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Legal help for low-income families


A landlord dispute, a will to be written, threatened eviction or deportation. A utility being turned off or a pension benefit denied.

Getting legal representation for such problems might be impossible for the low-income family were it not for the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc. (MVLS), a statewide organization that recruits attorneys to provide free legal service to low-income Marylanders.

In 1982 a group of lawyers founded MVLS and since that time, volunteer lawyers throughout the state help those eligible with civil but not criminal complaints.

Also, for the past year, MVLS has administered a program called Sixty Plus, which serves low-income seniors ages 60 and over. A fee of $25 is charged.

Winifred C. Borden, executive director of MVLS, explains the fee charged seniors: "Income determines eligibility for all of our volunteer help. For the seniors, the eligible income is higher so a small fee is charged. Also, the volunteer attorneys discovered in handling cases that the seniors wanted to provide some pay for services. However, no one is denied help," she says.

In Harford county, J. Richard (Dick) Moore III has volunteered for all of his 10 years in practice as a lawyer. "Young lawyers get a lot of mail and in my first few months, I received a letter from MVLS asking me to volunteer, which I have done willingly," he says, noting that he has particularly enjoyed working with the senior citizens.

"I have great respect for them and they are so appreciative," he says.

Mr. Moore is with the firm of Norman, Spicer, Moore, Stevenson & Haskins, P.A. in Bel Air, where he handles domestic and criminal law in Harford and surrounding counties.

A graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, Mr. Moore, 39, has lived in Maryland all his life, "except for the two years in North Carolina where I was born," he says.

He and his wife Linda "live in Abingdon, just six miles from my office. We have two young children, Sarah, who is 4 1/2 , and J. Richard who is 11 months. We call him J.R.," he says.

For MVLS, volunteer lawyers help with home-ownership problems along with complaints about products, debts and debt collection, repossessions, bankruptcy filing, deeds and wills and injuries. Also, if social security, unemployment, public or private pension benefits have been denied, a volunteer lawyer will with help.

Criminal cases which will not be handled include prison complaints, drunk driving, child and spousal abuse, paternity or child support cases.

In the senior program, lawyers will write simple wills, living wills, powers of attorney or will handle small estates and deed changes along with other legal needs.

Each program is for all Maryland citizens but each has a different telephone number to call. For the free MVLS service, a person may call collect (410) 547-6537 to determine whether his income makes him eligible for the services. Hours to call are 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesday or Wednesday and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday.

For the Sixty Plus program the toll-free number is (800) 492-1964 or in Baltimore City, (410) 539-3112. For the hearing impaired the TDD number is (410) 539-3186. Hours to call for this program are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

The Sixty Plus program was originally handled by the State Bar Association which, along with the Maryland Legal Services Corp. and Legal Aid (all non-profit organizations) fund these programs.

Ms. Borden says that volunteer lawyers are always needed. Currently, MVLS has 1,600 volunteers and Sixty Plus has 400. "We also need help with public relations," says Ms. Borden, "someone to write press releases and newsletters."

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