To celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2017, Virginia Legal Aid Society is telling 40 stories that reflect our history, our people and the cases and events that have made the past 40 years so memorable. These will be released over 40 weeks, finishing at our gala celebration on November 17 in Farmville at the Moton Museum.
Since its founding in 1977, Virginia Legal Aid Society has served tens of thousands of low-income clients from Central and Southside Virginia east through the Western Tidewater region. For much of the region, we were the first organization to offer free civil legal advice to those who needed it. But in Lynchburg, another group introduced these services. As part of our series highlighting the people, cases and events shaping the history of VLAS, we honor the early contributions of this group.
When the young Gorman Rosenberger thought about what he might eventually do for a career, he had plenty of role models in the legal profession. His grandfather, three uncles and at least a couple of cousins all had become lawyers.
Perhaps all of them had better timing. When Gorman graduated from University of Richmond School of Law in 1975, the U.S. economy was in the throes of its first energy crisis and suffering through challenges so unusual they coined a new term for it: stagflation.
Still, a freshly minted lawyer willing to take a chance with a new organization could find a unique opportunity. Gorman returned to his home town and became the staff lawyer for a new group called the Legal Aid Society of Greater Lynchburg. With support from the Lynchburg Bar Association, City of Lynchburg and Campbell County, the group was chartered in 1969 and opened in 1972. Like legal aid societies today, the group offered free civil legal services to low income individuals and families.
Gorman walked into a full caseload, including landlord-tenant disputes, divorces and other domestic relations cases. He had plenty of support, even beyond office manager Mary Riley. Bob Morrison, who had retired as Lynchburg City Manager, volunteered on some cases.
Then there was attorney Marion Baker. Marion was a volunteer, but she worked like a full-time, staff attorney and always added a jolt of energy to the office. “When she picked up a case, she wouldn’t let it go,” Gorman said in admiration. “It was easier to take the case than talk her into dropping it because we might lose.”
On some cases, Gorman said he tried to suggest to Marion that legal remedies available to the client were limited.
“I’d say, ‘The law does not allow for that,’ ” Gorman said. “She’d say, ‘That’s not right. We’re just going to have to find another way to do this.’
“The connecting link between the local Legal Aid Society and the Virginia Legal Aid Society was Marion Baker,” Gorman said.
Next: A sampling of Gorman Rosenberger’s and Legal Aid Society of Greater Lynchburg’s most memorable cases.