OUR OPINION: Don't rush into a closure decision

By NEMS Daily Journal

The possible closure of the Tupelo office of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services should be thoroughly questioned by the Lee County Board of Supervisors and the Tupelo City Council because its clientele usually is measured among the most under-represented demographics here and nationwide.
North Mississippi Rural Legal Services operates under the umbrella of the Legal Services Corp., an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation providing representation in civil legal matters to low-income individuals.
NMRLS operates offices in Oxford (headquarters), Tupelo, West Point, Greenville and Clarksdale. The Tupelo office has one lawyer and two client services employees. NMRLS sometimes contracts with private-sector attorneys for representation, and it can refer clients to attorneys in the private sector.
The Tupelo office apparently might be closed because of expected budget cuts by Congress.
It is reasonable to ask why the legal services office in the largest city in the eastern part of the service area would be closed, especially given its proximity to federal court houses in both Oxford and Aberdeen.
Tupelo Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis and NMRLS board of directors member Brian Neely have said they can secure free space for the Tupelo office, suggesting that perhaps the Oxford office should be closed and relocated to Tupelo.
All the possibilities are worth exploring.
LSC-funded programs provide legal services to people at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline – poor people whose discretionary income, if any, is not set aside for legal representation in issues like divorce or evictions.
At the top of the food chain is an expected reduction in nationwide funding from Congress – 26 percent proposed by the U.S. House for the 2012 budget starting in October. The $100-million-plus reduction would roll back the LSC budget to 1999 levels – proposed in figures released in early July.
“The proposed cut would prove to be especially damaging to low-income persons whose health and safety are at risk … by denying them access to justice,” LSC President James J. Sandman said in a Washington Post report.
Last year, 136 nonprofit programs funded by LSC closed nearly 1 million cases, which affected 2.3 million people, the LSC reports on its website.
At its height, NMRLS had a $3 million-plus budget and 118 employees in 12 branches.
Austerity requires careful apportioning of resources but not necessarily closures.

Alexander J. Simpson,
III, Managing Attorney

Walter Stanfield, Paralegal

Holly Palmer, Secretary/

658 W. Main St,
P. O. Box 139
Tupelo, MS 38802

(662) 842-3702

FAX: (662) 840-8060

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