Sandra Gardner, a lawyer who practices in Craig, has been appointed to a state board that helps low-income families afford legal services.
As a member of the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Fund, Gardner helps direct the disbursement of funds for civil litigants.
When people are arrested on criminal charges, they have the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one. But when the same people are involved in civil suits, such as divorce or child custody cases, they will have no legal representation if they cannot afford it. The account foundation helps people in these positions afford legal aid.
"I don't know what it is, but indigent people can have the worst legal problems. If we didn't have COLTAF these people would have no access to the legal system," Gardner said.
Lawyers regularly request retainers when taking on new clients, but they aren't allowed to touch the money until they have done some work to earn it. So they put the money into lawyer trust accounts to hold it until they have earned it.
During the waiting period, interest accrues on the retainers. When the program was started by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1982, lawyers could volunteer to donate their interest to the foundation. In 1989, Colorado state law was changed to make the program mandatory.
In 2002 and 2003, COLTAF distributed $900,000 in civil law assistance and discretionary grant funds. About $2,000 of that went to Northwest Colorado Legal Services, a program Gardner said has helped many Craig residents. Another $2,040 was donated to Advocates Crisis Support Services.
However, COLTAF distributed about $500,000 less in 2002 and 2003 than they distributed in 2000 and 2001. The steep decline is due to an ailing economy with poor interest rates, Gardner said.
Gardner practices family law and often takes on guardianship, probate and mediation cases. She replaced Kristopher Hammond of Steamboat Springs on COLTAF's board. Sixteen lawyers and bankers sit on COLTAF's board, which meets in Denver monthly.