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.”