Commission Honors Legal Aid Advocates at Annual Staff Conference


The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission honored two legal aid staff members at the 2014 Statewide Legal Aid Staff Conference held October 15-17 at Lake DeGray State Park. Center for Arkansas Legal Services Managing Attorney Dustin Duke and Legal Aid of Arkansas paralegal Kathy Grady received the Commission’s Champion of Justice Award in recognition of their exemplary commitment to ensuring that disadvantaged Arkansans have access to civil justice through high-quality legal representation.

Duke, who works in the Little Rock office, has handled more than 3,800 cases during his ten years with legal aid. Much of his case work has focused on family cases involving domestic abuse. Grady is a veteran paralegal in the LAA Newport office, where she has worked for 34 years.


“Dustin and Kathy are both accomplished, passionate advocates who put their hearts and souls into serving Arkansas’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. “They do it with no expectation of recognition or even thanks. They represent the very best of what the legal profession should be about.”

The Champion of Justice Award is given to an attorney or staff advocate who has worked for legal aid for three or more years; whose primary job responsibilities include direct service to clients; and who handles client matters with compassion, tenacity, and professionalism.

Friday Firm’s Harry Light Honored for Commitment to Access to Justice

Friday, Eldredge & Clark partner Harry Light has received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s 2014 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award. The award, which was presented at a June 11 awards banquet in Hot Springs, is given annually to recognize dedication to and participation in the equal justice program for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.

Light, who practices in the areas of bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, commercial litigation, and trademark/copyright applications, has also served as the mayor of Cammack Village, Arkansas, since 1995.

Light has demonstrated an ardent commitment to improving access to justice in Arkansas through his pro bono service in the Arkansas Delta. In 2013 alone, Light donated more than 64 hours of his time to the medical-legal partnership in Clarendon, Arkansas, at Mid-Delta Health Systems. On the third Tuesday of every month, he interviews clients, provides advice, and takes cases.

“I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means,” Light said. “To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Light has been a member of the Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services (VOCALS) since 1990. He is also a member of Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Equal Access to Justice Panel (EAJP).

Light puts precedence on making personal connections through his pro bono work. In 2012, he handled a case involving a guardianship for two newborn twins. A twin himself, Light was eager to assist the babies’ grandmother in filing a petition. Over the Thanksgiving holiday that year, Light stopped by the Clarendon grocery store to pick up a gift certificate for his client, who was caring for two other grandchildren in addition to the twins. After visiting the family, he remarked to a colleague, “I never knew pro bono work could be so emotional.”

In addition to his pro bono work, Light volunteers for the Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals (CARE), which he founded in 1998. He also serves on the boards of Metroplan and the Arkansas Better Business Bureau. Light has served on the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates and Board of Governors, and in 2009, he received the Association’s Golden Gavel Award for his work as the Chair of the 2009 Annual Meeting.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission members Representative John Vines and D’lorah Hughes, as well as Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation board member Frank Sewall, were also recognized at the June 11 ceremony for their contributions to the legal profession.

Vines was awarded the Arkansas Bar Association Presidential Award. The award honors an individual who works to advance the administration of justice and promotes the principles of integrity, learning, and public service. Hughes received the Special Award of Merit for her substantial contributions to the education of future Arkansas lawyers through her work in the Juvenile Law Clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Sewall received the Arkansas Bar Foundation’s C.E. Ransick Award of Excellence. This award is presented to an attorney each year whom the Arkansas Bar Association recognizes for setting the bar of excellence and for demonstrating exemplary practice in and out of the courtroom.

Friday, Eldredge & Clark to Receive National Award for Pro Bono Service

Arkansas’s largest law firm—Friday, Eldredge & Clark—is among a handful of law firms nationally that the National Legal Aid & Defender Association has selected to receive its prestigious Beacon of Justice Award at a June 2014 ceremony in Washington, D.C. The firm will be receiving the award in recognition of its pioneering volunteer work with Legal Aid of Arkansas and an Arkansas Delta-based medical-legal partnership. Award recipients were selected using critera that assessed increased access to representation through the utilization of groundbreaking and original ideas, tools, and technology to create new delivery models and initiatives.

In 2012, the Friday Firm’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group began traveling to Clarendon, Arkansas, on the third Thursday of every month to meet with patients at Mid-Delta Health Systems. Since that time, they have “adopted” the clinic and now send a team of attorneys to meet with clinic patients twice a month to provide free legal assistance for issues ranging from family law to consumer matters. Their work has expanded to include another Legal Aid of Arkansas medical-legal partnership in another poor, rural area of the state: Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Arkansas.

“The Friday Firm’s commitment to these projects has proven to be an innovative, high-impact way to help these rural clinics address underlying social issues that affect health outcomes of their patients,” said Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson. The firm’s attorneys volunteered more than 300 hours in 2013 on this project alone, said Johnson. In total, Friday Firm attorneys performed a total of more than 1,700 hours of pro bono services statewide in 2013. At least two of the Friday Firm’s clients have supported these efforts, either by making financial contributions to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation or by sponsoring and providing employee support for pro bono events.

Harry Light—a Friday Firm lawyer who volunteers for the medical-legal partnership project—underscored the personal impact that this project has had on him: “I am humbled each time I visit with legal aid clients in the Delta and am fortified by the strength and courage they exhibit in meeting life’s basic challenges with limited means. To be able to assist them in some small way is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding privileges of being an Arkansas lawyer.”

Shep Russell, the managing partner at the Friday firm, noted how the firm’s young lawyers are drawn to access to justice issues:  “Our younger lawyers are busy establishing their practices, but they make time for pro bono work. It fulfills their desire to use their skills to improve the community, whether it be writing simple wills and powers of attorney for the parents of children who are patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital or helping a grandmother become the legal guardian of her grandchildren.” He added, “We are humbled that the NLADA has recognized our firm for the pro bono work that our lawyers did because they wanted to make a difference.”

NLADA annually sponsors 13 awards honoring the distinguished men, women, firms and organizations whose outstanding service and achievements advance the cause of equal access to justice. Past awardees have included Brad Smith of Microsoft; Rick Cotton of NBC Universal; Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grant program; Hillary Rodham Clinton, Legal Services Advocate and First Lady; New York Times; Daily Record; Hon. Janet Reno, Former United States Attorney General; Brooklyn (NY) Bar Association; State Bar of California; and many others advancing the cause of equal access to justice. Award winners will be formally honored at the NLADA Exemplar Award Dinner on Thursday, June 26, 2014, at The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington D.C.

As Arkansas’s largest law firm, Friday, Eldredge & Clark serves a diverse clientele across Arkansas and throughout the United States. The firm’s lawyers work closely, whether as local counsel or regional counsel, with some of the finest firms in America.  The firm is a member of the Southern Law Network, comprising many of the leading law firms with offices in 13 states.

Vincent Morris Receives NLADA Innovations in Equal Justice Award

Arkansas Legal Services Partnership Director Vincent Morris received the National Legal Aid & Defender Association‘s 2014 Innovations in Equal Justice Award at a May 1 award ceremony in Portland, Oregon. The ceremony was attended by over 400 guests, including American Bar Association President Charles Silkenat and Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer. Morris received the award in recognition of his outstanding career contributions to creativity and innovation in the delivery of legal service to poor people.

NLADA annually sponsors thirteen awards honoring the distinguished men, women, firms and organizations whose outstanding service and achievements advance the cause of equal access to justice. Past awardees have included Brad Smith of Microsoft; Rick Cotton of NBC Universal; Legal Services Corporation Technology; Hillary Rodham Clinton, Legal Services Advocate and First Lady; New York Times; Daily Record; Hon. Janet Reno, Former United States Attorney General; Brooklyn (NY) Bar Association; State Bar of California; and many others advancing the cause of equal access to justice.

In presenting the honor, NLADA Vice President of Civil Legal Services Don Saunders highlighted a variety of Morris’s achievements in the eleven years since he began work for legal aid as an eight-week intern. While working as an intern, Morris applied for and received a Technology Initiative Grant to build a statewide legal aid website for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas. He has since grown the website to include more than 170 automated resources, real-time chat assistance, streaming videos, and hundreds of advocate resources.

“Morris’s work is vital to the more than 17,000 clients that Arkansas’s two legal aid providers serve each year, the advocates who help them, and the Arkansans who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford an attorney,” said Saunders.

Commissioner Bill Waddell Receives Father Joseph Biltz Award


Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Vice Chair Bill Waddell was one of three 2014 recipients of the Just Communities of Arkansas Father Joseph Biltz Award at JCA’s March 12 Gathering of Friends event. Waddell, who is a partner at Friday, Eldredge & Clark, was recognized for his tireless efforts to provide equal access to the legal system for those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, both through his own pro bono work and through his association with the Commission and the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

“My faith teaches me of the dignity and sacred worth of all people,” said Waddell as he accepted the honor. “Making sure that everyone has access to the justice system honors that worth and reinforces our common belief in ‘liberty and justice for all’ that we express when we say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The Father Biltz Award is named for Father Joseph Biltz, who was a passionate leader for peace and justice. He worked with an array of people on many issues, including the poor and the elderly, for the repeal of the death penalty and the reduction of nuclear arms.

Arkansas Access to Justice Commission Awarded ABA Innovation Grant

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has received a grant from the American Bar Association’s Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project to promote and support innovation in the delivery of civil legal aid, the ABA announced last month. The grant was awarded for the development of a pro se document assembly form for an Arkansas Uncontested Divorce with Children packet utilizing HotDocs and A2J Author software, as well as the completion of a series of pilot clinics where attorneys will provide limited scope representation to pro se litigants in preparing uncontested divorce filings using the document assembly form.

The goal of the project is to increase awareness of and support for the concept of limited scope representation–a concept that is permitted under the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct, and which the American Bar Association has formally endorsed.  Although the concept itself is not new, few Arkansas attorneys are aware of the opportunities that this model presents.

“We believe that this will be a ‘win-win’ proposition for Arkansas: attorneys will be able to tap into a previously unprofitable market to generate revenue, and Arkansans who would otherwise be unable or unwilling to hire an attorney will now have that option,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.

The ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. It is administered by the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. The purpose of the project is to expand the number of state access to justice commissions, strengthen existing commissions, and promote innovative initiatives by commissions.

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.

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.