Legal Aid gets boost in Howard

More money will reinstate full-time operations

June 29, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Helped by $50,000 from Howard County government that becomes available Thursday, Maryland's Legal Aid Bureau will resume full-time operations in Howard for the first time since 1995 -- meaning 250 more county families served each year.

Four years ago, deep federal budget cuts eliminated nearly a third of the agency's funds, forcing closure of the Montgomery County office for nearly three years as well as cutbacks in Howard.

This year, the Howard County Council approved the funds, which will be matched by the bureau.

Legal aid plans more services in Baltimore County, too, thanks to an extra $25,000 from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's administration, said statewide legal aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph.

Since arriving three years ago, Joseph has been trying to rebuild Maryland's legal aid organization from the inside out, using public and private donations to boost salaries to recruit and keep a corps of experienced lawyers, and provide computers for the 90 attorneys and 45 paralegals. The bureau opened 35,000 cases last year, but fielded thousands more calls that were resolved with quick advice, Joseph said.

Starting pay was $25,000 a year with no step increases from 1990 to 1997, he said, when it went up to $29,500, with small annual increases.

Thanks to a state surcharge on each civil case filed in Maryland, the bureau's $10 million annual budget will benefit from $2.8 million in collections, plus $250,000 in private donations from various law firms.

Joseph said he's working to build good relationships with leaders of every Maryland jurisdiction and bar association in the hope of creating a solid financial base for the bureau.

The situation in Howard is due to improve, officials say.

Since 1995, the Howard office has been open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second, third and fourth Wednesdays of each month. In addition, legal aid visits several county library branches periodically each month. Next month, the Ellicott City office will be staffed by a full-time attorney and a paralegal 40 hours a week.

Pub Date: 6/29/99

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