Legal Hospice of Texas has received an award of $94,969 as part of the largest “cy pres” award to legal aid in Texas.
“Cy pres” awards are residual funds from a class action suit or other legal proceedings that cannot be distributed to class members or the intended beneficiaries for a variety of reasons. The class action suit, Meyers et. al v. State of Texas, et. al, involved allegations that the state violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by charging Texans with disabilities for the standardized blue placards used for parking.
Executive Director Roger Wedell said attorneys involved in class action suits, along with mediators and judges, can influence how these excess funds are disbursed. Funds that are not distributed would be paid to the state.
Since the state was the defendant, Wedell said there was an interest in not returning this money to the state. The “cy pres” funds received from this suit will help provide legal aid to Texans with disabilities.
More than $2.6 million from the Meyers lawsuit was awarded to six legal aid organizations that provide civil legal services to low income Texans with disabilities. An additional $6.4 million from the suit will flow to other non-profit organizations that serve the needs of Texans with disabilities.
The funds come at a critical time for the agency, Wedell said, which has been particularly hard-hit by the recession.
Legal Hospice of Texas began as a volunteer organization that assisted with end-of-life paperwork at evening and weekend clinics at the Dallas Gay Alliance office on Cedar Springs Road. The organizations received its first grants in 1989 from the Dallas and Texas Bar foundations, adding its first staff when Ryan White CARE Act funding began in 1990.
In addition to Wedell, the organization now has two paid staff attorneys and works with about 40 volunteers from individual to large law firms.
Legal Hospice of Texas provides services to low-income persons are HIV-positive or have other life-threatening illnesses in 16 North Texas counties. Those with HIV must already be registered through one of the other agencies that can refer persons for service.
Wedell said most of Legal Hospice’s work is in three areas: estate planning, wills and preparation of other end-of-life documents. Attorneys also assist clients with legal issues relating to Social Security, unemployment insurance and other public benefits. Employment consultations with people newly diagnosed is a third area of expertise for Legal Hospice.