History, Impact, and Milestones

Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been bridging the justice gap for nearly 50 years. LASOC was founded by a group of local attorneys (with volunteer assistance from a group that was then known as Lawyers Wives) in 1958 to respond to the needs of the County’s poor and elderly. LASOC serves low income individuals and seniors who reside in all the cities and unincorporated areas in Orange County. LASOC has an office in the City of Santa Ana and one in the City of Anaheim.

In 1984, LASOC successfully bid for a competitive grant which led to the expansion of its service area to include 18 cities in southeast Los Angeles County, where it is known as Community Legal Services (CLS). The service areas of CLS include 18 cities in southeast Los Angeles County. CLS has an office in the City of Compton and one in the City of Norwalk.

newbuilding

Milestones

1958: A group of Orange County attorneys and an organization then known as Lawyers Wives establish Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) to serve the legal needs of low income individuals and the elderly.

1958: LASOC opens its first office. It is located in the City of Santa Ana.

1958: In June, LASOC hires Patricia Herzog, its first attorney. Her part time salary is $250 a month.

1968: The Office of Economic Opportunity awards LASOC $76,000.

1975: Legal Services Corporation (formerly OEO) becomes a funder of LASOC.

1976:  LASOC establishes the Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program (SCLAP), the first specialized unit within the organization, through a grant from the Orange County Office on Aging. SLCAP serves seniors in the County of Orange. SCLAP presently assists approximately 2,400 seniors annually.

1979:  Legal Services Corporation awards LASOC a grant specifically for impact litigation to increase the availability of low-income housing.

1981:  LASOC establishes a pro bono attorney program, called Amicus Publico, the predecessor of Public Law Center.

1982:  LASOC and its Executive Director, Robert J. Cohen, play significant roles in the passage of SB 713 which created the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), a major source of funding for The State Bar of California Legal Services Trust Fund Program.

1984: LASOC successfully competes for a grant that expanded its service area to southeast Los Angeles, where it is known as Community Legal Services (CLS).  CLS opens the Compton office in February and the Norwalk office in August.

1988:  CLS Norwalk establishes the Domestic Violence Prevention Program. DVPP assists victims with the preparation of restraining order documents, including applications for orders, declarations, temporary restraining orders, and related documents. Program staff also advises clients on court and law enforcement procedures and schedule office appointment for clients needing additional legal services.

Before the DVPP came to existence, many victims of domestic violence submitted incomplete restraining order applications, which prevented judges from taking immediate action on crucial requests. Thus, technical and procedural errors left victims and their children vulnerable to their abusers. The DVPP has effectively reduced the problems and errors in paperwork so much so that judges of the Norwalk Superior Court now refer all persons seeking restraining orders to the service. Since the DVPP’s implementation, thousands of battered women and their family members have secured the protection they desperately needed through assistance received by the DVPP’s staff.

1992:  The 1992 Los Angeles Riots destroy a California Department of Corrections facility which was located above the CLS Compton office, thereby inadvertently destroying the CLS Compton office. CLS Compton operates out of the CLS Norwalk Office and out of the Los Angeles Superior Court South Central District – Compton Courthouse.

1994:  After two (2) years of being displaced, CLS Compton moves to its current facility which is named the Thurgood Marshall Justice Center.

1995:  CLS establishes the Domestic Violence Prevention Program in Compton.

1995:  On behalf of homeless persons, LASOC files suit in state court against the a local municipality, facially challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance prohibiting (1) the use of camp paraphernalia including cots, sleeping bags, or non-designated cooking facilities; (2) pitching, occupying, or using camp facilities including tents, huts, or temporary shelters; (3) storing personal property on any public land within the city; or (4) living temporarily in a camp facility or outdoors in public within said city. The California Court of Appeals overturns the ruling of the lower court in which the lower court upheld the ordinances with the exception of the provision prohibiting living temporarily in a camp facility or outdoors. The Court of Appeal holds that the anti-camping ordinance violates Appellants right to travel, which includes the right to live or stay where one will, and, by punishing them for their status as homeless people, violates their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The court also holds that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. In 1995, the California Supreme Court reverses the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The court holds that the challenged ordinance, which may have an incidental impact on travel, does not violate the right to travel as it has a purpose other than the restriction of travel and does not discriminate among classes of persons by penalizing the exercise of the right to travel for some. In addition, the court finds that the ordinance penalized particular conduct as opposed to status and thus did not violate plaintiffs rights under the Eighth Amendment, and was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. However, the Court notes that the result might be different in an as-applied, as opposed to a facial, challenge.

1996:  LASOC establishes its Toll-Free Hotline, 1-800-834-5001, its first technology-based solution to the challenge of using limited resources to efficiently assist the greatest number of people. The LASOC/CLS Hotline provides a centralized intake system for the entire program and is the gateway to all of LASOC services. The Hotline is regularly staffed by ten (10) intake workers who are directly supervised by an attorney. It responds to more than 200 calls per day. Eighty to 100 of daily Hotline callers are eligible for services and receive a range of services including brief counseling on legal matters that are easy to identify, explain and resolve; an appointment in one of LASOC’s/CLS many legal clinics/workshop; or an office appointment in the appropriate local office.

1998:  LASOC establishes the Health Consumer Action Center, a specialized unit which assists low-income, underrepresented consumers in accessing the health care system in Orange County. As the only program of its kind in Orange County, HCAC provides legal advocacy and expertise to help health care consumers obtain the coverage and benefits they need. . HCAC is funded by The California Endowment.

2000:  LASOC creates I-CAN! Legal, a web-based application, that enables individuals to prepare their own legal pleadings.

2001:  LASOC establishes the Low Income Taxpayers Unit through a grant from the Internal Revenue Service.

2001:  LASOC establishes the Asian Language Legal Assistance Program through funding from the State Bar of California.

2001:  LASOC Executive Director Robert J. Cohen is honored by the Anti-Defamation League.

2002:  LASOC creates software for I-CAN! E-File.

2003:  LASOC launches its Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Initiative and first deploys I-CAN! E-File during the tax season.

2003:  CLS Compton receives funding from the State Bar of California Equal Access Partnership Program for the establishment of the Compton Legal Self-Help Center (CLSHC), which provides outreach to the community through its free Self-Help Center located at the Compton Courthouse. CSHLAC also offers computer access to legal documents relating to family law, landlord/tenant actions, consumer and small claims court matters and also provides access to legal resource portals such as I-CAN! Legal.

2003:  CLS Compton participates in establishment of JusticeCorp, a collaborative project which enables college/university students to work in court-based programs.

2003:  LASOC starts the Homeless Legal Assistance Outreach Program through grants from the City of Santa Ana and County of Orange Continuum of Care (through a partnership with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Orange County).

2003:  LASOC Executive Director Robert J. Cohen receives the Loren Miller Award from the State Bar of California for his progressive and effective approach to expanding and creating the delivery of legal services to self-represented litigants and improving court operations, most notably, for the creation of I-CAN! Legal.

2003:  The California Courts, Judicial Council of California awards the Ralph N. Kleps Award Awarded to the Superior Court of Orange County, in partnership with LASOC, for the I-CAN! Legal program and its proven ability to improve access, fairness, diversity and overall improvement in administration of the California judicial system.

2004:  The Compton Legal Self-Help Center opens its doors to the community.

2004:  The National Association for Court Management (NACM) awards the Orange County Superior Court with the Justice Achievement Award in recognition of its effective implementation of LASOC’s innovative I-CAN! Legal program and its accomplishments in helping self-represented litigants.

2005:  LASOC establishes the Legal Resolutions Center.

2006:  Santa Ana office moves to current location of 2101 North Tustin Avenue, a high-tech facility that consists of 18,600 square feet of office space.

2006:  LASOC’s receives the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access Awarded in recognition of the Legal Resolutions Center, an innovation that bridges the technological resources of the LASOC with the expertise of the private bar.

2006:  LASOC receives special recognition from the Internal Revenue Service to in honor of LASOC’s work in providing community awareness, partnership, education and communication in the development and implementation of its Earned Income Taxpayer Credit program.

2006:  California First Lady Maria Shriver approaches and partners with LASOC to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit. LASOC hosts a Community Tax Day featuring Ms. Shriver, taxpayers and community-based organizations at the Corbin Community Center in Santa Ana, at which time individuals filed their taxes and claimed the EITC for free using LASOC’s I-CAN! E-File.

2007:  LASOC works with statewide partners in hosting Community Tax Days in Santa Ana, Compton and Oakland for California First Lady Maria Shriver. Ms. Shriver, taxpayers and community-based organizations attend the Community Tax Days, where I-CAN! E-File is used by individuals to file their tax returns and claim the EITC for free.

2007:  LASOC establishes a Medical-Legal Partnership with University of California, Irvine Family Health Center (Santa Ana). The mission of the Partnership is to help ensure that the children and families in Santa Ana and surrounding areas obtain and keep their basic needs – for food, housing, education, health care, safety and stability – by improving front-line health care staff’s capacity to screen, identify, triage and refer basic needs legal issues.

2008:  LASOC celebrates its 50th Year of Service on November 6 at The Grove of Anaheim.

2011:  LASOC celebrates the 1st Annual Great Wine Festival fundraiser.

Community Impact

The following are highlights of LASOC’s accomplishments since its establishment in 1958:

  • It is estimated that since its establishment, LASOC has closed at least 400,000 civil cases on behalf of individuals in Orange County and Southeast Los Angeles County.
  • Throughout its history, LASOC has been a statewide and national leader in expanding access to justice, playing a significant role to bring IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) to California in 1982 and promoting its use and replication throughout the nation.
  • LASOC created I-CAN!, the Interactive Community Assistance Network, to use the power of technology to enable self-represented litigants to create pleadings that are necessary to access the court and obtain needed court orders.
  • I-CAN! has been used throughout California and has been incorporated for use in courts in Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Virginia. Already more than 63,000 self-represented litigants have created pleadings through the use of I-CAN!
  • In 2004, I-CAN! received the Justice Achievement Award from the National Association for Court Management (NACM) in recognition of the excellent service that it provides.
  • I-CAN! E-File, another major technological innovation of LASOC, enables low income workers to create and e-file their taxes, and to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which this year can return more than $4716 to a qualified taxpayer. For the latest updates, go to www.icanefile.org.
  • In 2004, LASOC created its Legal Resolutions Center (LRC) to enable the general public and self-represented litigants to benefit from technology and obtain cost-effective legal assistance from the private bar.
  • LRC received the American Bar Association 2006 Louis M. Brown Award for excellence in bridging LASOC’s technological with the expertise of the private bar.