Talk Justice: Episode Sixty-Two
How Civil Legal Aid Can Use Opioid Settlement Funds
Legal leaders from Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas discuss how their organizations acquired opioid settlement funds and the impactful legal services they are providing to those affected by opioid use disorder on LSC’s “Talk Justice” podcast. A 2019 report from LSC’s Opioid Task Force describes the need for civil legal services in response to the opioid epidemic.
Helen Gratil is Project Director of Beyond Opioids. As the Director of Mission Engagement for Legal Aid of Arkansas, she conceptualized Beyond Opioids, a justice project that integrates legal aid attorneys in the state’s opioid crisis response through community partnership. To implement that vision, she raised $2.2 million through the Health Resources & Services Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP). As the Director of Beyond Opioids, Helen leads the two legal aid programs in the Arkansas in changing the way we discuss and treat people with substance use disorder in justice systems. Beyond Opioids aims to raise awareness on the critical role of civil legal attorneys in the spectrum of care for people going through or recovering from OUD and their support system. The legal aid programs of Arkansas lead the nation in championing for families struggling with substance use disorders by developing internal cultural competency and legal expertise in handling SUD cases through Beyond Opioids. Finally, she leads the sustainability of Beyond Opioids in Arkansas, through local and federal fundraising efforts, and assists in the development of similar programs in the region and across the nation.
Before joining the legal aid community of Arkansas, Helen worked for more than nine years with the United Nations Development (UNDP) program in administrative and technical roles to support global poverty reduction programs. She has joined multiple international missions through UNDP including Baghdad, Amman, Bangkok, France, and the Bahamas. She then shifted gears to earn her Juris Doctorate from Vermont Law School to gain expertise in environmental protection. After law school, she briefly worked as a Public Defender in upstate NY before taking the role of President for Environmental Projection of the Caribbean, a nonprofit environmental protection group in the Caribbean that focuses on endangered species and environmental conservation projects. These experiences prepared Helen well in her current leadership role, assisting poverty populations in Arkansas through civil legal aid services and nonprofit management.
Robert Johns is Executive Director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass in Kentucky. Johns graduated with his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame in 1991 before earning his J.D. at The George Washington University Law School in 1994. Johns served as an AmeriCorps attorney until 1996 when he became a staff attorney at Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS) in Steubenville, Ohio. In 1999, he became Managing Attorney at SEOLS and served in that position for 15 years. Johns was the Executive Director of AppalReD Legal Aid from 2015-2023.
Betty Balli Torres has served as the Executive Director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the largest Texas-based funder for legal services to the poor, since October 2001. Betty has a career dedicated to public interest work. Betty started as a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Central Texas in Austin in 1987 and has held various direct service and administrative public interest positions since that time. Betty is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of IOLTA Programs and has served in many volunteer capacities to programs that support national access to justice efforts.
Ronald S. Flagg was appointed President of the Legal Services Corporation effective February 20, 2020, and previously served as Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel since 2013. He previously practiced commercial and administrative litigation at Sidley Austin LLP for 31 years, 27 years as a partner. He chaired the firm’s Committee on Pro Bono and Public Interest Law for more than a decade.
Flagg served as president of the District of Columbia Bar in 2010-2011 and currently serves as Chair of the Bar’s Pro Bono Task Force. He presently also chairs the board of the National Veterans Legal Services Program. He has also served as Chair of the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Committee, Chair of the Board of the AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, as a member of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, on LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force, and as a member of the Board of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Board of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Foundation, and the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.
Flagg graduated with honors from the University of Chicago and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He began his career as a law clerk to Judge Myron L. Gordon, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and as attorney-advisor in the United States Department of Justice, Office of Intelligence Policy.