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In our previous post, we discussed that Stage Door Productions’ latest show, Witness for the Prosecution, will be a benefit for Rappahannock Legal Services, Inc. We wanted to learn more about what Rappahannock Legal Services provides to our community and how their collaboration with Stage Door Productions affects their mission. So, we caught up with their Development Director, Grace McCormick, to figure it out!

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Attorneys and actors have a lot in common! Last year, Stage Door Productions collaborated with Rappahannock Legal Services for a benefit performance of Inherit The Wind, featuring local lawyers who lent their skills of persuasion and oratory to make this classic courtroom drama come to life. This season’s courtroom drama, Witness For the Prosecution, will help RLS again, so we’d like you to know who we are.

Ever heard of the justice gap? It is the gaping void between those who have the resources to hire a private attorney to help resolve a civil legal matter and those who don’t. So, why is that a big deal? The philosophical answer is that justice was never intended to have a price tag attached to it. But practically speaking, without an experienced attorney to advocate on your behalf in a court of law, studies show that you are infinitely more likely to lose your case, even if the facts and the law privilege your side. But wait, you might be thinking; don’t you have a right to an attorney if you can’t afford one? Only if you are charged with a crime, but you do not have the right to an attorney in a civil legal matter such as a domestic violence protective order; child custody, support or visitation; or any type of housing or consumer problem.

Need a few specific scenarios to visualize? OK, here are a few condensed, but very real, client stories. A woman and her child held against their will without adequate nutrition or access to the outside world, for several years, needed a protective order and child support upon their escape; a tenant who rented from a landlord for more than a decade was about to be evicted, absent any legal basis, so that the landlord could “rent” the apartment to a family member; an elderly client whose bank account was garnished, without any notice and leaving her with less than a dollar, as a result of a debt owed by her daughter needed someone to fight for her rights; and countless instances of domestic violence including rape and the abuse of children.

So what happens to those who cannot afford a private attorney to help them? In 17 counties from the Chesapeake to the Blue Ridge Mountains, they turn to Rappahannock Legal Services. We provide legal advice and representation to our clients in cases like those described above because we hold the fundamental belief that justice really should be for all as the founders of our country intended. Federal judges, for example, upon taking the oath of office, affirm that they will, “administer justice without respect to persons, and will do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” But to use a well-known metaphor, judges in the courtroom are akin to umpires calling balls and strikes; they cannot go to bat for an unrepresented litigant. So unless both sides are represented by counsel, there is an inherent disparity that the judge is unable to address. The only option for someone who cannot afford the services of a private attorney in a civil legal matter is a legal aid attorney. This is the work of Rappahannock Legal Services.

OK, so happy ending, right? Well in many cases, yes; we protect the rights of those who would otherwise go without legal representation. But our resources are very thinly stretched. To illustrate the scope of the justice gap: there is one private attorney in Virginia for every 346 people living in our state, but there is only one legal aid attorney for every 6,000 poor Virginians. As a result, we turn away 2 out of every three eligible clients who come to us for help.

That is why our collaboration with Stage Door Productions is so meaningful and important. First of all, it is just fun! Last year’s performance of Inherit The Wind featured a courtroom drama being performed by local attorneys alongside Stage Door counterparts inside a real courtroom. How’s that for creative? In addition to the deeply satisfying artistic value that such a performance conveys, our collaboration with Stage Door raises much needed funding to help us close the justice gap, and it introduces RLS to a whole new community of friends and supporters: patrons of the arts. We hope that area patrons of the arts will also become passionate about living in a community where the playing field inside of today’s real live courtroom is more level…Because Justice Really Should Be For All.

Thanks Grace! We are glad to work with your agency to contribute to such a noble and worthy cause!

Be sure to get your tickets as Witness for the Prosecution opens this weekend at the Renwick Building at 815 Princess Anne Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 22401!

Click on the date below to purchase tickets to see the show on that date and benefit RLS!