Veto Reversal Has ALSC Focus on Domestic Violence Survivors

Aug 19, 2019

Late Wednesday, the Dunleavy Administration announced the fourth veto reversal of the week with restoring three-quarters of a million dollars to Alaska Legal Services Corporation for representing poor people in civil cases.

It came through the Attorney General’s office, and the money comes with some restrictions on how it can be used.

In June, the governor vetoed $759,100 dollars for Alaska Legal Services Corporation, the state-wide agency that provides low-cost and free civil legal care.

“Our organization operates on a shoestring. And we had a hiring freeze, we had a couple of people give notice, and we were looking at closing at least three offices.”

That’s Nikole Nelson, the corporation’s Executive Director. She says the lawyers at ALSC keep costs down so clients don’t have to pay. But there is a long waiting list for service.

Meanwhile, the Alaska’s Attorney General, Kevin Clarkson, is getting attorneys who work under his direction in the Department of Law, to focus their pro-bono time on domestic violence.

All members of the Alaska Bar are asked to donate 50 hours of their time to represent clients who can’t afford it.

“This applies to every lawyer in Alaska; 50 hours of pro-bono service.”

That’s Deputy AG John Skidmore. He says Attorney General Clarkson announced on Wednesday several ways to jump-start the Department of Law’s pro bono program and target domestic violence, sometimes shortened to “DV” in court proceedings.

“He was approached by Nikole Nelson of Alaska Legal Services and indicated that there was money that had been cut from their agency, state dollars.”

Nelson told the attorney general the long history of her agency’s work on domestic violence and how much it would shrink without the state dollars now restored in House Bill 20-01. Clarkson said if ALSC would use the money to work on supporting DV survivors, he would ask the governor not to veto it a second time.

“The Attorney General said that fits with his desire to reduce the epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence, and said he was willing to pitch that notion to the governor.”

By Thursday morning, the AG’s office announced the agreement. Alaska Legal Services Corporation would get the restored funding in HB 20-01 if it is used for legal help to DV victims. Governor Dunleavy has agreed not to veto the money under the agreement, calling it “an important step in protecting Alaska’s most vulnerable.”

The grant funding for ALSC comes from two appropriations: an estimated $309,090 from filing fees received by the Alaska Court System and $450,000 from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. ALSC also receives funding from other grants and private donations.

Formerly, ALSC had used that money for a wide-range of clients, including elderly Alaskans who needed financial trusts, tenants who were facing illegal evictions, Native Alaskans and Veterans with special cases, and low-income Alaskans with consumer, health or housing problems. Now many of those clients will be back on the waiting list.