Savannah attorney Patrick O’Connor, the immediate past president of the State Bar of Georgia, on Wednesday presented a $10,000 grant check to The Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire to help them in efforts to assist groups primarily providing low-income and indigent folks with their legal needs.
The donation from the Georgia Bar Foundation’s fellows program will assist the center’s Family Law Resource Center to assist those who either cannot afford or do not want to use a lawyer in such areas as family matters and choose to self represent themselves in civil matters.
O’Connor said the grant donation will allow the local group to continue its efforts, which he said are doing an “excellent job in helping resolve disputes outside of the litigation process.”
The Georgia Bar Foundation is a nonprofit and separate operation from the State Bar of Georgia. The fellows program represents a small segment of the state’s lawyers who donate to the effort.
O’Connor said as part of his term as bar president, he encouraged action by the foundation and its fellows program, adding that the Savannah donation was the first this year locally but one of several statewide, including one in Statesboro.
Jill Cheeks, executive director of the medication center, said the donation “means we’re going to be able to serve more citizens of the coastal region.”
The center’s Family Law Resource Center kicked off in January 2016 and in the first year served 1,395 citizens in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham, Liberty, Tattnall and Bulloch counties., she said. Through June of this year, that number topped 800.
But the increase in people using the resources has resulted in three- to four-week waits for appointments.
The donation will be used to buy five new computers to join the four on hand to improve and increase handling of appointments and reduce the appointment backlog, she said.
“We provide education on the process, here are the steps to take” Cheeks said, adding the center does not provide legal advice.
“No one using our services has an attorney,” said Cheeks, who is not an attorney. “If they do, we can’t help them.”
Trish Murphy, director of the Family Law and Resource Center,is the only attorney on the center’s staff.
The people using the center’s help are frequently involved in domestic services, many of which involve a level of urgency, Cheeks said.
More than 15 percent of those people report some sort of domestic violence issues, she said.