RELEASE: Legislature Approves Pro Bono Legal Services for Active Military Members - AB 558 Headed to the Governor’s Desk

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

SACRAMENTO – In an effort to address the legal services gap for active duty military, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review, is authoring Assembly Bill 558, which requires the California State Bar to coordinate civil legal services for active duty service members and their families who otherwise cannot afford them.

California is home to nearly 155,000 stationed active duty service members with 70,000 spouses and more than 17 million veterans. Service members and their families have access to military legal assistance attorneys to receive advice and assistance in certain situations, such as wills and powers of attorney, limited family law and simple contractual disputes. However, they must generally obtain their own counsel to represent them in court.

“People serving our Country should not be distracted by concerns about the cost of legal services,” commented AB 558 author Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach). “We owe these heroes and their families, who are making the greatest sacrifices for our country, access to legal services without worry of the cost.”

Senator Tom Umberg (D–Santa Ana), retired U.S. Army Colonel, presented AB 558 on the Senate Floor saying , “As a veteran and member of the California State Bar, I know that our brave veteran men and women that serve with honor and distinction deserve this simple, yet effective bill. It will provide our heroes with an invaluable service that they have earned, from the state they call home. These heroes upheld the highest ideals of the United States of America through their dedicated service and considerable sacrifice. We must help them any way we can.

AB 558 builds off current law, AB 360 (Muratsuchi, 2017), which requires the California State Bar to coordinate pro bono civil legal assistance for veterans and their families. The State Bar Veterans Legal Services survey, as required by AB 360, included questions to find information about legal assistance available to active duty military members. Programs offering legal aid to veterans and active service duty members report that the largest area of unmet legal need statewide is housing, followed by family law, VA benefits, consumer protection and employment.

Moving swiftly through the Legislative process, AB 558 has received unanimous support in both houses. The bill is now awaiting action from the Governor. This bill is supported by: Monterey Bay Defense Alliance, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, San Diego Military Advisor Council and Veterans Alliance of Orange County.