Lawyers step up to aid Oso slide victims

OSO — For Rodi O’Loane, knowing that 200 attorneys across the state have offered free legal help to people affected by the deadly Oso mudslide is especially meaningful.

O’Loane is an Everett lawyer who has made the hamlet of Oso her home for many years.

She lives near the Oso Fire Station, a few miles west of the slide that killed at least 39 people. She has seen hundreds of volunteers from her community and beyond helping with the search and recovery efforts.

“These people never dreamed they would be doing the things they are doing,” she said.

Learning that so many people in her profession are willing to help families hurt by the slide is heartening.

She imagines the many complex legal issues that survivors could now face, including sorting out wills.

“There is going to be a lot of need to probate these estates,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to have to do those things pro se (without legal representation). It’s just a paper mania.”

Everett attorney Joel Nichols has helped spearhead the legal assistance campaign.

“None of these attorneys expect to be compensated in any way,” he said. “It’s truly a volunteer effort.”

They’ll offer legal advice in many areas, including help getting government benefits through agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They’ll also work on life, medical and property insurance claims, with home repair contracts and with mortgages and other loans.

The goal is to help not just the people who lost homes and loved ones in the slide but others affected financially. That can include those feeling the pinch of the blocked state highway between Arlington and Darrington.

“(Highway) 530 is an economic lifeline for a lot of people,” he said.

Like O’Loane, Ben Wells is an attorney who lives in Oso. He knows people who died that day and others who have helped out in the debris fields since. His skill set is the law and it makes him feel useful knowing he can help his community with what he does best.

Wells is adamant that the motive for him and others is to help and not to profit.

“We have some great brains available,” he said.

The list includes attorneys involved in legal matters after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and the 2012 Taylor Ridge fire in Eastern Washington as well as lawyers with experience working with FEMA.

“We will be looking for anything we can do,” Wells said. “It won’t just be legal advice.”

That could include providing resources for people who might experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“The first thing is to listen,” Wells said. “We just want to help.”

The effort to provide legal help involves several groups and agencies, including the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, FEMA, the Northwest Justice Project, Snohomish County Legal Services, the Snohomish County Bar Association and the Washington State Association for Justice.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

Free legal help

Lawyers from across the state are offering free legal help to people affected by the March 22 landslide at Oso.

Those people can call toll-free help lines at 1-844-435-7676 or 1-844-help-Oso. Information also is available at www.nwjustice.org.

There also will be lawyers available at a free clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 26 at the law offices of Ben Wells, 106 E. Gilman Ave, Arlington. Wells has lived in Oso for many years.

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