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Budget Cuts Limit Justice for North Carolinians in Need

November 14, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - Some members of the legal community say North Carolina legislators tipped the scales of justice this summer when they cut funding for legal aid by 20 percent. The cuts have forced Legal Aid of North Carolina to close four offices and lay off 60 attorneys. Public defenders also saw significant cuts this year.

The CEO of the group North Carolina Advocates for Justice, Dick Taylor, says the situation will have a severe impact on citizens' access to legal representation.

"We've got a crisis, both for the lawyers who are seeking to keep low-income peoples' families together, and then on the criminal side, with the lawyers who represent folks who are charged with crime."

Legal Aid of North Carolina offers legal services to low- and moderate-income households that are often facing homelessness, domestic abuse or consumer scams. The organization serves more than 3.2 million people who are eligible for its services.

The hourly rate for public defenders was cut as well, and a lapse in funding expected in March of next year will force those attorneys to work without pay until the fiscal year begins again in June. Taylor says the funding cuts threaten the basis of American justice.

"These two programs, the constitutionally-mandated criminal representation and the publicly-funded civil representation, are what keeps the courthouse doors open."

Taylor says the closing of legal aid offices around the state will affect about 100 households and 30,000 children.

You can find more information on Legal Aid of NC at www.legalaidnc.org

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC