ELAP helps military in family matters

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
The Expanded Legal Assistance Program gives military members at Robins the legal representation they need in uncontested family matters.

ELAP, established in Nov. 1999, is a ground-breaking concept that allows base attorneys to represent military members who are senior airman and below, their dependents or anyone eligible to claim earned income credit on last year's income tax return, in matters such as stepparent adoptions, legitimations and guardianships.

Michael Shutter, civil law division chief in the Base Legal Office, said he recently helped Senior Airman John Ahlvin, an air transportation technician and reserve member with the 116th Air Control Wing and a fulltime Macon Police officer, and his wife, Choya, complete the adoption of their son, John Michael, through the program.

"It was wonderful," he said. "It made it so much easier. They processed the paper work for me. They knew what to put it into the court system. I would've been lost and it would've taken twice or three times as long."

Mr. Shutter said the program is very helpful for young Airmen who may have limited funds.

"It has been a great benefit to our younger troops, often saving them well over $1,000," he said. "And our Superior Court Judge Ed Lukemire, George Nunn, and in this case, Senior Judge L.A. McConnell III have been very supportive and understanding."

Mr. Shutter said while base attorneys have limited experience with such cases, members in the local judicial system can lend a helping hand.

"Most of our attorneys have very limited experience in theses matters, but our judges and our clerks of various Middle Georgia counties understand that and help us along because they know these clients are quite deserving," he said. "Quite simply, our judges and clerks are superb people. I need to add that our local attorneys practicing out there in the real world were quite supportive too."

Mr. Shutter said he hopes the program will be able to help others.

Debby Stone, an attorney and ethics advisor in the Base Legal Office's civil law division and chief of legal assistance in the 78th ABW/JA, handles more than 75 percent of the ELAP cases. She said the program has allowed base attorneys to provide legal assistance to people who otherwise might not have access.

"It has been a very important program for the past seven years because it is a means for lower income military members to have equal access to our judicial system," she said.

Mr. Shutter said Ms. Stone's background in family law gives her experience that's valuable to the legal assistance program.

"Debby's practical experience in family law matters made her a great choice for our office," he said. "She's a joy to supervise, and she has far more practical legal assistance experience than anyone in our office. Without her, ELAP simply would not exist."