For about 8 years a group of attorneys, paralegals, language interpreters, private investigators, and nonprofits have been providing free legal guidance every Tuesday evening at the Beale Memorial Library in Bakersfield.
This was all possible due to various elements working in conjunction with each other. Kern County Libraries, Kern County Law Library, Nolo Online database (formerly known as Nolo Press), Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance (GBLA), and several other organizations help to sustain many free resources that are offered in person and online 24/7 with a library card.
“Beale Memorial Library has a free legal workshop every Tuesday at 5 p.m. with lawyers who can advise on various legal matters. Beale will also be hosting a Law Day next May, and [hosting] the Kern Law Library and GBLA for an informational session on February 7th” stated librarian, Lynne Kemmer. Kemmer was also part of Community Outreach and One Book Project County Coordinator from 2020 to 2022 with the library.
Every branch according to Facebook that has GBLA services provided are Beale Memorial Library, Baker Branch Library, Arvin Branch Library, Lamont Branch Library, Ridgecrest Branch Library, and Rosamond Branch Library. Interested Kern residents can check out these libraries’ Facebook pages which periodically have postings about free webinars for law assistance.
“When Proposition 47 passed, we did a seminar at the [Kern County] Law Library. They agreed to let us have a seminar. For free we were reducing people’s convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. We had a couple of attorneys that came including Attorney Rodger Lampkin and Attorney J. Anthony Bryan, who passed away at the start of Covid, and they had capacity for around 25 people in the Law Library but the second or third time we did it word really got out and we had around 80 people show up. We stayed and helped them all with their petitions…” stated Victor Vevea, a Bakersfield Paralegal.
The Law Office of the Public Defender states “Proposition 47 (Prop 47) was a ballot measure passed by California voters on November 5, 2014. The law made some non-violent property crimes, where the value does not exceed $950, into misdemeanors.”
Vevea explained that they started their weekly free seminars and workshops at the Beale Memorial Library in a room that was smaller, and eventually moved to the first floor where staff allotted them more tables and space to accommodate bigger crowds.
“Initially we had quite a few attorneys that were in the rotation. It doesn’t generate clients for the attorneys so it’s tough to get them to come,” Vevea said. “Faithfully coming, almost every Tuesday is Roger Lampkin,” who volunteers on his off days.
In Vevea’s experience, the topics most Kern residents need assistance with are reducing criminal cases, divorce cases, and child custody matters. He notes the importance of having enough attorneys to volunteer for community service like this because many can assist with legal forms, but legally only an attorney can provide legal advice.
Vevea has his own company specializing in legal research but tries to consistently devote a third of his time to free workshops. He shared that due to his past experiences dealing with attorneys, he wanted to work in the field to help others with simplifying and navigating the legal system and courts.
“I saw that a lot of the stuff I needed to be done [for my case] I did not need an attorney to do it, I just didn’t know the process in the beginning. So I learned it myself, and then I keep on trying to help other people who need it,” explained Vevea.
Handbook for the Accused can be found online or for check out written by Lampkin, Vevea, and J. Anthony. The book is created for and created by individuals who need legal guidance to navigate three distinct types of prosecutors: the district attorney, the court, and your own attorney. Those accused of crimes can help themselves to several chapters all on different methods to avoid an unwanted plea deal or learn about the bail process.
Some Tuesday’s participants waiting for guidance might be met with harsh realities and referrals to seek help with other Kern organizations. One that was referred to was Kern Hispanic Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (KCHC). For example, The KCHC can help find resources like jobs for those formerly incarcerated due to addiction disorders.
By going to kerncountylibrary.org you can access online resources with your library card, and if you need to renew your card you can do that too.