The Harrisburg Civil Law Clinic
is partnering with multiple agencies in the Commonwealth to provide free legal help to income-eligible consumers as they navigate the formal complaint process before the Public Utility Commission.
“Low-income individuals who are qualified for the legal assistance offered by this program face economic challenges every day, often having to choose between heating and eating. Loss of water, electric or heat is a critical life event,” said Harry Geller, co- director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project
, or PULP, which provides statewide assistance and advocacy in utility matters to low-income utility consumers. “Legal representation will not only assist an individual to navigate the PUC complaint process, but may result in a settlement or decision which will enable a family to maintain an essential utility service.”
Under the leadership of Clinic Director and Associate Clinical Professor J. Palmer Lockard II
, about 20 clinic students will undergo training shortly after spring break.
“The students enrolled in the Civil Law Clinic will work under the supervision of our faculty to provide high quality legal services to individuals who might not otherwise be able to obtain representation,” Lockard said. “Although our students already gain significant experience in administrative law through our work in unemployment compensation, working with the PUC provides us an opportunity to expand their knowledge of this important area of law. It’s a win-win when you factor in the valuable service they will provide to people who otherwise couldn’t afford legal assistance.”
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Pro Bono Program is also getting involved, to assist the clinic in providing free or reduced legal services.
“The PBA and its volunteer lawyers are pleased to work with the Public Utility Commission and Widener Law in our joint effort to encourage consumers to take advantage of our new program and obtain the skilled legal counsel they need when filing complex PUC complaints,” said Pennsylvania Bar Association President Forest N. Myers of Shippensburg.
If a consumer’s concerns are not resolved through the informal complaint process, a formal complaint can be filed with the PUC. In 2012, the PUC received 1,729 formal complaints from consumers. Of those, a vast majority of consumers represented themselves.
Disputes typically include issues regarding high bills, termination of service and ability to pay. Filing a formal complaint can include hearings before a PUC administrative law judge, formal arguments, cross examination as well as the filing of briefs and exceptions to the judge’s decisions. The utilities are represented by attorneys. Under this program, consumers who are income qualified may seek legal representation through Widener, regardless of their ability to pay legal fees.
For more information about the clinic’s services, members of the public may call 717.541.0320 or email Lockard at firstname.lastname@example.org
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