Emily (she/her/hers) will provide alternative dispute resolution services in West Virginia to low-income families with a focus on family law matters in which a biological parent is suffering from substance use disorder.
West Virginia is one of the most opioid-impacted states in the country. This epidemic has affected many West Virginians and, as a result, catalyzed family law issues such as custody disputes which often result in children being placed with other family members. Currently, the only avenue available to low-income West Virginians for addressing these disputes is an adversarial court process wherein family members are pitted against one another and incentivized to shed a negative light on the opposing party. This process often results in a dissolution of the family and trauma to the children involved. These families need a non-adversarial, neutral environment to discuss their concerns and reach a mutually acceptable agreement that is in the best interest of all the parties involved.
Emily will be providing alternative dispute resolution processes for opioid-impacted families to resolve their family law issues. She will be working directly with these families to better understand the needs of those suffering from substance use disorder, strengthen familial relationships, and facilitate mutually acceptable agreements. Emily will also be creating a referral network with established opioid crisis relief programs to provide educational materials to opioid-impacted families on the benefits of alternative dispute resolution for opioid-related family law issues.
Growing up in West Virginia, I watched families fall apart due to opioid-related issues. I always believed those relationships could be rebuilt, and I wanted my legal career to provide opportunities for reunification.
Emily Neely /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brendan helped West Virginians recovering from substance use disorder through Medication Assisted Treatment regain control of their lives by educating communities and removing legal barriers to their recovery through advocating for their access to employment, housing, and economic stability.
While there is no one demographic that been left unharmed by the opioid crisis, rural West Virginia has been the epicenter. Those lucky enough to survive and begin the long road to recovery face substantial socioeconomic barriers, including access to legal counsel to protect their rights. Brendan’s project with Legal Aid of West Virginia provides access to legal counsel to address all the underlying issues to effectively mitigate key relapse factors.
During the Fellowship, Brendan:
- Maintained the states only substance use disorder medical-legal partnership.
- Trained attorneys/advocates statewide on substance use disorder advocacy and person-first language.
- Represented clients on expungements, employment, housing, custody, and license reinstatements.
- Worked with community partners to raise awareness and combat stigma against people in recovery.
Brendan’s project has secured funding to extend until at least 2022 and he and his host organization are in the late application stages for long-term, sustainable funding. Brendan and Legal Aid of West Virginia plan to expand the project to additional counties and recovery organizations.
I became a lawyer so that I could help my community take action to overcome and heal from the opioid epidemic.
Brendan Wood /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Patrick provided a variety of legal services to U.S. Military Veterans and their families. Working in cooperation with both the federal and state VA, Patrick will be providing direct legal representation as well as advice and other legal services. Legal representation will range from helping with VA benefits to housing issues to family law and other civil cases. The idea behind the project is to fill a niche in the legal community that is not being met.
The Veterans Legal Project provides free legal services to low-income veterans. Some of the areas of law addressed include: family law, housing and foreclosure issues, debt collection, landlord/tenant law, and estate planning. We conduct informative clinics and also provide direct representation. We have ties with other agencies in the community to establish a network of holistic service. We are working on partnering with a local VA Medical Center to accompany their community clinic program that is operated out of a Rural Mobile Health Clinic vehicle to better reach out to our more rural population.