People’s Legal Services Helping Under-Resourced Individuals Navigate the Court Process

People’s Legal Services Helping Under-Resourced Individuals Navigate the Court Process

The alcohol-fueled abuse was egregious. The threats were nonstop. The mental torture, continual.

Thanks to People’s Legal Services – a San Diego nonprofit providing a variety of services ranging from domestic violence to landlord-tenant disputes – the survivor of these circumstances secured a restraining order and protection from his abuser.

Help would not have come had it not been for a grant from The San Diego Foundation-administered San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund. With the pandemic fueling a rise in domestic violence cases nationwide, the $25,000 donation allowed People’s Legal Services to manage more than 60 cases. More than 50 free consultations and low-cost representations supported those who otherwise may have risked financial ruin to hire a market rate attorney, or worse, forfeited hiring an attorney and face their legal battle alone.

Funding also allowed the nonprofit to train eight interns to represent domestic violence survivors.

“The grant made a huge difference,” CEO Michelle Luna Reynoso emphasized. “We’re a small nonprofit. That kind of donation has an impact in the work we do.”

“There is no right to an attorney when it comes to family law, yet most of PLS’s caseload in family law involves domestic violence,” Reynoso shared. “The pandemic created a toxic environment for a lot of people. We saw a sharp increase in domestic violence cases in San Diego, both criminal and civil.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline saw a sharp rise in cases during the first two months of the pandemic, and that increase shows no signs of slowing down.

“Our firm has experienced a huge uptick of domestic violence restraining order cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” said Sabrina Marroquin, a People’s Legal Services attorney. “Quarantine has forced victims of abuse to be in close quarters at all times with an abuser. It has also exposed children to a lot more domestic violence as they too are forced to stay in close quarters with an abusive parent,” she added.

“The pandemic has also made it more difficult for victims to reach out for help as an abuser who is constantly present in the home may have an increased ability to monitor a victim’s email, phone calls, text messages, and web search history that would prevent a victim from reaching out for help.”

The San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation has raised more than $66 million to date, almost all of which has been distributed to more than 200 nonprofits in the region. Nearly 8 in 10 people served through the fund live in poverty, and 56% of grantees were able to secure additional dollars thanks to their Community Response Fund grant.

More than 90% of clients served by People’s Legal Services live in under-resourced communities. Clients who are charged are billed on a sliding scale based on their income. Most pay no more than $75 per hour, a fraction of the current market rate pushing $400 or more per hour for family law cases.

“People’s Legal Services is here to serve the community and we wouldn’t have been able to serve the community if it were not for grants from The San Diego Foundation and others that are literally helping us save lives,” Reynoso emphasized. Learn more about the impact of the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.