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2017 Summit Introductions
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Robert J. Woods, executive director of the United Way of York County, welcomed everyone to the York County Legal Services Summit. 

He set the stage for the event by highlighting the reason why the summit was convened: every day in York County, over 50,000 of our friends and neighbors wake up to the harsh realities of living in poverty.  In recent years, despite our best efforts we have continued to see a distressing rise in York County’s poverty population and the corresponding growth in the demands placed on our network of social services agencies.

Only one in five low-income people who experience a legal problem can get legal help from any source, no matter how urgent the issue.

 

In York, more than 50,000 people qualify for civil legal services, but only four full-time lawyers are employed to help them. 

 

Critical civil legal matters such as child snatches, domestic violence, divorce, and the loss of one’s home threaten the well-being of families and cost our community money.  Can you imagine facing one of these serious legal problems without knowledge of the legal system and no hope of legal representation?

 

The lack of access to legal aid fuels community health issues such as escalating mental health needs and domestic violence, disruption in schooling and truancy due to frequent moves, increased need for sheltering, and demand on social service agencies.

 

Over the past several years, the community has come together to address the issues.

 

In 2012, a Legal Services Task Force (LSTF) of community leaders and stakeholders was convened.  The findings revealed that the entire county suffers from an inadequate legal aid safety net.  Based on the recommendations of the Task Force and an economic impact study, the York County Bar has strategically developed plans to address the gap between the law-related programs it funds and community need.  

 

The plans involve three key areas:  ensuring efficiency and quality services, increasing community awareness, and developing sustainable funding.  This summit was created as a means of sharing information and gathering feedback regarding additional ways we can collectively address the access to justice crisis in York County and help stabilize families.

 

For those who attended the event in 2015, progress has been made and new programs have been created as a result of your input.  It is our goal to keep the momentum going.

 

 

Judge Joseph Adams, President Judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas, remarks emphasized how York’s crisis in civil legal representation impacts every one of us who cares about, and pays taxes in, York.

York County’s network for civil legal help has eroded to the crisis point, while critical needs have increased. 

State funding is half of what it was in 1996; other funding sources have dwindled.  To quantify the cost of the problem, the Bar commissioned a nationally renowned firm to provide an economic impact study of Bar-funded civil legal service programs.  The results:  in 2013, a total of $1.1 million invested in York County-based civil legal services from all sources yielded $9.9 million in income and savings – a nine-fold return.

For every $100,000 invested, another 120 families are served, generating an additional $900,000 in economic benefits.  The bottom line is that civil legal services in York County return a staggering $9 for each $1 invested by enabling access to the civil justice system for people who lack the means to hire a lawyer.

The benefits ripple outward:  families stay in their homes, women and children escape domestic violence, and public programs and the court system work more efficiently.  Additional benefits may be even more significant:  avoiding long-term impacts of eviction or foreclosure; contributing to a more stable workforce for employers; helping children stay in school without interruption by homelessness and/or domestic abuse; and easing the strain on the court system.

The rise in York’s poverty population has also created tremendous increase in self represented litigants. When litigants come to court without a lawyer, they are at a disadvantage. Even if their case is strong, they can easily get lost in a maze of procedural rules and arcane terminology. A single error can doom their chances, long before a trial date is set – and ultimately costs the taxpayers thousands of dollars in administration.

Law related programs are available in York County to increase access to justice including the Court Self Help and Law Resource Center that was launched with seed funding provided by the Bar Foundation.

 

We are grateful for the public and private partners who have expressed interest in joining us to create permanent, sustainable change to improve the access to and the administration of justice in York County. 

 


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