Budget cuts force Legal Aid to close New Bern office
Greenville office to serve Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties
NEW BERN, June 9, 2016 – Due to severe budget cuts sustained by the organization in recent years, Legal Aid of North Carolina is closing its office at 607 Broad St. in New Bern today after 35 years of providing free civil legal aid to the area’s low-income residents. Staff are relocating to Legal Aid’s Greenville office, which will assume responsibility for serving residents of Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties. The Greenville office already serves Hyde, Martin, Pitt, Tyrell and Washington counties.
“While we hate to leave the city we’ve called home for so long, we want our clients and the community to know that Legal Aid of North Carolina isn’t really going anywhere,” said David Caddigan, managing attorney of the New Bern office. “We’re only moving an hour away and, though it will be challenging, we are dedicated to providing the same level of service to our clients from Greenville.”
Staff from the New Bern office and their colleagues in Greenville have been formulating a plan to minimize the office closure’s impact on clients in the five-county New Bern service area.
“We plan to visit as many community agencies as possible in the area to let them know that we are still in the community, and ask them to help spread the word,” said Sandy Lee, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Greenville office. “It will be crucially important for us to work with our partner organizations to maintain a real presence here. We want everyone in need to know that we are still here for them.”
George Hausen is the executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, which is headquartered in Raleigh and has field offices all over the state. Hausen says that the organization’s centralized intake model, whereby clients apply for help online or via its statewide toll-free Helpline instead of traveling to their local office, eliminates most of the disruption that an office closure can have on the community.
“In a sense, not much is changing for our clients,” Hausen said. “They can still apply for our help online or call our toll-free Helpline. They didn’t need to walk into our New Bern office for help before, and they don’t need to travel to Greenville now. If we need to meet with clients, we’ll rack up the mileage.”
Legal Aid’s typical cases involve domestic violence, landlord-tenant issues and other housing matters, problems with public benefit programs, and consumer issues like illegal debt collection and deceptive trade practices.
From 2014 to 2015, Legal Aid of North Carolina lost about $1.5 million in revenue from a variety of sources, including the state legislature, which eliminated an appropriation to civil legal aid organizations under the state’s Access to Civil Justice Act. The budget cuts forced Legal Aid to lay off about 15 percent of its workforce last year. The New Bern office lost four of its eight employees, including two attorneys and a senior paralegal.
Legal Aid of North Carolina’s New Bern office launched in 1981 as Pamlico Sound Legal Services, then an independent legal aid office. Twenty-one years later, in 2002, most of the state’s independent legal aid offices joined forces to form Legal Aid of North Carolina, a unified, statewide organization. Pamlico Sound Legal Services became the new organization’s New Bern office.
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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 remove legal barriers to economic opportunity.
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, 919-856-2132