Mary Thompson noticed a posting at a courthouse for a domestic violence prevention program offered by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC). She had barely survived the past four years of physical and sexual abuse. Fearing for her eight year-old daughter’s safety but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, Mary sought the assistance of LASOC.
After two and a half years of drafting pleadings and attending hearings, LASOC counsel helped Mary obtain full custody of her daughter and a restraining order against her abusive former partner.
Mary is just one of 730,000 Orange County residents who cannot afford the average attorney’s billing rate of $370 per hour. One hour of counsel would cost individuals like Mary a week of minimum wage work, forcing them to reluctantly choose between paying for legal services and feeding their families.
Since its incorporation in 1958, LASOC has been voicing the legal concerns of low- and moderate-income clients in courtrooms across Orange County and Los Angeles County. What once started as a small office has since grown into the largest legal support center in the county, offering a full range of legal services.
Each year, LASOC receives 52,000 requests for assistance—from veterans who have been wrongfully denied government benefits to low-income families who face unlawful eviction.
The organization bears the legal burdens of low- and middle-income community residents when it can. However, as the demand for legal aid services surpasses its available resources, LASOC is forced to turn away three out of every four people. This service gap—a gap between those who seek legal aid and those who actually receive it—continues to grow.
While LASOC wishes to celebrate its five and a half decades of service, it acknowledges, more importantly, that there is still much work to be done. In an effort to bridge the service gap, LASOC presents the inaugural Voices for Justice Dinner and Fundraiser at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. All proceeds from the event will help expand LASOC legal services for communities in need.
Voices for Justice will honor the work of Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, the Honorable Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.), and former LASOC Director of Litigation Crystal C. Sims. Each honoree has made invaluable contributions to the field of legal services on behalf of low-income communities.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was one of the first congressional supporters of the launch of the I-CAN!® E-FILE system in 2002. She supported the use of the web-based program to assist low-income families and seniors with filing their federal income taxes electronically. The free program guided participants through the nuances of tax preparation, claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and securing expedited refunds. With Congresswoman Sanchez’s support, LASOC enabled low-income families and seniors to claim over $800 million in refunds. LASOC/CLS will honor Congresswoman Sanchez with the Outstanding Community Service Award.
Hon. Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.) served 17 years as a justice for the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three. While attending UCLA, she worked for Neighborhood Legal Services in Venice as the organization’s first employee. The experience was the beginning of her long-time commitment to pro bono work. LASOC will honor Hon. Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.) with the Access to Justice Award.
Crystal C. Sims has dedicated over 38 years to the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC), starting as a staff attorney in 1975 and eventually serving as Director of Litigation and Training until her retirement in 2013. While working at LASOC, she represented a range of clients—from low-income tenants who had a right to better living conditions to homeless individuals whose rights had been violated by various jurisdictions. Crystal is well-known for her work on advancing affordable housing development throughout Orange County. LASOC will honor Crystal Sims with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.