By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Grandparents and other relatives took advantage of free counsel Friday and now have legal authority over children living with them.
“We especially saw a need to help grandparents enroll their young grandchildren in school,” said Tupelo attorney Rachel Pierce, president of the Lee County’s Young Lawyers. “They needed these guardianships to do that.”
Few local people without financial means can afford the $500-$900 fees for guardianships likely if they go to a private attorney as a paying customer, said Staci S. Bevill, one of a dozen or so local lawyers providing assistance at the Lee County Justice Center.
Bevill spent her time working with a woman, who asked not to be identified, and said she’d raised her three grandchildren nearly all their lives. The oldest of the three is 10.
“Last year, I had a problem with the little one, but his teacher told me she couldn’t talk to me because of a privacy act,” the woman said. “I’m not their mother but I need to talk with her.”
In this instance, with Bevill’s help, the woman gained permanent guardianship of two of the children and temporary guardianship of the other.
She’ll return to chancery court after she gets that child’s father’s consent, which she lacked Friday.
“Heavens, he doesn’t want the child,” she insisted. “He moves around and works construction.”
Her daughter, the children’s mother, is in and out of jail and hasn’t been at home with the kids the past 18 months.
“I think she’s living in her car,” the woman speculated.
Two other groups of grandparents got help from other attorneys while Bevill explained to her participant what other responsibilities will be hers with the new authority.
Working with the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, Pierce said she was gratified to see so many colleagues turn out to help as well as about a dozen families in need of help.
Tiffany M. Graves, general counsel for MVLP, got the attorneys started with instructions on how the work would be conducted and ultimately granted by Chancellor Jacqueline Mask, who devoted her entire day to making the guardianships legal.
“These children are living in homes where they’re being cared for,” Mask said. “But the adults need to formalize their authority to make life decisions for them.”
Mask said every one of the eight counties in her chancery District One needs these types of free clinics and she hopes MVLP will press ahead to offer them to people in need.
“I see this problem all the time,” she said. “Today’s clinic is a win-win for a child and their guardians to gain stability.”
Bevill said the day’s volunteer work is the reality of most attorneys’ careers.
“It’s not glamorous,” she said with a laugh, “but it’s about helping people.”