Make Justice For All
A Reality In Washington State

ABOUT US

Mission:

To ensure that people are treated equally and fairly before the law by educating policymakers and the public about the importance of civil legal aid in our communities and advocating for sufficient public funding for civil legal aid on behalf of low-income people in Washington State.

History:

The EJC was established in 1995 to serve as a strong voice to advocate for adequately funding civil legal aid programs in Washington State. We’re a non-partisan grassroots organization and serve as a standing committee of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Board.

Advocacy:

We work at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure low-income people have access to legal help, assistance, and representation. Members are updated on important legal aid issues through Action Alerts and our blog, which spotlights the impactful work of our partner organizations and champions for legal aid.

LATEST NEWS

STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION WRAP-UP

March 31, 2016 – A little after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29th, the Washington State Legislature passed the 2016 Supplemental Budget and adjourned the Supplemental Session later that night.  The budget, which adds $191 million of new spending to the 2015-2017 biennium, passed with a 27-17 vote in the Senate and 78-17 vote in the House.  Thanks to the advocacy efforts of civil legal aid supporters, the Supplemental Budget includes $552,000…More…

LEGAL AID HELPS:

On average, 200 low-income people turn to legal aid programs each day for help with basic needs.

Washington State’s legal aid network, known as the Alliance for Equal Justice, is comprised of statewide and specialty legal aid organizations that work collaboratively with 17 county-based volunteer attorney programs to provide low-income people with access to justice.

Helping Seniors

The Northwest Justice Project is Washington’s largest, publicly funded civil legal aid provider. In 2014, NJP closed a total of 13,614 cases, directly benefiting 29,936 low-income people in need of civil legal services.

Northwest Justice Project’s principal funders are the WA Legislature, through the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) and Congress, through the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  NJP’s programs include:

Regional Offices: 17 regional offices provide extended legal advocacy and representation in the most pressing and difficult cases facing low-income people across the state. 

CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education Advice & Referral): Washington’s statewide, toll-free, legal assistance hotline provides centralized client screening, including online intake, for Alliance-wide legal aid providers. 

Special Services Units:  Addressing particular legal problems or the needs of specific vulnerable communities – Foreclosure Prevention Unit, Foreclosure Consequences Advocacy Team, Medical Legal Partnerships, Veterans Project, Reentry Initiated through Services and Education (RISE) Project, Integrated Rural Legal Assistance Project, Farm Worker Unit, and Native American Unit.

WashingtonLawHelp.org: Online self-help center containing hundreds of legal resources, forms and instructions (in multiple languages), including document assembly technology, and educational videos.

Consumer
13%
Housing
30%
Family (DV Advocacy)
35%
Income Maintenance
6%
Health
4%
Employment
3%
Miscellaneous
9%

If you are seeking legal help, call the Northwest Justice Project’s CLEAR hotline at 1 (888) 201-1014. The CLEAR hotline is open from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If you are a senior, call 1-888-387-7111.
If you are a veteran, call 1-855-657-8387.
If you are a resident of King County, call 211 or 1-800-621-4636 (toll free).
If you need help with a foreclosure case, call 1-800-606-4819.

The Equal Justice Coalition does not provide any legal advice or representation. Instead our efforts go to helping retain and gain adequate funding for legal aid programs in Washington State.

FUNDING

Established in 1974, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) promotes equal access to justice by providing federal funding grants to 134 nonprofit legal aid programs across the United States. Northwest Justice Project is Washington State’s LSC grantee.

Federal funding for legal aid has dropped significantly over the years. In Fiscal Year 2010, LSC funding peaked to $420 million, which provided NJP with a $6.8 million grant. Between FY 2010 and FY 2016, LSC funding has decreased by roughly 8%, which resulted in a reduction of funding for NJP and, subsequently, a reduction of services for low-income people in need of legal aid. 

For the 2013-2015 Washington State budget, the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), which funds NJP, received the same level of funding that the Legislature provided in the 2011-2013 biennium – $23.186 million.

Early in the 2013 session, the Senate Ways & Means Committee proposed a $5.4 million cut to OCLA. Thankfully, Senators Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee) and Ed Murray (D-Seattle) co-sponsored a last minute, bipartisan amendment to restore $2 million of the $5.4 million cut to OCLA. This amendment was adopted as part of the Senate-proposed budget. However, the EJC did not stop there. We, after months of hard work, were able to erase these cuts completely.

At a time when budgets were slashed for many entities, this result was a relief for the thousands of low-income people that depend on legal aid to secure justice and meet fundamental human needs. Without the help of our members, their calls and emails to legislators, none of this would have been possible. Our collective voice, commitment, and willingness to contact our legislators about the importance of legal aid to low-income communities created this successful outcome.

During the 2014 legislative session, the EJC successfully communicated the need for funding OCLA. Thanks to our efforts, the Legislature passed a one-time appropriation of $280,000 to replace and upgrade the antiquated technology of NJP’s statewide legal aid hotline – C.L.E.A.R.  C.L.E.A.R. serves as Washington’s gateway for thousands of low-income people to secure legal representation, advice, and referral.

During the long 2015 legislative session that has lasted roughly six months and has required three special sessions, our elected officials grappled with extremely challenging issues, such as funding K-12 education, pay raises for state employees and teachers, and a statewide transportation package. In the midst of all of this, the EJC and its supporters worked hard to obtain a much needed increase for civil legal aid funding, as the need for legal aid services in our state has never been greater.

Thanks to the efforts of civil legal aid advocates, the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), which administers and oversees state legal aid funds, received baseline funding from the previous budget plus a $718k maintenance increase (i.e. vendor rate adjustment). This level of funding will help the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) offset the increased cost of services, thereby avoiding potential service reductions. The total budget for civil legal aid services for the next two years, including the maintenance increase, is approximately $23 million. In a year when several state programs were cut and our elected officials struggled to agree on a revenue package, OCLA received a maintenance increase.

Other legal aid highlights during the 2015 session include:
Senators and Representatives signed onto letters in support of increasing funding for civil legal aid.
• Senators Steve O’Ban (R-28) and Cyrus Habib (D-48) co-authored an op-ed in the Seattle Times about the importance of civil legal and why the state should prioritize investing in legal aid services.
• Representative Zack Hudgins (D-11) introduced an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee to provide OCLA with a one-time increase of approximately $2 million. The amendment passed out of committee and was even included in an earlier version of the House’s budget. Unfortunately, that funding level did not withstand the negotiation process and OCLA didn’t receive that increase.

Around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29th, the Washington State Legislature passed the 2016 Supplemental Budget and adjourned the Supplemental Session later that night.  The budget, which adds $191 million of new spending to the 2015-2017 biennium, passed with a 27-17 vote in the Senate and 78-17 vote in the House.  Thanks to the advocacy efforts of civil legal aid supporters, the Supplemental Budget includes $552,000 for the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), which administers and oversees state funding for legal aid.

OCLA requested $555,000 in the Supplemental Budget to cover unanticipated health care premium increases and non-personnel costs of its contractor the Northwest Justice Project (NJP). Without this funding, NJP would have been forced to reduce personnel and client service, with potentially devastating impact on our state’s already strained and overwhelmed legal aid system.  For more details, check out this one-pager produced by the Equal Justice Coalition. 

Funding OCLA’s request was of vital importance and it is heartening that whether Democrat or Republican, House or Senate members, our elected officials all agreed it was the right thing to do. Other issues were more contentious, but ultimately the negotiated budget increased funding to several key areas including:$28 million for safety improvements at the state’s mental health hospitals; $7 million for recruiting new public school teachers and retaining existing ones; $190 million from the state’s emergency fund to address damages from the last round of wildfires; $15 million to expand programs that combat homelessness; and, $8 million to backfill tuition cuts made to state colleges and universities during the 2015 session.

Now that the Supplemental Session has adjourned, legislators are able to resume raising money for their re-election campaigns. In 2016, all 98 seats in the House of Representatives and 26 out of 49 seats in the Senate are up for election. Currently the House is majority Democratic, but by a slim margin of 50 to 48. The Senate is majority Republican, by a margin of 25 to 24. The November 2016 elections are incredibly important as they have the potential to bring substantial change to the composition of the Washington State Legislature. We are fortunate that funding of civil legal aid is not a partisan issue and we must work during this campaign season to strengthen support among legislators and candidates regardless of their party affiliation.

The state’s 2017 Legislative Session will begin on January 9, 2016. Sign up to receive updates about state funding for civil legal aid, and check back as we get closer to the start of session to learn about our 2017 advocacy efforts. 

Take Action

 

Between Fiscal Year 2008 and Fiscal Year 2012, King County’s investment in legal aid has decreased by a cumulative of nearly $160,000.  For the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, the EJC faced multiple challenges: (1) our goal was to restore funding to pre-recession levels; (2) The King County Executive’s budget included only four of the five programs supported in fiscal year 2012; and (3) we were attempting to expand King County’s support to include Seattle Community Law Center, an Alliance member working to secure federal benefits for people with disabilities who are homeless or low-income in King County.

The EJC attended and testified during community hearings on the proposed budget and met with Councilmembers (and their staff) to discuss the collaborative delivery system of the King County legal aid providers that works to ensure the needs of low-income people are met in a timely and effective manner and to illustrate the need for restoring and expanding funding for legal aid.

The King County Council did more than champion our ask. They passed a budget that restored funding to pre-recession levels for Eastside Legal Assistance Program, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, TeamChild, Solid Ground – Family Assistance Program, and Unemployment Law Project; added Seattle Community Law Center to the budget; and secured additional funding for ELAP to provide a Domestic Violence Attorney at the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN). Legal aid funding from the King County budget increased from $302,000 to $513,991. 

 

For the Fiscal Year 2014, we successfully secured a continuation of levels seen in the King County’s FY 2013 budget, which included a sizable increase in investment to legal aid programs serving King County’s most vulnerable people.

In 2014, the King County Council moved to a biennial budget cycle. The EJC worked with our supporters and the six King County legal aid providers that receive County funding to successfully maintain funding levels from the previous budget, including a vendor adjustment increase. For the County’s first biennial budget, FY 2015 – FY 2016, legal aid is funded at $1.05 million shared by six organizations.  

BECOME A MEMBER

Pro bono services and [legal aid] programs are critical to helping the most vulnerable in our community enforce their rights and protections under the law.

Bob Ferguson, WA State Attorney General & Frm. King County Councilmember [Quote link.]

As an alliance, we are working towards ensuring access to justice positively impacts thousands of low-income people that require legal aid services to meet their basic human needs.

Patrick Palace, WSBA President, 2013-2014

Access to a legal aid attorney can help families in crisis avoid foreclosure, thwart fraudulent or predatory practices, protect themselves from domestic violence, and maintain employment, healthcare and livelihood.

Eric Gonzalez, Former EJC Director

Together we can ensure access to justice for all.

 JOIN THE EJC

EJC TEAM

Michael Pellicciotti

IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIR

Mike served as the Chair of the EJC from 2013-2015. He is an attorney with the State of Washington, who helps lead Washington’s efforts to combat healthcare fraud and vulnerable person abuse. Mike previously served as a King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, protecting women and children from domestic and sexual violence; and before that he clerked at the Washington Supreme Court. more

Jay Doran

STAFF

As the Communications & Advocacy Director of the Legal Foundation of Washington (LFW), Jay oversees messaging and communications for LFW and staffs the Equal Justice Coalition, working to increase public funding for legal aid. Previously, Jay has worked in a range of roles, including positions with Friends of Youth, the Washington United for Marriage Campaign, and Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. more

Salvador A. Mungia

CHAIR

Salvador A. Mungia, a partner in the Tacoma office of Gordon Thomas Honeywell, is a past president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association.  Sal devotes his energy to seeing that people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the legal system have access.  He has served on the Board of Directors for Legal Aid for Washington for thirteen years two of which were serving as president.  more

CONTACT US

For more information about civil legal aid or the EJC, get in touch with us.

The Equal Justice Coalition does not provide any legal advice or representation. Instead our efforts go to helping retain and gain adequate funding for legal aid programs in Washington State.

If you are seeking civil legal help, please call Northwest Justice Project’s CLEAR hotline at 1 (888) 201 1014.

Equal Justice Coalition

1325 4th Avenue, Ste. 1335
Seattle, Washington 98101 USA
1 (206) 447 8168

info@ejc.org

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