Two Legal Aid lawyers were sworn in Friday morning at the Richmond County Judicial Center in Rockingham.
Legal Aid of North Carolina chose to place two Clifton Everett Fellows in Richmond County last year due to it having the highest child poverty rate in the state at the time, a disproportionately high general poverty rate, and high levels of unemployment. Over the last year, the lawyers have handled mostly housing issues — including foreclosure — and cases involving public benefits and domestic violence. In addition to representing individual clients, they engaged in community education and outreach on issues involving consumer law, elder law and domestic violence. The lawyers’ work has benefited more than 400 people — including about 200 children — and secured about $500,000 in economic benefits for clients by protecting housing subsidies, securing loan modifications in foreclosure cases, protecting property from creditors and obtaining unemployment benefits, officials said.
The Clifton Everett Fellows Kaitlyn Girard and Meghan Melo have finished their year-long fellowship and will be replaced by two new lawyers, Emma Smiley and Jason Senges, who were sworn in by Judge Amy Wilson Friday morning.
“We want to welcome Emma and Jason to our county,” said Judge Wilson. “They each come from metropolitan cities where they went to law school and now they are here in a small town. While we are small, it’s a good place to be and I hope they will learn lessons here they’ll carry throughout their career.”
Smiley is a South Carolina native and 2013 Duke Law graduate who has already shown a deep commitment to using the law to help others. While in law school she interned with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Consumer Protection Division of the N.C. Department of Justice, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Durham office and its Battered Immigrant Project, and Judge James Wynn of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.
“I love working with clients and, in my internships with Legal Aid, found the work to be incredibly rewarding,” said Smiley. “I believe that financial barriers to equal justice for all are a serious problem in our country and hope that through my work I will be able to reduce that inequality.”
Smiley said she always wanted to be a lawyer and was involved in mock-trial since she was 16. She said she wanted to make sure her career was meaningful.
Senges is a New Jersey native and 2013 Elon Law graduate who has also shown a serious dedication to public interest law. He was the president of Elon Law’s Public Interest Law Society and co-director of its Pro Bono Board, and held internships with the Greensboro City Attorney’s Office, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Greensboro office and the Piedmont Land Conservancy.
“I continue to devote time to public interest law because there is a large portion of North Carolina citizenry that is underrepresented in many facets of our society, but no one should have to go through the judicial system unrepresented, especially when fighting for basic needs and rights,” said Senges. “I look forward to expanding on the work that Legal Aid has begun in Richmond County.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.