Is Santa Clara County’s Legal Aid Society Closed for Good?

The Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County—a 58-year-old public interest law firm that offers pro bono help to indigent clients—is apparently verging on collapse, although there is an effort underway to save it.

The nonprofit’s office on North Market Street in San Jose is dark and empty, and its calls go straight to voicemail. “The Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County is currently closed and unable to assist you with any legal issues at this time,” states a woman in a recording callers hear upon dialing the agency’s main phone line.

Fly’s attempts to reach Legal Aid staffers were unsuccessful by press time. Though several local lawyers expressed surprise at the unexplained closure, it was no secret that the nonprofit focused on family, fair housing and immigration law was struggling.

An email former Legal Aid board member Jesus Orosco sent to chief executive officer Rusty Rinehart describes an effort to salvage the nonprofit, which, according to IRS records, subsisted on $3 million a year, give or take, in government grants. Orosco said a group of concerned citizens agreed not to file complaints or request audits of the nonprofit led for decades by directing attorney Tony Estremera until first offering to “a smooth transition” to new management.

“If an agreement is not reached to keep the agency open and allow a new generation to continue the legacy, I fear that there will be a community backlash with filed complaints, political involvement and negative press,” Orosco warned.

If the firm simply closed, it would legally have to return or donate all its assets—computers, office equipment, records—to another IRS-approved nonprofit. But if it allows a new group of people to assume control, Orosco said, the Legal Aid Society could potentially survive.

“Let’s work together to set Legal Aid on a path to continue to provide services for decades to come,” Orosco implored Rinehart, who didn’t return Fly’s call for comment. “The loss would be devastating for our community.”

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The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

7 Comments

  1. Wooo Hoo! I knew it was only a matter of time before Tony Estremera would run Legal Aid to the ground. This incompetent SOB feeds on public trough, pretending to be do gooder but only there to benefit himself. Estremera needs to be held accountable. Such a shame he lasted this long on public dough. Guess which agency is his next victim?
    Tes

  2. It is a shame that indigent people will no longer get help with civil law suits.
    There definitely must be an audit by the grand jury. If there is misfeasance, go get the perpetrators.

  3. There should be an investigation as to why a non-profit would close like this. Who was running it ,where did all the money go, how much did it cost to keep the building running and so on.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Was wondering how long it would take before all the monies were syphoned off. I hope LA remains open and goes back to serving the lower income clients it was set up to serve and not the people in charge. I agree with Peggy Vicente that an investigation is necessary to see what was going on and an audit of the books to see where the money went. I know that the monies given to LA in order to work on Restraining Orders eventually were given to other groups, including NEXT DOOR as they were actually doing the work. LA was just referring people to them and other groups. .

    • > There is a special place in hell for those who enrich themselves at the expense of the less fortunate

      I suspect that the “special place” is crammed to the rafters with people once thought to be “progressives”. People who have mastered the remarkable art of “doing well by doing good”.

      Multi-millionaires Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Morris Dees, etc. etc.

      All got paid VERY VERY well for “doing good”.

      It’s a miracle.

      If these people can do so well for themselves, then why can’t they do well for poor people? You would think they could have ended poverty decades ago.

  5. Less than the money The Alvarado’s have Stolen from tax payers and water board taxpayers

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