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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 7th, 2009, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 10, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 10, Issue 17

Legal Aid needs your help


Hard times
Yvonne Cudney, Director of Litigation at the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria office, waits for senior staff attorney Rick Corbo to finish talking to a client before discussing another case. A funding shortfall has forced Legal Aid staffers in the Santa Maria office to go on furlough one day a week. The unpaid leave equates to about a 20 percent pay cut, Cudney said.
Obtaining legal assistance is going to get much more difficult for low-income individuals and families living in the north part of the county, according to Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County.

Faced with a funding shortfall, staff members at the Legal Aid’s Santa Maria office have been forced to go on furlough every Friday.

The nonprofit provides legal assistance and representation to low-income residents throughout the county. In the North County, it’s the only organization offering representation to low-income families living in the area from Santa Maria to Solvang.

Staff members guide their clients through the legal process for a wide range of issues, preparing legal briefs, representing them in court, obtaining restraining orders for domestic violence and elder abuse victims, and more. And all of the cases are taken at a practically pro-bono price.

However, Director of Litigation Yvonne Cudney said a decrease in donations of about 30 to 40 percent over the last fiscal year has led to a furlough and resulting 20 percent pay cut among North County employees. Additionally, the Santa Maria office, which was usually closed to the public on Fridays so staffers could work on their case load, will now close early another weekday.

Nonetheless, Cudney said she and her fellow staff members—senior staff attorney Rick Corbo and intake coordinator Biannet Garcia—will continue to offer the same high-quality legal services.

“We’re going to have to decrease the number of people we see,” Cudney said, “but we’re going to keep providing services. We are absolutely committed to what we do.”

Still, the drop in funds cuts deep, she said.

“My attorneys already get paid about half of what other practitioners in their position get paid. And with a 20 percent decrease—that’s just horrible,” Cudney said.

Even more importantly, a down economy can often lead to an increase in the demand for services.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice website,, intimate partner violence is more likely to occur when couples are under financial strain, and repeat victimization of women is more frequent in couples feeling financial strain. Also, women faced with economic troubles are more likely to stay in abusive relationships.

According to the Department of Justice, a review of census and survey data revealed that women at greatest risk of intimate partner violence tend to be those in relationships where the couple has few economic resources. The study found that “the choice to stay or leave violent relationships may be based on the decision that a partner’s economic contribution to the relationship outweighs the risk of violence.”

These findings, Cudney said, make having organizations like Legal Aid available to the public even more essential. She explained that people with limited resources often can’t go to other attorneys because they don’t have enough money.

To help fill the funding gap, Legal Aid is asking all Santa Barbara County attorneys to donate $50 in honor of the foundation’s 50th anniversary, which it celebrated earlier this year. Cudney said she hopes the campaign will bring in up to $60,000.

Of course, she added, the foundation is more than happy to accept donations from the general public as well.

For more information about the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County or to make a donation, call 922-9909 or visit

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