Legal aid cuts put N.J. poor in jeopardy

    A new report finds hundreds of thousands of poor New Jersey residents are not getting the help they need to deal with their legal problems.

    Legal Services of New Jersey has lost 35 percent of its funding in the past year and a half at a time when demand for its help with civil cases is increasing.

    Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who now chairs the Legal Services board, said many low-income people can’t afford a lawyer to fight foreclosure actions or the denial of government benefits.

    “They simply do not get those benefits. That means the breakup of families. That means children out in foster care,” she said Tuesday. “The long-term effects on society are disastrous when we don’t take care of these issues up front.”

    David Kellum of Toms River said Legal Services helped him get a year extension of emergency assistance. Without that, he said, he would have been homeless.

    “I would have been on the street already,” he said. “With their help, I’m able to stay where I’m at and still do the things I need to support myself, to look for work and to go on with life.”

    The legal help may have saved the life of Barbara Jarmon of Eatontown. She said Legal Services helped her in her effort to obtain alimony from her former husband.

    “I was probably a week away from going to a homeless shelter in Camden … and the thought of that really kind of was going to put me over the brink,” said Jarmon. “So without them, truthfully, I wouldn’t be here. I was considering greatly ending my life.”

    Legal Services representatives said the “civil justice gap” for the poor may increase because the agency will have to make more cuts in its staff by the end of the year unless state funding is restored.

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