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City and county governments donate $500K to free legal clinic

City and county governments have given Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence received $500,000 to help victims of domestic violence. The money will pay for free legal services.

"When you're married, and all of a sudden you're faced with abuse, no where to go, no family, no money, what do you do?" Sherri Van Meter said.

That was the situation in which Sherri Van Meter found herself almost four years ago. Like many victims of domestic violence, Van Meter did not qualify for free legal assistance, but she could not afford to hire an attorney either. So she turned to the Family Advocacy Clinic at Capital University Law School. Van Meter said attorneys at the clinic have handled her custody case, civil protection order and her divorce.

"I don't know where I'd be right now if it wasn't for Capital Law University Family Advocacy Clinic because they have truly stepped in," Van Meter said.

The City of Columbus and Franklin County are each donating $250,000 to the legal clinic. Jack Guttenberg is dean at Capital University Law School. Guttenberg said the school helps as many as 500 people every year with their domestic legal work.

"Initially at times we will obtain protective orders that will prohibit the abuser from coming into contact with these women to break the cycle of harassment to give them some time to breathe and to pull their lives back together," Guttenberg said.

Guttenberg said the money will also increase the number of clients it can take, and help educate more law students. The clinic has five staff attorneys.

Columbus Council Against Family Violence has funded the law clinic since 2000. Founder and chair of the council, Abigail Wexner, said there are hundreds of stories like Van Meter's. Wexner said the Family Advocacy Clinic is critical to thousands of people and the recent donations make it possible to continue its services.

"It really means the protection of these victims, the protection of their children, and resolution in their lives to enable them to go forward and to begin to build their lives again," Wexner said.

The Family Advocacy clinic works with other agencies like the United Way and the city and county prosecutors' offices.