Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, which assists low-income families with legal problems, faced no tough cross examination Tuesday when it presented its budget request to the Senate Committee on Finance.
The request for the upcoming fiscal year is $1.3 million; a decrease of $70,000 from last year’s request.
Attorney Shelby King Gaddy, the executive director, said the decrease represented the amount the agency needed last year for mitigation of the damage caused to the Legal Services property from the hurricanes of 2017.
Sen. Donna A. Frett-Gregory said the presentation was heartwarming and read back a paragraph from the written testimony of Gaddy.
“We look forward to the opportunity each year to appear before this committee to present to you and the taxpayers the evidence of our efficient, effective and fiscally responsible stewardship over the funds entrusted to us by the V. I. Government. Legal Services is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. Each year we receive and report the results of our annual audit, which is always ‘unqualified’ or a clean audit.”
Attorney Kimberly Berry, managing attorney for the St. Croix office, gave the senators an inside look at what the agency does by synopsizing two cases handled by Legal Services. Cases handled by Legal Services can include rectifying unsafe rental housing, challenging wrongful discharges, obtaining a protective court order against an abusive spouse, fighting for custody of children, or securing veterans or other federal benefits.
“It is very challenging to navigate the legal system on your own,” Gaddy said.
Gaddy said the challenge facing Legal Services is staffing. It has five attorneys and she would like to hire at least two more attorneys. She expects the workload to go up because legal issues related to disasters can last until 10 years after the event.
She added Legal Services has “a heck of a time attracting attorneys” because the pay is lower than it is at the Attorney General’s or Public Defender’s offices.