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TCL > December 1998 Issue > Pro Bono is a Team Effort

December 1998       Vol. 27, No. 12       Page  29
Pro Bono Success Stories

Pro Bono is a Team Effort
by Patty Bennett, Charlene Sinclair

What can this mother of two toddlers do? She works full-time at a minimum wage job, has no financial resources to hire an attorney, and needs attorney assistance in a dissolution of marriage and custody fight with an abusive husband.

This young woman was able to obtain a volunteer lawyer through the Uncompaghre Volunteer Legal Aid Program ("Program"), which is located in Montrose and serves the 7th Judicial District. The Director of the Program, Patty Bennett, called Charlene Sinclair, an attorney in Telluride, to represent this client. The situation was even worse than the client realized because the paternal grandmother, who had significant financial resources, was seeking custody of the children with the father and planned to move the children out of state.

Charlene visited the young woman at her trailer home and observed her trying to care for her children and maintain enough energy to work her late-night shifts. It was a struggle for this woman to get through each day, let alone take on a custody battle. To assess fully her ability to handle the children, a local psychologist was recruited to meet with the mother and children and establish a professional opinion of the functioning of this family unit. The psychologist agreed to reduce his fees to a minimal level after meeting the client. His conclusions fully supported the client’s request for sole custody of the children.

At the hearing, the young woman was awarded sole custody of the children, and the husband was awarded liberal visitation, based an his expressed desire to remain close to his children. After the court hearing, while walking down the courthouse steps, she had told Charlene, "You’re the best attorney anyone could have." Charlene said, "I can tell you there is no better feeling than that! So when Patty Bennett calls with another client in need, I know the experience will be well worth the effort."

Since then the father has moved out of town and is currently not involved with the children. The young mother lives and works in Montrose. From time to time, Patty and Charlene run into her there, and she always stops to thank them again for helping her and her children.

The Uncompaghre Volunteer Legal Aid Program handles all civil cases except traffic, fee generation, and eligible court appointment matters. In fiscal year 1997-98, the Program placed 127 eligible clients requesting legal representation on a pro bono basis, and seven for a reduced fee. The Program referred 181 people to private attorneys; referred 369 people to other agencies or provided information; and offered volunteer educational seminars throughout the year for over 100 persons.

Currently, fifty-three volunteer attorneys in the Ouray, San Miguel, and Montrose County areas participate in the Program. Attorneys wanting to assist in any way may call Patty Bennett at (970) 249-7202.

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