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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 17, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
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Legal clinic to open at new cathedral

Beginning next month, a new legal clinic will open at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light. The Legal Justice Center at the Cathedral will provide legal clinics, educational seminars, and tax help for indigent and low-income clients.

Jayne Fleming, LJC’s director and pro bono counsel to the Reed Smith law firm in Oakland, said the LJC will offer these services, along with a series of free community suppers that begin tonight (Nov. 17), at the cathedral.

All the services are offered without charge to anyone in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who needs free legal services, Fleming said.

Starting Dec. 2, the LJC will hold weekly legal clinics staffed by volunteer attorneys who will meet with clients one-on-one and provide “preliminary advice and referral,” she said.

The clinics will cover a specific type of case each week, rotating among domestic violence, immigration, housing and public benefits, Fleming explained.

The Dec. 2 clinic will focus on domestic violence matters. Immigration cases will be handled at the clinic on Dec. 9. Both clinics will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. by appointment only.

Quarterly “know your rights” seminars will educate clients about the same four topics, but in a group setting, Fleming said. “We will…add other topics as needed and in response to community interest.”
In addition, the LJC will conduct income-tax clinics for low-income individuals in March and April.

Fleming said the LJC needs “as many attorneys as will volunteer,” along with paralegals, interpreters, greeters and volunteers to do administrative work. Attorneys will be trained on the subject matter being covered at their assigned clinic, if needed, she said.

The justice center kicks off tonight (Nov. 17) with the first of three free Breaking Bread for Social Justice suppers. The Thanksgiving dinner and legal resource fair runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the cathedral’s conference center.

“All members of the community are welcome, including individuals who may use the clinic and individuals committed to the goal of empowering poor and vulnerable groups within Alameda and Contra Costa counties,” Fleming said.

Alameda Superior Court Presiding Judge Yolanda Northridge “will speak about some of the legal challenges that indigent and low-income individuals are facing today and the need for greater access to social justice,” Fleming said. Bishop Allen Vigneron also will attend.

Access to social justice is a significant goal for the LJC, Fleming emphasized.

Beyond supplementing the legal aid currently provided by other Bay Area organizations, Fleming believes the LJC will help answer the call for outreach and advocacy for the poor that the Oakland Diocese included in its strategic plan for the new cathedral. The plan was adopted earlier this year.

“Part of the (plan) is to provide services to all groups within the diocese, Catholics and others, especially vulnerable and traditionally overlooked groups,” Fleming said.

“Given that strategic plan, the cathedral is especially well-positioned to help the Legal Justice Center build bridges to those who lack access to social justice,” she said.

Clients of the justice center, which initially will be funded by Reed Smith, might find the cathedral more welcoming and accessible than other venues, Fleming indicated.

“The cathedral is also a safe and public space that is open to visitors of all faiths and cultures,” Fleming said. “I think this openness also presents an opportunity for broad community outreach and advocacy.”

Another opportunity is afforded by the proximity of the LJC to the Order of Malta free health clinic, also located at the cathedral complex, Fleming said.

“Medical problems can stem from legal problems,” she said, citing domestic violence as an example. The health clinic will be able to provide referrals to the LJC, she said.

Referrals will also come from clergy, social workers, community members and other providers, Fleming said.

Dominican Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, principal of St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland and chair of planning committee for the cathedral’s pastoral plan, said she is “thrilled” about the project.

“The Legal Justice Center and the (health center) are making concrete the strategic plan. They are bringing to reality the dreams of the strategic planning members who came together around a vision for a diocesan cathedral outreach,” she said.

The justice center is partnering with other Bay Area legal aid providers, but the cathedral will be the “center point” for legal services, Fleming said.

The coalition includes the Family Violence Law Center, East Bay Community Law Center, Bay Area Legal Aid, Legal Assistance for Seniors, Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Alameda County Bar Association, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Centro Legal de la Raza and Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

“These providers have a tremendous breadth and depth of expertise, and they have worked with low-income and indigent groups in our communities for many years,” Fleming said. “These partners will operate as complementary spokes on the wheel of this new vehicle.”

Fleming, who pulled together the LJC in about six months, said she is not sure what response to expect initially, but said, “We are feeling really positive.”

Legal clinics will resume sometime in January, and walk-ins will be permitted, Fleming said. Dates for the clinics and the “know your rights” presentations will be announced in January.

Another Breaking Bread event is scheduled for Dec. 20, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the cathedral conference center.

While clients need not show proof of income to obtain free legal aid at the LJC, Fleming said clients who are referred to outside attorneys will have to meet certain low-income standards.

Non-Catholics are welcome for all services and events at LJC, Fleming added.

The Cathedral’s conference center is at 2121 Harrison Street, Oakland. The legal clinic entrance is at the corner of Harrison Street and Grand Avenue and signs will be posted.

Contact Fleming at (510) 466-6847 or jfleming@reedsmith.com for information and appointments.

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