By Jim Schroeder
After nearly 30 years of service, the Montana Legal Services office in Havre will close Dec. 31 because of a funding shortfall.
"This will be a big blow to the area," said Roxanne Rogers, managing attorney of the office.
Klaus Sitte, executive director of Montana Legal Services, said the agency's board of trustees decided to cut five jobs, including two in Havre, because of a $170,000 shortfall in funding. He said he isn't sure if other Legal Services offices in the state will close.
Rogers and legal assistant Karen Cahoon of the Havre office are losing their jobs.
The Montana Legal Services office in Havre provides legal services in civil cases to people at or below the poverty level in Hill, Blaine, Liberty and Phillips counties. It does not provide representation in criminal cases.
"I don't know what these people will do without hands-on legal services," Rogers said. "Hopefully they will have access to some legal forms to use and access to lawyers who can give them sound advice."
Rogers said the Havre office has handled nearly 400 cases a year since she started working there in 1991. Besides doing case work for clients, the office also gives free legal advice to people.
Montana Legal Services lost nearly $30,000 from the national Legal Services Corp. because of a new funding formula used by the national federally funded organization, Sitte said.
The main reason for the shortfall is a $137,000 cut in funding from the privately funded Montana Justice Foundation that was triggered by a poor economy and low interest rates, Sitte said.
The Montana Legal Services board made the five job cuts with an eye toward serving the greatest number of people possible, he said.
"We decided where the most cases are, or getting the biggest bang for the buck," Sitte said.
"These are hard choices," he added. "There's no reason why the Havre office was closed over other offices. It was chosen just for the budget cuts."
Sitte said that a paralegal representing Montana Legal Services is still stationed in Browning and goes to the Human Resources Development office in Havre on a monthly basis to provide legal advocacy and support for domestic violence victims.
After the Havre office is closed on Dec. 31, Sitte said people who need legal assistance in the Havre area should call Montana Legal Services in Missoula at (800) 666-6899.