by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Seventy percent of North Carolina households have civil legal needs, and according to a recent story in Carolina Journal by reporter Leonard Robinson III, 80 percent of the civil legal needs for low-income populations go unmet. This lack of services means that low-income persons can often go without any legal assistance for things like worker’s compensation, traffic violations, and insurance disputes. According to N.C. attorney Matt Gambale, this shortage of civil legal assistance creeps into the criminal defense arena as well:
“Most people aren’t aware that even if you’re acquitted of an offense that you still have to pay a $175 fee and go through the year long process of expungement before it falls off your record… God forgives and North Carolina does too, for $175.”
In order to address this need, Gambale and his associates at Osborn, Gambale, Beckley, and Budd have launched a no-cost mobile legal clinic out of an RV. Robinson writes:
[These lawyers] wanted their legal careers to have a higher sense of purpose and to give back to their communities.
As a result, the lawyers, twice weekly, swap suits for polos and khakis and park their RV for up to 10 hours in various locations within 50 miles of Raleigh, predominantly in low-income communities.
The mobile office is in some murky legal territory, though, as Raleigh city code current only permits mobile retailers to operate for one-day events four times per year in one location. According to Robinson, the firm argues these rules do not apply to the RV, as they provide their services free of charge, and therefore are not a mobile retailer. Still, Robinson reports:
On May 7, the City Council hosted a public hearing to discuss changes to the ordinance. Justin Osborn spoke about his firm’s project leading the council to refer the ordinance to the Economic Development and Innovation Committee to see how the needs of services like the firm’s could be accommodated. Osborn has discussed their needs of the ordinance with council members Corey Branch and Nicole Stewart and plans to send requested revisions. The committee members meet Tuesday, June 25, to consider the proposed changes to the ordinance before returning it to the council for a vote.
Read the full story here.