Legal experts: Trump's budget plan may jeopardize legal services for poor

Published: Apr. 18, 2017 at 6:37 PM EDT
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Several statewide organizations are decrying a proposed cut in President Donald Trump's budget plan they say could jeopardize legal aid to millions.

In a

, the leaders of several Virginia-based bar associations denounced the idea of eliminating funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

The publicly-funded corporation, established by Congress in 1974, distributes funding to organizations that assist low income people facing civil lawsuits.

"Everybody just sort of knows if you can't provide an attorney, the state provides people with attorneys," said John Whitfield, the Executive Director of

in Harrisonburg. "That's only the case in criminal cases."

The organization, who estimates they serve around 2,400 people between Winchester and Roanoke, receives about a third of their funding from LSC.

Whitfield said they'd have to cut around half of their staff if their federal funding is cut.

"Hundreds of people that we could normally help here in Harrisonburg [and] Rockingham County couldn't be helped," said Whitfield. "We'd have to turn them away and there's really no other place for them to go."

According to the Virginia Justice Commission, there are 349 people for every lawyer. In comparison, there are 7,237 low income people for every one legal aid attorney.

"Our job is to provide a level playing field for low income people," said Whitfield, who said their cases range from elder exploitation and abuse to landlord-tenant disputes to domestic violence cases. "If you don't have an attorney, you don't know what to file, you don't know what the laws are, you don't know what your rights are, you don't know how to handle a trial."

Whitfield, who couldn't give his own opinion either way on the issue, said Blue Ridge Legal Services already accepts funding from the United Way and the public. They also utilize volunteer attorneys.

"We're already beating the bushes to get as much funding as we can," said Whitfield.