BENNINGTON -- A program that provides a free attorney to alleged victims in abuse cases has received funding for another three years.
Have Justice Will Travel, which is based in Vershire, has an office in Bennington from where attorney John Lamson splits his time between here and Rutland County. Lamson's portion of the program, which has attorneys working around Chittenden County and the Northeast Kingdom, received $341,003 from the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women.
The grant award was announced by Sen. Patrick Leahy's Office. Leahy said in a release that $1.3 million was also awarded to the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services.
Wynona Ward, founder and executive director of Have Justice Will Travel said Wednesday the grant will fund Lamson's work for the next three years. The position had always been grant funded, she said.
She said Lamson represents people seeking relief from abuse orders, commonly called restraining orders. A number of legal issues can crop up at those hearings, often ones related to child support. Ward said the program does not represent people at divorce proceedings.
Often alleged victims cannot afford counsel, while the alleged abuser can. It can be difficult from the person seeking abuse relief to represent themselves while being in the same room with the accused.
The grant pays Lamson's salary and benefits, overhead for the office, as well as for a part-time paralegal, she said. Thursdays were when relief from abuse hearings are held in Bennington, while Rutland holds them on Friday. Ward said Lamson can represent a person the same day he meets them, and will follow their case if the hearing is continued.
Ward said data shows the program is needed. Last year, the program received 1,200 calls, 345 of which were from Bennington County.
Lamson said that according to a report from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission, in 2013 there were 292 relief from abuse orders requested in Bennington County, which account for about eight percent of the state total. The report noted that while Rutland County has 10 percent of the state's population, it has about the same number of relief from abuse orders as Chittenden County, which has a quarter of the state's population.
In 2013 Rutland County had 585 relief from abuse orders, account for 17 percent of the state total. Chittenden County had 607 orders, or 18 percent of the total.
Lamson said it is good news that the grant is for three years, which removes it from election cycles. He said this takes some of the politics out of the matter, which made funding uncertain.
Have Justice Will Travel's Bennington office can be reached at 802-447-8500.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.