Jackson County lawyers recently claimed the top prize in a statewide fundraising competition that helps provide free civil legal services for poor and elderly Oregonians.
The annual Campaign for Equal Justice fundraiser is designed to help even the legal playing field for the more than 42,000 local residents with incomes low enough to qualify for free services, such as those provided by Jackson County's Center for Non-Profit Legal Services, said Dominic Campanella, a Medford civil litigation attorney with Brophy Schmor.
"Everyone is entitled to their day in court," said Campanella, who is president of the county's bar association.
Jackson County lawyers raised more than $22,000 for the campaign this year, nudging out Lane County for the 2012-13 Equity Cup competition, he said.
"Lawyers are slightly competitive people," Campanella said, laughing. "Any time we can beat Portland-area attorneys, we're pretty happy about that."
Poverty in Oregon has risen 61 percent since 2000 — almost twice the national rate, he said. Because resources are so scarce, legal aid serves only the most critical legal needs, such as food, shelter and physical safety. About 40 percent of legal aid cases are family law cases, such as divorces and child custody. Most serve victims of domestic violence, including helping victims file restraining orders against their abusers, Campanella said.
Jackson County lawyers kicked off this year's activities with a campaign luncheon in Medford. The event provided local attorneys an opportunity to hear more about legal aid and the importance of equal access to justice, especially for low-income and vulnerable Oregonians who do not otherwise have access to legal services.
About 100 lawyers and judges gathered to hear Justice Martha Walters of the Oregon Supreme Court speak. Then legal aid lawyer Ray Churba shared the story of a woman and her son and how legal aid helped keep them safe from domestic violence with a custody order, Campanella said.
"This type of legal aid fills a real need," he said.
The Equity Cup, awarded to Jackson County by the Oregon State Bar and the Campaign for Equal Justice, goes to the region with the largest percentage increase in attorneys' donations over the previous year, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney J. Adam Peterson.
"It's a pretty cool thing. And we're pretty proud to have won," Peterson said, adding the prestigious cup will be displayed at the Jackson County Circuit Court building.
Campanella said when the competition ended in February, Jackson County lawyers had increased their donations by 6.4 percent. By the end of March, that number was more than 8 percent, he said, adding that more than 100 local lawyers contributed to the effort.
"That's about one-third of the attorneys in town," Campanella said, adding about 20 percent of attorneys give to the campaign statewide.
Campanella praised the camaraderie and cooperative spirit of Jackson County's legal community.
"We work together, by and large," Campanella said. "It helps encourage this type of giving."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.