LAW LEGAL HELP FOR AIDS VICTIMS

By year’s end, Dallas will have the state’s first clinic offering free legal services to AIDS patients and victims of other terminal illnesses. Since March, an informal committee headed by members of Dallas’s gay and legal communities has been working to raise $75,000 to hire an attorney and to begin operating the clinic. In early October, the committee received grants from the Texas Bar Foundation and the Dallas Bar Foundation totaling $40,000-enough to begin operations by the end of the year, says attorney Louis Weber Jr., chairman of the committee.

Weber says he became concerned with the legal plight of AIDS patients during a conference last year as members of the medical profession stressed how AIDS was affecting society.

“Before the conference I kept my head in the sand.” says Weber. “But after the conference I saw the problems and I couldn’t get them out of my head.”

Besides chronic medical problems, people with AIDS have chronic legal problems too. Lawyers from the clinic, the third of its kind in the country, will fight wrongful termination of employment, look into cases of housing discrimination, help in maintaining medical insurance coverage, and counsel victims on estate planning and writing a will or a “living will.” The clinic will not, however, take on class-action suits. “It will be a legal resource for individuals,” says SMU law professor Tom Mayo, one of the six committee members.

While offering important service to AIDS patients, the clinic will also provide a valuable education for attorneys and law students. Mayo is wary of potential conflicts of interest-many attorneys also represent employers, landlords, hospitals, physicians, and insurance companies. But he’s confident that they will find enough volunteers.

Mayo gives Weber much of the credit for getting this clinic started. “If there’s a Santa Claus in this story, he’s the one.”

But Weber, who has volunteered his own legal services to AIDS victims in the past year, disagrees. “I feel like an alien usurper,” says Weber. “Many lawyers have been doing this for a long time and haven’t been recognized.” If the organization becomes a strong advocate for the terminally ill. there will be plenty of credit to go around.

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