Louisiana is one of three states in the U.S. that doesn’t provide funding to help citizens secure free legal assistance in civil matters, NOLA.com reports.
If indigent people can’t effectively access the courts, legal experts say, they lose the ability to protect their vital interests when it comes to such things as housing, employment, health insurance and parental rights.
“Most Americans don’t realize there is no right to a lawyer in a civil case,” James Sandman, president of the national nonprofit Legal Services Corporation, tells NOLA.com.
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a regional nonprofit, handled more than 12,000 cases in 22 parishes with a direct economic impact of $23 million. But in 75% of civil cases in Louisiana, one or both of the parties involved are still forced to represent themselves.
The organization reached a crisis point during the federal government shutdown earlier this year, as 60% of its budget comes from federal dollars.
However, in the upcoming legislative session, Louisiana could restore the funding former Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminated eight years ago. Jay Dardenne, commissioner of the Division of Administration said the administration received and will consider a $500,000 request from SLLS and its sister organization, Acadiana Legal Services Corporation.
Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, who leads the Senate’s budget committee, says he and other lawmakers support it, but it’s difficult to ensure that the funding gets passed.