Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana has Legal Community Forum

By Cris Marshall

The Fort Wayne based HLCNI hosted a Forum at the downtown Allen County Library to educate the community on some of their legal rights. Featured were Attorneys: Chris Baumgartner from Indiana Legal Services, Don James from Love & James Attorneys at Law, and Matt Williams from Williams and Williams Law firm.

Baumgartner talked about some of the free legal services available through Indiana Legal Services. There are some services available free except for filing fees such as: some civil cases, family/divorce, difficulty with public benefits, housing, and landlord tenant disputes. There are limited resources, but they try to take as many as possible. Unfortunately, since they are funded by government monies, a social security number is required for most services, but they do refer to Maumee Valley Legal Services and the free attorney phone line if they are unable to serve someone.

James talked a lot about criminal law. He wanted people to know that if they get pulled over for a traffic violation and know they are going to end up going to jail that they don’t have to answer any questions. They should provide the documents the officers are asking for, but don’t have to answer anything about, for example, their legal status in the U.S. He also said that a local case just set legal precedent about what officers can and cannot ask on a routine stop. It was recently upheld in appellate court that an officer does not necessarily have the right to ask if a person has a weapon or drugs - only if there is reason to suspect. For example, if a person is driving erratically, the officer has reason to suspect alcohol or drug use and may ask if the person has been drinking. He also stressed that if a person has a false social security number or invalid license and get caught with it, they will be prosecuted and deported. “The system is computerized and very fast. It’s really not worth the risk to possess them.”

Williams spoke about passport issues. Many adults who have been deported have to leave their children who were born in the U.S., and are citizens, here. Usually, a child cannot obtain a passport on their own and parents who do not have legal status may have a hard time doing so as well. Williams suggested having an attorney “draw up” a power of attorney that would enable an adult who is a citizen to have the ability to act in a legal matter on behalf of the child. A guardianship would be more effective, but Williams said that that would give the adult more control over the child than maybe the parent would want. And, Williams reminded people that powers of attorney can be revoked at any time if they feel the person is taking advantage of them or the child in some way.

Indiana Legal Services, Atty. Don James, and Atty. Matt Williams can be reached by calling their phone numbers listed in the yellow pages. Bilingual operators may not be available, but Williams is fully bilingual.

The next Community Forum for the HLCNI will be held at the downtown Allen County Public Library on July 7 at 5:30 p.m. The topic will be immigration. Luz Ostrognai from Catholic Charities will talk about immigration services and Jose Hernandez from National City Bank will talk about the possible financial impact of deportation.

Chris Baumgartner from Indiana Legal Services

Don James from Love & James Attorneys at Law

Matt Williams from Williams and Williams Law