, self-representation may detract from the quality of judgment that a client may receive as opposed to having a qualified attorney.

Sharon Donovan is a prominent Salt Lake City family law attorney who served on the board of Legal Aid for six years and one year as agency president. Donovan also was recently named the Utah State Family Lawyer of the year.

“Legal needs should not be reserved only for wealthy or middle-class citizens,” she said. “The judicial system has no one to help all of the people that need it, nor the time to guide pro se clients while in the court of law. By having competent lawyers at no cost, the quality of judgment in the courtroom and the movement of the legal process is greatly improved.”

Within the past decade, “…And Justice For All” has grown from a grassroots organization to a respected and vital part of the legal community in Salt Lake City and Utah in general.

“As a part of being a lawyer, The Utah Rules of Professional Conduct  encourage any attorney to donate 50 hours of pro bono work a year or donate ten dollars in lieu of each hour to an agency providing legal aid to the poor,” Wilson said.

The agency is also seen as a great place to donate money, not only to help the community, but also provide tax deduction benefits to lawyers and firms in Salt Lake City. “Before the creation of the agency, only 5 percent of firms gave money to our cause; now over one-third of the Utah Sate Bar supports us financially,” Wilson said.

Although “…And Justice For All” has made strides in the legal community that were hard to imagine a decade ago, certain obstacles still remain.

“We would love to get to the point that we are helping as many people as more successful states, like Washington,” Wilson said.

What is stopping them now? “Money. It’s all about the money,” Wilson said. With funding from lawyers and private citizens alike, “…And Justice For All” could potentially meet its goal of increasing the number of clients who receive quality legal counsel and be a national leader in pro bono services within the next 10 years or less. To accomplish this, the organization plans to push forward with more fundraising and community involvement.

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