Seeking justice and improving lives

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“Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain.”

Adopted just over 170 years ago, Iowa’s state motto represents a commitment to pursuing access to justice, which has long been a core value for Iowans. This value is reflected in Iowa’s remarkable track record of consistently being on the right side of history in upholding the rights of its citizens. For the last 40 of those years, Iowa Legal Aid has played a critical role in protecting and giving life to this core Iowa value.

Iowa Legal Aid provides legal services to low-income, elderly, veterans, and other vulnerable Iowans without charge. Serving eligible clients in all of Iowa’s 99 counties, Iowa Legal Aid’s 10 regional offices (including the Cedar Rapids Regional Office in the Human Services Campus, 317 Seventh Ave. SE, Suite 404) provide assistance with a wide variety of civil legal issues. Among the services it provides, Iowa Legal Aid helps survivors of domestic abuse in family law matters. Iowa Legal Aid’s representation allows survivors to protect themselves from violence and abuse. Iowa Legal Aid also helps those facing homelessness due to foreclosure or eviction by helping those individuals enforce their rights and preserve their homes.

Over the last 40 years, Iowa Legal Aid has successfully argued landmark cases that have improved the lives of all Iowans. Iowa Legal Aid has handled multiple Iowa Supreme Court cases over the decades establishing critical rights for victims of domestic abuse in domestic relations proceedings. Likewise an Iowa Legal Aid case argued before the Iowa Supreme Court in the 1990s guaranteed that a guardianship order can only take away an adult ward’s rights to the extent necessary to provide for basic needs. As a result of this ruling, a ward could still make some decisions for him or herself. These cases, and many more like them, show how much of a difference Iowa Legal Aid has made in maintaining the rights and liberties of Iowans over the last four decades.

In addition to these higher-profile cases, Iowa Legal Aid provides direct legal services to tens of thousands of Iowans per year. In the last 10 years alone, Iowa Legal Aid has handled over 200,000 cases impacting nearly 500,000 Iowans. These services have had a real economic impact for Iowans. A study done in Iowa in 2011 found that every dollar Iowans invested in Iowa Legal Aid yielded a return of $6.71 in federal funding, direct benefits to clients and indirect savings to Iowa communities.

Iowa Legal Aid provides assistance in times of crisis. During the 1993 and 2008 floods, it partnered with numerous agencies, private charities and the faith community to help address the aftermath of the disastrous floods. Working with the private bar, Iowa Legal Aid helped Iowans deal with buyout issues, consumer problems arising from fraudulent practices, foreclosure and other housing issues.

Iowa Legal Aid produces numerous educational materials covering dozens of legal topics. These provide valuable information to Iowans on their rights and responsibilities under the law. Last year Iowa Legal Aid’s website received over 595,000 unique page views. Access to this information further strengthens the rights of Iowans by providing easy-to-read and accurate information.

Despite these successes over Iowa Legal Aid’s 40 years of seeking justice and improving lives, there still is much to be done. Ensuring access to justice requires constant effort and innovation as legal and social landscapes change. Resources continue to fall far short of need. Last year alone, Iowa Legal Aid turned away 10,000 Iowans due to lack of resources.

Despite the difficulties, the value of access to justice is part of the core fabric of who we are as Iowans. Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain. Iowa Legal Aid will continue to do its part to help bring meaning to those words.

• Sam Jones, a vice president at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, is chairman of the Regional Advisory Council for Iowa Legal Aid, board president of the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, a board member for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and for The History Center. More information: www.iowalegalaid.org

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