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