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Multnomah County expands program to lift legal barriers for people impacted by justice system

Legal Clinic provides free legal services to people who've been referred by Multnomah County or community organizations.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County is expanding a program that provides legal resources to people in need of a second chance. 

The Legal Clinic is a program started five years ago that provide free legal services to clients who’ve been referred from community organizations and Multnomah County.

"It’s to help people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system to reduce barriers and provide more opportunities for housing and secure better employment," said Cynthia Domingo-Foraste, an attorney with the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Community Law Division.

Referrals come from case managers at a number of organizations including Latino Network, Self Enhancement Inc. and the Native American Youth and Family Center as well as county-run organizations.

Legal Clinic handles a variety of legal matters for clients like reducing felonies to misdemeanors, reducing fines and fees, negotiations on debt forgiveness, landlord-tenant disputes, eviction defense, navigating court orders, immigration issues and more. 

Through a private attorney, legal fees for similar services would normally cost thousands of dollars.

In the wake of protests calling for racial justice last summer, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners expanded funding for legal services with a focus on Black, indigenous and communities of color. 

"I think what we see is an entire community that’s been over-policed and as a result, has a long history of criminal records of minor offenses that prevent them from having gainful employment and steady, safe housing," said Domingo-Foraste.

A report from the Brennan Center for Justice shows Black and Latino men and women make up more than half of all Americans who have been to prison. 

And while people who have been to prison face severely reduced earnings, Black and Latino Americans are less likely than whites to see their earnings recover. 

That’s where the partnership wants to make a difference. 

In 2020, the Legal Clinic helped about 120 people with 350 legal matters. The attorneys continue to work one-on-one with clients over the phone during the pandemic.

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