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State sets up legal assistance office for armed forces, veterans

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt launched a program providing free legal aid to the state's active duty, reserve and veteran service members.

At press conferences in Carson City on Wednesday and Las Vegas on Thursday, Laxalt explained that members of the armed forces have enough on their plates without having to worry about legal matters.

The military legal assistance office had a soft start this summer, and has already taken more than 30 cases, Laxalt said. The program collaborates with legal aid offices throughout the state and works with private attorneys who donate their time. More than 100 attorneys have committed 10 hours of pro bono time to the program.

"That could be 10 wills or one case," Laxalt said, adding that the heightened pressure of a civilian attorney that can go to court if needed will result in many cases being settled out of court.

The office will pair qualified service members with lawyers or legal aid programs to help with civil matters such as consumer fraud cases and foreclosures.

Laxalt, a Republican, said that when he was a judge advocate general in the Navy, he and his colleagues would often try to help soldiers with legal matters, but the law prevents JAGs from being advocates in state courts.

"It always broke our hearts," he said.

Army reservist and senior JAG officer Maj. Kevin Remus said it's common for service members to have legal problems with their landlords, for example.

The law allows service men and women to break a lease when they are deployed, but many landlords won't recognize that right, he said. A JAG officer can make calls and send letters to point out the law, but they can't take the matter to court if a landlord challenges them to file a lawsuit.

"It is frustrating for us that we can only take a case for one of our soldiers so far," he said.

Officials emphasized that soldiers should be able to focus on their missions and not petty legal concerns. Remus said his unit is scheduled to deploy next year.

"It's comforting to our soldiers and their families to know that the office of military assistance is there to support us," he said.

Nic Danna, program director and Army JAG, said many soldiers don't qualify for traditional legal aid programs because they come in just above the poverty line.

"A lot of people don't know that," he said.

Danna said cases are vetted by JAGs before they are referred to the program for maximum efficiency, and donated time by attorneys coupled with funding from companies such as Switch and the Las Vegas Sands Corp. ensure the program doesn't cost the taxpayers.

And even when he and Laxalt are long gone, the program will still be around, because it was codified into statute, he said.

Other states' attorneys general are looking to Laxalt's office for details about how to implement military legal assistance offices, and Laxalt said he is proud to have made Nevada that much closer to being one of the most military-friendly states.

"Our need was already great. It's only going to increase," Laxalt said of the state's military services. "Current events show us the days of deployment are still with us."

If you are a service member or veteran and need legal assistance, contact your local judge advocate general's office or veterans services office for a referral. For more information, visit NVAGOMLA.nv.gov.

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl

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