Grammatically Correct vs. Politically Correct?
I generally tend to stay away from politics (they don’t have a lot to do with grammar and writing). The closest I’ve come in my blog to anything political was calling out President Obama on a slip of tongue in his Tucson speech (he said “tenant” when he meant “tenet”). Living in Madison, Wisconsin, however, has made it nearly impossible to stay completely out of the trajectory of political goings on.
Today, I read something that hit home.
The Essay Expert’s “Past Life” as a Lawyer
As some of you know, I used to be a civil legal services lawyer in Brooklyn, New York. I spent my days advocating for people with HIV, tenants faced with eviction, and other clients whose benefits were being reduced or denied improperly. I literally saved lives.
After I had worked for five years in my organization’s HIV Legal Unit, funding was cut for HIV legal services in favor of purely health-related services for this population. I knew, as did other legal services providers, that the help we gave these clients prevented huge amounts of stress that would have made the clients sick; our services also prevented homelessness, which is a particular health hazard for people with HIV. The legal services lobby, however, failed to convince our government funders that they should maintain our funding.
Governor Walker Cuts Legal Services
I’m reminded of this piece of my “past life” because today I received the news that state funding for Wisconsin’s civil legal services program would be eliminated by Governor Walker’s proposed budget. As reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal:
Civil legal service providers for poor people in Wisconsin are facing substantial cuts pending the inclusion of a budget proposal that eliminates all state money for those organizations.
Loss of the state money would result in 46 positions [at Legal Action Wisconsin] being eliminated, [representing] 42 percent of the Legal Action’s staff.
Walker’s proposal would shift money allotted to civil legal service providers to support pay increases for assistant district attorneys and also for additional court reporters in the state.
The State Bar of Wisconsin further reports that funding would be eliminated for data collection to study the extent of racial profiling in Wisconsin. According to the Bar, “the current state budget, enacted in 2009, significantly boosted state funding for indigent civil legal needs…. A study released by the State Bar in March 2007 (Bridging the Justice Gap: Wisconsin’s Unmet Legal Needs) showed that more than 500,000 state residents routinely cope with evictions, divorces and other critical legal issues on their own.”
My Opinion on Governor Walker’s Airtight Logic
It looks like many of these 500,000 state residents will once again be on their own, after a welcome and long-fought-for reprieve that began only in 2009.
As someone who has taken on representing indigent clients after they’ve attempted to represent themselves and failed, I can tell you there will be a lot of people losing their homes, and taxing other state resources, as a result of these funding cuts. The legal system is no place for anyone untrained in the law. In New York, even my peers who were brought to housing court relied heavily on legal counsel (sometimes mine), and made errors when they did not receive advice or follow it.
Clients who came to my organization after attempting to negotiate the system themselves were often needlessly on the verge of eviction. In contrast, almost no one was ever evicted on our watch.
It seems to me that more forethought is in order before snatching away a help line to those who need it most, and for whom it is the difference between tenancy and homelessness, health and illness, minimal benefits or no income whatsoever, and perhaps even crime or no crime.
Of course Walker has also proposed, as part of his budget, increased funding for assistant district attorneys. I can see his logic: he is likely creating more work for them to do.