Ohio County's attorneys are tops in West Virginia when it comes to the number of hours of free legal services they collectively provide, according to Legal Aid of West Virginia.
They also handle more pro-bono cases than lawyers in any of the state's 55 counties, the agency noted, and they've done so for 40 years.
On Friday, the Ohio County Bar Association was among those honored with a 2009 Star Award from LAWV during a Law Day luncheon at the Fort Henry Club in downtown Wheeling.
"The Ohio County Bar Association even handles more free cases than does Kanawha County - where a third of the state's legal cases are," said James P. Martin, executive director of LAWV, noting that, historically, more legal aid options have been offered in urban areas than in the rural areas of the state. "But in Ohio County, that is not true. It has a long history of providing pro-bono services."
That history dates back to 1969, when the Ohio County Legal Systems Center first was incorporated, according to Martin.
A second Star Award was presented to U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Mollohan serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies - the subcommittee that provides funding for legal aid organizations in the U.S. LAWV credited him with securing additional funding for all legal aid agencies, and Mollohan promised more federal money would be allocated for free legal services on his watch.
"Funding now is at a fraction of the dollars there were when we first started," he said. "It's been a real struggle. There have been cuts and restrictions - many I don't get. It 's a real irony that it is such a struggle to provide a means for legal rights to Americans."
Mollohan told the attorneys present it is part of their responsibility to see that Legal Aid is properly funded, and that they give of themselves - either through monetary donation or time - to ensure all people have access to the legal system.
The organization next presented Star Awards to a local judge and three law firms who were instrumental in driving $469,000 in "Cy Pres" dollars to the organization, said Jennifer Jordan, director of development for LAWV.
Honored for their efforts were Circuit Judge James P. Mazzone and the law firms of Shrader, Byrd and Companion; Bailey and Glasser; and Bachmann, Hess, Bachmann and Garden. Cy Pres funds are dollars left over from class action suits that can neither be returned nor dispersed.
Legal Aid of West Virginia used the funds to launch its "Access to Legal Aid Program," a means by which those needing legal advice can talk to legal staff by phoning 866-255-4370.
Also receiving a Star Award, in the area of partnership, was the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Children and Families.