Simon launches virtual legal clinic in Danville

Honors human service provider in Decatur

DANVILLE, IL — Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visited a Danville human services agency to launch her latest Virtual Legal Clinic, a program that helps downstate domestic violence survivors access free legal counsel.

“Domestic abuse knows no economic, social, or geographic boundaries. Yet, in many areas of Illinois, domestic violence survivors have limited access to family law practices that can help them,” Simon said. “That’s where the Virtual Legal Clinic comes in, providing free, confidential consultation to survivors in areas where that specialized counsel is in shorter supply.”

Simon joined advocates at Crosspoint Human Services to demonstrate how domestic violence survivors in underserved communities can receive free legal consult from lawyers in urban areas online with a webcam. The program fills a gap in legal services in rural areas, Simon said.

Nearly 40 percent of Illinois women will experience domestic violence by an intimate partner, but there are 47 counties in Illinois with no attorneys practicing family law. An additional 33 counties have five or fewer attorneys practicing family law.

Simon spoke via Skype with volunteer attorneys Mark Nabong of Chicago and Lucinda Bugden of Rockford about why they volunteer their time and expertise to help domestic violence survivors through the clinic. They have helped clients navigate topics including child custody and visitation, marriage and divorce, elder abuse, immigration and property issues.

“The VLC is important because survivors are at a significant disadvantage if they can’t hire a lawyer,” Bugden said. “They need to understand their rights and the law. That way, when they go before a judge, they are more likely to prevail.”

The Virtual Legal Clinic is piloted by Simon’s office and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. As of July 2014, it serves 20 counties, with growth projected into 40 counties by 2015, thanks to a $100,000 grant from Verizon Wireless. Clinics in Danville and Charleston came online this summer.

Earlier Friday, Simon delivered remarks at the Decatur Macon County Opportunities Corporation (DMCOC) ribbon-cutting ceremony on the 33rd anniversary of their headquarters’ opening. Simon honored the organization for its 50 years of helping children, seniors and residents.

The DMCOC administers Head Start, a program that provides education to 3 and 4 year-olds in preparation for kindergarten. The program serves as many as 350 children each year and operates out of two school buildings, said Robert Archer, DMCOC’s fiscal officer.

The organization is also active in allocating Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding and runs a nutritional assistance program for seniors.