The Legal Aid Society of Delaware (also called the Legal Aid Bureau) started in 1946 when a committee appointed by William Prickett, President of the Delaware State Bar Association, formed the Society for free legal aid to Delaware residents who could not afford legal representation. H.N. White was its first attorney. He offered two hours of appointments two afternoons and three evenings a week. He would represent clients in criminal and civil matters but not divorce cases. The office had an annual budget of $5000, with $1500 for the attorney salary and $1620 for the secretary who was full time. In the first week of its existence, Legal Aid conducted 18 interviews – primarily to address eviction notices. According to the trustees managing the society “the applicant at all times shall receive the same consideration and service as he or she could properly expect from any reputable law office.” The budget was funded entirely by voluntary contributions of Delaware Bar Association members.
Today, like 1946, the legal aid organizations depend on the Delaware Bar to help fund their operations critical to underserved Delawareans. COVID-19 has brought the work of these organizations sharply into focus, with a tidal wave of evictions and foreclosures being held back only by the soon to expire moratoria. In this celebratory year for legal aid in Delaware, I express my heartfelt thanks to those who lead and work for and with the organizations that do so much good for those in need. We recognize you as pandemic and post-pandemic heroes for putting the needs of desperate Delawareans ahead of your own needs. When the chips are down, legal aid in Delaware is always there to help.
It has been a time of unspeakable loss and sadness. We must remember those whose lives have been lost to the pandemic. But for the living, I say here comes the sun. The courts will soon return to a sense of normalcy. People will get their day in court. With the help of the Delaware Bar, legal aid will be there for those in need. And we will soon be together in person to share the warmth and personal connection that physical distancing has taken from us this past year.
Thank you for asking me to speak. And thank you to the legal aid organizations, and the Delaware Bar, for continuing 75 years of legal aid to the citizens of Delaware.
Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr.
Delaware Supreme Court