BOONE · Oct. 26, 2017 – Legal Aid of North Carolina hosted an open house Oct. 23 at its office in downtown Boone to mark the recent reopening of the office and to celebrate its long history of service to the poor and vulnerable in the High Country.
The event followed the special 50th anniversary session of the N.C. Court of Appeals at the Watauga County Courthouse earlier that day. Chief Judge Linda McGee, a staunch supporter of legal aid while practicing law in Boone, attended the open house as an honored guest.
Attendees braved the elements – heavy rain throughout the day caused historic flooding in the city – to join the celebration, which marked the reestablishment of Legal Aid's presence in the area after a six-year hiatus.
In 2011, severe budget cuts forced us to close some of our smaller offices, including the Boone office, which served seven counties – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey – with only a staff of four. The move was painful. Some staff lost their jobs, and our Morganton and Winston-Salem offices had to step in to serve those counties.
The distances involved made it challenging, but our resilient staff, aided by an amazing network of private attorneys, worked hard to ensure that clients weren't left behind. Denise Lockett, managing attorney of the office in 2011, stayed on staff to serve clients in the area during part of the time the office was closed.
This year, thanks to domestic violence funding from the Governor's Crime Commission and a foundation grant to cover renovations, we were finally able to reopen the office. Jonathan Perry, a Legal Aid attorney since graduating from Elon Law in 2010, moved from our Sylva office to serve as the supervising attorney. He was soon joined by Anne Evangelista, a 2015 Elon Law grad and former private attorney.
The team is already hard at work. For now, they handle mostly domestic violence cases in the office's original seven-county service area. (The Morganton and Winston-Salem offices continue to handle most other cases in the area.) In one of their cases, Jonathan and Anne won a protective order for a woman who was beaten for three straight hours by her husband.
The duo is continuing a tradition of service that dates back four decades, when Legal Services of the Blue Ridge was founded as an independent civil legal aid program. Sam Furgiuele, one of its first directors, boasted to a local paper in 1991 that the program had taken cases all the way to the state Supreme Court and appeals court, and to the federal court of appeals.
Legal Services of the Blue Ridge also participated in a robust regional pro bono effort, Blue Ridge Area Volunteer Lawyers. In 1992, Chief Judge McGee, then a private attorney in Boone, won a Pro Bono Award from the N.C. Bar Association for her service to the program.
In 1998, Legal Services of the Blue Ridge joined other independent programs to form Legal Services of North Carolina, an integrated, multi-region program that, four years later, with the addition of other programs, would become the statewide Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Today, we are proud to carry on this long tradition of service in the High Country, and we thank and honor everyone who has made and continues to make that service possible.