Sandy Garcia and Tyler Graber with the Walla Walla branch of Northwest Justice Project.

“... and justice for all.” The ending of the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States describes the goal of Northwest Justice Project.

The organization provides free civil legal services to low-income persons in need of help. Headquartered in Seattle, NJP has offices in 18 towns across Washington state, including four satellite offices.

In Walla Walla, staff attorneys Tyler Graber and Sandy Garcia handle day-to-day operations of NJP at 38 E. Main St., Suite 207. The local branch is a satellite of the organization’s office in the Tri-Cities, Graber said. Its coverage area includes Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties.

Graber said NJP was created in 1997, and the local office in 2006.

“As I understand it, prior to that there were different regional legal aid sources,” he said. “Each had funding sources with certain restrictions. Now there’s more uniformity, by changing the structure of the way legal help was given. Most of our funding is from the state legislature with some from LSC Legal Service Corps.”

The Walla Walla location originally stood on its own, rather than being a Tri-Cities satellite, Graber said. But the organization reversed those roles due to the local area’s smaller population, he said.

The Walla Walla office has three paid staff.

“We provide civil legal services to low-income people,” Graber said. “Nothing criminal, we’re not public defenders.”

The bulk of the cases are dissolutions, family-law issues and landlord/tenant issues, Social Security and insurance appeals and debt collection.

The organization has special units statewide for specific topics, including the Native American unit that works with Tribal law. The organization also has a foreclosure unit and a division for veterans and migrant workers issues.

For those needing legal services, the first step is to call the CLEAR hotline, Garcia said. CLEAR stands for Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral.

“It’s triage. They do the intake,” she said. “They go through the screeners, who determine eligibility” based on several factors including income.

Not everything is a court case. The CLEAR attorney may be able to take care of the problem with some brief advice; clients are occasionally referred elsewhere, sometimes to Blue Mountain Action Council.

If a client needs further representation, they can be referred to the field office, Graber said.

“Then we determine if we can assist with their case in the best way. Sometimes we’ll have someone walk in, so it’s more efficient to do the intake right here,” he said.

“We closed approximately 50-60 cases last year. Some cases stay open longer than a year — Social Security appeals.”

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.

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