The staff at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas works with a single goal in mind, to give their clients a voice in the judicial system.
The non-profit organization provides free legal services to low-income residents in 114 counties and have operated in Waxahachie since the late 1990’s.
Heidi Marsala, managing attorney, stated Legal Aid provides a variety of legal services to its clients.
“We are able to assist with most civil litigation. Nothing criminal. No personal injury. Nothing political. No class actions. Most of our cases are something that we would not want to compete with a private bar,” Marsala emphasized. “We are wanting to stabilize families and want them to maintain their living arrangements, help them get out of domestic violence situations to be safe. Help them be able to obtain and maintain employment.”
Even though Legal Aid can only help with civil cases, exceptions can be made for immigration matters relating to domestic violence, human trafficking, or other U-Visa or Violence Against Women's Act issues.
The first step for seeking legal assistance is to call Legal Aid and apply over the phone. During this call, potential clients are screened for financial, citizenship, and case matter eligibility. Potential clients would speak with an attorney during the screening process.
According to the Legal Aid website, the household income of an applicant must be at 125 percent or below the federal poverty guidelines to be financially eligible. If an income is greater than 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines but less than 200 percent, they may be eligible depending on guidelines.
The household asset eligibility of an applicant is $16,000 or less of non-exempt assets for a person, plus $4,000 for every additional member of the household.
Applicants must live within or have a legal problem within Legal Aid’s service area. According to its website, applicants must be a U.S. citizen or "legal alien" with current documentation to be eligible for services. The site also states that "undocumented aliens" who are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking may be eligible for some services.
If it is an emergency, an application can be accepted in person at the office in downtown Waxahachie. In most instances, cases will be reviewed within a day or two by an attorney.
Legal Aid provides clients who qualify everything from advice and counsel on legal matters to full representation. Clients are not charged for any legal services. The only out of pocket expense are fees from the court.
Over its network, Legal Aid has more than 100 full-time attorneys’ who are paid through grants and outside funding.
Marsala stated one of the new types of cases the office is handling are expunctions. An expunction removes information about an arrest, charge, or conviction from their permanent record in certain circumstances, according to the Texas Bar.
Attorneys may work with clients to get items removed from their record to help them obtain employment. They also work with people on securing a temporary driver’s license so they can get to and from work.
Shelby Jean, director of communications, stated the organization also has a pro bono arm where volunteer attorneys are recruited to take cases that Legal Aid does not have time to work.
“We have got an active pro bono program, which is private attorneys who take cases that go through our financial screening process. Then they take those cases, in other words, they don’t charge for the services,” Jean elaborated. “Even with that program and the cases that we take — generally speaking, we take about 30-35 percent of the cases that come in, but we do give everyone advice and council who is eligible or who do not have a conflict. At the minimum, everyone who qualifies gets advice and counsel.”
Jean explained program-wide Legal Aid closed 19,496 cases in 2017.
She noted the non-profit offers legal clinics for people during the evening. This service allows people who can’t take time off during the day to have their questions or issues addressed. The dates, times, and locations of these clinics are posted on the Legal Aid website.
“We have special programs and grants that cover helping veterans and people who are homeless,” Jean added. “We also have a recent grant where we started a new program called the Community Vitalization Project. We have got several satellite offices across our program where they are working with people in the community to help empower them and understand what their rights are.”
The Legal Aid office is located at 110 E. Main St. in downtown Waxahachie. Its office is open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The staff can be reached at 972-923-3344.
People can also call the hotline number, 888-5295277, for help as well. Additional information is on its website at http://internet.lanwt.org.