Pro-Bono Highlights June 2010

By Verna Kagan

       After some difficult instances, I asked my superiors and committee members for permission to refuse out-of-state applicants.  Primarily such cases were quite costly both monetarily and in time consumption. The out-of-state applicant is frequently hard to locate for follow-up and is hard to satisfy with outcome. Those of you who have been kind enough to accept such matters in the past are probably quite familiar with the problems.  In the process, I made a discovery that took a long time coming. It appears that legal services agencies receiving federal funds are required to give reciprocity. Therefore, assuming that VLSP was one such agency, they expected that I would accept the matter. Some callers became argumentative when I said that, as a matter of policy we do not accept out-of-state applicants.  They explained that their applicants had “prequalified” and that I was under obligations to accept. I have finally learned that I must explain that we do not receive public funding. I also learned that accepting funds from a public resource diminishes our autonomy. 

      In one instance, I was called on behalf of a  woman living in a battered women’s shelter.  She had a restraining order against her husband and was awarded custody of their minor child.  Husband picked up the child ostensibly for a visit, got drunk, drove with the child in the car and was arrested. For reasons unknown to me, the child was turned over to an aunt. She, in turn, picked up the husband the following morning, gave his car back, gave him the child and off he drove to Ventura.  He immediately filed an action for dissolution of marriage and for custody of the child. He had left his former state while his criminal action was still pending.  One of our wonderful attorneys went in to contest jurisdiction. Though the case seems simple on the surface, many hours were spent bringing the matter to conclusion.  A local woman had her children stolen from her  and removed to Nevada by family members. They then filed for custody.  God help anyone trying to deal with Nevada.  They don’t believe in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. If someone removes a child to Nevada even for a day, Nevada will take jurisdiction. It cost us many hours, lots of long distance calls and some help from the child abduction and recovery unit before the matter was resolved.  It is these kinds of struggles which keeps this old lady active and somewhat youthful.

Verna Kagan is the VLSP Senior Emeritus Attorney

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