A trip to our nation’s capital

By Carol Adinamis

I had the pleasure of visiting our nation’s capital recently to lobby our Indiana representatives and senators for more money for civil legal aid. As you may know, the problem of lack of funds to help our lower income Indiana residents with civil cases is an extremely serious burden both on the individuals involved and on our court system. If individuals cannot afford to hire a lawyer to solve a civil matter, they often will not defend themselves and take whatever the penalty is without questioning it, or they will represent themselves in our courts. Pro se litigants can also present a huge obstacle in our state because our trial court judges must balance the fact that they are to be impartial judges with ensuring that the parties get a fair trial. Our trial court judges will tell you that this is an impossible task.

In Indiana, we have several organizations that can help residents with civil matters, the largest one being Indiana Legal Services (ILS). Under the guidance of Executive Director Jon Laramore, ILS does a tremendous job of helping those in need. However, what ILS and other legal aid entities can afford to do comes nowhere near addressing the legal needs of our fellow citizens. As a result, we find parents that cannot afford to fight for custody of their children or ensure a safe place for their family to sleep. We have military veterans in desperate need of an attorney to help them navigate a confusing legal system when they are suffering from PTSD or some other form of disability. These particular stories are sad and endless.

So, a few weeks ago, ISBA Executive Director Tom Pyrz, past ISBA President Jim Dimos and I headed up to Capitol Hill to ask for more funding for civil legal services from our federal government. As you can imagine, some of our legislators were open to listening and even supporting us, while others, although still incredibly welcoming, had no interest in increasing or even maintaining the current level of funding received. I know our legislators regularly are asked for funding for various initiatives, but in our legal world this particular need is critical to ensure our courts run smoothly and our citizens don’t suffer for lack of representation. This was an unbelievable learning experience for me. We made a strong effort and can only hope that we made a difference.

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