Tipping the Scales of Justice

By Giving List Staff   |   October 29, 2021

California’s rental assistance program is designed to pay 100 percent of past-due rent, providing sorely needed relief to income-eligible renters and landlords. In practice, though, very little of that aid has reached the people it is meant to help, with less than 10 percent of rental assistance requests paid, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

This puts thousands of people at risk of eviction. And while they might have legal recourse to prevent themselves from ending up on the street, they might not have the resources to assert a real defense. Enter the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, the county’s only organization providing free legal services to low-income residents. The nonprofit has a team of 12 lawyers plus a support staff that provides a full breadth of civil legal services for the county’s most unmet needs, including unlawful evictions, housing discrimination, domestic violence, and immigration assistance for victims of crimes.

Depending on the circumstance, a private attorney might run for as much as $600 per hour, a prohibitive cost for a person in a low-income bracket. By guaranteeing anyone gets access to quality legal services at no cost, the Legal Aid Foundation is doing its part to tip the scales of justice in favor of people who might otherwise not be able to defend themselves.

“Our justice system presumes that all parties will be represented when they go to court, but our system doesn’t function as well as it’s supposed to,” says Executive Director Jennifer Smith. “We need individuals to be represented and to have an advocate when they go to court for our system to work properly.”

Smith, though, is careful to say that the foundation should not be interpreted as a traditional charity. They operate like a professional law firm, with attorneys who are deeply passionate about defending people who need representation most.

“Your rights are meaningless unless they’re enforced,” she says. “We are there to make sure your rights are asserted. By providing legal representation, we are changing lives.” 


Legal Aid Foundation

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(805) 963-6754 x103
Executive Director: Jennifer R. Smith


Our mission is to provide high-quality civil legal services to low-income and other vulnerable residents in order to ensure equal access to justice. We change lives through direct representation, legal advice and information, and community education.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

I am proud to support the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County. As an attorney, I know our system works best when everyone has legal representation. Through my work, I see how seniors may become victims of unscrupulous business practices or be taken advantage of by family members. Equal access to justice means that everyone – regardless of age, income, or physical ability – deserves to receive high-quality legal advice and representation.
Julianna Malis, Santa Barbara Estate Planning & Elder Law Board Vice President

Help Ensure Equal Access to Justice

We’re seeking $10,000 of general support, and with that dollar amount we can serve 26 individuals and families in all different areas of law. Because the nature of our work is professional legal services to individuals, that money goes to support our number one cost – personnel.

Key Supporters

The Hon. Susan Rose
Allan Ghitterman
(in memoriam)
Alan Blakeboro
Julianna Malis
Susan Thompson
Crystal Forsher
The Women’s Fund
of Santa Barbara
The State Bar of California
Judicial Council of California
U.S Dept. of Justice, Office of
Violence Against Women
Hutton Parker Foundation
Montecito Bank & Trust
Yardi Systems Inc.