Southeast Louisiana Legal Services ("SLLS") provides free legal services to low-income clients across twenty-two parishes in Southeast Louisiana. We are the largest non-profit law firm in Louisiana. We have six offices in Baton Rouge, Covington, Hammond, Harvey, Houma, and New Orleans. Our mission is to achieve justice through free civil legal aid to low-income people by direct case work, advocacy, and community education.
What We Do:
SLLS works daily to protect domestic violence victims from abuse, represents abused and neglected children in the foster care system, preserves housing for hard-working families, helps end homelessness for people with disabilities and veterans, protects elderly consumers, removes barriers to medical care, improves health outcomes, improves access to employment and education for vulnerable people, and so much more.
The measureable economic impact achieved for our clients in 2016 was over $22 million in income, benefits, and assets secured or protected. For every $1 invested in civil legal aid, there are nearly $9 in social return on investment. This includes healthcare, law enforcement, emergency services, justice reform, and other public cost savings. Our impact on lives saved through our domestic violence work, families stabilized, and abused children safeguarded through our Child in Need of Care Program is critically important, but difficult to measure. Our public information website, www.LouisianaLawhelp.org had over 143,000 unique page views last year. With the generous support of our funders, including Legal Services Corporation, Louisiana Bar Foundation, United Way, and many others, SLLS handled about 27,036 people last year. We empowered over 13,000 people with information about their legal rights through community legal education.
Following his military service, Mr. R. a Vietnam veteran, settled back into his family home in Louisiana. When his mother died without a will, Mr. R. and his only brother informally agreed that he should keep living there. By then, they were both retired living on fixed incomes. They couldn't afford to hire a lawyer to take legal action to officially transfer title. Disaster struck in August 2016 when the Baton Rouge area experienced historic flooding. Over 6.9 trillion gallons of rain fell in a few days causing devastation to thousands of homes, businesses, and farms that had never before flooded. Mr. R.'s home was one of them.
He didn't have flood insurance nor was he required to since his home wasn't in a flood plain. He applied for FEMA assistance to help him make repairs. He was turned down because he couldn't prove he owned his family home. He turned to SLLS for help. We appealed his FEMA denial and filed a legal action to officially transfer his mother's property to him. When presented with this proof, FEMA overturned its decision approving him for home repair assistance he so desperately needed. Now he is back in his lifelong home with a clear path to leaving his property to future generations. And a property that might have become blighted is now viable.
UNFAIR SALES PRACTICE OVERTURNED AND GARNISHMENT AVOIDED FOR LOW-WAGE WORKER
Mr. H had been working at Wal-Mart for several years. As he neared 50 years old, it got harder and harder for him to walk the mile back and forth to work everyday. In his community, there was no reliable bus service. He saved his money to buy a used car. M. H. went to a local used car dealership where he was shown a 2003 Nissan Altima. The salesman assured him the car had never been in an accident and that it was good condition. Mr. H. decided to buy it for $5,000. The dealer persuaded Mr. H. to spend $2,000 more for an extended warranty. Mr. H. made a $2000 down payment and financed the rest with a financing company.
About two weeks after the purchase, the car became inoperable. Mr. H. took it to a mechanic who gave him the bad news - the car had been in a previous accident and had numerous problems that would be expensive to fix. To top that off, the $2,000 warranty he purchased was no good. Why? The car had more 100,000 miles on it, as was the case at the time of sale and this was an exclusion under the warranty. On learning this, Mr. H got in touch with the finance company who told him they would investigate the sale and that the monthly note payments would be suspended while that investigation was underway. The car stayed in the mechanic's shop for several months. Then the finance company repossessed the car and sued BH for the balance owed. They threatened to garnish his paycheck.
Mr. H sought SLLS' help after he was sued for over $10,000 in principal, interest and attorney fees. We sued the car dealership for unfair trade practices and represented him against the finance company. We obtained a $5,000 judgment against the dealer, got the balance paid off, avoided garnishment of his wages, and helped him avoid future credit problems stemming from this improper lawsuit. Mr. H. is saving for another car. This time, he will have us review things first.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND CUSTODY
To escape nearly daily violence at the hands of her ex husband, a young mother fled the state with her child. Leaving did not end the trauma. She returned to Louisiana to put her life back together. Then her ex assaulted her fitness as a mother in a bid for sole custody of their child. That is when she found SLLS and a way to fight back. SLLS helped the judge see why the client deserved to be the primary custodial parent. With SLLS' help, the judge appreciated the stable routine of educational, spiritual and social guidance the client set up for her child in their new life. The judge did not buy most of what the ex had to say. The judge did look at many things, including at what brought the doomed pair together. They met on the Internet. She was 16. He was years older. She became pregnant. They married. The judge cut the overnight visits for the ex by a third. The ex was ordered to use his vehicle to get the child for visits, rather than forcing the client and the child to walk from the bus stop. As for demands for the ex that the client have her head examined? That went nowhere.