Legal Aid supporters throw mystery party



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The bad news came all at once for Legal Aid of Western Michigan.

The agency, which has for 30 years provided free legal representation in civil matters to low-income and older adults, found out last November that the federal Legal Services Corporation was cutting its funding by $280,000. A reduction from the State Bar of Michigan Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) fund, another $110,000, followed less than a week later.

This at a time when the depressed economy means the need for such services continues its upward climb. Legal Aid of Western Michigan (LAWM) Executive Director Michael Chielens says, “We’re scrambling. The cuts make it much harder for us to do our job as the need continues to grow.”

LAWM has had to close its Big Rapids office and lay off the two attorneys and one legal assistant there. As of now, the Muskegon and Grand Rapids office will serve clients from that area.

Another austerity measure involved all LAWM employees, including Chielens, taking a pay cut. Additionally, some staff people have left the agency and not been replace.

On the revenue side, there have been a few increases, including one from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and some grant applications are still outstanding. But one thing Chielens hopes will help is an increased interest in the small fund-raisers LAWM holds throughout the year.

Elizabeth “Joy” Fossel, who is shown at right in the photo below, hosted the agency’s fourth annual house party on May 22 at her home in Ada.
Underwriters of the event included Dilley, Kooistra, Goller and Reens; Gruel, Mills, Nims and Pylman; Kreis Enderle; Law Weathers; Plunkett and Cooney; and Varnum, where Fossel practices law.

LAWM staff members entertained about 65 people in attendance by performing a light theatrical piece — one which Fossel called “very corny.” (Chielens is fourth from the left in the top photo at right.)

The play, whose author is “Anonymous,” was entitled Who Killed Lee K. Alayd? The noble character symbolizing Legal Aid, nicknamed “Leek” and played by LAWM Pro Bono Program Director Paul Abrahamsen, was shot and stabbed but, as the rather unsurprising surprise ending revealed, refused to die.

Along the way, the play included references to a variety of theatrical masterpieces like The Addams Family Values, Austin Powers and Star Wars; plot twists involving shifting allegiances by the lovely Moaner Lisa, dubious allegations about characters’ blood relationships, and three anonymous letters; and  several puns at the end encouraging “UR Donay-chins.”

Fossel said that she was particularly impressed with the deep voice and theatrical skills of LAWM’s Jim Burr, who acted as narrator. She adds, “Fortunately my geese did not intrude too much.”

In addition to each other’s company, guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and beverages from Bob Johnson at West Michigan Caterers. One of LAWM’s clients gave a moving testimonial.

Those who missed the party may still make monetary donations to Legal Aid of Western Michigan, either by mailing to 89 Ionia Ave. NW, Suite 400, Grand Rapids 49503, or visiting

And Chielens emphasizes that, in the attempt to balance the loss of revenue with increased client requests, contributions of pro bono time are equally appreciated.