The strangest case was the man who said the "feds" and the Justice Department were trying to kill him. He brought in a small suitcase andwanted legal help.
"Unfortunately, I gave him my card," said attorney Franklin Ward, who signed up for the morning shift at the Harundale Mall Saturday to give people free legal advice. "He was really the only one I would call odd."
Most people who came to the seminar, sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Bar Association, had less mysterious concerns. They includedlandlord-tenant disputes, fights with neighbors over dogs that erupted in threats and gunfire, problems with wills and a teen-ager charged with stealing a car.
Many had never seen a lawyer before. Otherscouldn't afford to seek help, and this was their opportunity to ask the burning legal question they couldn't get answered any place else.
The bar association started the seminars three years ago in Annapolis. "It was so popular, we decided to do it twice a year," said Nancy Gordon, an association staff member. "We have a stack of people."
For Ward, a Glen Burnie lawyer in private practice, Saturday was the first time he'd ever offered free advice. He said he was surprisedat the variety of people and questions, all in just two hours. "There were some questions I really had to dance around," he said.
There were simple cases, like the woman who just separated from her husband but wondered if she should still file a joint tax return.
"It is probably to your best advantage to (file jointly)," Ward told her. "But then you have get into the problem of dividing up the refund."
Another woman, a widow, had just put her two grown daughters' nameson some stock and IRA certificates. She recently read an article that said this may not be such a good idea, and didn't know what to do.
Ward said it shouldn't be a problem, but pointed out that putting the daughters' names on the certificates is not a way of skirting theinheritance tax in case of death. "If the money passes to them in the will, the state is going to get its taxes anyway," he said.
There was the man from New York City, who planned to move to Maryland at the end of next year, after a trip to California. For some reason related to a divorce in 1968, he has no credit rating. He said he has been turned down for credit cards numerous times, but needs one to renta car. He wanted to know how to establish credit.
"There really isn't a pat answer," Ward told him. "You have to have credit to get credit."
The man said he has answered several ads from magazines. Inone case, he sent a company $10, but they told him they needed $500 to give him a credit card. "I will never do that," the man said.
"I don't know how reputable they are," Ward said. "I would be very leery about sending any money to them."
The man said he had $5,000, and asked if it would help if he opened a checking account. Ward told him it would. "If you have a bank account with $5,000 in it, they will give you a credit card," he said.
Then there was the elderly couple who were living together and wanted to make sure the woman had financial control in case the man -- who frequently found himself hospitalized -- got took a turn for the worse. They said they didn't want his children to get any money.
"I take care of all his bills and his checks," the woman said. "I have done this for years. I just want to know our legal rights."
And that's what the free legal advice day was all about.