Monday, February 18, 2019
Nikole Nelson, Executive Director
Eliminating State Funding to Alaska Legal Services Corporation will Force Alaskans to Navigate the Justice System Alone
ANCHORAGE – Governor Dunleavy’s amended budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2020 calls for eliminating all state funding to Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC). ALSC is a nonprofit law firm and is Alaska’s only comprehensive provider of free civil legal services to low-income Alaskans. The program serves Alaskans of all backgrounds and ages, including families, children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and victims of domestic violence.
For many Alaskans who face a civil legal issue, the quality of justice they receive may depend on how much money they have. ALSC is oftentimes their only hope for accessing the justice system when facing complex civil legal issues like escaping an abusive partner, stopping a wrongful foreclosure, and defending against a fraudulent debt collector. Without access to ALSC’s services, low-income Alaskans would be left without a voice in the civil justice system.
The very first Article of Alaska’s Constitution states that “all persons are …entitled to equal rights and protection under the law,” ALSC is critical to assuring that Alaska’s justice system works for everyone, not just those who can afford an attorney.
“For over 50 years, there has been strong bipartisan support to fund ALSC at the state level. We have received funding under every administration since we opened our doors in 1967,” said ALSC Executive Director Nikole Nelson, “This support has been instrumental to ensuring that Alaskans, regardless of how much money they have or where they live, have equal access to the justice system. Assuring equal access to the state judicial system is a core state function. We are talking about helping Alaskans navigate state laws in state court and state administrative proceedings. Clearly, it is right that our state contributes to this effort. ALSC is already underfunded to the point that we must turn away one person for every one that comes through our door. Eliminating state funding is simply unconscionable, and will only serve to erode confidence in the justice system.”
ALSC anticipates the elimination of state funding will force the organization to turn away an additional 1,363 applicants for legal help, impacting 2,809 Alaskans. Among those who will be turned away include: 409 seniors; 400 individuals with disabilities; 319 domestic violence victims; 115 veterans; and, 101 victims of crime.
Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is a private non-profit law-firm established in 1967 to provide free legal help in civil legal issues to low-income Alaskans. The organization has 12 statewide offices that serve Alaskans living in every community across the state. Services include advice and counseling, self-help resources, to full representation in court and administrative hearings.