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Browsing Posts in Special Highlight

Board Highlight: Dr. Shanequa Smith

Dr. Shanequa Smith joined the Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) Board of Directors in 2018, as a result of the partnership between LAWV and Good News Mountaineer Garage, where Dr. Smith was a Board member at the time. She is not an attorney; she is an appointed constituent member of the Board, whose insight into the communities LAWV serves is invaluable.

Since joining, Dr. Smith has made it her mission to further LAWV’s impact on communities that desperately need help but may not recognize what LAWV services can do. She also points out that LAWV itself wasn’t speaking to everyone’s needs in their outreach.

“When I started as a Board member, I saw Legal Aid as good-hearted people that couldn’t really help many who need it,” she explains. “What I learned as a Board member is what Legal Aid CAN do, and I think a big piece of that is preventative work, which relates to what I try to do as a restorative practitioner.”

Dr. Smith is originally from Harlem, NY, but followed family to West Virginia 23 years ago. She says the similarities between the two places might surprise people. In West Virginia, just like New York, she saw people, especially those in the Black community, struggling with systematic oppression.

“No matter what, even if you move to a different zip code, if you don’t change socioeconomic status, things don’t really change,” says Dr. Smith.

She believes her work implementing preventative action and restorative practices can go a long way to address those challenges.

“I work in the community trying to create and model different approaches to heal from situations that overwhelm us in life. My work as a restorative practitioner centers around joy, education, and connecting people to their desired opportunities. Through my lived experiences and education, I realize the element of helping people build, is assisting them to rebuild their self-efficacy and self-agency, which is missing in a lot of social efforts.”

She quotes criminal law as an example. LAWV does not do criminal law, as those being charged with a crime have a right to an attorney—a public defender. She says many people think Legal Aid is the same as a public defender, but when they come to Legal Aid for help, it’s too late.

“Frederick Douglass said ‘It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.’ If people had prior knowledge of legal issues, they probably wouldn’t get into those situations. Wouldn’t it be great if people could say, ‘Hey, I know Legal Aid does that’ before they even get to certain issues?”

One aspect of her Board membership and relationship with LAWV Dr. Smith praises is outreach.

“I think you have to be where people are,” she says. “Legal Aid tries to do that. I see them as WESTSIDE Together meetings, in the schools, at community events. It’s important to spread the word about what Legal Aid does, like mental health advocacy or work with grandparents, because I don’t think a lot of people actually know about that.”

Dr. Smith does her own form of outreach to her communities, and her experience with Legal Aid builds a piece of that. Through her practice and community involvement on Charleston’s West Side, volunteering at Mary C. Snow Elementary and Capital High schools, and her studies, she sees opportunities to share respect, honor, and resources to many.

“What gives me joy is to be a light to someone else,” she says. “I live in communities where there’s a lot of working poor, pain, and generational trauma. These are good people. I want to help someone—really help someone, not in the way we think we should be. Some people don’t even think they deserve light because they’ve never had it. Anytime I get closer to helping people feel good about themselves and their community, I’m living.”

Board members Dr. Shanequa Smith and Andy Nason
Dr. Shanequa Smith and Board Chair Andy Nason at Legal Aid’s Charleston office

Jobs & Hope WV

jobs and hope wv logo

Created in 2019, Jobs & Hope WV was formed by Governor Jim Justice and the WV Legislature as a “comprehensive response to the substance use disorder crisis.” The program aims to help those in recovery by removing barriers to employment, a crucial step in the journey for those with substance use disorder.

Although it was developed for those in recovery, anyone can benefit from Jobs & Hope’s services, as a letter from Governor Justice explains on the program’s website: “Jobs & Hope is a beginning-to-end program that allows an individual to receive free career technical education. All West Virginians are welcome to receive free additional training and certification whether you have a drug issue or not.”

One of the biggest barriers to employment for many in recovery is their criminal record. That’s where Legal Aid of WV’s partnership with Jobs & Hope began.

Legal Aid of WV (LAWV) has helped with criminal record expungement (or criminal record sealing) for years, but a major law change in 2019 generated a renewed commitment to making sure applicants get the expungement process right. When Jobs & Hope was created in 2019, its operations as a state program provided funding opportunities for partner organizations who helped with barriers to employment.

“Our partnership with LAWV has been very important from the start of Jobs & Hope WV,” explains Deb Harris, Manager of Jobs & Hope WV. “LAWV’s help for participants removing barriers has been a game changer for our participants who are navigating processes without the knowledge they need.”

LAWV receives funding each year to support its work educating organizations and individuals about the expungement process and other legal issues that can delay or prevent employment, like having a suspended driver’s license.

Marie Bechtel, supervising attorney in LAWV’s Beckley office, leads LAWV’s expanding expungement services. She has provided expungement clinics at locations throughout the state, including Parkersburg and the Eastern Panhandle, just in the past year.

“Criminal records often serve as a significant barrier to employment for many West Virginians,” Marie says. “In 2019, our state’s law changed significantly to allow many individuals with non-violent criminal records to seek expungement. But the law is still confusing for many, and the process can be hard to navigate without a lawyer. Our partnership with Jobs & Hope has enabled us to focus on helping individuals overcome many civil legal barriers to employment, including expunging certain criminal records. This, coupled with Jobs & Hope’s focus on education and career employment, allows our clients to return to being tax-paying citizens, earning a wage to support themselves and their families.”

four people smile and gather around a table at a Jobs and Hope Ask a Lawyer event.
LAWV attorney Marie Bechtel (3rd from left) attends and presents at a Jobs & Hope WV “Ask a Lawyer” event at Pointe Cafe in Huntington.

“I think helping those in recovery is my purpose,” says Deb. “Why would we not want to help people be successful in the path they choose? Having a job is a major part of long-term recovery. If we help them get a job, that is a big step in their journey. Why would we not want to lift them up and support them?”

Jobs & Hope employs 23 transition agents across the state, who work with their participants in continuing their education and training, while assisting them to remove barriers on their path to finding employment. The transition agents address challenges using extensive expertise about employment resources and opportunities, as well as community resources like peer recovery services.

Jobs & Hope WV also partners with organizations beyond LAWV, including Catholic Charities, Modivcare, the WV Department of Human Services (formerly a part of WV DHHR), the WV Military Authority, the WV National Guard, the WV Office of Drug Control Policy, and more.

As of January 2024, Jobs & Hope has helped 5,124 West Virginians gain employment in the five years since it began. They have helped more than 1,200 people get off of SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits as a result of employment, helped more than 1,700 people get a driver’s license, and helped 30 people successfully obtain expungements.

For more information about Jobs & Hope WV’s program statistics, successes, you can visit their website or follow them on Facebook for exciting updates around the state. You can also learn more about Jobs & Hope and LAWV’s advocacy for those in recovery on our website program page.

Pro Bono Highlight: Richard Gottlieb

After more than three decades with the firm, Richard Gottlieb recently took an Of Counsel role at Lewis Gianola PLLC (formerly known as Lewis Glasser) in Charleston as he winds down his casework. With more liberty and free time, Richard is pursuing a long-time interest he never had the opportunity to properly explore: pro bono volunteering with Legal Aid.

“In 1977, when I went to law school, I was going to save the world,” he explains. “I was head of the free legal clinics at Washington and Lee University School of Law. Then life and financial obligations intervened, so I never really had the opportunity to volunteer. I was very busy, but I always thought about legal aid. About a year ago when I became Of Counsel, I thought this would be a good time when I still have some ability to think like a lawyer to give back.”

Though he still shows up to the Lewis Gianola office daily, Richard takes applicant calls from Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the calls, he primarily offers advice to tenants with housing law issues, though the services he offers can become more involved.

“There have been a few times where I’ve felt, ‘This individual really needs more than my advice. They need a lawyer,’ and I’ve been able to intervene and assist. Say the landlord has a lawyer at a big housing complex and the individual doesn’t. That’s where I try to even the odds. I’ve had some practical experience with landlord-tenant law. I never did family law or social security or a lot of the other areas. This was a nice niche for me to use my experience to assist people.”

Richard’s work has spanned many disciplines. Though his work at Lewis Gianola focuses on oil and gas and corporate work, he started his career as an assistant attorney general. He moved to D.C. shortly after to take an opening at the Department of Justice. A job freeze during the Carter administration cut it short but led him to a position with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) not long after.

Originally from the “big city” of Clarksburg, WV, Richard longed to return to his home state, and the opportunity finally presented itself at Columbia Gas in Charleston. After four years with Columbia, Attorney General Mario Palumbo asked Richard to be his chief deputy.

“He was somebody who I greatly admired and respected, but when he ran for governor and lost in the primary, I said, ‘I’m ready to join private practice.’ In 1992, I joined Lewis Gianola, and I suppose the rest is history.”

Richard’s extensive experience has made him an asset to LAWV’s pro bono roster, though he says LAWV staff attorneys still help him at times.

“Legal Aid staff has been great, and it’s been a very positive experience overall,” he says. “Specifically, an attorney who is based in Morgantown, Maria Borror, has been very helpful. I talk with Maria about cases where an individual may need more than advice, like an eviction hearing. She knows a lot, and she’s good to work with in terms of the difficult job determining what cases are deserving of representation.”

For LAWV staff, the good feelings are mutual.

“We are incredibly grateful that Mr. Gottlieb has chosen to volunteer with Legal Aid of WV, and I really enjoy working with him,” says Maria Borror, LAWV attorney and pro bono specialist. “It is heartening that he’s eager to help Legal Aid clients and to explore new areas of the law—especially since he brings with him many years of experience from his remarkable career. My colleagues and I are thankful that he’s willing to take the time to listen to our clients’ legal troubles and needs, and I know that his advice and empathy are making a positive difference. Truly, he deserves many thanks to him for generously giving Legal Aid and our clients his time and legal expertise.”

Richard’s dedication to service is also a family affair. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he began delivering meals for Meals on Wheels, often with his wife. He hopes his son, also an attorney in Charleston, will one day have the time to give back at Legal Aid and beyond.

“I think, particularly in a state like West Virginia where many people are not educated or don’t have a lot of resources but come up against legal questions, as everybody does in society, those of us that have been in a fortunate enough position should volunteer our time,” Richard says. “I think it’s imperative that those individuals such as myself give back. Whether through Legal Aid, Meals on Wheels, or otherwise, volunteering in the community is extremely important, and everybody should feel that obligation.”

Board Highlight: Bridget Furbee

Bridget Furbee was seated on the Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) Board of Directors in early 2023, after winning the election for her region. Her dedication to continuous learning, mentoring newer attorneys, and giving back at every opportunity are the traits LAWV looks for in Board members.

Over the years, Bridget has found various opportunities to volunteer, but she says for the past five years, volunteering with the State Bar’s Tuesday Legal Connect (TLC) program has been a priority. TLC operates every week from 6-8 PM and gives West Virginians a chance to speak directly with an attorney for free to get guidance on a variety of legal issues. (If you are interested in volunteering for TLC, you can contact Cindy Withrow at 304-343-3013 x2182.)

“You don’t have to leave your house, so it’s easy,” says Bridget. “I find it extremely rewarding. I like working with people, and it can be a good learning experience, too.”

Legal Aid Board member Bridget Furbee with her family, including husband Steve, sons Tyler and Tanner, and future daughter-in-law, Kenzie.
Bridget (back right) with her family, including husband Steve, sons Tyler and Tanner, and future daughter-in-law, Kenzie.

Bridget is an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson’s Bridgeport office and often invites others at the firm to join her at TLC—sometimes in a manner that her colleagues describe as “aggressively helpful.” In many cases, she invites younger attorneys to volunteer and mentors them through the experience.

One such lawyer, Matt London, enjoyed his time at TLC working alongside LAWV employees so much, he decided to join the LAWV Board. When he moved out of his region last year and was no longer eligible, he tapped Bridget as a service-minded attorney that might be interested.

“I didn’t put my name in the hat. Matt put my name in the hat,” she laughs. “When he was a young lawyer at Steptoe, I encouraged him to volunteer, and he ended up getting on the LAWV Board. He’s a great attorney with a huge heart. When he stepped down last year, he offered me as a replacement. It was an easy sell. I knew if it worked for him, it would be a good thing for me.”

Bridget jumped in and started with a series of trainings designed for new Board members.

“From the get-go, I was impressed because the on-boarding process was top-notch! I trained via Zoom, and everything was easy to understand.  Further, they worked around my schedule, which can be crazy at times.”

A busy schedule is normal, as most attorneys will tell you, but Bridget knew it would be part of her future. She has always been ambitious in her career.

Born and raised in Bridgeport, Bridget has lived her whole life in Harrison County, with the small exceptions of her time at Marshall and WVU for her undergraduate degree and at WVU College of Law.

After getting her undergraduate degree, she began her career at a small oil and gas company in Clarksburg, where she learned from excellent mentors.

“The president was truly one of my best mentors: smart and open-minded,” she says. “He pushed me and challenged me, and he encouraged me to go to law school. I worked part-time while I was in law school, then came back to the company full-time after graduation and rose through the ranks. I’ve worked in oil and gas my entire career, and I joined Steptoe & Johnson in 2013. It’s a great firm, and I like the teamwork concept here. I’m doing what I love.”

When she finds extra time from her practice and volunteering at TLC, Bridget finds other ways to use her expertise to help others, including those in the recovery community.

“My family, like many in West Virginia, has been impacted by drug use. Once it affects someone you love, it gives you a much different perspective. One detour off the path to success can happen easily, and it’s hard to do a U-turn. If I can offer any help to folks, I know it can make a big impact.”

Bridget and her husband, Steve, are the proud parents of sons Tyler and Tanner.

Pro Bono Month – John Williams

What is your role with Legal Aid of WV (LAWV)?

I am the new Supervising Attorney in the Parkersburg office. I manage the day-to-day operations as well as represent clients under the WV WORKS (also known as TANF) grant. Our office has recently gone through a significant transitional period, but it is now fully staffed. One of my initial priorities is to conduct extensive outreach efforts and reestablish our presence within the community. I used to do pro bono work with LAWV before taking this position, which highly contributed to my decision to apply to Legal Aid. I saw the amazing work the organization was performing and wanted to be a part of it. Prior to volunteering, I was unaware of the actual size of LAWV and the extent of the services that we provided. After speaking with the pro bono staff and learning more about LAWV, I knew this would be a great fit for me. I have been extremely pleased with my decision and every one of my colleagues has been very welcoming.

Parkersburg Supervising Attorney, John Williams

How did you get involved with pro bono work at LAWV?

I first came to volunteer for LAWV through my work as the Program Director for the WVU College of Law Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic. The clinical program has a long-standing collaboration with LAWV’s Morgantown office to offer services to victims of domestic violence (DV). Third-year law students who have acquired their Rule 10.1 authorization to practice attend the DV docket and represent clients under the supervision of a licensed attorney. I typically acted as the student’s supervising attorney for this project. This collaboration provided valuable family law and litigation experience for students and allowed victims to obtain representation the day of their hearing. During my participation in this project, I was asked if I could personally represent DV referrals when students were no longer available. This led me to begin volunteering for the DV docket days in Monongalia, Preston, and Marion counties.

What types of work did you do as a pro bono volunteer?

I only handled domestic violence protective order petitions during my individual pro bono work. However, I did assist in other additional collaborative efforts between LAWV and the clinical program. Specifically, I supervised the development of educational information during the Covid-19 pandemic. This information was made available on the LAWV website. I also occasionally assisted LAWV when the Clarksburg office received funding to assist small business and nonprofits organizations. Finally, I was in the background supervising students during their participation in any various clinics or outreach events hosted by the clinical program and LAWV.

Have there been cases that you remember and would like to share?

Unfortunately, there were many cases that stuck with me. It is difficult to avoid becoming emotionally invested in the outcomes of these types of cases. This was an ongoing topic of discussion during my supervision of law students. I would say that one of the first DV cases has stuck with me the most because it was a valuable learning experience. When I initially agreed to supervise students in this project, I had very minimal experience in litigation as I primarily practiced transactional law. I was assured that I would be fine, and that Family Court was less formal. However, the opposing party was represented by his father who was a very experienced out-of-state litigator. He began submitting into evidence laminated photos of my client obtained through a private investigator, objecting to basically every question that was asked, and even tried to suggest I should be reprimanded for ethical violations. I was wholly unprepared for this. However, I luckily was able to hold my own during the hearing. Ultimately, the client did not have the greatest facts and the DVPO was denied. But from this moment forward, I made sure that I was always extremely prepared and fluent in this area of law. This would establish the groundwork for me to later obtain favorable decisions on more factually difficult cases.

What is it like working with the pro bono team at LAWV?

Absolutely wonderful! Every person I have had the pleasure to meet or work with has been very kindhearted and friendly. It is clear how devoted they are to their work and, more importantly, the clients. The team that Legal Aid has developed is astounding, and I only think more amazing things are to come. The hard work and dedication exhibited by these individuals is a true statement of their character and they are the real superheroes of the legal practice.

What would you say to someone hesitant to start volunteering, either because of inexperience or time concerns?

I would strongly encourage them to just do it. Volunteering is a great way to gain practical experience in various areas of the law. Many times, there will be issues present that you will be able to use to better represent your clients. Also, time constraints will always be a concern in your legal practice. However, it is important to remember that practicing should not be entirely about making money. WV attorneys have a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. The ABA urges all attorneys to provide a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service annually. As practitioners, we should strive to make ourselves available to advocate for those who are unable to afford legal representation. Typically, those clients that are most in need and, quite frankly, will bring you the most joy in helping.

How are you celebrating Pro Bono Month?

Now that I’m a supervising attorney at LAWV, I am celebrating pro bono month by primarily soliciting local attorneys to provide more pro bono assistance. The pandemic played a huge factor in limiting the number of attorneys volunteering in Parkersburg. So, I am trying to coordinate with the local bar to put on a cocktail hour to encourage these attorneys to get back into giving back. I have also planned a small office pizza party if we can succeed in revitalizing the pro bono and outreach efforts.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman: A Program Snapshot

The West Virginia Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is made up of nine regional Ombudsmen, a director (who is currently serving in the role of a regional ombudsman too), and a communications and training specialist.

The state is divided into 9 regions where our Ombudsmen serve our residents living in:

  • 124 nursing homes (houses 10,713 beds)
  • 87 assisted living facilities (houses 3,581 beds)
  • 49 legally unlicensed homes (houses 147 beds)

If the beds in all 260 facilities are occupied, we could potentially be serving 14,441 residents in the State of West Virginia.

From January 1, 2023 – August 31, 2023, our Ombudsmen spent:

  • 796.25 hours traveling to and from facilities
  • 2,172 hours working on complaints
  • 580 hours providing information and assistance for 1,312 occurrences
  • 967.90 hours doing facility visits
  • 683 official complaints were addressed

Some Examples of Our Casework

Ombudsman Submission #1

To demonstrate how timing can be vitally important in our work, a call was received from a client’s family member that a resident was being discharged home that day. This resident was pending Medicaid approval while he was receiving rehabilitation services to return home.

Knowing that home was not safety-appropriate without needed assistance available and that resident did not wish this at this time, I immediately changed my schedule to go to that facility. I met with the resident who confirmed I was right about the move, but he signed the discharge because he thought there was no other choice.

I went right to the social worker who was trying to arrange transportation (thankfully, available transport services were currently a challenge which delayed the process). I was able to get the discharge stopped and a meeting with management was held to include plans for the representative (who allegedly was not doing so) to get the needed documents to DHHR for Medicaid approval. The facility agreed, although stressed they were taking a big risk if resident was not Medicaid approved and owed a large debt he could not easily pay. The resident did get Medicaid approval and then he chose to transfer to another facility of preference.

Ombudsman Submission #2

A young (30-something) resident with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has been declining in the ability to swallow, increasing the risk of choking which has been quite concerning to staff at their facility. I as Ombudsman have been working with resident and management to find foods resident likes that can be tolerated in a safe form.

The resident does have a feeding tube to supplement eating by mouth. I facilitated a virtual meeting with the resident (who uses an eye movement operated communicator) that included family and key management representatives, including a physician. Management proposed palliative care as this resident now does not wish to take food by mouth nor by feeding tube.

Management and physician are in full support of resident wishes and acknowledge that the resident can receive fluids and food in proper form at any time they wish. While this was personally difficult to hear, as Ombudsman, I have to honor the wishes of my residents and am pleased to find the facility care providers supported resident’s wishes as well.

Ombudsman Submission #3

I received a call from an assisted living resident that she has not received her state supplement pay in the amount of $220 for 3 months.

I met with the facility owner and discussed the issue and realized that this affected more than one resident. It affected several residents at the facility not receiving their supplements. Several residents were issued paper checks and no local bank would cash the checks because the residents did not have identification.

I contacted the DMV about the issue and what help the DMV could provide. Thankfully, the DMV customer service representative helped us by verifying if the person ever had a WV Driver’s License. If the person had a license at any point previously, the DMV has copies of their social security card and birth certificate on file. They reached out to the facility owner to complete the authorized DMV form and take the residents to the local DMV to get ID.

Three residents were transported to the DMV and received their state ID cards. I was so happy for the residents, as many had not had ID for years.

Unfortunately, after this success, the DMV changed their regulations and are now requiring more information/verification so this has stopped the process right now.

Ombudsman Submission #4

I met with a resident who had a disability with her hands. She had to use her mouth to open her closet drawers and kept most of her clothes in the bottom of her closet because she could not reach the top bar hanger. I contacted the facility’s administrator and maintenance manager about this issue.

Maintenance changed the knobs on her closet door to another long accessible (knob) that resident could use to open the closet instead of using her mouth. They aslso lowered the clothes hanging bar and now she reach in to hang up and retrieve her clothes without all of the clothes being stuffed in the bottom drawer.

Ombudsman Submission #5

A resident’s separated wife contacted our program and complained her husband was being held against his will at one of my facilities and was put there by his brother. She said that the Power of Attorney (POA) the brother had was incorrect or invalid. She said that the resident was taken to the ER by his brother and his brother was given POA at that time, then the resident was placed in the nursing home over an hour and a half away from home. 

Ombudsman Director Ed Hopple and I spoke to the resident, and he said that he would like to go home to his wife’s care, as he had a degenerative brain disorder that is only going to worsen, and he would like to pass away at home. He said that he didn’t want his brother to be his POA but would want his wife to be if he cannot make his own decisions. We connected the pair to the legal unit, and they drew up a new POA. However, there were some issues getting the new POA in place, so we had to go another route.

This resident was difficult to understand when communicating because of his disease, but he was very cognitively intact. I worked with the activities director at the facility to supply the resident with a printed alphabet board (a printed sheet with letters to point and spell) and to teach him how to use it to communicate with staff. The resident was thrilled to begin using it! Once he was comfortable using the alphabet board, we asked that his decision-making capacity be re-evaluated by a physician outside his facility. Initially, the facility thought that an external organization could do this, but that fell through, and I contacted the physician’s assistant (PA) assigned to the facility to conduct the evaluation instead.

When I first spoke with her, she said that she thought in WV, two physicians were required to return capacity to a resident. With the State Ombudsman’s help, we sent her the requirements of the WV Healthcare Decisions Act (HCDA), which states that only one physician’s determination is needed to return capacity to an individual. After seeing the materials, the physician agreed to evaluate the resident’s capacity with the help of the activities director to ensure the resident can use his communication device appropriately.

After evaluating the resident’s capacity, she returned decision-making capacity to him, and he was able to discharge himself from the nursing home to his wife’s care. The PA remarked to me that his capacity should have never been taken away in the first place; just because he is hard to understand does not mean he is not aware or capable of making his own healthcare decisions. This revelation, paired with their new understanding of the HCDA, sparked the facility to re-evaluate healthcare decision-making capacities of all residents that want to be re-evaluated and for those they felt may have a better chance with a modified and accessible evaluation process.

Fun Facts about Our Staff

Dream Job as a Child

  • Doctor
  • Forest ranger
  • Home Renovator
  • Interior Designer
  • Lawyer
  • Nurse

First Jobs

  • Babysitter
  • Department Store Sales Associate
  • Grocery bagger
  • Job Developer
  • Physical Therapy Aide – High School Tech Program
  • Youth Case Manager
  • Waitress

Educational Backgrounds

  • Gerontology
  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Special Education

Fields Worked In Prior to Be Joining WVLTC Ombudsman Program

  • Activities Director
  • Autism
  • Dementia Education
  • Dental assistant
  • Disability advocate In-Home Care
  • Intellectual and Development Disabilities
  • Law Clerk
  • Paralegal
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Respite Care Program
  • Social Worker
  • Treatment Court Probation

Favorite Fast Food Restaurants When Travelling for Work

  • Arby’s
  • Burger King
  • Dairy Queen
  • McDonald’s
  • Sheetz
  • Subway
  • A couple pack food and avoid fast food purchases, if at all possible.

Favorite Parts of Our Ombudsman Work

  • Advocating for voices that often go unheard.
  • Getting to chat with residents. They have a breadth of life experience and I’ve certainly learned a few things!
  • Getting to know the residents and making a difference in their lives.
  • Interacting with the residents.
  • When a resident feels comfortable enough to self-advocate after working with me to resolve concerns.
  • Working with people.

Our Favorite Things about Our Ombudsman Team

  • We feel like family.
  • A wealth of knowledge to share.
  • The amount of diversity and experience, and the support and training offered.
  • We’re always willing to help each other and give advice on complex cases.
  • A group of caring and dedicated individuals.
  • Everyone fits together in a true team approach, even with our variety of backgrounds and personalities.

Outside the job, you might find our Ombudsmen enjoying:

Favorite Hobbies

  • Crafting
  • Gaming
  • Fishing
  • Music/Singing
  • Painting
  • Relaxing
  • Thrifting

Favorite Vacation Spots

  • Family Farm
  • Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Lake Norman, North Carolina
  • Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Pipestem State Park in West Virginia

Favorite Foods

  • Brown Beans & Corn Bread
  • Butter Chicken
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • Spaghetti
  • Steak

Favorite Movies

  • Anything fantasy or science fiction
  • Road House
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • The Ultimate Gift

Favorite Music

  • 80s
  • Classic Rock
  • Country Acapella (Home Free!)
  • HipHop
  • IDM (Intelligent Dance Music – Style of Electronic Music)
  • Metal
  • Rhythm & Blues

Meet Ombudsman Micah Bailey

We would like to introduce you to our newest Ombudsman, Micah Bailey.

Legal Aid Ombudsman Micah Bailey

Micah has been an employee at Legal Aid of West Virginia for 1.5 years. In the beginning of his career at Legal Aid, he worked in the TANF program before becoming a Project Support Paralegal for the SSVF program. In July of 2023, Micah became an Ombudsman, assigned to the Beckley office and covers the territory of Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell, Mingo, Logan, and Boone counties.

“Moving to the Ombudsman unit was a chance for me to go back to my roots of doing case work in the field,” Micah says. “I like meeting people where they are and taking time to communicate with them face to face. My favorite part of being an Ombudsman is providing a voice for those who often go unheard. Advocating for others is where my heart has always been.”

Micah enjoys visiting his assigned facilities and speaking with the residents and staff. Micah’s Grandfather was previously a resident in long-term care facilities, so he is able to use this personal experience when advocating for his residents.

In 2007, Micah completed his Bachelor of Social Work at Concord University, and in 2015 attained his Juris Doctorate degree from the Appalachian School of Law. His work background includes being an Adult Services Worker in Greenbrier County, a Public Housing Social Service Coordinator, a Law Clerk for the Honorable H. L. Kirkpatrick III, a paralegal for Child Protective Services at the Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and most recently, prior to joining Legal Aid of West Virginia, he served as the Adult Drug Court Probation Officer for Raleigh County.

Contact Micah or any of our other Ombudsman.

Meet Phil Capers – 2023 Archibald Diversity Fellow

Phil Capers, law student and 2023 Legal Aid Archibald Diversity Fellow

University of Virginia Law student Phil Capers applied for a fellowship he saw on his school’s careers website page and heard back quickly. The post for the Archibald Diversity Fellowship at Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV), a summer internship designed to give law students from a minority group the opportunity to work at any LAWV office in the state and provides the fellow selected with a stipend for living expenses. This summer marks the fourth year of the fellowship, created by a generous donation from long-time LAWV supporter Ellen Archibald.

“I was looking for housing-related public service internships,” Phil explains about his decision on where to apply for the summer. “I know that West Virginia is one of our poorer states and has several housing issues, and that made it attractive to me. The diversity aspect of this fellowship interested me as well.”

Originally from Stone Mountain, GA, Phil is accustomed to the larger, more fast-paced scene that Atlanta provided; attending college in the D.C. area and law school in Charlottesville, VA, were easy transitions. For this summer, he is a temporary resident of Wheeling, WV, a suggested office because of their extensive housing law case load. It’s a change of pace and scenery for Phil.

“It’s a nice town here. I walk to the grocery store, and they know me now. I walk into the local coffee shop, and they know me. I always chat with people,” he says. “I do have a little bit of culture shock to me. There are not as many people here, and people are older in general. I have helped a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren. I am used to being in non-Black spaces, but there are no Black attorneys in the Wheeling office. I think my presence has been nice for clients. When they come in and see me, another Black person, they become more trusting and relaxed.”

Before law school, Phil was a paralegal at a private law firm for a few years after completing his undergraduate degree, where his work focused on real estate.

“I did pro bono during my time as a paralegal, and public service interested me. I found that work to be the most satisfying part of the job,” he says. “I think I always knew I wanted to go to law school. I find law challenging, and there’s always something new to learn. One of the best parts of this internship is working again. Law school is more abstract, but it’s nice being back to work and seeing how the law actually works versus hypothetical.”

Like all LAWV interns and fellows, Phil is completing a summer law project specific to his internship. By the end of his fellowship in early August, LAWV will have a series of template letters for renters to use for various housing issues; for example, Phil has already crafted a template tenants can send to landlords requesting their security deposit after leaving rental housing.

“I’m also getting experience in other areas. I’ve done child custody, guardianship, and divorce, but housing is my passion. I have learned so much about areas of housing like trailer park law; I did not know there were requirements related to trailer parks. In public housing, there are also a lot of requirements that are often not followed. If you get evicted from public housing, you lose that as an option. You can really turn someone’s life around by helping them not get evicted.”

Overall, Phil says getting some real-life experience in housing law has been everything he wanted and maybe more.

“This has been an eye-opening experience,” he says. “I know I won’t say no to anything career-wise now. You won’t find any kinder or harder working people than the staff in the Wheeling office and at LAWV in general. I would encourage any law students to try out public interest for a summer and see how you like it. It will encourage you to be thankful for what you have.”

All interns are assigned a summer project and LAWV mentor during their internships, and Phil’s mentor on his letter template project was LAWV Wheeling attorney Kira Maunz, who says this regarding Phil’s presence this summer:
“Phil has been such a fantastic addition to the Wheeling office, and I will be devastated to see him go. One of the things that is so special about Phil is that I can take him with me anywhere such as court appearances, settlement conferences, mobile home parks with individuals facing near immediate eviction, and professional lunches with other members of the bar, and he puts everyone at ease. People connect with Phil and trust him. It is such a hard quality to find and one which will make him an effective and compassionate attorney no matter where he chooses to practice. I am writing this after returning from a court appearance today, and the last thing our clients yelled was, ‘BYE PHIL!’ I really hope we get more interns through this fellowship opportunity.”

Friends Feeding Friends – Clarksburg, WV

Friends Feeding Friends is a self-described “nonprofit community outreach group” founded in 2019 by Kevin Brand, Karen Alastanos, and Michelle Freeman in an effort to make a positive change in the Clarksburg, WV, community.

“Our goal is to build relationships,” says Kevin Brand, who serves as the group’s secretary. Karen Alastanos and Michelle Freeman serve as president and treasurer, respectively. “We host a weekly community meal every Wednesday, which is provided by a different group each week, and is hosted outside the First United Methodist Church in downtown Clarksburg.”

Legal Aid of West Virginia's Clarksburg office staff smile together in front of First United Methodist Church in Clarksburg

Legal Aid of West Virginia’s (LAWV) Clarksburg office became a group that hosts the weekly dinners in 2021, after Supervising Attorney Angela White learned about the program.

“The organization needed volunteers to cook meals and I love to cook—feeding people is definitely my love language,” she says. “When I approached the Clarksburg office to see if they would be interested, they jumped at the chance to serve the community. The office truly enjoys volunteering for the program, and everyone pitches in. Through Friends Feeding Friends, not only have we have been able to spread the word about Legal Aid and the services we provide, but we have made new friends and contacts to strengthen the community support network to better provide prompt, wraparound services to those who need it.

Friends Feeding Friends not only provides food at their Wednesday dinners but refer to service providers and provide resources for housing, drug rehabilitation facilities and therapies, food pantries, and healthcare, including on-site Narcan provided by WVU Medicine.

“In addition to LAWV and WVU Medicine, we have partnerships with WVU Medicine, multiple churches, groups, schools, and the Harrison County Family Support Center,” Kevin explains. “It is important for us to have relationships with different organizations because someone is always needing different types of assistance or help, and with these resources, they can be pointed in the right direction. By partnering with the Harrison County Family Support Center, we have the opportunity to have a food pantry and storage space for our weekly supplies.”

Legal Aid of West Virginia's Clarksburg office staff serve dinner to members of the community at a long row of tables.

Every week, Friends Feeding Friends serves about 100-120 dinners to community members, and they have also hosted meals consistently for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, where attendance is often over 250 people.

In addition to the program’s staff and community partner groups, around 20 local volunteers help make Friends Feeding Friends happen, and they are always accepting new volunteers. Potential donors or volunteers can learn more about the program on the Friends Feeding Friends Facebook page.

Outreach and Advocacy: Caroline Critchfield

Caroline Critchfield, paralegal at legal aid of west virginia

Caroline Critchfield works in our Clarksburg office at Legal Aid of WV (LAWV), where she is a paralegal and dedicated advocate whose work spans multiple areas of our services. She came to West Virginia by way of New York—the Bronx—which is why, she explains, she is not afraid to stand up for herself or for anyone else.

Caroline came to LAWV in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, from the medical field. She was working in Morgantown, commuting from Clarksburg, and her commute and work schedule were demanding and difficult. She decided it was time for a change and has always had a heart for advocacy for marginalized folks in her community. She quickly became a part of the LAWV family, like she had never been absent.

Like many LAWV paralegals, Caroline’s work is not limited to one area, and she serves a broad swath of counties in northern West Virginia. She helps people apply for benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, IDD waivers, and social security. She also helps with issues like overpayment, driver’s license reinstatement, re-entry for incarcerated individuals, and often researches issues depending on clients’ needs.

“I do what I can to help people,” says Caroline. “I collaborate with LAWV staff. I have LAWV mentors who help me, and I’ve had many cases where I did well for my client because of that mentorship. I am grateful to Legal Aid for taking a chance on me. I found my calling here. I love my job. I love what I do, and words can’t describe how dedicated I am to my work.”

Reaching Out to Community

A crucial role in positions like Caroline’s is outreach to community partners and client groups—a job Caroline jumped into headfirst.

“I’m not afraid to put myself out there,” she says. “I love advocating and reaching out to my community and have always done it; that’s where my heart is.”

Caroline has been nominated multiple times for Hometown Hero, both in Morgantown and Clarksburg. She is a staunch advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and has a reputation as someone who will help wherever needed, as she was once looking for help and resources herself.

Caroline’s son, Michael, is trans. As a teenager, his dysphoria was overwhelming, but Caroline’s acceptance helped him, and their relationship became stronger.

“I didn’t know much about the LGBTQ+ community until my son came out as trans. I had to teach myself. I asked if I could attend meetings at the WVU LGBTQ Center, and I learned a lot of information and was so excited to share what I was learning. It was important to me to learn how to advocate for the LGBTQ population because of what they face, and I particularly wanted to focus on suicide prevention. I make myself available to talk to trans kids and their families anytime. I let them know they are important, loved, and they are needed here. And I try to refer them to other resources like therapists.”

Caroline attends PRIDE events in her community, along with her son, when he can make it. Since she started working for LAWV, she takes information about resources available and has become a dedicated and involved member of LAWV’s Diversity Task Force, focused on ensuring West Virginia’s marginalized communities can find services in a safe environment when they come to LAWV.

Caroline also attends community dinners, library events, and works with groups like United Way and HOPE, Inc. (a domestic violence shelter serving northern West Virginia).

When West Virginia American Water announced Clarksburg residents were at risk for lead contamination in their water, Caroline sought out more information for the safety of her family and pets. As a result, Caroline and her Clarksburg colleagues began distributing information about getting water tested for lead as far and wide as possible. She still attends meetings on the topic to make sure she’s up to date on information.

“Whenever there’s an event in my community that I think could reach LAWV’s potential clients, I invite myself,” laughs Caroline. “It’s important to get the word out; a lot of people don’t know we’re here.”

A Story from Caroline’s Client

Amos applied for help from Legal Aid of WV, and his case was assigned to Caroline in 2021.

Amos received disability benefits, and shortly after he started getting them, Amos took custody of his grandson, whose mother was not in a position to care for him. Now with his grandson living with him, Amos received some benefits to help cover the cost of caring for a child as part of the WV WORKS program.

One day, Amos got a phone call from the Social Security Administration (SSA) office, asking him about his finances, specifically what he had in the bank, and he answered honestly, not thinking anything of it.   

“They came back and said, ‘You have too much money,’ The next month, they just shut off my benefits. They didn’t tell me ahead of time or anything,” says Amos. “I decided to try to make it until I was old enough to get my social security benefits.”

But six months later, things changed again.

SSA reached out to Amos and told him he owed the agency $10,970.00  because they overpaid him. Amos immediately jumped into problem solving mode and saw he had 60 days to appeal, so he went straight to Legal Aid of WV.

“For me, I get a phone call. I tell them the truth, and they yank my benefits, no questions asked,” he says. “So I came up here to Legal Aid because I needed help.”

Caroline worked to reach out to SSA multiple times, but the pandemic limited her ability to get in touch with staff, who were working remotely and not as responsive. It took her months to get through to someone who was willing to review Amos’s case, but she finally got an interview set up to review his case.

After the interview, it was clear Amos’s termination of benefits was a misunderstanding, and within days, his full benefits were reinstated, with some back pay.

“Caroline always kept me informed and returned my calls,” says Amos. “She never left me hanging. She did everything for me. I don’t know where I would be without her help. I should really take her flowers or out to dinner—I owe her so much.”