Pro Bono Expansion in Westmoreland County

The Westmoreland Bar Foundation has recently expanded the current Pro Bono Program of Westmoreland County. With additional IOLTA funding the pro bono staff will take a monthly road trip to New Kensington to provide services to citizens in the northern end of Westmoreland County. The mobile program will set up offices in New Kensington’s City Hall, and citizens with pre-scheduled appointments can meet with the pro bono staff for screening and intake purposes before meeting with a volunteer attorney. Information will be sent via dial-up back to the pro bono home office to update the pro bono database.

WBF Treasurer Milt Munk authored the grant proposal and cited the following as the need for a remote office, “Westmoreland County is one of the largest counties in area in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The cities of New Kensington, Arnold and Monessen are all located more than 35 miles from the Greensburg Pro Bono Office, and there is no convenient public transportation available to enable potential clients to come to Greensburg. By taking the program to the northern part of the county, we expect to service those clients who find it difficult to travel to Greensburg. And, more importantly, the expansion is designed for those who do not have the means to make the trips for the initial consultation and follow-up attorney meetings.”

The success of the program will be determined by attorney involvement. “Pro Bono works in Westmoreland County because of the volunteer efforts of our attorneys,” WBF Executive Director Diane Krivoniak said. “The New Kensington attorneys are a close-knit group, who are active in and supportive of their community. This program can benefit the attorneys by making it convenient and more efficient for bar members to satisfy their pro bono hours.”

Pro bono provides service to those who are income eligible and fall within the “125 percent above poverty” guideline. As an example, a family of four would need to earn less than $2,000 per month, or $23,000 per year, to qualify for pro bono services. “When we say that we are helping the poor, we truly are helping those with very limited resources,” Pro Bono Coordinator Iva Munk said. “The kinds of clients that the pro bono program helps are those who could not afford to hire a private attorney.”

The Pro Bono Program began in Westmoreland County in 1991 with the hiring of Iva Munk and funding provided by both Laurel Legal Services and IOLTA. Now in its thirteenth year, the program expects to serve over 500 indigent clients in 2004. What started with a single room office and one employee has grown to a 1200 square foot office with three employees and five contract attorneys. Cases handled through the Pro Bono Program include landlord/tenant, custody, bankruptcy, license suspension, unemployment and social security.

The New Kensington Program is expected to begin sometime in February 2005. By the end of 2005, it is expected that a landlord/tenant mediation program and a domestic relations clinic will be added to pro bono programming.