As many of you may remember, Contra Costa Senior Legal Services (CCSLS) was the recipient of last year’s CCCBA Bar Fund proceeds. The Bar Fund Gala’s program included honoring Contra Costa County Probate Commissioner Don Green (ret.) and recognized CCSLS retiring attorney, Robert Ross. Robert was the managing attorney of CCSLS and dedicated 22 years of his legal career to representing hundreds of vulnerable seniors throughout our county.
Recently, there have been more changes to report. In January 2014, Laine Lawrence, a dedicated elder advocate, paralegal and executive director of CCSLS, announced her retirement. Laine successfully directed CCSLS for seven years. We certainly wish her all the best in her retirement.
In March 2014, Craig Nevin, president of the CCSLS Board of Directors, announced staff attorney Verna Haas as the new executive director. Verna began volunteering with CCSLS in 2007. In 2010, Verna joined CCSLS as a staff attorney and was responsible for a wide array of cases.
Before joining CCSLS, Verna received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned her JD at Hastings College of Law. Verna has practiced as a civil litigator and as a deputy district attorney in Sacramento.
One of her many new duties as executive director include managing the staff at CCSLS, which is comprised of three part-time staff attorneys and two support staff. Verna is thankful for all of the volunteer attorneys who dedicate dozens of hours each month to ensure that CCSLS assists as many vulnerable seniors as possible.
In addition to offering services in their Richmond office, CCSLS, though its volunteers and staff, provides services at the Senior Self-Help Clinic and Conservatorship Workshops in Martinez and provides 14 “Consult-an-Attorney” and wills clinic programs at senior centers throughout the county.
The services provided by CCSLS are critical to countless seniors. Verna shared a recent victory for 92-year-old CCSLS client, Mary Smith. Ms. Smith contacted Verna when a collection company was relentless in its attempt to collect payment on a defaulted loan that she co-signed with her grandson for the purchase of a long-haul trailer.
Though Ms. Smith had minimal assets to satisfy the judgment, she was experiencing debilitating anxiety and stress from the situation.
It was determined that her grandson voluntarily relinquished possession of the long-haul trailer, but that the dealership failed to mitigate their damages or provide Ms. Smith with the required notices regarding her rights and responsibilities as a co-signer.
Although Verna identified these flaws to the opposing counsel, the plaintiff was determined to pursue a civil action against Ms. Smith. On the day of trial, Verna successfully argued pre-trial motions, which resulted in a judgment for the defendant. This is only one of the many success stories of work from CCSLS.
Though there are many amazing volunteers at CCSLS, the elder population is growing exponentially, thereby creating a high demand for legal services to the thousands of seniors in our county who are struggling to make ends meet on their fixed incomes and who otherwise would not be able to afford an attorney.
CCSLS has volunteer opportunities available throughout our county. For more information, please contact Staff Attorney Janice Fuhrman at (510) 374-3712.
Samantha Sepehr, Former Director of the Elder Law Center, is a Partner at Steele, George, Schofield, and Ramos LLP located in Walnut Creek.