Have Justice, Will Work Pro Bono
07/07/11 7:30AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) A program that provides legal representation for domestic violence victims is out of money due to federal spending cuts. Have Justice Will Travel has laid off staff attorneys and support staff in Bennington and Randolph.
But as VPR's Susan Keese reports, the lawyers are still showing up, unpaid, in court.
(Keese) It's Thursday morning, and domestic violence is on the docket at the Bennington Court.
Attorney John Lamson was laid off weeks ago by Have Justice Will Travel. That's the organization that used to pay him.
Still, he arrives early in a jacket and tie. A deputy hands him a sheaf of papers - applications for Relief from Abuse Orders. Lamson says these orders are often the first step in dealing with an abusive family situation.
(Lamson) "If you are a family or household member of the person that you are asking for an order against, you can get relief from the court to have that person stay away from you if certain elements are met such as abuse has occurred and there is a danger of further abuse."
Every week, Lamson sees between five and ten new cases - and the work load hasn't stopped just because he isn't getting paid.
(Lamson) "I really loved position when I had it, and I really hope it will come back."
(Keese) Lamson, a Vermont native, returned to his home state, and enrolled in Vermont Law School because he wanted to help people. He got involved with Have Justice Will Travel as a student intern.
In 2007, thanks to a grant from the Federal Department of Justice, he was hired full time, to work in the Bennington office.
That funding was cut drastically two years ago and now it's run out.
(Ward) " And that's why I asked John and other staff members at Have Justice to take a temporary layoff for the summer."
(Keese) Wynona Ward of Vershire founded Have Justice Will Travel in 1998. Raised in a violent household herself, Ward eventually became a lawyer dedicated to helping others in that plight.
Her organization is the only one in Vermont that specializes in legal representation in divorce, child custody and similar cases. But now Ward has had to lay off five of her six employees.
Ward hopes the situation is just temporary.
(Ward) "We do have two grants written to the the Department of Justice Office of Violence against Women and we hope that at least one of those come through, which would allow us to still continue keeping the Bennington Office open and provide service both in Bennington and Rutland County."
(Keese) Back in Bennington court Lamson meets with today's clients and the other lawyers involved, so that the court proceeding runs smoothly.
The problem is a judge's order often doesn't mean a victim and his or her family are safe. Lamson says three quarters of his clients need other legal services.
He gives them a phone number, where a message can be left, and hopes the situation will soon change.
For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.