ASA considers hiring students lawyer for legal advice

The Augustana Student Association (ASA) proposed at its last meeting on Feb. 25 to hire a legal representative to provide free aid to students.

If the motion is passed, all students would have the opportunity to access free legal advice on small scale issues, said Anna Stritecky, ASA president.

Ryan Solberg, ASA Co-Curriculum Committee chair, wanted to follow in The University of South Dakota’s (USD) footsteps and provide free legal advice to students on small issues.

While scrolling through Twitter, Solberg noticed a Tweet about their legal services posted by a member of USD’s student government.

“I thought it would be an awesome program to start here at Augie,” Solberg said.

Other schools in the area, such as South Dakota State University (SDSU), provide legal advice to their students at no extra cost.

ASA is looking to provide a similar service to Augustana’s students, in part because USD received positive feedback from its students.

At both USD and SDSU, a local lawyer comes to campus once a week and is available by appointment. USD’s legal aid program sees 25-30 students per semester seeking guidance on Class 1 and Class 2 misdemeanors, said Seth Klentz, USD’s attorney.

Because Augustana, which has a student enrollment of 2,080, has a much smaller campus than USD (9,493 students), student legal aid may be provided by appointment, Stritecky said. Students would submit an online, informational form to set up meetings with the lawyer.

Looking ahead, Klentz said ASA should limit the offenses that the attorney would address. At USD, Klentz advises Class 1 and Class 2 misdemeanors with collateral consequences such as effects towards future employment.

Students often cannot afford to pay a lawyer, and the presence of a costless attorney allows students to further explore their options when it comes to charges, Klentz said.

With this new service, students would be able to ask for legal advice on small scale issues. Stritecky said the attorney would give advice on landlord agreements, parking violations and other small things.

Because the proposal is in the early stages, there is no guarantee it will stand. However, if it survives exploration, “it would probably take effect [next]fall,” Stritecky said.

“Our next step in the process is to create a confidential form on either Viking Central or MyAugie that lets students request a time to meet with a lawyer,” Solberg said.

Stritecky plans to meet with professor Jason Harris, a professor and lawyer, to discuss providing legal aid to students and to point out any weaknesses in the proposal.

It is not clear how much Augustana would pay the attorney.

“It could be hourly, which could be under $1,000 a semester, or if we do a retainer, it could be a couple more than that,” Stritecky said.

Upon approval, the aid would likely be supported by the Senate fund, a general fund used for Senate projects.

Stritecky said ASA will continue to explore the idea. If a move is to be made, she expects it to happen before she leaves in May.

Such decisions are “slow moving because of all the nuts and bolts you have to do,” Stritecky said. There are many hurdles ASA needs to get over such as solidifying funding and receiving approval from the administration.

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