Clinton School Students to Partner with Commission for Economic Benefit Study

A team of four Clinton School of Public Services will be partnering with the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission during the 2013-02014 academic year to perform a study on the economic benefits of civil legal aid, according to a press release issued by the school earlier this week. Rebekah Tucci (Lakeland, Fla.), Paola Cavallari (Termoli, Italy), Matt Devlin (Silver Spring, Md.), and Hannah Michow-Proffitt (Annapolis, Md.), will conduct the study, which the Commission will use to educate policymakers and funders regarding how access to civil legal services can augment public and private efforts to provide low-income Arkansans with access to healthcare, affordable housing, education, economic security and family stability.

“Access to legal representation often makes the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency for a family that is living on the edge,” said the Commission’s Executive Director, Amy Johnson. This study will help us make the case that legal aid is a good investment.”

“These projects are a wonderful opportunity for our students to practice the skills they are developing at the Clinton School,” said Marie Lindquist, director of field service education. “We are appreciative of our community partners throughout Arkansas who are involved in outstanding public service work and mentor our students in that work.” The study will build on findings from a previous Clinton School field project that focused on a comprehensive legal needs assessment of the low-income community, according to Johnson.

Clinton School Students Research Unmet Civil Legal Needs in Arkansas

A team of graduate students recently completed a comprehensive statewide study to assist Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services to identify the most pressing legal needs of low-income Arkansans.

University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students Margaret Hobbs of El Dorado, Ark., Mary Pitre of New Orleans, La., Tyler Pearson of Conway, Ark., and Gregg Potter of Lyndon Station, Wis., spent eight months collecting data from low-income Arkansans and the legal community to learn about the unmet legal needs of Arkansans and the perceptions of the legal community about which needs are the greatest.

They designed and distributed surveys across the state and conducted focus groups in each Congressional district. The method of surveying both the low-income population and the legal community provided for a particularly comprehensive assessment. With over 1,200 responses, the data maintained a confidence level of 95% with a 3.33 margin of error and the high response rate provided rich quantitative and qualitative data.

Using this data, they produced a report for the organizations that analyzed the findings and gave recommendations for strategic planning. More than 70 percent of respondents to the legal community survey included specific suggestions about how to address the unmet civil legal needs in Arkansas.

The research has shown that the most prevalent legal issues faced by the potentially-eligible client community relate to family law, consumer matters, and government benefits. The legal community consistently ranked family law, consumer, government benefits, and juvenile issues as case types that they perceive to be the most prevalent. Focus group data supported the finding the cost of hiring a lawyer often precludes low-income Arkansans from accessing representation.

“With limited resources at our disposal, it is critical that we focus our services in the areas of greatest need,” said Lee Richardson, executive director of Legal Aid of Arkansas. “This assessment will enhance our ability to target issues and maximize the impact of our work.”

Commissioner Waddell Awarded Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission member Bill Waddell is the 2013 recipient of the Arkansas Bar Foundation‘s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award, according to the Foundation’s Executive Director Ann Pyle. The award, which was presented at a June 12, 2013 awards banquet, is given each year in recognition of commitment to and participation in equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Mr. Waddell is a partner with Friday, Eldredge & Clark, where he leads the firm’s Commercial Litigation and Regulation Practice Group. Drawing from his leadership and experience with the practice group and his dedication to pro bono service, Mr. Waddell has committed to providing two attorneys from his practice group to lend their legal expertise twice monthly in the town of Clarendon where the Mid-Delta Medical-Legal Partnership holds a free legal clinic for area residents seeking legal assistance. He is also a member of the Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services (VOCALS) and the Equal Access to Justice Panel (EAJP). In the past year alone, he has performed over 120 hours of pro bono service for individual clients—this in addition to the outreach work he has put into the Clarendon MLP.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Waddell has handled over 300 pro bono adoption cases for Bethany Christian Services of Arkansas, which honored him in October 2012 with a service award during the 10th Annual Bethany Golf Classic. He has also assisted with several private pro bono adoptions, charging only court costs. In February 2013, Mr. Waddell was honored with the Living Legend Award from Philander Smith College for his social justice work.

Deeply committed to his faith and his church, Mr. Waddell serves as legal counsel to the Arkansas United Methodist Church’s clergy and is presently the national legal advisor to the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops. He has further served his church as Chancellor to the Arkansas Conference of UMC, as the Volunteers in Mission Coordinator, and currently teaches a young adults class at St. James UMC in Little Rock.

Since his appointment to the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission in 2008 by bar president Rosalind Mouser, Mr. Waddell has led a number of statewide efforts to expand access to justice. He took a leadership role in developing and implementing the first statewide campaign to raise significant private funds for legal aid. His days of devoted work on this project made it a major success including, for the first time, major corporate gifts of over $100,000 to legal aid.

But Mr. Waddell’s efforts to aid the administration of justice did not stop with the fund development campaign alone. He recognized the need to have an organization which could accept and distribute the funds raised to the two legal aid organizations in Arkansas. The Commission itself, being a creature of the Arkansas Supreme Court, could not function in that capacity. He thus set about preparing organizational documents to create The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, Inc. and securing nonprofit status for the organization from the IRS. Mr. Waddell and other members of his firm donated many hours pro bono to this effort. The end result is a permanent operational arm of the Commission that can accept and distribute funds in such a way as to positively impact the access to justice for all Arkansans.

Bill is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has served as chair of the Financial Services Committee and the Legal Services Committee of the Arkansas Bar Association. He is currently a commissioner of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and is chair of the commission’s Pro Bono Committee. He is also the president of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation. He recently received the 2013 Living Legend Award from Philander Smith College for his social justice work.

American Bar Association Passes Unbundling Resolution

Last week, the American Bar Association passed a resolution supporting efforts of attorneys and of supporting institutions, such as bar associations and the judiciary, to increase utilization of limited scope representation as a means of increasing access to justice. Also known as “unbunding,” limited scope representation is when an attorney and client agree that the attorney will represent the client for certain parts of a case, with the client handling the rest.  Examples include hiring a lawyer just for a consultation or hiring a lawyer just to prepare pleadings for a case. Arkansas’s limited scope rule permits an attorney to limit the scope of her representation if it is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.

Unbundling works to increase access to justice by making legal services affordable for clients who have some reasources, but may not be able to pay for full representation.  The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission unanimously supported passage of the resolution.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Honors Amy Johnson With Community Health Leaders Award

Lawyer Uses Legal System to Battle Poverty, Improve Health for Working Poor


PRINCETON
, N.J. — Growing up in Arkansas, a state that ranks at or near the bottom in the country on many health indicators, Amy Johnson witnessed firsthand the connection between poverty and poor health. But even Johnson was surprised when health care providers told her they were seeing patients in some areas suffering from some of the same conditions that occur in Third World countries. Legal issues were often a complicating factor in managing health care and adequate living conditions.

“There is a real overlap between health and legal issues, especially in Arkansas, where it is a crime not to pay your rent, but there is no warranty of habitability,” said Johnson. “That means you can be required to pay rent on a place that is not livable. It may be infested with mold that inflames your asthma, or it may have faulty wiring that makes it impossible to operate the ventilator that you need to breathe.”

As the first executive director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, Johnson works to help low-income Arkansans overcome legal barriers that perpetuate poverty. In that role, she has helped raise more than $2.1 million to support the provision of free legal aid to low-income people. She also served on an advisory committee that oversaw the formation of the state’s first hospital-based medical-legal partnership.

Working with local clergy, she helped to establish the Harmony Health Clinic in Little Rock, a free clinic for the working poor—people who don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and do not make enough money to afford health insurance. Harmony Health Clinic provides local medical and dental professionals with the opportunity to serve their community, help others, and volunteer their time and services to improve the quality of the health of their neighbors.

For her tireless commitment, Johnson has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for 2012. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Johnson will receive the award during a ceremony in San Antonio on October 17.

According to Johnson, most employers in Arkansas are small businesses that cannot afford to provide health insurance for their workers. Given this, Johnson said, there is no limit to the number of free health clinics that could be opened in her community. “We opened our clinic doors at the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008—patients just came flooding in. Our clinic, like many other nonprofits that serve low-income families, struggles daily with an overwhelming need for the services and a real lack of resources to provide them.”

The clinic has 2,000 patients, the vast majority of whom suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. The care it provides is crucial to avoiding bigger health problems later. The results: There have been approximately 1,000 fewer emergency room visits and many families have been saved from the financial ruin that often follows an uninsured hospital stay.

Janice Ford Griffin, national program director of Community Health Leaders, said the selection committee honored Johnson for her creativity and tireless determination. “The impact of Amy’s aggregated efforts to improve the health of the residents of Central Arkansas is an outstanding example of creativity across a broad spectrum,” Griffin said. “Her legal background and earlier experience as a social worker provided a tremendous foundation for the leadership she contributed to the establishment of Harmony Health Clinic. Her work touches the lives of thousands of Central Arkansas residents who otherwise would not have access to health care. Her persistence improves health for these individuals—and in many cases, quite literally saves lives.”

While an attorney may not be a typical member of the health care team, Johnson’s legal training along with her experience as a social service worker have increased her ability to be a visionary and a powerful leader. “An attorney is often able to address underlying legal issues that are affecting the patient’s health,” Johnson said.

For example, Johnson has helped more than 25 families petition for guardianship of adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness. Guardianship allows them to access critical mental health treatment and to avoid the involuntary commitment process and the hospitalization that accompanies it. She sees great possibility in the medical-legal partnership setting as well. “When a child has a chronic and debilitating health care issue and the school won’t make accommodations, or if someone is denied benefits they are qualified for but there is a paperwork mix-up, an attorney can often resolve the problem,” she said.

Rev. Michael Mattox, formerly of Little Rock’s First United Methodist Church, said in his letter of support for Johnson’s nomination: “Expertly trained in her field with accolades and honors, Amy has that something extra that makes her stand out in human relations. She has the ability to value her own opinions, but also the grace to be patient and forgiving to others. Were it not for her efforts, along with a couple other like-minded young professionals, I doubt that Little Rock would have a center for health care like Harmony Health Clinic. She has been that ‘behind the scenes’ force that has navigated through choppy waters to bring an institution to a better place of being able to help others, enhancing and even celebrating diversity and difference of opinion, which seem to be very rare things.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has honored more than 200 Community Health Leaders since 1993. The work of the nine other 2012 recipients includes culturally appropriate care for Native Alaskan elders; a program to prevent and treat cancer among medically underserved populations in South Carolina’s Low Country region; an initiative to connect refugees to mental- health services in Seattle; a breast cancer awareness and treatment program for African immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area; a community initiative to reduce opioid abuse and drug overdoses in Wilkes County, N.C.; a project to promote healthy lifestyles and working conditions for immigrant workers in Los Angeles; an initiative to prevent childhood obesity in Garfield, N.J.; support services for Latino survivors of sexual violence in Philadelphia, and an outreach program to assist older adults living at home in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Community Health Leaders Award to recognize individuals who overcome daunting obstacles to improve health and health care in their communities. Today, there are more than 200 outstanding Community Health Leaders from nearly all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter www.rwjf.org/twitter or Facebook www.rwjf.org/facebook.

Arkansas Access to Justice Awarded SJI Grant for Study on Unrepresented Litigants

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission is one of nine recipients of a State Justice Institute Technical Assistance Grant for the 3rd quarter of 2012, according to Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson.  The grant will cover $46,400 of the project’s total estimated cost of $69,656.  Grant partners include Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, and the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts.

The project will build a foundation to establish a statewide strategy for addressing the growing number of unrepresented litigants in Arkansas courts. Specific objectives of the project are to (1) conduct an assessment of resources that currently exist which address or may potentially address the needs of unrepresented litigants in Arkansas; (2) determine which additional resources are most needed to address the needs of unrepresented litigants; and (3) prepare a plan for the development and sustainability of those resources.

“This study is a necessary step toward addressing a huge problem for low-income Arkansans and for our courts,” said Johnson.  “When those who can’t afford attorneys are left to try to navigate the legal system on their own, justice is not served.”

A 2011 pilot study conducted by the Commission through the Clinton School of Public Service suggests that as many as 90 to 95% of cases involving family law, consumer protection, and guardianships and small estates may have at least one unrepresented party.

AATJ Foundation Board Member Receives 2012 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation Board Member Lori Chumbler is the 2012 recipient of the Arkansas Bar Association’s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award, the Association announced earlier this month.  The award is given each year in recognition of commitment to and participation in equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Chumbler is Associate General Counsel for Walmart, where she coordinates the Walmart Legal Department pro bono program. In that role, she spearheaded the creation of a medical-legal partnership (MLP) that was the first in the nation to include a corporate legal department as a partner.  The 142-attorney legal department has partnered with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the state’s two nonprofit legal service providers, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas, to provide free legal assistance to families with sick children facing issues related to Medicaid coverage.  As a part of this, Ms. Chumbler also currently manages Walmart’s efforts to create a national collaborative network of MLPs at children’s hospitals across the country.

In addition to her leadership on the MLP effort, Chumbler has devoted her talents to the service of Legal Aid of Arkansas, where she is a board member and pro bono volunteer for LAA’s Equal Access to Justice Panel.  This past year, she handled two pro bono cases through the panel.  Chumbler also serves as a board member of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, which works to provide financial support for legal services for the poor and other access-to-justice-related initiatives in Arkansas, and as a member of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Bono Committee.

A cum laude graduate of the University of Arkansas, Lori Chumbler earned her B.A. in History in 1990.  She went on to attend Drake University Law School, where she graduated with honors in 1993. She was admitted to the Arkansas Bar in August of that year. After law school, Chumbler served as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Arkansas’ Nineteenth Judicial District.  From 1996 to 2006, Chumbler worked as a law clerk for the Honorable Justice Donald L. Corbin of the Arkansas Supreme Court.  She joined the Walmart Legal Department in 2006.

Chumbler is currently Associate General Counsel for Walmart and serves on the Legal Administration and External Relations team.  She serves as coordinator for Walmart’s pro bono medical-legal partnership (MLP) project and counsel to the Walmart Foundation.

Chumbler was recently honored by the American Bar Association as the 2012 recipient of its Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical-Legal Partnerships Award.

Arkansas Access to Justice Co-Sponsors Report on Evolving Role of Law Libraries

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission is among a group of co-sponsors of a report recently released by Zorza & Associates on the evolving role that law libraries play in improving access to the legal system for unrepresented individuals.  The report, issued in late April, urges law libraries to consider broadening their missions to more proactively address the reality of the growing number of unrepresented persons who go to law libraries seeking information and assistance.  The report identifies best practices already being employed by law libraries that have begun to embrace this role.

“Law libraries are a huge untapped resource with massive potential to increase access to legal information and assistance for people without lawyers,” said Richard Zorza, who researched and authored the report.  “Because they have a long tradition of providing reference information to patrons, those law libraries that adapt to play a more significant role in access to justice efforts will find themselves at the core of a vibrant and critical system.  Those that fail to rise to the challenge may find themselves doomed to irrelevance by changes in technology, constituencies, funding pressures and the law and its institutions.”

Arkansas Access to Justice to Receive $2 Million from Consumer Protection Settlement Proceeds

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will receive $2 million as part of a multi-state settlement with five of the country’s largest banks over allegations related to abuses in the mortgage finance industry.

The Arkansas Attorney General’s office announced the news on Thursday, and funds distributed to the Commission will be used to provide access to civil justice for Arkansans affected by the mortgage crisis.

“The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission helps to provide essential legal assistance to low-income Arkansans,” Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said. “Many consumers who were affected by the mortgage crisis could not afford the legal help which may have kept them in their homes. All Arkansans deserve to have access to our legal system when they need it. Our office is glad to direct these funds to a state commission that offers a critical service to the people of Arkansas.”

According to RealtyTrac, Inc., 3,360 Arkansas homes are currently in foreclosure. For low-income families facing foreclosure, their only option for getting direct legal representation is through one of the state’s two nonprofit legal aid providers: Center for Arkansas Legal Services or Legal Aid of Arkansas.

However, recent drastic cuts in state and federal funding are forcing CALS and LAA to lay off staff and cut services to the poor people they serve. Those programs currently turn away nearly half of the clients who call for help and qualify for services.

“This announcement could not have come at a more critical time,” Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, said. “Legal aid providers are so strapped for resources that it’s difficult to give priority to matters other than those where a client’s health or safety are in immediate danger. These funds will give us the resources to address an area of need that can prevent other legal problems from happening.”

The Commission will be working with CALS and LAA to develop programs geared toward helping Arkansas consumers with legal issues related to the mortgage crisis.

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and its sister nonprofit organization, the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, work to provide equal access to justice in civil cases to all Arkansans. The Commission’s major projects include educating the public about poverty in Arkansas, recruiting pro bono attorneys, supporting courts and self-represented individuals, and soliciting contributions for legal aid. Learn more at www.arkansasjustice.org. 

Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services are nonprofit organizations that provide free legal services to low-income Arkansans with civil legal problems, including orders of protection for domestic abuse victims, uncontested guardianships of minors, consumer issues and public housing. With 17 offices staffed by 45 attorneys throughout the state, plus a volunteer pool of about 1,500 attorneys, legal aid services benefited more than 30,000 low-income people and the elderly with their critical legal needs in 2010. However, more than 555,000 were eligible for legal aid in 2010, and thousands of those Arkansans in need were turned away due to lack of resources. Learn more at www.arlegalservices.org.

Shane Bridgforth Named Jefferson County Pro Bono Attorney of the Year

Attorney and Pine Bluff native William McShane “Shane” Bridgforth has been selected the 2011 Jefferson County VOCALS Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, according to VOCALS Pro Bono Coordinator Donna Ramsey.  The Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services awards the honor each year to an attorney who demonstrates outstanding commitment to providing pro bono service to low-income residents of the Jefferson County.  “Shane is always ready to step in and assist our clients in settling their legal matters,” said Ramsey.  “He is a great asset to our VOCALS panel.”

Bridgforth, who is a partner at Ramsay, Bridgforth, Robinson & Raley, has handled a total of 41 VOCALS cases over the course of his legal career.  His clients—none of whom had the financial resources to hire a private attorney—have included domestic violence victims and non-parental caregivers of young children.

“I have always believed in equal justice for all people and that people in our community should have access to the assistance of an attorney in important legal matters regardless of their economic status,” said Bridgforth.  “It is a great honor to have been selected the 2011 VOCALS Attorney of the Year for Jefferson County.”

“The volunteer work that Mr. Bridgforth has consistently contributed provides critical legal assistance to low-income residents of Jefferson County,” said Jean Carter, Executive Director of the Center for Arkansas Legal Services.  “Pro bono service is now more important than ever in Arkansas due to both the current economic crisis and recent federal and state budget cuts.”

Bridgforth is a 1990 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law, where he was a member of Phi Delta Phi and served on the moot court team.  He is a member of the Jefferson County, Arkansas Bar, and American Bar Associations, and currently serves on the Arkansas Supreme Court on Model Jury Instructions—Civil.  He is Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

Mr. Bridgforth has previously served on the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates and Executive Council, as well as the board of directors for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services.  He has served on other community organization boards and committees, including the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, the Pine Bluff Child Center, the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, and the Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce.