Celebrating 20 Years: Andy Nason
Andrew S. Nason is the current Legal Aid of WV Board of Directors President.
Why is the concept of justice for all so important to our legal system?
The United States Constitution as well as the West Virginia Constitution guarantees access to a lawyer when someone is accused of a crime. The West Virginia Constitution grants all West Virginians the right to access the court system. However, there is no constitutional right to an attorney when someone seeks a civil remedy, needs to use the court system, or is brought into court to protect a right, to enforce their rights, or to prevent a wrong. The Legal Services Corporation was created in 1974 to ensure that low-income individuals and families have access to justice and due process and an advocate to provide assistance. Those are lofty goals but utilizing the court system is not like going to Lowe’s or Home Depot or a hardware store and buying a kit to fix a leaky toilet. Filling out forms and understanding the language used in the court system can create barriers. Justice for all requires that the scales of justice are weighed in an impartial manner. In order to do so, individuals need access, not only to the court system but to advocates who can help them advance their best shot to achieve that goal.
What are the beliefs or values that underpin your support for Legal Aid?
John F. Kennedy famously stated, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Here in West Virginia, we have a tradition of neighbors helping neighbors and communities coming together to assist those in need. As a lawyer, my support for Legal Aid is exactly that, being part of a community of advocates who help those who cannot help themselves in the judicial system. On a very personal level, I was fortunate enough to begin my legal career as a Legal Aid attorney. I learned how to practice law and how to be an attorney as a Legal Aid attorney. I had the benefit of observing experienced Legal Aid lawyers and learned how to act, how to interact with clients, and other lawyers, how to think through problems, and how to prepare. Giving back to Legal Aid, so others can continue with the noble process of helping the disadvantaged is a small down payment on what I gained as a young attorney.
What would our communities and court’s look like if Legal Aid of West Virginia did not exist?
The legal services programs advocate in West Virginia have impacted rights for our client base. Without Legal Aid there probably would have been no Teller v. McCoy decision, which created the warranty of habitability in rental property which was later codified. Without Legal Aid there might not have been an attorney to push the passage of legislation which prohibited employers from polygraphing employees. Without Legal Aid there might not have been the Medley litigation which impacted treatment of mental health patients. Without Legal Aid there may have been no litigation challenging the procedures that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services used in abuse and neglect cases. Without Legal Aid there would be no advocates to protect poor West Virginians and require that all guidelines be met in administrating public benefits. Without Legal Aid there would not have been an organization to provide emergency legal advice after flooding. Without Legal Aid there would be no clinics for assisting individuals to file their own bankruptcy cases or to pursue their own domestic relations cases. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to and help them work out a reasonable solution and offer a sympathetic ear or tell them they just have to do the best they can; without Legal Aid’s Atlas Intake Program that would not exist.
When you think of Legal Aid of West Virginia what words come to mind?
Legal Aid is one of the largest law firms in the State of West Virginia. It has 68 lawyers and a total staff of 156. Legal Aid represents individuals going to court on a myriad of issues, which are very important to the individuals which involve basic needs of housing, benefits, income, family relations and safe precedence’s and policies that benefit all West Virginians. Protecting the rights of the little guy and disadvantaged. Legal Aid is a noble calling. Legal Aid advocates assist those who otherwise would not have an advocate to protect their interests. Helping someone who needs assistance within your knowledge and experience benefits both parties. It is an opportunity to give back to your community and the legal profession.