TRENTON – The head of N.J. Legal Services said today that if the governor’s $10 million budget cut is not restored, offices will close, layoffs will continue, and most important, the state’s most vulnerable residents will be denied access to legal aid and the court system at a time when the distressed economy has escalated the need for legal aid to lower-income people.
Legal Services head Melville D. Miller told the Assembly Judiciary that one way to look at it is this: There will be 700,000 legal problems this year that will go unmet.
This was the Assembly’s third hearing in two weeks to shine a light on the effects of the governor’s cuts. Last week the budget committee heard testimony about the harm that will be done to seniors, disabled adults, and children.
Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, (D-32), Jersey City, said these cuts were political in nature and designed to hurt those most vulnerable. “It’s affecting terrible numbers of people,’’ she said, and the “coup de grace,’’ she said, is that now these people not only are denied services, but legal redress as well.
Those being hurt, Miller said, include people facing problems with landlords, Social Security, disability, domestic violence, and other issues.
He said that in many cases that two out of three potential clients will now have to go without proper legal services.
They already have laid off 230 positions out of a level of about 720 four years ago, with another 100 potential layoffs looming. The cuts are across all positions: attorneys, paralegals and other staff, he said.
Their caseload will fall from about 69,300 in 2009 to a projected level of 52,000 this year, he said.
He told the committee in response to their questions that he had no communication from the administration, no warning that such a cut was forthcoming. He prefaced his testimony earlier by saying Legal Services had historically enjoyed bipartisan support.
The program had suffered a cut of about $9.7 million in 2010.