Budget cuts restrict legal help for needy in N.J.

Low-income New Jersey residents who can’t afford a lawyer could have more difficulty getting legal assistance following Gov. Chris Christie’s $10 million cut to Legal Services of New Jersey.

 

The Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday heard from Legal Services President Melville Miller who testified the reduction in funding will force him to cut his staff. He said Legal Services will be able to help about 50,000 clients next year, approximately 25 percent fewer than three years ago.

“We’re going to lose at least a hundred staff. We’re in the process of reducing positions and laying off people right now,” Miller said. “For every million we’ve lost, we lose the capacity to serve 1,100 clients.”

While Legal Services will be continue to offer advice to those in need, Miller said the agency will be unable to provide assistance in court in at least two out of three cases.

Mangaliso Davis, the chairman of the African American Advisory Commission in Camden, said the cuts will be “devastating” for poor people dealing with foreclosures and landlord-tenant disputes.

“It’s a lifeline for a lot of people,” Davis said. “They go there when they can’t go anyplace else, and to cut this agency to the extent that they can’t even do anything but lay people off and shut down offices, I think it’s a tragedy.”

Democrats on the Assembly Judiciary Committee said they hope funding will be restored. Some Republicans were doubtful.

“I think the governor is going to make the best decisions with what he has right now,” said Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande. “Certainly we heard some compelling testimony about the need for this money. Whether we have the revenue … remains to be seen.”

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