Pro Bono Spotlight July 2004

Giorgi Mushroom Company, a Berks County corporation, has entered into an historic agreement with MidPenn Legal Services, a non-profit law firm providing free legal services to residents in 18 counties, including Berks. The agreement provides that Giorgi will contribute $15,000 to MidPenn in exchange for legal help with its Spanish-speaking employees.

Under the proposal, a bilingual staff attorney with MidPennís Reading Service Office will provide up to 125 hours of legal service in civil matters at a rate of $60 per hour. The additional $7,500 is considered a contribution to MidPenn from Giorgi for advocacy conducted in Berks County on behalf of Spanish-speaking clients, some of whom may be Giorgi employees.

To take advantage of MidPennís services, clients normally must meet certain eligibility requirements regarding income, assets and type of case. Income guidelines have been set at 125-percent of the official Federal poverty threshold, which is based on income and household size. Also, the types of cases for which MidPenn provides representation are limited primarily to the areas of family law, landlord/tenant, mortgage foreclosures, bankruptcy, unemployment and public benefits. The income and asset tests, however, are not applied to projects for which MidPenn has designated funding.

Thus, under the partnership agreement with Giorgi, the MidPenn attorneyís 125 hours is spent meeting with those employees who do not otherwise qualify for Giorgiís services because they have income or assets over the guidelines or because they have legal issues that are outside of MidPennís case acceptance policies.

It is anticipated that the MidPenn attorney, Amy Nieves-Febres, will help Giorgi employees with the preparation of wills, powers of attorney and living wills, consumer matters such as complaints about car dealerships or repair shops, and representation in no-fault divorce proceedings. In addition, she will provide educational presentations on legal matters during Giorgiís employeesí lunch breaks.

This partnership is a very good example of a corporation helping pro bono efforts in a community. In the past, Giorgi Mushroom Company always has taken an active role in helping its employees with their personal legal problems by attempting to direct their Spanish-speaking employees to bilingual attorneys. However, it has been difficult to obtain such representation on a consistent basis.

The Berks County Bar Associationís representative to MidPenn Legal Services Board of Directors, Donald F. Smith, Jr., Esq., realized Giorgiís commitment to its employees and approached the company to inquire as to funding to help MidPenn meet its mission with respect to the Hispanic community. Valerie West, managing attorney for MidPennís Reading Service Office, then drafted the creative partnership proposal that Giorgi ultimately accepted.

The Giorgi-MidPenn agreement demonstrates how the private bar can work with the corporate community to assist legal service providers with funding to help individuals who do not meet the income guidelines for free legal services, but cannot afford the necessary legal representation. It is pro bono at is finest.