2007-03-01 / Front Page
Legal services hosts open house in Long Branch
Public law firm serves low- and fixed-income clients
BY CHRISTINE VARNO
A panel of speakers, including Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson and Long Branch Superintendent of Schools Joseph M. Ferraina, shared their views on the value of opening an OMLS office in Long Branch.
"It really is a privilege to share in today's program," said Lawson.
"You will be inspired to make the justice system equal to the poor. Remember to stand back proudly and reflect on the importance of your work," Lawson said, continuing, "May it bring you even closer to the realization of your great mission."
OMLS is a not-for-profit law firm that provides free legal services to qualified low-income residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties.
OMLS offices are located in Freehold and Toms River. A Long Branch office was opened in November to be closer to a large population of the firm's clientele in both Long Branch and Asbury Park, according to OMLS Long Branch office Managing Attorney William Rempel.
At the open house, Ferraina said he was grateful to have an OMLS office in Long Branch.
"You can't have people that are poor going to places that they can't get to," he said. "We are an Abbott District, which means our population is economically disadvantaged. You are open to our community."
Other speakers at the open house included William Dangler, president of the Greater Long Branch Chapter of the NAACP, and former president of the New Jersey State Bar Association Edwin J. McCreedy.
According to Rempel, the mission of OMLS is to provide legal aid to low- and fixed-income residents.
Although redevelopment in Long Branch has displaced many residents, Rempel said not many people from the city have reached out to OMLS for assistance.
"A lot of those clients are homeowners and are over the income criteria," he said. "And many of the others have been relocated.
"We have a lot of our clients from the Asbury Park area," he added.
In order to be income eligible for OMLS representation, a client must be at 200 percent of poverty, according to Adriana Agudelo, the deputy executive director of OMLS.
She explained that the 200 percent of poverty level calculates to approximately a yearly income of $18,000 for a family of two.
OMLS also provides services for legal matters including family law, landlord/tenant, custody, welfare, social security, divorce, domestic violence and bankruptcy.
"We do not take criminal law cases," Agudelo said.
OMLS provides legal aid to some 4,000 clients a year and the office in Long Branch has been servicing at least five clients a week, Rempel said.
Although the office opened in November, Rempel said it took several weeks to set up and the office only became operational in late December.
Currently there are three attorneys operating out of the Long Branch office, and Agudelo said she expects a fourth to be hired shortly.
In addition to Rempel, attorneys Patricia Danziger, Doug Waugh and Alata Peckett will be in the Long Branch office.
"We provide quality and complete legal representation for no fee," Rempel said. "Sometimes fees can prohibit people from filing certain claims. That is what we are here for."
When a client does not qualify for the full representation services at OMLS, Rempel said the office will offer brief service, advice and information on other agencies.
"The point of the Long Branch office is to be a neighborhood office," he said. "We welcome walk-ins."
Most of the OMLS caseload consists of family law matters, according to Rempel, who added that they also have several cases on tenant/landlord issues.
"A lot of times, a tenant will come to us with issues, whether it be rent increases or that their landlord is holding their security deposit," Rempel said.
"And most of the times, the landlord does not know the laws and we will write a letter explaining the laws. Usually that case will end there."
Also featured at the open house was a special ceremony to dedicate the new Long Branch office conference room in honor of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Lawson said at the open house that there are "striking parallels" between the work of Marshall and the work of the OMLS.
In his career as an attorney and justice, Marshall became known as the "little man's lawyer," according to an OMLS press release.
His work reflected his achievements in securing new protections under the law for women, children, prisoners and the homeless, according to the release.
One of Marshall's most famous cases is Brown vs. the Board of Education, which included over 200 plaintiffs from five states, according to Lawson.
The case "dismantles the legal basis for segregated schools," Lawson said.
Among his many accomplishments, Marshall was appointed to the office of the U.S. attorney in 1965 and was the first African American to become a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Lawson.
"[Marshall] spoke for all Americans, reminding them that the great basis of the country is on equality," Lawson said. "Now, in our community, we honor Justice Marshall."