Arkansas Access to Justice to Receive $2 Million from Consumer Protection Settlement Proceeds

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will receive $2 million as part of a multi-state settlement with five of the country’s largest banks over allegations related to abuses in the mortgage finance industry.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office announced the news on Thursday, and funds distributed to the Commission will be used to provide access to civil justice for Arkansans affected by the mortgage crisis.

“The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission helps to provide essential legal assistance to low-income Arkansans," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said. "Many consumers who were affected by the mortgage crisis could not afford the legal help which may have kept them in their homes. All Arkansans deserve to have access to our legal system when they need it. Our office is glad to direct these funds to a state commission that offers a critical service to the people of Arkansas.”

According to RealtyTrac, Inc., 3,360 Arkansas homes are currently in foreclosure. For low-income families facing foreclosure, their only option for getting direct legal representation is through one of the state’s two nonprofit legal aid providers: Center for Arkansas Legal Services or Legal Aid of Arkansas.

However, recent drastic cuts in state and federal funding are forcing CALS and LAA to lay off staff and cut services to the poor people they serve. Those programs currently turn away nearly half of the clients who call for help and qualify for services.

“This announcement could not have come at a more critical time,” Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, said. "Legal aid providers are so strapped for resources that it's difficult to give priority to matters other than those where a client’s health or safety are in immediate danger. These funds will give us the resources to address an area of need that can prevent other legal problems from happening.”

The Commission will be working with CALS and LAA to develop programs geared toward helping Arkansas consumers with legal issues related to the mortgage crisis.

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and its sister nonprofit organization, the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, work to provide equal access to justice in civil cases to all Arkansans. The Commission's major projects include educating the public about poverty in Arkansas, recruiting pro bono attorneys, supporting courts and self-represented individuals, and soliciting contributions for legal aid. Learn more at www.arkansasjustice.org. 

Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services are nonprofit organizations that provide free legal services to low-income Arkansans with civil legal problems, including orders of protection for domestic abuse victims, uncontested guardianships of minors, consumer issues and public housing. With 17 offices staffed by 45 attorneys throughout the state, plus a volunteer pool of about 1,500 attorneys, legal aid services benefited more than 30,000 low-income people and the elderly with their critical legal needs in 2010. However, more than 555,000 were eligible for legal aid in 2010, and thousands of those Arkansans in need were turned away due to lack of resources. Learn more at www.arlegalservices.org.

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