CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Bar Association donated more than $42,000 earlier this month to three local nonprofits, which provide legal services to the less fortunate, immigrants and children.
Darin Luneckas, president of the bar and a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said for the last 20 years the bar has attempted to “break the mold” on the traditional bar’s function in the community.
“While we still have meetings, socialize and learn new things about the law, we also think it’s important to provide support to all those attorneys out there, silently doing some of the hardest work for the least amount of money,” Luneckas said.
This year, the bar donated $31,330 to Iowa Legal Aid in Cedar Rapids; $10,000 to the Kids First Law Center; and $1,500 to Justice for Our Neighbors.
Jim Kringlen, managing partner of Iowa Legal Aid, said the bar donation helps pay for family law case work in Linn County.
Most of those cases, he said, involve providing counsel to survivors of domestic violence, such as when someone needs a protective order, which also can include court orders for child custody, child support, visitation and other needs.
Legal aid volunteer lawyers and paid staff lawyers also represent abuse survivors in divorce, paternity and custody cases, he added.
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“The annual financial support and pro bono volunteerism through our Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Linn County Bar Association and its members is critical to our services to provide legal assistance to low-income Linn County residents with nowhere else to turn,” Kringlen said.
This support allows the office to help more people, and it also helps with court efficiency, which is aided by having attorneys assist people through the complex legal system, he said.
Jenny Schulz, president of Kids First Law Center that started in 2005, said most of the bar funding supports the largest program at the center — child advocacy. The center provide free and low-cost legal representation for children in high-conflict divorce and custody cases.
“The representation helps strengthen family relationships, reduce family conflict and make children’s voices heard,” Schulz said. “Like so many in our community, Linn County attorneys are generous in giving their time and resources to help those in need. Kids First depends on local support.”
Kids First also provides educational workshops for children of divorcing parents and child-focused parenting sessions for separated parents.
Frank Camp, state committee chair of Justice for Our Neighbors, said the support from the bar and other volunteer lawyers and legal organizations is “vital to our mission.” The organization provides legal advice to refugees and immigrants and helps them obtain stable immigration status and eventually permanent legal status and citizenship.
“This is not only because of the financial support, for which we are extremely grateful, but also because it shows others that the legal community in Iowa respects the rights of immigrants and the rule of law,” Camp, also a Cedar Rapids attorney, said.
The organization, which is part of the National Justice for Our Neighbors, has seven Iowa law clinics — the headquarters in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Decorah, Marshalltown, Ottumwa and Storm Lake. Many volunteer lawyers and legal assistants across the state, along with three staff lawyers out of Des Moines, have provided free immigration legal services, education and advocacy since 1999, when it was established by United Methodist Committee on Relief.
$1 million mark
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Luneckas said the bar has likely hit the $1 million mark in nonprofit donations since 1988, with the majority of the funding going to Iowa Legal Aid. From 2008 through 2017-18, Kids First has received $7,000 or more a year — totaling more than $118,000. The association added Justice for Our Neighbors in 2012.
The bar asks for the charitable donations when annual dues are paid, Luneckas said. The individual members and law firms pay their standard dues plus a suggested donation amount that goes to the nonprofits.
Most of the $40,000 comes from voluntary donations and a small percentage comes from the operating budget. The additional $2,000 or so is interest on money invested by the bar in the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, he noted.
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