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Out & About in Cleveland

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"Where are the Children?" - Justice for All

On Friday, August 24th, we went to the City Club of Greater Cleveland for a program titled "Justice for All: Time to Make it Real" featuring Ms. Martha Bergmark who is currently Executive Director of "Voices for Civil Justice" which advocates for civil legal aid. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that even though Ms. Bergmark was born and raised in Mississippi, she attended Oberlin College because she was greatly impressed by the courage of the students from Oberlin College who traveled to Mississippi to assist in the civil rights struggle of the 1960's. While we were at the program, we said hello to several people from Legal Aid Society of Cleveland like Mr. Tom Mlaker, the Assistant Director, and new board member Ms. Gladys Reed who used to work for the Cleveland Tenants Organization. Also attending the program was Rocky River Municipal Judge Brian Hagen, Mr. John R. Corlett, President and Executive Director of the Center for Community Solutions, and Mr. William J. Heine, an attorney who is an old friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong and worked with her a lot in the mid 1980's. During her presentation, Ms. Bergmark talked the need for affordable legal aid to help people of both low and moderate incomes with civil legal matters like foreclosures, veterans benefits, and domestic disputes. She rightfully contended that without such access there can be "no justice for all" and she impactfully asked us to get up and say the Pledge of Allegiance with her as we thought about those words. Of course she spoke about her organization, "Voices for Civil Justice" which, and we quote its website, is "a new national communications hub dedicated exclusively to raising awareness of the vital role of civil legal aid in helping people protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Voices seeks to deliver three things: 1) increased visibility for civil legal aid in the national media; 2) increased capacity for media advocacy across the civil legal aid sector, and 3) a new and strengthened "brand" of civil legal aid." Ms. Bergmark praised the work of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (which hosted this program) and specifically cited Ms. Colleen Cotter, Executive Director, and Ms. Melanie Shakarian, Director of Communications, for their efforts. During the Q and A, we asked her about the role/potential role of civil legal aid in immigration matters and Ms. Bergmark was glad to report that in an important article titled "Where are the Children? For Extortionists Undocumented Migrants have Become Big Business" by Sarah Stillman that appears in the April 27th edition of the "New Yorker" it is mentioned that a civil legal aid is trying to help these children. She went on to say that it was important for groups that practice civil legal aid to diversify their portfolios because their are some restrictions on governmental allocations as far as helping the undocumented. We spoke to Ms. Bergmark privately after her presentation and she told us that access to legal aid was tantamont to helping those at the border because she believed that many of them could present a valid case for being allowed to remain in the United States but they would have to have legal representation in order to do so. We want to thank Ms. Ellen Brown, Associate Director of Development for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, who, after hearing we had not yet read the "New Yorker" article, promptly emailed it to us. She also said that Ms. Margaret W. Wong was "one step ahead of the curve" as well as being a "great supporter" of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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