Vol. 28, No. 1
Legal Services News
CRLS: Thirty Years of Access to Justice
by Patricia Stout
Background of the CRLS Program
Colorado Rural Legal Services, Inc. ("CRLS") is a federally funded legal aid program serving thirty-eight rural counties in Colorado. Three attorneys founded CRLS in 1969: University of Colorado Law School Professor Jonathan B. "Skip" Chase, William D. Prakken, and J. Dennis Hynes. In the summer of 1967, Chase worked in the fields and lived in migrant camps in both eastern and western areas of the state in preparation for a fall semester seminar he planned to teach on law and poverty in rural areas.1 Out of these experiences, Chase envisioned the CRLS program.
Through an Office of Economic Opportunity ("OEO") grant,2 CRLS was established pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) as a charitable and educational organization whose purpose is " . . . specifically to organize, establish, and carry out a program providing full legal services to indigent persons in various regions of the State of Colorado and to otherwise promote the general welfare of poor persons in the State of Colorado."3 The first offices were the central Boulder office and four regional offices located in Greeley, Grand Junction, La Junta, and Alamosa.
CRLS currently receives approximately $1.5 million annually from the Legal Services Corporation,4 COLTAF, the Legal Aid Foundation, state and local victims’ grants, United Way, Title III, the Department of Human Services, and private donations. CRLS serves the thirty-eight rural counties of its service area, as well as migrant farmworkers and Native Americans on reservations. It has a staff of thirty-five (nineteen attorneys and sixteen support and executive staff). CRLS also uses a variety of volunteers from offices located in Alamosa, Durango, Fort Collins, Fort Morgan, Grand Junction, Greeley, and La Junta, with a main office in Denver. CRLS provides services to Native Americans on the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Reservations in the southwest corner of the state through its Durango branch office and migrant farmworkers throughout the state through its Migrant Farmworkers program, located in the Denver office.
CRLS also provides thousands of poor people annually with such civil legal assistance as advice, brief service, and pro se material, as well as extended service and representation. The CRLS program’s client priorities are the following: to preserve individual and family integrity, safety, and well-being; to obtain and preserve a source of income; to protect income and maintain economic security; to avoid unsafe or unhealthy living conditions; to obtain health care; and to assure effective equal access to justice.
In 1997, CRLS helped approximately 6,500 people (including migrant farmworkers and Native Americans) with a variety of problems. Services provided by CRLS included: domestic relations issues such as obtaining restraining orders, custody disputes, and dissolutions of marriage (approximately 40 percent of its annual caseload); evictions and other landlord-tenant problems (in both public and private housing); utilities shut-offs; unemployment; food stamps; Medicare and Medicaid; SSI; wage claims; repossessions; sales contracts and warranties; Truth in Lending; garnishments; and some bankruptcies. To qualify for the services provided by CRLS, clients must meet Federal Poverty Income Guidelines ("FPIG"),5 except for those older Americans who may be eligible for Title III funds.6 The current maximum allowable income in 1998 under the FPIG for a family of four is $20,563 a year.7
CRLS works closely with the private bar, state and local pro bono groups, community and client organizations, and the Legal Aid Society of Metro Denver and Pikes Peak/Arkansas River Legal Aid to provide high quality services to poor people in rural areas and throughout the state. CRLS and the other two legal services programs are currently engaged in efforts to improve their programs’ services through joint legal needs assessments; uniform computer technology; uniform case management and reporting systems; and the possible merger or consolidation of program functions. In times of increasingly scarce resources, CRLS continues to be a source for access to justice for those who need it the most.
1. Chase outlined his experiences in an article entitled "The Migrant Farmworker in Colorado—The Life and the Law," 40 U.Col. L.Rev. 45 (1967).
2. Congress established the OEO as part of the War on Poverty via the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.). The OEO funded a handful of legal services programs for the poor, but did not have a separate legal division until 1965, when $27.5 million was committed for fiscal year 1966 to fund legal services programs throughout the country. Funding was provided mostly for the largest cities of the nation, but also for some small cities and rural areas.
3. Original Articles of Incorporation, Article III, Colorado Rural Legal Services, Inc., January 21, 1969.
4. 42 U.S.C. § 2996 et seq.
5. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2996e(b)(1), 2996f(a)(1), 2996f(a)(2).
6. 42 U.S.C. § 3030.d.
7. 45 C.F.R. § 1611.3.
Legal Services News is published bimonthly to apprise members of the bar of legal services projects, issues, and pro bono opportunities. Readers are encouraged to submit articles and topic ideas for this department to Department Editor Eric B. Liebman, an associate at Reiman & Bayaz, P.C., 1600 Broadway, #1340, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 860-1500.
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