’83 CapLaw grads, judges lead Perry County free legal clinic

4/30/2013  - 

When Luann Cooperrider and Dean Wilson looked around the communities in the Perry County in Appalachia Ohio, they saw a tremendous need for legal representation among people who could not necessarily afford an attorney – but who also could not get help from Legal Aid because of a lack of funding.

Fortunately for the people of Perry County, Cooperrider and Wilson – both 1983 Capital University Law School graduates – were ideally situated to help those people through her role as Juvenile and Probate Court Judge and his as County Court Judge.

The duo created the Perry County Free Legal Clinic in 2008. Through the program, local attorneys in the Perry County Bar and Southeast Ohio Legal Services volunteer their time and expertise to help people who can’t afford private counsel. In November 2012, the program received the Ohio State Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Program or Organization Award.

“I had this idea for a long time,” Cooperrider said. “I could see the need, the people who didn’t have money for a lawyer. Legal Aid was stretched so far, they just weren’t getting the representation they needed.”

“We’re one of the poorest counties in the state,” Wilson added. Unemployment in Perry County is high, and many people can’t afford legal representation. Seeing this need, they looked to a similar program in adjacent Muskingum County and worked with Southeast Ohio Legal Services for inspiration.

The program is offered out of the Perry County courthouse in New Lexington on the first Tuesday of each month, typically starting around 4 p.m. and sometimes going as late as 9 p.m. Although Perry County has a relatively small population, the program assists about 10 people per month, Cooperrider said. By the end of 2012, it had helped more than 360 families.

Wilson estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of the cases are domestic relations issues. The others encompass a wide range of needs.

“Some of our local lawyers love this program,” Cooperrider said. “They volunteer every month.”

The clinic does no advertising. Many of the clients come via referrals from social service agencies, community action groups, and the Veteran’s Administration. Local newspapers promote the program each month.

“We serve a critical need,” she said. “We are professionally educated. We are professionals in this community. It’s incumbent upon me to give back to a community that has graciously helped me.”

Wilson said he gained an appreciation for giving back to the community while at Capital, when he participated in the Night Prosecutor Program (the precursor to today’s legal clinic).

“That was extremely valuable training,” Wilson said. “It’s a matter of giving back and paying forward.”

Cooperrider was born in raised in the Perry County area. After graduating from Capital, she wanted to return home to live and serve in that community. She opened a small firm in a former barber shop in Thornville, hanging a hand-painted sign to promote the business. She was elected to the juvenile court in 1990 and was sworn in in 1991.

Wilson has practiced law in Muskingum County since the 1980s. He was elected to office in 1990.