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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Fulfilling a dream’: Free legal clinics offered in honor of late Spokane activist Sandy Williams

Gonzaga law student Alex Lewis, left, Virla Spencer, center, and Erica Cleveland get people signed in during the Sandy Williams Legal Clinic, a free walk-in clinic presented by the Carl Maxey Center, at the Way Out Shelter, on Wednesday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

The justice system is confusing and expensive, but local organizations and attorneys are trying to help in honor of the late Spokane activist Sandy Williams.

The Sandy Williams Justice Center Free Walk-In Legal Clinic started last month and continues through June.

“The system is totally confusing to lawyers, let alone these people,” said Dennis Cronin, of the Law Office of DC Cronin and clinic director. “They need access to justice. They need their voice heard. … They don’t need to be paying anybody to have access to justice.”

Attorneys, paralegals, Gonzaga University law students and other legal professionals answer questions, provide advice, help fill out forms and connect people to other entities at the clinics.

Cronin said the clinics are hosted throughout the city, so people who lack transportation can attend. The most recent one was Wednesday at the Salvation Army’s Way Out Shelter, 55 W. Mission Ave.

The clinics are a collaboration among the Carl Maxey Center, Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition, The Law Office of DC Cronin, Center for Civil & Human Rights at Gonzaga Law and The Way To Justice.

Cronin was hired in 1987 by his friend and mentor, the late Carl Maxey, Eastern Washington’s first African American attorney, according to the law office’s website.

Cronin said the free legal clinic was an idea he, Williams and Rev. Walter Kendricks had. Williams, who died in a plane crash last year near Whidbey Island, Washington, founded the Carl Maxey Center.

“Here we are, fulfilling a dream,” Cronin said.

Rick Williams, Sandy’s brother and interim executive director at the Carl Maxey Center, said she wanted to carry on the spirit of Maxey, who used to hold free legal clinics for low-income people.

“They come because they really need help,” Rick Williams said. “They don’t know where to turn.”

Cronin said many people can’t afford attorneys.

Arian Noma, staff attorney at the Maxey Center, said attorneys coming out of law school charge an average of $350 an hour.

“Justice is becoming only for the wealthy,” Noma said.

Noma said some of the people they help will represent themselves, so they try to prepare them for that process.

“That’s scary in itself because they don’t know the language,” Noma said. “They don’t know what they’re doing in there.”

Cheryl Maiola, 67, entered the Way Out Shelter Wednesday with her service dog, Sky, a yellow Labrador retriever.

Maiola, who is disabled, said she’s never had to deal with the legal system. She said it’s been difficult trying to get to the courthouse to figure out what to do and where to go.

“It’s just been quite a journey,” she said.

Gerriann Armstrong, program manager at the Way Out Shelter, said the majority of the people who attended the clinic Wednesday reside at the shelter, which includes adults trying to get out of homelessness and find housing and employment.

Cronin said the goal is to continue the clinics after the last scheduled one in June. Noma said the long-term goal is to drive an RV around town and provide legal services.

The next clinic is 2-4 p.m. Wednesday at the Catholic Charities Catalyst Project, 4301 W. Sunset Blvd.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 12, 2023, to correct the identities of the people who envisioned the legal clinics.