OBF Journal Record Article

A history of helping: Oklahoma Bar Foundation supports nonprofits

By M. Scott Carter

The Journal Record

Printed Wednesday, November 17, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY – Call it the unknown foundation.

While the Oklahoma Bar Foundation has been around for decades, given away millions of dollars and helped dozens of nonprofit agencies, most people – including thousands of the state’s attorneys – don’t even know it exists.

It’s a problem, OBF President Phil Frazier said, that the group continues to fight.

“We’re the third-oldest bar foundation in the United States,” Frazier said. “But we only have about 10 percent of the lawyers in the OBA (Oklahoma Bar Association) as members.”

With assets of more than $5 million, the OBF is charged with helping nonprofit organizations that have a function connected with courts. This year, the OBF has provided financial support for more than 20 different nonprofit agencies and six different scholarship funds.

Total donations: $517,646.

“It’s been a challenging year for the nonprofits we support and for our organization,” Frazier said. “But I believe we’ve helped these organizations keep their doors open.”

Those costs have increased.

This year, the foundation made contributions to groups including the YMCA of Oklahoma City, Tulsa Lawyers for Children Inc., the Oklahoma Judicial Historical Project, the Oklahoma CASA Association, the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma Inc., Domestic Violence Intervention Services Inc., and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc.

Frazier said the contribution to Legal Aid – about $246,000 – was the foundation’s largest.

“Legal Aid is the largest contribution every year,” he said. “They are the biggest recipient because they have the biggest job and the most expensive budget. It’s a little over half their budget. They’re everywhere.”

Legal Aid officials said the funds were vital to their budget.

“More than a decade ago we began to lose federal funding,” said Gary A. Taylor, executive director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “And that’s when the bar foundation stepped up to help. They’ve been extremely supportive of our work.”

Targeting the state’s most impoverished clients, Taylor said his organization provided services to more than 20,000 people last year.

“We serve a large population in a wide service area,” he said. “We handle consumer scams, mortgage foreclosure, state and federal benefit issues, things like that.”

The organization also works aggressively to protect the victims of domestic violence.

“We work on victims’ protective orders and try to help them get out of bad situations,” Taylor said. “The emphasis is on domestic violence. We also have a number of programs and projects. We even set up in the county law library where, often, the judge will refer certain litigants to us.”

Frazier said he’s witnessed that work firsthand.

“We started taking members of the OBF to the organizations that we help fund to see them in operation,” he said. “It gives us a much better understanding. And I can say these groups do great work. It’s just amazing what they are doing.”

And, with more than 675,000 Oklahomans at the poverty line, Legal Aid has plenty of work.

“We’re in all 77 counties,” Taylor said. “We have offices and satellite offices all over the state.”

Still, despite the OBF’s history and its work to help fund legal services for the state’s most vulnerable, for Frazier the biggest challenge the organization faces is internal.

“We haven’t done a good job of promoting the foundation, he said. “Nowadays it’s really hard to get people interested in becoming an OBF fellow. It’s hard to get people involved in any organization because they are so busy. We need to resolve who is the bar foundation and what is the bar foundation. We need to resolve our identity crisis. If we do that, then I think half the attorneys in the state would come running to join.”

That awareness, Frazier said, equals money and that money equals help.

Oklahoma Bar Foundation grants and awards for 2010

  • Center for Children & Families Inc. of Cleveland County: $7,500, for court-ordered supervised visitation and family exchange legal assistance services.
  • Community Crisis Center Inc. of Ottawa, Delaware & Craig Counties: $5,000, civil legal services for victims of domestic violence.
  • Domestic Violence Intervention Services Inc.: $12,500, civil legal services and educational programming in Tulsa and surrounding counties.
  • Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma Inc.: $5,000, civil legal services for victims of domestic violence in Southern Oklahoma.
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc.: $246,646, maintenance of free statewide legal service provision to the poor and elderly.
  • Marie Detty Youth & Family Services Center of Comanche County: $12,500, civil legal services and educational programming in Comanche County area.
  • OBA/LRE (law-related education): We the People National Competition: $2,000, Enid High School participation in national finals.
  • OBA/YLD (Young Lawyers Division) Oklahoma High School Mock Trial Program: $45,000, statewide program presentation through national competition.
  • Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Low-Income Taxpayer Legal Clinic: $20,000, support staff maintenance for the provision of free legal tax services, matched funds.
  • Oklahoma CASA Association Inc.: $5,000, statewide conference to provide mandatory training for Court Appointed Special Advocates staff and volunteers for abused and neglected children.
  • Oklahoma CAAVA Association Inc.: $15,000, Court Appointed Advocates for Vulnerable Adults program maintenance and training.
  • Oklahoma Lawyers For Children Inc.: $40,000, funding to provide legal representation for abused, neglected and deprived children in Juvenile Court and at emergency show cause hearings through volunteer pro bono lawyers.
  • Oklahoma Judicial Historical Project: $2,000, public educational panels for new judicial center.
  • Senior Law Resource Center Inc.: $12,500, free educational outreach program to promote informed, thoughtful planning and prevention of elder exploitation.
  • Teen Court Incorporated of Comanche County: $10,000, program maintenance funding for teen court presentation serving first time juvenile offenders and their peers.
  • Trinity Legal Clinic of Oklahoma Inc.: $2,500, case management for the provision of free civil legal services.
  • Tulsa Lawyers For Children Inc.: $25,000, funding to provide legal representation for abused, neglected and deprived children in Juvenile Court and at emergency show cause hearings through volunteer pro bono lawyers.
  • University of Tulsa College of Law Boesche Legal Clinic: $4,500, immigrant rights legal clinic project utilizing law-student interns in provision of free civil legal services.
  • William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center: $4,000, presentation of free workshops to be able to recognize, respond and report child abuse training in Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties.
  • YMCA Oklahoma Youth & Government Program: $2,000, officer leadership training program and the junior high Model Legislative Day.
  • Chapman-Rogers OBF Law School Scholarships: $7,500.
  • Maurice H. Merrill Memorial Scholarship Award: $500.
  • W.B. Clark Kay County Law-Student Memorial Scholarship: $15,000.
  • Thomas L. Hieronymus Memorial Oil & Gas Law Award: $500.
  • Oklahoma Bar Foundation Fellows Scholarships: $15,000.
  • Phillips Allen Porta Memorial Legal Ethics Award: $500.