From WKBN 27

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) - State and local leaders are looking for a few good lawyers to help with legal assistance for veterans and military personnel.

The Ohio Military Veterans Legal Assistance Project is expanding to Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich invited state leaders and about a dozen local lawyers on Monday to help get the ball rolling. They're starting a database of lawyers willing to provide free legal counsel for low-income veterans in certain civil cases dealing with divorce, employment, credit card debt and landlord-tenant evictions.

"These men and women who have volunteers to stand up for our system of law and justice, and we want to make sure, I think a lot of lawyers want to make sure, that they can access that system, having been willing to fight for it," said Michael Renner, director of the Ohio Military Veterans Legal Assistance Project.

Once enough area lawyers sign up to take part in the project, they'll let veterans know who to call for legal counsel. Vets must fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines to qualify for assistance.

Judge Milich deals with veterans' legal issues every day in his Veterans Treatment Court.

"In criminal cases I can appoint counsel, so no veteran comes to court without a lawyer. I can't appoint in civil cases. That's where the problem is," Milich said.

A dozen Ohio counties already participate in the Ohio Military Veterans Legal Assistance Project. State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said Youngstown and Mahoning County should get on board.

"I love when I'm presented with a program in Columbus and I get to bring it back and you get good support for it," Schiavoni said.

About a dozen members of the Mahoning County Bar Association said they're willing to take up to two pro-bono cases per year.

It lets lawyers earn experience and education, and pay back the men and women who gave so much for our country.

"They have put themselves on the line to serve us and have been willing to be in harm's way to protect our legal system. They can't access it," Renner said.

He said most of the lawyers at Monday's kickoff seemed enthusiastic about the project.

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