Unused settlement funds undergirds ATLAS

By Lawrence Smith | Dec 10, 2009


CHARLESTON - A legal advocacy organization isn't complaining about some holiday "leftovers" that came its way.

Legal Aid of West Virginia on Friday, Dec. 4 formally unveiled its newest access to justice program. Access to Legal Aid Services, or ATLAS, enables potential clients from anywhere in the state to call its Charleston office toll-free to have their case assessed by a paralegal, and referred to an attorney.

Prior to ATLAS' creation, case assessments were conducted when a client called or visited one of LAWV's 12 regional offices. ATLAS was first made available in Charleston on July 1, with the remaining 11 offices brought into the system over the last five months.

The idea of a centralized program was the topic of discussion for several years, said program director Catherine B. Wallace, but was not implemented due to a lack of funds. However, that changed a year ago when LAWV was a beneficiary of unclaimed funds from a class-action lawsuit.

On Dec. 8, 2008, LAWV received a check for $469,066 in cy-pres funds from John Barrett with the law firm of Bailey and Glasser, to start ATLAS. The cy-pres funds came from a case handled by Bailey and Glasser in Ohio Circuit Court , said LAWV Executive Director Adrianne Worthy, in which Judge James Mazzone ordered the unclaimed funds distributed to several organizations including LAWV.

Cy-pres is Norman French for "as near as possible."

According to Wallace, ATLAS has enabled LAWV to reach an additional 1,700 clients through the four paralegals, and two attorneys the cy pres funds have helped fund. Annually, LAWV closes an estimated 8,000 cases, Worthy said.

With ATLAS entering its first full year, Worthy said she's looking forward to the number of client calls increasing. Prior to ATLAS, LAWV was only able to help one in every three clients that needed assistance compared to one of every two clients in all other legal aid services nationally.

Founded in 1952, LAWV provides civil litigation services for low-income, institutionalized, disabled and elderly people. It is funded through a mix of public, and private funds.

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