When Anna’s husband assaulted her, she thought she had no one to turn to — no one who could help her and her children find a way out.
“My injuries that resulted from that assault, both physically and mentally, prevented me from being able to work or really leave the house for over two months,” Anna* wrote in July. “I have four children — three of whom witnessed the assault. The emotional strain in recovery this had on my family, left me with no means to afford an attorney.”
But when Anna found The Justice Center, she found hope.
“I attended a legal fair in El Paso County, to pursue a divorce after my husband was convicted,” she said. “It was there I met [my attorney]. … He was not only intelligently informative, he was compassionate and made me feel very protected. Being battered for many years, I was still suffering from post-traumatic stress, which gave me a lot of anxiety. [He] was always in touch with me to answer any questions or concerns, and he was often the voice I couldn’t find within myself to fight through this process.”
Since 2011 The Justice Center, a charitable subsidiary of the El Paso County Bar Association, has been working to decrease the gap in access to justice and legal services in the Pikes Peak region by offering free legal clinics, participating in community access-to-justice events, and connecting people with pro bono and “low bono” (reduced cost) representation.
The Justice Center takes cases involving family law, landlord/tenant issues, uncontested probate, bankruptcy and guardianship. Criminal cases are only considered for the reduced-cost program.
The Justice Center does not have attorneys on staff, and depends on volunteer attorneys to take on cases. It is solely funded by grants and fundraising efforts, and does not make a profit from any of its services. Because demand is so high, priority is given to victims of domestic violence, veterans, senior citizens, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, and people facing landlord/tenant issues, said Britt Kwan, the center’s executive director.
To be considered for pro bono representation, applicants’ household income must be below 200 percent of the federal poverty line; for low bono representation, it needs to be below 275 percent.
Through Give!, Kwan said The Justice Center is looking to grow its individual donor base and boost awareness.
“I would say we’re 99 percent funded by grants at the moment,” she said. “Increasing individual donors would also mean that they’re sharing about our programs with other people, sharing about our work. I think in general the legal community knows about what we do, but not a lot of the general public does — so we’re hoping to extend to the general public in terms of giving, in terms of word of mouth.”
The center is also hoping to raise money for more clinics, including a new veterans’ clinic, and for volunteer recruitment.
“We’re also looking at things we can do to support our volunteers — how can we support the attorneys who take our pro bono cases so it doesn’t come at a financial cost to them when they take that on?” Kwan said.
For Anna, her volunteer attorney and The Justice Center formed a lifeline in her time of need.
“I sincerely do not believe I would have come out of such a torturous period of my life without the guidance, professionalism and wisdom [of] my attorney,” she said. “The pro bono program saved my life in a sense, affording me the opportunity to exit a dangerous situation and be able to still take care of my kids. I will be eternally grateful…”
*Not her real name