MVL Thrives Even in Adversity
by Elsa Martinez Tenreiro
Over the last several issues I have thanked volunteers for all of their hard work and dedication to our programs. I also have lobbied for volunteers to come join the Denver Bar Association in the great programs that we offer. There is one program in particular that we have a tremendous amount of pride in — Metro Volunteer Lawyers, formerly Thursday Night Bar. This is the oldest continuing program of its kind. The DBA and the Denver Bar Foundation, in partnership with the Adams/Broomfield Bar Association, the Arapahoe County Bar Association, the Douglas/Elbert County Bar Association and the First Judicial District Bar Association (Jefferson and Gilpin counties) have funded this program since 1966 because they believe in providing pro bono legal services to the indigent people in the Denver metro-area.
As I mentioned in my January column, the State of Colorado only funds some legal services for victims of family violence. However, low income people have issues that require legal assistance involving very basic human needs, like safety from abusive relationships, access to health care, habitable and safe housing, and debt relief. These issues are graver for many of Colorado’s vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities and those with mental illnesses. MVL has been able to meet some of these needs that are unmet by the federal programs, the State of Colorado or appropriately addressed by the legislature.
MVL represents the indigent, on a first come first serve basis, regarding family law matters, debt collection or bankruptcy cases, consumer issues, estate and probate cases, immigration cases, landlord/tenant matters, tax issues and a limited amount of tort defense cases. To be eligible for assistance from MVL, clients must be screened through Colorado Legal Services. A person’s income, with few exceptions, must be less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level and the legal problem must fall within the type of legal issues handled by MVL.
Colorado lawyers are among the most generous in the country and contribute more than $1.6 million annually to civil legal services. In addition, a significant number of lawyers donate hours and hours of unpaid time to assist indigent clients with essential legal needs. The Colorado Supreme Court sponsors a pro bono initiative whereby law firms and solo practitioners pledge 50 hours of pro bono work per attorney per year. It was estimated that $10 million of pro bono legal services were provided by the 35 law firms who reported they had met their pledge in 2006. This represents a small percentage of the pro bono work provided by Colorado lawyers. MVL reported that they have 1,050 volunteer attorneys on their panel, 323 volunteer attorneys were able to accept MVL cases in 2007 and 1,781 cases were handled through MVL in that year.
MVL and it’s Board of Directors recognizes and shows appreciation to the volunteer attorneys, paralegals, interpreters and all other volunteers by selecting a few individuals that have gone beyond the call of duty and set a standard of service to those in need of pro bono legal services. This year’s honorees were chosen for their commitment to the work of the Family Law Court Program.
The first honoree is Charlene Castro, a paralegal who attends the Arapahoe FLCP every month. Her assistance is instrumental in guiding the pro se litigants through the paperwork they must prepare to file their cases.
Susan Grauer is the second honoree, a family law practitioner. She assists the Arapahoe FLCP program on a regular basis. She has been on the MVL volunteer attorney panel since 1996 and has taken at least 35 cases through MVL. In addition to mentoring the volunteers and assisting FLCP pro se litigants, she closed out at least three MVL cases in 2007.
Last, but not least, is Terry Kelly, an attorney who also specializes in family law. He comes almost every month to the Denver FLCP, and is willing to jump in at the last minute. He has been on the MVL volunteer attorney panel since 1989 and has taken at least 48 cases. Not only did he volunteer to assist less-experienced attorneys and pro se litigants at FLCP clinics throughout the year, he also completed at least three MVL cases in 2007.
They will be honored at the Barristers Benefit Ball this year, which will be held on May 3 at the Hyatt Regency Tech Center. The proceeds from this fundraiser will provide MVL nearly one-half of the annual budget it needs to run the program. This event is essential to the continuing survival of MVL. However, that is not the only reason you should attend the Barristers Benefit Ball. If you like to gamble, you can come and play blackjack for charity. If you like to dance, the music is fantastic and the more the merrier on the dance floor. There are o’dourvres and wine, silent auctions and raffle prizes, but most importantly, great company. The theme for 2008 is "Celebrating Lawyers in the Emerald City" and promises to be a spectacular evening.
With your help we can put a good dent into the need for indigent legal services. Please volunteer for MVL and support the Barristers Benefit Ball. You can reach MVL at their website, http://www.metrovolunteerlawyers.org/. Any volunteers or prospective volunteers are welcome to contact Diane Van Vorhees directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s continue to show Colorado that lawyers care about the community.
Editor’s Note: For more information on the Barristers Benefit Ball, see the ad on page 3.