Wilmington lawyer directs $250,000 in cy pres funds to Legal Aid of North Carolina

WILMINGTON · June 18, 2019 — Wilmington lawyer Jean Sutton Martin has directed $250,000 in cy pres funds to Legal Aid of North Carolina, one of the largest cy pres gifts Legal Aid has ever received. Legal Aid received the first check from the settlement administrator in May.

“We are incredibly grateful to Jean,” said George R. Hausen, Jr., executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina. “This is the equivalent of a handful of attorney salaries for us. It means that we can provide justice to hundreds of North Carolinians in need. It will make a real difference.”

Cy pres and other court awards are a great way for private attorneys to support Legal Aid,” said Hausen. “We hope this award inspires others to think of us when the time comes to direct cy pres funds.”

“I have been a longtime supporter of Legal Aid,” said Martin, an attorney with the Complex Litigation Group of Morgan & Morgan, P.A.

“I learned about Legal Aid early in my career and have supported it throughout,” she said. “It helps that I get an annual phone call from Lee Crouch reminding me of my ethical obligation to support access to justice.”

Lee Crouch is an attorney with Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed, LLP, in Wilmington. He is a former member of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s board of directors and is active in local efforts to encourage attorneys to support Legal Aid through pro bono work and financial contributions.

Cy pres funds are money left over from settlements in class-action cases. When class members do not claim all the settlement money in the court-established fund, the parties in the case can arrange for the remainder to be used for a purpose related to the issues involved in the case. Cy pres is an Anglo-French term roughly meaning “as near as possible.”

“Legal Aid does a lot of consumer protection work,” Martin said, “which is a nice extension of our consumer cases, so Legal Aid naturally came to mind in this case. We are grateful that the defendant and the Court in this matter agreed Legal Aid was an appropriate cy pres recipient.”

The case that generated these funds involved a phishing scam that exposed the confidential personal information, including Social Security numbers, of thousands of employees of a Greensboro aviation services company. Many of the employees became victims of identity theft as a result. The case, Linnins v. Haeco Americas, Inc. (1:16-CV-00486), settled in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in 2018.

The NC Equal Access to Justice Commission publishes a guide for attorneys and judges who want to use cy pres funds and other court awards to support access to justice in our state. Click here to download the guide.

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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at legalaidnc.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Check out our YouTube channel for free legal education videos. 

Media Contact: Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid NC, 919-856-2132, seand@legalaidnc.or