From the time Brian and Shari Eng (to whom I will be forever grateful) connected me with CLASI in October 2017, until the present, not a week goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars. I was reluctant to retire after years of general law practice and ten years on the Kansas Bench. Before my family’s move to Delaware that year, I knew I would look for an opportunity to volunteer as a lawyer in our new home state. To have arrived at CLASI, a legal aid organization that is well-known and well-respected statewide, and even nation-wide, was pure serendipity.
Given a broad legal background in practice and as a judge, it is fitting that I’ve worked on a large variety of cases at CLASI. My main assignments have been in the Housing and Elder Law Programs. However, within those areas, I have worked on cases involving breaches of home repair contracts, financial abuse of elders, utility overcharges, overbilling landlords, uninhabitable housing conditions, theft of personal and real property, unfettered lot rent increases on manufactured homes, guardianships, and wrongful evictions. Through this volunteer “job” I have learned a great deal about public housing and Section 8 vouchers, about the ways in which older adults are vulnerable, about the Manufactured Home Rent Justification Act, and about the operation of Delaware’s many different courts and how they interface.
A compelling case I litigated was that of a high school student whose parents passed away within 18 months of each other. The legal task was to obtain guardianship over the student’s person in Family Court for his grandmother. His grandmother did not speak English, had a disability, and was mystified by the legal process. More crucial, however, was the issue of housing. This family had no financial resources until the home, where both parents had died, could be sold. Contacts with the student’s school, where he was on full scholarship, resulted in a pledge by its board to pay the rent for the family for one year.
By contrast, another recent case involved my petitioning the Chancery Court to revoke the guardianship of an older woman who, though she disagreed with some health care providers about her medical needs, was perfectly capable of making her own decisions. Through my advocacy the guardianship was revoked, and the client could move forward freely with the ability to have choice and control over her life.
It is clear that our clients at CLASI face many challenges: poverty, mental and /or physical disabilities, language barriers, abuse, lack of health care, transportation, and/or housing. I would love to see these problems disappear through enlightened policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Barring that, however, the best result for our clients would be the availability of funding for more advocates like those at CLASI in legal aid and legal services programs across our country.
What a pleasure it has been to work alongside determined and dedicated colleagues, to see the work they do every day in representing those less fortunate in Delaware. Both young and seasoned, they are singularly focused on what is best for their clients. CLASI’s leadership team has guided me gently, answered all my questions, and backed me when I have made mistakes, or been in delicate situations. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to practice law among such intelligent and compassionate advocates, a number of whom I now call friends.
I want to give a shout-out to the support staff at CLASI, who are the best with whom I have ever worked. They almost immediately respond to every request made or task I have delegated. They often stay late and arrive early. They handle the most difficult clients with tact and dexterity. They are the foundation that makes CLASI a wonderful place to work.
Over the last 19 months most CLASI staff members have been working from home regularly. Thus, I have sorely missed the joy of being among them each week and hope we can safely meet each other and our clients in person once again soon.
Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
*Licensed in Kansas and North Carolina
Permitted to practice in Delaware pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 55