Before 1973, if you were poor and needed an attorney, you were often out of luck. There were a fair number of attorneys in the area who would help at a reduced fee or on a pro bono basis, but it often took a little luck and a lot of persistence before one was found. Many people simply went unrepresented.
In 1973, a group of local attorneys recognized the problems poor persons faced in finding an attorney to represent them and founded the Fredericksburg Area Legal Aid Society, a volunteer membership group which referred indigent citizens with legal problems to participating private attorneys in the Fredericksburg area. Over time the organization was funded by the United Way, Title XX programs and, eventually, the Legal Services Corporation established by President Nixon.
The organization hired full-time staff and changed its name to Rappahannock Legal Services, Inc. (RLS) to better reflect its expanded service area, which now stretches from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Northumberland and Lancaster Counties on the east, along the Rappahannock River watershed to the mountains of Madison and Rappahannock Counties on the west. The service area is larger than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut with a year 2010 poverty population of 52,573 (a 65% increase over the 2000 poverty population of 31,870). In May, 2012 RLS celebrated its thirty-ninth year of service.
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A Current View
Today, Rappahannock Legal Services operates 3 offices with 12 full-time and 3 part-time staff providing free legal services in non-fee generating civil matters to those who cannot afford an attorney.
The vast majority of RLS' cases are either family (primarily custody, support and domestic violence), consumer finance, income maintenance/health, or housing. For the fiscal year ending 6/30/11, RLS represented clients in 1,555 legal matters, including 1,336 matters handled by 6 staff attorneys and 2.67 paralegals and 219 matters handled pro bono by a panel of over 30 private attorneys.
Services provided ranged from counsel and advice to full representation in court and administrative hearings.
Monetary benefits awarded to clients during FY 10-11 totaled $1,323,362 and included $416,055 in child and spousal support and $793,449 in Social Security and SSI disability benefits. Claims avoided amounted to $133,486. Total benefits awarded and claims avoided amounted to $1,456,848. Numerous Medicaid and Medicare benefits were also awarded. Numerous foreclosures, evictions, and utility shut-offs were also avoided.
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A Broader Community Impact
RLS has also worked closely with a number of community service organizations by helping organize or otherwise support the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence (RCDV), the Fredericksburg Area Food Relief Clearinghouse (FAFRC), the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter, Hope House, Central Virginia Housing Coalition (CVHC), the Al Chaplin Group Home for Non-Violent Youth Offenders, Services to Abused Families (SAFE), Culpeper Community Development Corporation (CCDC), the Ann Wingfield Housing Corporation, the Fauquier Free Clinic, The Haven Shelter and Services, and Tappahannock Free Clinic.
RLS staff also serve or have served on the boards of RCDV, Hope House, the regional Spotsylvania-Stafford-Fredericksburg Group Home Commission, SAFE, CCDC, Ann Wingfield Housing Corporation, Haven Shelter and Services, Tappahannock Free Clinic, the Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center, and Family Focus and Scenario.
RLS staff also regularly provide community education through presentations to groups at homeless shelters, the Area Agency on Aging, Senior Centers, and nursing homes. In addition to hosting presentations, RLS also publishes articles in various local newspapers and newsletters.
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Board of Directors
- Candice Hall, Esq. (Vice-President)
- Tasha Browne
- David Danieli, Esq.
- Matt Kite, Esq.
- Robin Lam