South Kern Sol, News Report, Alfredo Camacho
Last week the One Justice bus made its first stops in Kern County to provide underserved areas with free legal service on a variety of issues, including medical care and immigration.
The Bus, operated by the California-based non-profit One Justice, made a stop at Lamont library on Wednesday, where legal counsel was offered on medical bills, medical insurance, and workers’ compensation, and at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance in downtown Bakersfield to render counsel on estate planning for the elderly and infirm.
Megan Kent, 34, is the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for One Justice. One of her responsibilities is coordinating the Justice Bus that visited Kern County last week.
“One Justice is a legal aid support center. We work across the state so we have offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco,” said Kent. “I run the Justice Bus project out of our LA office, which seeks to connect urban-based attorneys and law students with underserved rural and semirural areas with free legal clinics.”
One Justice partners with legal aid organizations such as GBLA, and private firms and law schools to help fulfill their mission of providing services to underserved areas. Partnerships with law schools, in this case Southwestern, gives law students sought-after experience interviewing clients.
One of the challenges organizations like One Justice face is helping residents identify potential legal problems. Kent says people often have trouble recognizing when there may even be a problem that requires legal counsel.
“Many people, for example, think that medical debt has to be at or above a certain amount for it to be an issue, so if they see they have an outstanding bill for, say, a hundred dollars, they won’t recognize it as something that could become a legal issue,” said Kent.
“For a lot of people it’s challenging to access these [legal] services, trusting an attorney or an organization, and so we work to foster those relationships while trying to get them as educated as possible on their rights,” Kent added.
To that end, One Justice works with organizations like GBLA that have a history and reputation of serving the community.
“The idea is to bolster the capacity of GBLA to serve clients in South Kern,” said Kent. “The way this works is we bring volunteers, either law students or attorneys from private firms, train them, and have them meet with clients while supervised by an attorney if they’re students, or expert attorneys might oversee attorneys to ensure clients are well-advised.”
The Justice Bus project conducts operations throughout the state that range from tax services to clinics and screenings for potential DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. DACA is a program announced by President Obama in 2012 that gives temporary protection against deportation to undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children.
“We just did a stop in Fresno, where we held a tax clinic with Central California Legal Services, and a few weeks ago [we hosted] immigration screening clinics in Goshen, Lancaster, and Santa Barbara,” said Kent. “My colleague in San Francisco for example, did a DACA clinic with the Mexican consulate in Fresno, as well.”
More stops are planned for the future, according to Adeyinka Glover, an attorney and a volunteer coordinator with GBLA.
“I like [One Justice’s] commitment to advise rural communities on a wide variety of legal issues,” said Glover. “We want all low-income kern residents to be given legal services.”
Glover affirms that the partnership with One Justice is one that will continue and that it will extend the variety of services offered.
“We see it as a first of many,” said Glover, who adds that she would like to see more clinics in family law.
“A passion of mine is domestic violence issues, and I would like to see a greater number of clinics to help with that and to supplement the services GBLA already offers.”