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New clinic will help poor, homeless

Ray McNeal

Retired Judge Raymond McNeal is teaming with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida to bring a homeless legal advice clinic to town. He’s also being recognized by the Florida Bar for his pro bono work. McNeal posed for a portrait at the Community Legal Services offices in Ocala on January 20, 2016. {photo credit Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner}

When Ray McNeal volunteers at his church’s Tuesday morning homeless ministry, he occasionally finds himself fielding legal questions from the poor and homeless.

Sometimes the people ask about landlord-tenant issues. They usually aren’t homeless, he said, but might be at risk of becoming so. Other times, the questions fall under immigration or family law.

Before he can help someone out, pro bono (involving or doing legal work for free), McNeal refers them to Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. That is where the former circuit judge has spent much of his time since he retired in 2006. It also is where he is working with staff to set up a legal-advice clinic that will benefit Marion County’s homeless community, including the people he sees at First United Methodist Church each week.

Jeff Harvey, Community Legal Services’ director of operations, said that pro bono work, in which local attorneys partner with the organization to donate their time, fills a critical gap. Community Legal Services has to turn away about two-thirds of those who request help, he said, either because the litigants do not qualify based on their income or because the organization lacks the funds and staff to help them.

That means that clinics, like the one McNeal has in the works, as well as others already in place, play an important role in meeting the needs of low-income litigants.

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