QUANADA helping establish legal services office for survivors of domestic violence

QUANADA

QUINCY — A newly formed partnership among QUANADA, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid and Ascend Justice is designed improve access to legal representation for survivors of domestic violence in Quincy and the surrounding area.

The new office will be in Quincy at 910 Broadway in the former Spoonwave location. It will serve clients from Adams, Brown, Schuyler and Pike counties. It will focus primarily on representing survivors in civil protection order cases and family law. Chicago-based Ascend Justice will provide remote legal services on a host of other issues including family defense, immigration and economic justice.

The project is funded by grants from the Illinois Department of Human Services. QUANADA’s chief executive officer Megan Duesterhaus said Gov. JB Pritzker signed during the spring legislative session a budget that included a significant increase for domestic violence services statewide.

“Since that happened, they’ve been moving really quickly to get this money out to programs,” she said. “We have known for years that legal services are one of the biggest needs we have.”

QUANADA (Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse) helps survivors of domestic and sexual violence by providing trauma-informed services. Duesterhaus said QUANADA currently only offers what she called legal advocacy.

“Clients might need help with something (legal) that they can do pro se on their own, but it’s intimidating,” she said. “The paperwork is confusing, so we help them fill out petitions and petition the court for emergency orders of protection. We’ll also provide emotional support to any hearings they have after that.

“But as far as attorney representation, we currently offer nothing. It’s really a critical need. When (a QUANADA client) goes back to court for subsequent hearings, the respondent often has hired their own attorney. Now we have someone appearing on their own behalf with no attorney, and they’re being questioned by an attorney who has those professional skills. Victims really have a difficult time achieving their rights under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act. It’s hard to argue in front of a judge. They’re just simply not equipped to practice law.”

Duesterhaus said meaningful access to legal representation for people living on a low income is scarce to non-existent in west-central Illinois. She said it’s been 37 years since a legal aid office operated in Quincy.

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid provides low income and senior residents throughout Illinois with legal services. It is filling positions in the Quincy office, including two staff attorneys and three support staffers. It also will have office space in Brown, Schuyler and Pike counties to use to meet with clients.

Applications for the Quincy office can be found at https://lincolnlegal.org/careers/.

“We are thrilled by this opportunity to provide free civil-legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence,” Clarissa Gaff, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid’s executive director, said in a press release.

Ascend Justice helps individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence or the child welfare system through legal advocacy and system reform.

“Survivors across the state deserve the full range of legal resources, whether they live in metropolitan or rural areas. We hope that the remote legal services model will prove effective so it can be replicated in other areas throughout Illinois,” Margaret Duval, executive director at Ascend Justice, said in a press release.

Duesterhaus says QUANADA handles about 350 emergency orders of protection in an average year, and “half of those really need attorneys.”

“To have our own legal clinic in Quincy is kind of a big deal for us,” she said. “Ascend Justice has a lot of the specialized domestic violence and legal service skills. They’re going to help us with our referral processes and all our internal policies and procedures to make sure they’re trauma informed.”

Only QUANADA clients are eligible for the legal services.

“They won’t be taking clients walking in off the street,” Duesterhaus said. “People will still need to come through QUANADA like they normally would, and then we’ll screen them like usual and refer them over to the attorney’s office if they have any legal issues. The process is the same. We are just presenting them with an extra opportunity.”

Duesterhaus hopes legal services will be available for her clients beginning January 1.

“(Land of Lincoln is) doing all the work. We’re just paying the bills,” she said. “It’s going to depend how quickly they can get through their hiring process.”

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