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August 22, 2012

LETTERS: Aug. 23, 2012

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Reader explains $1 pro bono fee

Hello, I am writing in response to Debbie Harbeson’s opinion column entitled “Public money for ‘free’ work” which ran in the News and Tribune Aug. 16.

First and foremost, I would like to thank Ms. Harbeson for taking the time to write the column. It has the potential to start a useful community dialogue about the funding of legal access programs for low income persons. However, with this being said, I believe the views espoused by Ms. Harbeson are too clouded by politics. This is an instance of missing the forest for the trees.

The biggest issue with the column is the characterization of the law (IC 33-37-5-31) as something that forces “neighbors to hand over money to others.”

The force, if any, is negligible. The law only applies to those filing certain civil suits, and while there is an increase in the filing fee, it is only $1. The $450,000 mentioned is an estimate of the law’s potential to generate funds in a year, $1 per law suit (SEE: House Bill 1049, Second Regular Session 2012, Fiscal Impact Statement 9).

Assuming this estimate is correct, this law will provide $450,000 to Indiana’s pro bono legal services. This is $450,000 not coming from taxes paid by Indiana residents or government grants. Yes, the funds do come from private citizens filing civil suits, but it is $1 per civil suit.

Next, the author’s perception of IOLTA is flawed. The IOLTA program is part of a rationale that reduces cost and promotes efficiency. The trust accounts only exist for clients whose amounts are too small or short term to generate interest. The only way any interest is generated is by pooling the funds.

Forcing lawyers to calculate what small amount of interest a client’s funds generated when pooled would not be efficient. It would increase the time attorneys spend doing nonlaw related work and increase expense to the client, all for an infinitesimal gain for the client.

 Finally, the assertion that Indiana pro bono legal services are being favored to the exclusion of other charities is false. This law is only one part of the bill in question. The remainder of the bill also deals with legal fees. Imposing the $1 fee for pro bono services is rationally related to the rest of the bill.

— Bryan Abell, Sellersburg

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