Attorney Jonathan Light deadpanned when asked how he got tapped to head an emergency fundraising campaign for the Ventura County Bar Association’s volunteer lawyer program for low-income residents.
“I went to the wrong meeting at the wrong time,” he cracked.
On a more serious note, he explained that as a member of the board of trustees of the Volunteer Lawyer Services Program, a past president of the bar and someone who has previous fundraising experience, he was more or less stuck with the job.
Launched in 1996, the nonprofit program provides lawyers for free to low-income residents of the county in family law, consumer fraud and other types of civil disputes.
Bar Executive Director Steve Henderson said it’s the only pro bono — a Latin phrase denoting free legal services — civil program in the county. What’s more, he said, it’s the only such program he is aware of that uses retired lawyers, designated by the state bar as emeritus attorneys, to screen cases.
The program does not represent low-income residents in criminal cases, which are the province of the county Public Defender’s Office.
“It’s really the best thing we at the bar do,” said Light, 53, a partner at the largest law firm in the county, Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton.
Earlier this year, the program found itself in a financial crisis.
It typically has about $60,000 in cash in its bank account for administrative costs, but this year, that amount had dwindled to about $13,000.
Light said the crisis was brought about in part because, like other nonprofits during the prolonged tough economy, its funding sources had started to dry up.
“There was talk of shutting it down because the regular bar just couldn’t keep funding it out of its budget to make up the shortfall,” Light said.
Instead, Light agreed to head a blue ribbon committee to raise $50,000 for the program for each of the next five years.
Through mid-September, $33,000 per year has been pledged by various law firms, attorneys and legal vendors. Light’s firm and another large firm in the county, Ferguson Case Orr Paterson, each pledged $5,000 per year.
The program’s other funding sources include institutional donors such as the Annenberg Foundation, a small endowment at the Ventura County Community Foundation, and benefit events.
The next benefit is an Oct. 7 dinner at the Topa Tower Club in Oxnard to honor Henderson on his 20th anniversary as the bar’s executive director.
Henderson said Light is a pretty ideal fit to run the fundraising campaign.
“Jon is a lawyer’s lawyer,” he said. “He has, over the last 20 years, probably directed and administered a dozen capital campaigns for a variety of organizations throughout Ventura County. We just happen to be the beneficiary of his latest.”
Those wishing to donate to the program can mail checks to the Ventura County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, 4475 Market St., Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003.