Grass Valley legal organization aids victims of Butte, Valley fires |

Grass Valley legal organization aids victims of Butte, Valley fires

Grass Valley-based Northern California Lawyer Access is helping to connect victims of the Valley and Butte fires to legal resources as they rebuild from the devastating blazes.

The organization, which is certified by the State Bar of California, refers potential clients in 20 California counties to local lawyers; it also runs an incubator program, training newly admitted attorneys who want to start practices in rural areas.

The attorneys from the incubator program spent last week providing legal counsel and referrals to residents in Middletown, which was hard-hit by the Valley Fire. The organization is also staffing the legal referral hot line for both Butte and Valley fire victims. It will connect clients in those areas to legal representation; if those organizations are not able to provide the appropriate services, then the attorneys in the incubator program at Northern California Lawyer Access will handle the requests.

Jo Anne Stone, the executive director of Northern California Lawyer Access, said she knew immediately that the organization could be of assistance to residents of Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties, where the Valley Fire burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,950 homes.

“I had young attorneys that were enthusiastic about going over and providing services,” she said.

Those attorneys — Kyle Adamson, Cleat Walters III, Gino Barrica and James Phillip Anderson — underwent a five hour Practising Law Institute training on providing legal assistance in the aftermath of disaster, “so they were well-prepared,” Stone said. Helen Cavanaugh, a practicing attorney, director of the public law center of the Nevada County Superior Court and board member of Northern California Lawyer Access, also made the trip to help support the team.

The lawyers set up a table at a senior center in Middletown, alongside organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Stone said the majority of people who met with the lawyers were renters whose homes had suffered damage and needed advice on dealing with landlords or handling other “disputes that arise out of the chaos of having your rental burned down.”

The attorneys also provided assistance with filling out forms to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds.

Though the attorneys are back in Nevada County now, the organization will continue to operate the hotline for fire victims seeking legal resources for the next three to six months, Stone said.

She said sending a team of lawyers to Lake County not only provided valuable services for those in need, but gave the organization’s attorneys some hands-on experience.

“They’re all looking to open practices in rural counties, and disasters like fires and catastrophic flooding are things that occur,” Stone said. “I want them to learn that to really be a part of their community, they have to experience that and be ready to help out.”

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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