Alaska Legal Services Report
ALSC and Justice for All
By Loni Levy
This column inaugurates a new look at ALSC, its people and projects.
While more than enough has been said in past columns about the sad state of funding, not enough has been told about the extraordinary work of the ALSC staff and Board. We thought you'd like to know, for instance, that out of a total statewide population of 2,239 active members of the bar, ALSC manages to handle its enormous caseload with only 22 attorneys in its eight offices. We thought you'd also like to know something about those attorneys, so this column will profile a handful of those dedicated folk with diverse backgrounds but a common passion.
The Juneau office is privileged to have the services of Mark Regan as supervising attorney. After graduating from Harvard law school magna cum laude, Mark clerked for retired Senior Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz in 1983-84. He then embarked on his 16-year career with Legal Services, first in the Barrow office, then back to Juneau, then on to Los Angeles in 1992 for a 4 year stint with the National Health Law Project, focusing on Medicaid issues. Mark has been back in the Juneau office since 1996. Under his steady hand, that office has racked up a number of victories which will be detailed in a later Bar Rag article.
Dawn Dillard captains the Bethel ALSC office. She has the unique distinction of being the only ALSC employee who previously worked as an underground bituminous coal miner, which probably has made Bethel look like heaven to her. She received her J.D. from the Tulsa College of Law in 1995 and then became a congressional lobbyist for the Resource Council in North Dakota, handling a variety of legal and environmental matters. She served as staff attorney for the Dakota Plains Legal Services on the Rosebud Sioux reservation from 1996-1998. She joined ALSC in Bethel in 1998.
The Anchorage office is under the supervision of Marcia Rom who began her ALSC career in Kodiak in 1993. When that office closed due to lack of funding in 1995, Marcia became the ALSC Grant Coordinator for the statewide Alaska Commission on Aging. In 1998, she assumed her current mantle, where she oversees a staff of seven attorneys and three paralegals. She is a 1991 graduate of Hamline University Law School, where she coached the Jessup International Moot Court team.
Moving north, we find Andy Harrington running the shop in Fairbanks. In addition to his Harvard law sheepskin, Andy holds degrees in physics and business management. After clerking for Justice Rabinowitz Andy joined the Fairbanks office where he became supervising attorney in 1996. Among his many Supreme Court arguments is the landmark case of John v. Baker, which established the principle that tribes in Alaska retain jurisdiction to adjudicate internal domestic disputes among tribal members. In his spare time, Andy teaches family law courses at UAF and has been an active and essential member of the ALSC Board/staff committee which created the new, independent pro bono program, APBP, Inc., about which you will be hearing a great deal in the future.
These attorneys and their compatriots will shortly be joined by a small coterie of lawyers, courtesy of the National Association for Public Interest law (NAPIL) which has selected ALSC as one of four nationwide legal services programs to participate in NAPIL's national Housing Assistance Project (HAP). Although ALSC has had a successful history in addressing housing matters, staff layoffs due to budget cuts decimated that caseload. Before receiving this dedicated funding, ALSC has had to turn away the majority of requests for assistance in housing matters.
HAP will bring to Anchorage up to three new attorneys to focus exclusively on assisting those who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so, or who find themselves in unsafe housing to secure safe, reliable shelter. Although HAP will serve all ALSC eligible clients in need of housing assistance, it will target this most vulnerable population. HAP attorneys will act as in-house specialists on landlord/tenant matters, building codes, evictions and foreclosures, and hazardous living conditions in both the private and public sector. We expect them to be extremely busy and much sought after.
Finally, mention must be made of the recent honor accorded to Robert Hickerson, Executive Director of ALSC since 1983, who was given the Equal Access to Justice Award at the AkCLU Foundation Liberty Awards dinner for his tireless efforts to address the needs of Alaska's low income citizens in the face of mounting state and federal assaults on legal services programs. The ALSC Board and its new officers, consisting of myself as president, Greg Razo as vice-president and Art Peterson as secretary-treasurer, look forward to a very challenging year working with this wonderful group of attorneys.