Eastside Legal Assistance Program helps the underserved

Although Dan Menser works full-time as one of T-Mobile's in-house attorneys, he also is one of approximately 100 attorneys who volunteers for the Eastside Legal Assistance Program, or ELAP. "There's no shortage of underserved legal issues," Menser said.


Although Dan Menser works full-time as one of T-Mobile’s in-house attorneys, he also is one of approximately 100 attorneys who volunteers for the Eastside Legal Assistance Program, or ELAP.

The program has been providing free legal services to low-income residents of east and northeast King County and domestic violence legal aid throughout King County for 25 years. The nonprofit organization has 11 advice and consultation clinics located in Issaquah, Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue.

“There’s no shortage of underserved legal issues,” Menser said.

Seven of the clinics cover general civil non-family law issues and four are specialty clinics: Family law, domestic violence; immigration; and multi-lingual, which handle all civil issues, including family law, for those who speak Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian.

Menser, who lives in Issaquah, volunteers at the Issaquah clinic, located at the YWCA Family Village. He sees clients in half-hour blocks on issues mainly involving landlord/tenant problems, bankruptcy, wills or medical directives. Criminal issues are rare, he said.

Menser enjoys the clinics because, as a corporate attorney, he doesn’t get exposed to “real life.” He also volunteers at similar clinics associated with the King County Bar Association.

Some people just want to talk, he said. Others are a little paranoid and fear fear that the government is out to get them.

Many of them pull at his heart, like the woman who came in six months ago when she was about to be evicted from her apartment and forced to live in her car with her son. He explained the legal process to the woman, assuring her that the landlord can’t put her out on the street without process.

His job is to point folks to the resources that can help them, and provide quick answers to legal questions.

He also faces cases when one spouse dies and the surviving spouse doesn’t know what to do. The surviving spouse may not have access to bank accounts, safe deposit boxes — basic financial resources that he/she may have not taken the lead on before.

Menser remembers one involving an elderly, married couple. One of them couldn’t take care of the other, who who needed more assistance. Their kids came in and swooped up that parent.

“Twenty percent of these really get to you,” Menser said as he touched his heart. “I walk out knowing I did something good.”

Brandy Andersson and two other attorneys, Juanita Cope and Christina Pollard, are on staff with ELAP, and handle the domestic violence cases — anywhere from 135 to 150 clients each year, many with more than one court case. A protection order usually comes first. From there, there could be dissolution, divorce or custody issues. Some just need a couple hours of time with an attorney to “put some sort of Band-Aid on domestic violence” Andersson said.

Even though they are paid staff, the services to the victims are still free.

Andersson said she had a history with various prosecutor’s offices, and got to know some of the victims of domestic violence.

“When this opportunity came up I jumped on it and never looked back,” she said.

ELAP had its big fundraising breakfast May 22, raising approximately $210,000. The organization also has been able to maintain funding from King County which amounted to $121,000 last year. It’s set to increase to $131,000 this year. The additional money is to fund the ELAP family law fellowship program for new attorneys pursuing family law.

“We essentially teach them all the ins and outs of family law, and dealing with domestic violence survivors in legal cases and the techniques and strategies of the abuser,” Andersson said. “They are given quite a few experiences in family law in a short time.

Fellowship applications go out this month, with candidate selection in July. The fellows will begin as soon as August.


Linda Ball: 425-391-0363; lball@issaquahreporter.com