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Legal Aid Seeks Emergency State Funding
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If you're charged with a crime, you have the right to a free lawyer. But if your legal complaint is a civil one, over housing,a job termination, or a divorce, for example, there's no such guarantee.

That's where Legal Aid comes in. 

"We help very low-income people with terrible problems across a broad spectrum of issues."

Steve Eppler-Epstein directs Connecticut Legal Services, the state's largest Legal Aid agency. But the supply of Legal Aid lawyers across the state could thin out due to a collapse of their major funding stream. 

In Connecticut, Legal Aid is primarily funded by interest earned on lawyers' temporary accounts -- money that stays there just until a real estate deal clears or a settlement is finalized. After declines in the housing market and interest rates, their funding has dropped by 40 percent.

The state's three legal aid offices have all instituted pay cuts. They're also raising more money from private law firms. But that still leaves a more than 5 million dollar shortfall, and layoffs are looming. 

"We are trying to avoid disaster so we're asking for some help to fill at least a significant part of our funding gap."

They're making their case for more state aid at a public hearing before the Appropriations Committee. Eppler-Epstein says some of that could come from higher filing and registration fees for attorneys.

The problem has the attention of lawmakers. Senator Andrew McDonald is co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.

"There's no doubt we have to find short-term and long-term solutions to the funding crisis."

But both the state and private law offices are facing funding troubles of their own, those solutions won't be easy to find.