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Lawyers compete to help those in need

Lawyers in Jackson County are hoping to be repeat champions when it comes to making donations that help people in need get legal help.

While the state provides public defenders for people accused of crimes, residents who need to pursue civil cases in court are largely on their own. Many don’t have enough money to fight a wrongful eviction or a violent partner who is challenging a restraining order.

That’s where the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in downtown Medford steps in.

“Lawyers are expensive and a lot of people just need help to navigate the justice system,” said lawyer Dom Campanella.

He’s a supporter of The Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice, a statewide effort to raise money to aid people who need legal help on civil cases.

Lawyers in Jackson County are keeping close watch on a trophy they won in 2018 for having the highest percentage of local lawyers contributing to the campaign.

Jackson County has about 300 lawyers and judges — and 124 made contributions totaling $37,000 in 2018, Campanella said.

Statewide, an average of two in 10 lawyers make donations to the cause, he said.

“We’ve been able to hang on to that trophy. It’s a fun rivalry. Lane County is always nipping at our heels. Lawyers are competitive with one another,” Campanella said.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she’s impressed by the commitment of lawyers in Jackson County to help those in need.

“I think it’s amazing Southern Oregon lawyers are so generous,” she said during a Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice fundraising luncheon in Medford earlier this month.

Rosenblum noted lawyers weren’t the only ones at the luncheon. They were joined by elected representatives, police, business leaders and other community members.

“In a community like this, we see the results from all the work people put in,” she said.

Among other success stories, the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in Medford has been able to get medical care for people who were denied coverage, help immigrants become citizens and stop people who are elderly or have mental health problems from being evicted from nursing homes and adult foster homes.

Debra Lee, the center’s executive director, said a lack of adequate and affordable housing in Jackson County and throughout the West Coast means more people need legal help to stay in their homes. But she said the community is banding together to address the housing crunch.

“We have a housing crisis, but the community is coming together to push the effort to get all kinds of housing,” Lee said.

The Center for Nonprofit Legal Services is a private law firm, not a government agency.

To donate to legal aid efforts through The Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice, see cej-oregon.org.

To donate directly to the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services, see cnpls.org.