1 100 East Robinson Street, Orlando, FL Fax URL:
2 The Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc. Orange County Bar members who aspired to provide access to our judicial system for the poor in our community founded the Society in They began first with an all-volunteer model. Requests for assistance overwhelmed the Bar volunteers as the services became known and as the population grew. To meet this community need, the Bar added a staff component and became incorporated in Over the past forty-two years, Orange County Bar members, through the Society, have made every effort to provide legal services to the most needy in our community. As a result of their efforts, thousands of low-income families have been helped. Along the way non-attorney volunteers have been added, along with additional staff, and support from other local bar associations to meet the ever increasing needs of our growing community. Assistance is primarily provided for low-income families and for abused and neglected children. Our clients include working poor people, the disabled, the homeless, poor seniors and children. We offer a wide range of legal services, from simple advice and legal education to complex litigation and legislative advocacy. We provide services primarily in the areas of family, juvenile, housing, consumer, health, benefits and immigration law. We have many unique projects serving the needs of special client populations. The Society continues to earn recognition as one of the finest legal aid programs in the United States. This recognition is due to the extraordinary efforts of a committed staff, volunteers and bar association. Everyone has something we can use to assist us in making a difference. By helping us provide safety and stability to families, you are joining a special group of people intent on improving our community.
3 MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT Dear Bar Members and Legal Aid Supporters, This has been a banner year for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association. The donation of pro bono services by the attorneys of the Orange County Bar Association continues to provide the access to the legal system to the "working poor" of this community. Most of those served are workers in the service areas of our theme parks, restaurants, hotels and retail stores. These workers are the foundation of our tourist industry. The assistance provided to them help maintain stable families and thereby ensure a dependable workforce. Stable families also reduce the number of children who will need the services of a Guardian ad Litem. With the support provided by the Guardian ad Litem Pilot Project, the attorney volunteers were able to find permanent homes for over 2,000 children in Orange County. That is over 2,000 children who are no longer part of the Juvenile Court System. Some of these children went home to parents, others were adopted and others are in permanent homes with relatives. We are now in the process of ensuring that this amazingly successful program will continue to receive funding. The speedy resolution of these dependency cases is essential. As we enter the coming year, we are faced with challenges to our funding by the potential loss of the filing fees surcharge income due to the implementation of the changes mandated by Article 5 of the Florida Constitution. We will need your help and support to preserve replacement funding for this revenue source. We are grateful for the contributions of all our members and look forward to another busy and successful year. Sincerely, Sally D. M. Kest President, Board of Trustees
4 MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR Dear Friends, The Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association is a wonderfully integrated combination of staff and volunteers working together to build a safer and stronger community. We are successful due to the efforts of many, especially our attorney and nonattorney volunteers, our funding sources, our staff and the leadership of the Board of Trustees and the Orange County Bar Association. Working together, we build stronger families by protecting battered women, the elderly, and abused and neglected children. We help low-income citizens preserve their housing and remove barriers to unemployment. We assist families by increasing their financial resources. Helping the disabled obtain income and access to necessary medical services, and helping low-income consumers are also our priorities. Our typical client is a working poor single parent in the service, hospitality or retail industry who is one paycheck away from serious financial difficulty that would put their family at risk. We need your support to help these families survive difficulties that come their way due to illness, reduced work hours or other family difficulty or emergency. Your skills and financial support in assisting these families can make a big difference in making our community a safer and a better place to live. In building a stronger community, we work with many other important social service agencies and we are a key component in their provision of services. We provide all the legal services for Seniors First Guardianship Program. Harbor House depends upon us to represent battered women in injunction for protection hearings and in other legal matters. We assist clients, with AIDS, ARC and HIV referred to us by the Open Center, Hope and Help and Centaur, with wills and related documents. Our office provides legal education and services to pregnant and parenting teens through B.E.T.A. We offer legal education to lowincome clients in conjunction with Goodwill Industries, the Senior Resource Alliance, Anthony House, and Neighborhood Centers for Families, among other agencies. There are many challenges ahead to serve the legal needs of low-income clients in our rapidly growing community. Please help us bring stability to low-income families and children thereby making our community a better place for all of us. We offer many volunteer opportunities to use your skills. Your financial support is also very much appreciated. Thank you, Mary Anne De Petrillo Executive Director
5 2002 PROGRAM STATISTICS Legal Aid handled 20,617 telephone requests for legal assistance in All telephone calls for assistance are screened by trained lay volunteers and volunteer attorneys. Staff also serves as backup to answer the phones when necessary. Consumer Education Employment Family Juvenile Health Housing Immigration Income Mainten Indiv Rights Miscellaneous After the trained volunteers and attorneys speak with callers, they will make an appointment for them to complete an application for assistance, if appropriate. However, every attempt is made to refer the caller to another agency, organization, or program if they cannot be helped by Legal Aid. The following reflects the disposition of the telephone calls requesting assistance: Referred to Bar Program 44% Referred to Social Services 04% Referred to Other Programs 19% Appointment Made 33%
6 A total of 5,162 applications were completed in The below reflects the areas of request for assistance Consumer Family Juvenile Public Benefiits/ Health Housing Immigration Miscellaneous Applications were completed in our main office in downtown Orlando, as well as five outreach offices and shelters. Once the applications have been completed by the applicants, they are reviewed by a staff attorney. The applications that were completed in 2002 were disposed of as follows: 52% Advised and Accepted by Staff Attorney 20% Pro Bono and GAL Referrals 26% Referred to Other Agency 2% Low Fee Panel/ Senior Will Panel
7 INTAKE AND OUTREACH The main office of the Legal Aid Society is located in downtown Orlando at 100 East Robinson Street. Anyone in need of legal assistance is requested to call first. Trained volunteers speak with the callers and obtain basic information. This information includes income, household size, residency, and an overview of the legal problem for which the caller seeks assistance. Calls are accepted Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to noon and from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday calls are accepted from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Appointments are scheduled for those callers who appear to qualify financially and have a legal matter which we handle. The appointment may be scheduled for the main office or an outreach office. The outreach offices are located in Washington Shores, Winter Garden, Winter Park, Apopka, Pine Hills and East Orange. Also, some applicants may be mailed an application. When the applicant comes to the office at the appointed time, he or she completes an application for assistance. Once completed, a trained volunteer personally interviews the applicant. The application is reviewed for accuracy and completeness. Also, additional information is obtained regarding the specifics of the legal problem. At the conclusion of the interview, the applicant is provided with information regarding his or her current status and how and when we will notify them regarding the provision of legal assistance. All applications are reviewed by a staff attorney. Each applicant is then notified in writing whether we can provide legal assistance. This notification is sent to the applicant within three to five working days after their appointment. The intake procedure may differ for those who are disabled, elderly and walk-ins who have emergency matters. An application can be mailed to those who are homebound. For emergencies, an appointment with an attorney may be provided to them at that time of the interview or they are scheduled one for the next day. The volunteers who interview the applicants and accept the calls for assistance are trained by the Intake Supervisor, also a staff attorney. She reviews the applications and provides advice and sometimes brief services to those applicants not yet in litigation. The Society makes every attempt to treat the applicants in a compassionate and professional manner. If direct legal assistance cannot be provided, other options are provided to the applicant including referrals to social services agencies, if appropriate. In 2002, we received 20,617 phone calls for assistance and took written applications for 5,162 new clients.
8 In October of 2002, the Society was awarded a grant by the State of Florida. One of the services we provide under this grant is community education and outreach. Our goal is to educate low-income residents about legal matters before they have a problem. In order to accomplish this goal, we have been working with local social service agencies to set up seminars attended by their staff, their clients and other low-income residents. The seminars conducted so far have included discussions of family law, consumer law, immigration law, domestic violence matters, elder law, juvenile matters and public entitlements. To date, the seminars have been attended by approximately 2,000 people. During the course of these events we have distributed over 15,000 brochures. The brochures cover substantive legal matters, how to get assistance from the Society, as well as what social services are available in the county. The agencies we have been working with are: The Orange County Neighborhood Centers for Families, Goodwill Industries, Anthony House, Orange County Community Centers, several local churches, local Head Start offices, Children's Medical Services, Senior Resource Alliance, Seniors First, The Department of Revenue and Harbor House. We plan to continue this effort as it is a valuable component in the continuum of legal services we provide on behalf of low-income residents.
9 FAMILY LAW Family law continues to be one of the most requested areas of service for the Legal Aid Society. We provide direct services to clients through the combined efforts of pro bono attorneys and staff attorneys. The range of services includes advice and consultations, individual representation, self-help classes and referrals to other organizations. Because of the overwhelming demand and limited resources we have identified case priorities for individual representation and alternative methods of assistance. We provide individual representation in contested dissolutions of marriage with children and domestic violence issues, complex custody matters, domestic violence injunctions, paternity cases with issues of domestic violence and custody disputes, temporary relative custody and guardianship. Legal Aid offered Family Law Self-Help Classes in 2002, the third year of operation of the classes. Based on the interest and response of applicants, the divorce classes were increased to two sessions each month and other classes for paternity, custody and child support were eliminated in June. The project also experimented with a Saturday class and a Spanish class, which each received modest responses. The divorce classes are offered on two Wednesday afternoons each month with staff attorneys rotating as instructors. The two-hour class offers information about divorce, the court process, court approved forms and instructions and an opportunity to ask questions. Participants are able to come to a walk-in clinic each Tuesday morning for follow up questions with a staff attorney and the free services of a notary. About 250 people signed up for classes in Our staff works with Harbor House the local domestic violence shelter, as well as the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Through a referral process with Harbor House the domestic violence attorney represents survivors at injunction hearings. The attorney will meet with clients at least twice before the injunction hearing to discuss the merits of the case, explain the injunction hearing process and prepare the client for the actual hearing. Attorney will also conduct legal research, contact witnesses and issue subpoenas (for witnesses) as needed. The attorney, through a referral from Harbor House, also meets with survivors offering free legal consultations. The issues addressed include dissolution of marriage, custody, paternity, child support, immigration, the injunction hearing process and other issues as needed. Each applicant is provided a detailed letter regarding the issues discussed and the attorney tries to provide as many informational materials as possible, including a standardized parenting schedule (when appropriate), LAS brochures and applicable Florida Statutes. Each consultation applicant is also screened for additional services based in accordance with our intake department policies. Additional services that may be offered include a referral to our Family Law Self-Help Class, assignment to an in-house attorney, or referral to a pro bono attorney. The Society is in the middle period of a two-year fellowship from Equal Justice Works to study its family law delivery system. With sponsorship by Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed, the staff attorney position was created and filled in August The Fellow conducted a survey and evaluation of the results of the Self-Help Classes. She also completed a mail survey of pro bono attorneys related to training and family law issues, met with other legal services providers in the state and other community groups. The study will be completed in 2003.
10 The Society also began a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship with support from the Orange County Bar Association Education Fund and the financial contributions of OCBA members. The Fellowship works to provide targeted outreach and services to pregnant and parenting teenagers. The Fellow provides consultations or direct representation to teen parents. She also teaches monthly classes on legal issues within the teen parenting classes. The Fellow is developing a curriculum, brochures, and a teacher s resource book to further the education services and provide a model for other programs. The Fellowship will continue through September Also, in October of 2002, the Society received grant funds from the State of Florida. One service we were able to provide under this grant was community education and outreach. We were able to provide an attorney to speak to community agencies and community groups of low-income residents on issues of family law. Of particular interest in our clients were the issues of shared parenting, visitation, child support and domestic violence. We see this as a preventative measure by educating folks on the law before they have a legal matter. This grant covered an eight-month period and we hope to receive this grant for another year and to continue this service. We have also acted as a training and information resource for statewide legal services and legal aid offices, providing substantive training in these areas and sharing information on current, ongoing activity. A family law mini-group for the Central Florida area of legal services and legal aid practitioners was organized and met for the first time in The Society continues to monitor developments in the new Administrative Child Support System and has attempted through available avenues to communicate to other statewide providers of legal services to the poor the importance and serious consequences of this new out-of-court system. This included arranging, in cooperation with Florida Legal Services, a statewide training for legal services and legal aid attorneys on this new law. Efforts have been made to convince the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar to conduct a CLE training not only describing this system, but also providing family law attorneys, most of who are unfamiliar with the Administrative Procedures Act (Chapter 120 of the Fla. Statutes), the needed information for those practicing under this act. Additionally, the Statewide Child Support Taskforce, in which the Society participates, has continued to monitor the problems associated with the collection and accounting of child support, a task that has been somewhat hampered by the lack of sufficient available knowledge about the internal norms and procedures utilized by the agencies involved, i.e. the Department of Revenue, the State Disbursement Unit and the local Clerk s Depository. However, work done by the Statewide group has indicated an essential need for minimum basic information to be provided to the State Disbursement Unit by other participating entities, and how the failure to provide accurate information may result in missing or delayed distributions. The group is designing an uniform essential information form, to be filled out at the time an order is entered, that will hopefully avoid these problems, get the money to the children and give due credit to the payors. One issue currently being looked at is whether this can best be done through a statutory action or new Family Law Rule.
11 The legislative front continues to require substantial participation and resources, and continues to be a source of serious concern. Disputed legislative issues from previous years continue to resurface, some on a steady annual basis, some with increased energy. Thus, various versions of grandparent/great-grandparent visitation, paternity fraud, and further reassignment of fundamental issues (such as paternity determination) to the administrative child support system, continue. The Society actively represented the interests of its client population, which primarily consists of custodial parents, and these attempts did not succeed in the 2003 legislative session, but the pressure continues for changes in these areas.
12 CONSUMER The Legal Aid Society provides legal assistance in consumer matters such as personal bankruptcies, debt collection, car repossessions, wage garnishments, student loans, contract/warranty cases, car repair, predatory lending, mortgage foreclosure and home improvement cases. After family law, consumer matters consistently rank as one of the second most requested areas of law our clients need help with. The Society assists in these matters through a combination of staff attorneys, pro bono attorneys and community education. Bankruptcies are the number one consumer matter referred to pro bono attorneys. Pro bono attorneys represent individuals and provide a free consultation before representation to advise clients whether bankruptcy is appropriate. In addition, clients are offered assistance through the Low Fee Panel of the Orange County Bar Association if they are slightly over the guidelines to qualify for a free attorney. In late 2002, the Society was awarded a grant by the State of Florida. Under this grant, one of the services we were able to provide was community legal education on consumer matters. We teamed up with local social service agencies to conduct seminars during which we had an attorney discussing various consumer pitfalls and scams and the laws that apply. We believe that it is a valuable service to educate our clients on how to avoid getting into legal disputes in consumer cases. EMPLOYMENT While we don t handle employment discrimination or termination cases, we do receive a significant number of requests for assistance with unemployment compensation claims and wage claims. These cases are handled by staff attorneys and pro bono attorneys.
13 HOUSING The Legal Aid Society operates a very active housing law practice that seeks to protect the rights of low-income tenants who become involved in the eviction or foreclosure process and, as a result, risk losing their homes within a relatively short period of time. We also assist clients with substandard rental units in an attempt to get necessary repairs. Also, in the area of housing, we assist applicants seeking return of their security deposit when the deposit is $500 or more. Additionally, we defend tenants when a former landlord charges them what appears to be excessive damages. In most housing matters, the Society is involved in active litigation. However, some clients problems can be addressed by advice from an attorney. From the Society s viewpoint our clients are at great risk when their housing is jeopardized, because our clients often encounter simultaneous problems with employment and/or the potential loss of custody of children due to lack of suitable and stable housing. Because evictions can utilize Florida s summary procedure law, many of our clients need to be interviewed as soon as possible. Therefore, we have set up an intake emergency system where an applicant can be interviewed by an attorney the day they call the Legal Aid Society. Sometimes these appointments result in an attorney filing pleadings in the case within a twenty-four hour period. The Society focuses mainly on private housing law, whether in the context of a typical apartment/single family home rental relationship or where a person owns or rents a mobile home in a mobile home park. The Society does not ordinarily handle matters relating to federal subsidized housing. In addition to a designated staff attorney who handles housing law matters at the Society, each of the other staff attorneys at the Society are trained to handle landlord/tenant matters when the need arises due to the urgency of the eviction process. The determination of whether the Society can assist a tenant in his/her housing problem is made on a case by case basis by the Intake Department and the Society s housing staff attorney. Each case is evaluated based on merit, whether settlement negotiations are likely to be fruitful, and whether the case can be used for the purpose of advocating a change in Florida law as to the eviction process. If a determination is made that assistance is desirable, the case will be handled by either the staff attorney, or a pro bono attorney who has indicated an interest in handling housing law matters. The Legal Aid Society also operates the Homeless Advocacy Project for the purpose of assisting homeless persons in resolving their legal concerns. Staff coordinates the Homeless Project. Approximately 40 Orange County Bar Association attorneys meet with the homeless, on a set schedule, at 16 shelters or feeding sites throughout Orange County. They interview clients in order to determine their legal problems. The applications from the interviews are provided to Legal Aid staff. If the Society is able to assist a homeless applicant in resolving a legal matter, then such applicant is either referred to a staff attorney
14 or to an Orange County Bar Association pro bono attorney. If the Society is unable to assist a homeless applicant then such applicant is provided with information as to how the applicant can find assistance in resolving his/her legal concerns. The most common requests for legal assistance from the homeless include: helping obtain birth certificates and other identification for employment purposes, social security disability and child support. They also have problems in the following areas: divorce, criminal, landlord/tenant disputes, alternative housing, small claim disputes, personal injury claims and immigration. During calendar year 2002, we received 593 applications for legal assistance from the homeless who live in Orange County. In addition, we assisted an additional 647 homeless persons with their legal problems that did not result in a formal application for legal assistance. As a result, the Homeless Project processed formal and informal requests for legal assistance from 1,240 homeless persons, or approximately 20% of the homeless population in Orange County.
15 GUARDIAN AD LITEM The Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc. has provided legal representation and advocacy services to abused and neglected children in the juvenile system for over 30 years. Representation has been provided through volunteer attorneys who donate their services as Guardians ad Litem with support provided by Legal Aid staff. In addition, we also recruit and train citizens from our community to serve as GAL Volunteer Assistants in recognition of the important role lay people play in this process. Our panel of over 50 lay volunteers provide invaluable investigative services to our GAL attorneys. Through the efforts of some 600 volunteer GAL attorneys, over 1,200 children in Orange County currently have legal representation as they proceed through the juvenile, domestic and criminal court process. Over the span of the past 30 years, the staff of the Legal Aid Society and the pro bono attorneys who have done GAL work have developed not only an expertise in juvenile law and procedure but have also gained valuable insights into the pressing needs, gaps in services and various systemic issues that must be addressed in order to achieve permanence for the children we serve. In the Spring of 2000, legislation was passed that created a three year Pilot Project in the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Funds were attached to this legislation that allowed GAL Programs to expand and enhance their services. On January 30, 2001, the Legal Aid Society and the State of Florida, through the Ninth Judicial Circuit, signed a contract in which the State provided funding to Legal Aid to supply and enhance GAL services pursuant to this legislation. Funding for the Pilot ended June 30, These funds have been used to expand our in-house GAL staff with the goal of providing greater support services to our 600 GALs. Never before in the history of our GAL Program have we ever received funds that were to be used specifically for the needs of our GALs. Through this Pilot, the legislature sought to determine what impact attorneys representing children have on issues such as child safety, the provision of appropriate services and reduction of the length of stay of children in state care. One issue that most GALs can agree on is that dependent children have historically spent too long in foster care. Our permanency attorney has worked closely with GALs to assist them in identifying services that can help reunify a family or stabilize a relative placement, has advised GALs on TPR practice and procedure, explained options for older children who are aging out of the system, as well as provided legal advice on the various permanency options available to children pursuant to Florida Statutes. This increased focus on permanency by both the courts and our GALs has had a significant impact on moving more children into permanent homes. Over the course of the Pilot, over 3,000 children have found permanent homes and left the dependency system.
16 We also have a staff attorney who focuses on the health and mental health of the children represented through the GAL Program. We recognize that our children come into care with health and mental health problems as the result of physical or sexual abuse, drug dependency and neglect. Our health attorney is working closely with GALs to educate and inform them of what health related services are available by law for the children we represent and assist them in advocating for those services. This attorney is an experienced trial attorney and has co-counseled several cases with GALs seeking health related services for the children they represent. We have received invaluable assistance from Dr. Frances Shienvold, a local pediatrician who has volunteered to assist us and any GAL who may need someone to review medical records and offer guidance on issues related to medical treatment, drug interactions and the like. On our staff another attorney has served as our Services Coordinator over the past year. She has assisted GALs locate and identify needed resources for children such as vocational training, counseling services, tutoring and mentoring, as well as setting up staffings with DCF and attending those with the GAL to offer support and guidance where needed. She is also developing a directory of targeted community resources that will help GALs as they make recommendations to the court. She can also be found at the courthouse sitting in on hearings to help GALs with any questions or assistance they may need while they are at juvenile court. Two Society attorneys have overseen our GAL lay volunteers, now known as Volunteer Advocates for Children. They have had several very successful recruitments and as a result conducted trainings for over 30 new volunteers. The volunteers are available to do homevisits for courts in other jurisdictions, to assist GALs in dependency cases and to work on special projects with our GAL staff attorneys. Along with these attorney positions, we have an Education Advocate. She has earned both a doctoral degree in special education and received her J.D. She has been of great assistance to GALs in attending IEP meetings as well as in reviewing their school records and academic performance. She was instrumental in advocating for the development and implementation of a surrogate parent program in Orange County. This program provides a specially trained advocate to foster children in special education settings. Along with these staff positions, the GAL department at Legal Aid has been fortunate to have very capable legal assistants, referral assistants and a receptionist, all of whom strive to help GALs with any aspect of the referral and subsequent representation. These Pilot funds have, for the first time, allowed the Legal Aid Society to provide our pro bono GALs with the level of staff support needed to help them locate and identify needed services and to advocate for the provision of those services. Our GAL Program is a model for others to consider when looking for ways to effectively and efficiently serve the needs of abused and neglected children in the court system.