New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the Legal Advice and Referral Center mourn the loss of a champion of justice in our state.
Darlene Schmidt-Brandt, a former member of the Boards of Directors of NHLA and the NH Bar Foundation, passed away recently after a two-year battle with breast cancer. Before she passed, she wrote this letter, which was published today in the NH Bar News.
I’ve lived in New Hampshire all my life and I love this state, our traditions, and our people. I raised three children here, and in that time I’ve come to know this is the very best place in the country to live. I hope you in the legal community will live up to my belief that no matter how many headlines we see about evil in the world, there is more love and kindness and generosity around us.
I implore you, all of you who are reading this, to support New Hampshire’s civil legal aid programs, which I believe represent some of the best our state has to offer. I dedicated my life to volunteering for the people of New Hampshire. The people of these legal aid programs motivated and inspired me every day by the incredible work they do.
Legal aid is how our society ensures that everyone, regardless of how much money they have, has a fair chance in our courts. That’s a right all Americans should believe in protecting, but a lot of people outside the legal community don’t even know it’s at risk.
I was already a banker when our state became the second in the nation to authorize the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, and I didn’t know what legal aid was until then. I’ve worked at many banks in my career since, and I’m proud to say they have all been IOLTA participants.
IOLTA is one of the easiest ways attorneys can help people who need legal aid, because New Hampshire’s bankers are there to partner with you in supporting that great work. If you haven’t already, please consider moving your accounts to an IOLTA Leadership Bank. If you know a banker from an IOLTA Leadership or Partner Bank, be sure to thank him or her, because those 16 institutions contributed 84 percent of the IOLTA revenue last year.
After learning about legal aid, it wasn’t long before I joined the audit committee for the Legal Advice and Referral Center and the Board of Directors for New Hampshire Legal Assistance, on which I served for nine years. What always moved me most at our board meetings were the client stories: Women who escaped domestic violence; people with disabilities who could now live with dignity; children who had access to a safe home and an education. Those are the stories that matter most. Not me and what I did; the work, for people who need it, matters most.
I had opportunities to listen on the phone when people called LARC for emergency legal advice. I learned about the impact litigation and systemic advocacy NHLA pursues to get the most “bang for their buck” to improve the lives of thousands of New Hampshire residents who live in poverty. The more I learned about the work being done, the more awed I was of the advocates who fight every day for equal access to justice for all.
They also fight, every year, for adequate funding to do this crucial work. Public funding from the state and federal government is at risk every year – especially now, with the Legal Services Corporation singled out for complete elimination by the federal budget. Even in the best of years, public funding falls short of meeting the actual need, and even the generosity of IOLTA Leadership Banks can’t entirely make up the difference.
All my life, my priority has been protecting children. I saw the ways NHLA and LARC protect children, especially children from poor families who need help getting their best start in life. Because I so believe in their work, I did everything that I personally could to help promote the IOLTA program to my peers in the banking community as well as my friends in the legal community.
Now that I am facing the end of my time, my understanding of what truly matters in life is clearer than ever. If you want to honor me, please, do not send flowers to my family. Do not buy them a greeting card. Instead, please use your resources to make a difference in someone’s life.
If you believe as I do in community and team work, and that legal aid can make life better for the children and people of New Hampshire, please make a gift this year and every year to the NH Campaign for Legal Services to directly support the work of NHLA and LARC.