By NICOLE DUGGAN/Montana State News
A new and controversial legal aid program is proving successful, according to the current Associated Students of Montana State University executive team, serving more students than the old system of keeping a full-time attorney on staff.
The executive team from the last academic year eliminated the position of their student attorney of 30 years against the wishes of the ASMSU Senate in 2014.
The ASMSU former attorney Phyllis Bock provided legal advice to students and also served in the role of operations manager for ASMSU. Roughly 10 hours of her week were dedicated to possible meetings with students in her attorney position. However, according to then-ASMSU executive team President Lindsay Murdock, the majority of these hours were not filled.
Last spring, the then-ASMSU executive team, including Murdock, Vice President Lukas Smith and Business Manager Erica Dunn, announced structural changes within the ASMSU classified staff, including the elimination of the classified ASMSU attorney position which would decrease the number of office staff positions from four to three. These structural changes were made in conjunction with MSU Human Resources and the Division for Student Success. The ASMSU Senate was not included in the decision-making process.
The executive team informed the student senate of these changes during the last senate meeting of both their term and of the academic year. The news was met with shock and disapproval from the senate and classified staff. The senate, which under their constitution, is granted final authority over the ASMSU budget, felt they should have had a say in the change, and attempted to impeach Murdock and Smith and reverse the changes. The effort ultimately proved unsuccessful due to the limited time left in the academic year.
Though Bock could have stayed with ASMSU as operations manager, she retired from ASMSU shortly thereafter. The other two classified positions were vacated shortly after Bock’s retirement.
ASMSU Senate’s President-elect Destini French and Vice President-elect Jordan Garceau were left to transition an entirely new staff, including the organization and implementation of the new ASMSU legal counsel program. “We were handed quite the job,” said French.
In September 2014, ASMSU hired local attorneys Audrey and Charlie Cromwell to replace Bock. The couple, both Montana natives and graduates from the University of Montana Law School, started their Bozeman law firm Cromwell Law in 2011.
“We couldn’t be more elated to have been given the opportunity to assist students as ASMSU’s legal services attorneys” Charlie said. “It’s rewarding work and we sincerely hope we’re making a difference in our student-clients’ lives.”
According to ASMSU, the pair have counseled over 120 students in the past six months, on topics ranging from criminal matters to landlord tenant disputes, families and divorce, wills and estate planning, employment issues and immigration. This is a considerable increase in utilization of legal services when compared to Bock’s previous years, according to Garceau.
“I am excited to see where the direction of this program goes and how many new and innovative ideas they come up with as ASMSU continues to better serve students,” said French.
MSU students wishing to utilize the legal counsel services pay a $10 meeting fee.
ASMSU hopes to expand the program in the next year. The Cromwells have been retained moving forward and are available for appointments Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be made in the ASMSU office at SUB 221.
– Eited by Morgan Brown