Advocating for justice by making legal services accessible – that’s one of the passions of Charles Greenfield, a longtime supporter, and former Executive Director of Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i.
The spark started when Charles, who also goes by “Chuck,” was a young legal aid lawyer in San Jose, California. As his interest grew, it relocated him to different states and countries. He served in various roles as lawyer, consultant, and executive director - in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., Guam, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Saipan, the Federal States of Micronesia, American Samoa, and the Republic of Palau.
Chuck’s time in Hawaii as Legal Aid’s Executive Director from 2006 to 2009 was short but meaningful.
He faced three significant challenges when he started at Legal Aid: (1) the high number of residents facing critical civil legal needs throughout the islands; (2) a Legal Services Corporation restriction preventing Legal Aid from representing Hawaii residents who were from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau; and (3) Legal Aid’s low salary levels.
To meet the tremendous need for civil legal services, Chuck aggressively promoted the telephone intake system, now called “Intake,” expanded Legal Aid’s outreach efforts, and increased and improved partnerships with community groups and government entities.
Chuck led the effort, with support from others, to successfully convince the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation to change its regulation to allow for representation by Legal Aid of Micronesians living in Hawaii.
In an attempt to raise salaries paid to Legal Aid employees, he received the support of Legal Aid’s Board of Directors to increase salaries. Another achievement was working in collaboration with others to establish the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission. Chuck was a member of the first Hawaii Access to Justice Commission.
“To make justice real, we need to ensure that people have access to legal aid. We can help them get relief, or fight discrimination,” says Chuck. “There are so many people whose lives are being trampled on because they don’t know their rights.”
Chuck is now retired with 45 years of legal aid work under his belt. But he is far from done in helping the community. He recently finished serving as interim executive director for American Samoa Legal Aid, and also retired as general counsel for Micronesian Legal Services Corporation. He lives on the Big Island.
He is calling on lawyers to lend a hand, or a voice, in this advocacy.
“As lawyers we have an obligation to see that people are treated fairly under law,” says Chuck. “We have an obligation to see that something is done to help those with unmet legal needs. One way is to contribute money or time to Legal Aid.”
According to Chuck, Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i is one of the premier legal aid programs he has seen throughout the country with its “innovative programs, excellent leadership team and wonderful staff.”
“The future is bright for the organization, but it needs money and volunteer lawyers,” he stresses. “It is important for the community in Hawaii to contribute to Legal Aid so we can help them staff up for the challenge and help bring positive outcomes for residents. We need to help make justice real for our community.”
That’s why he donates to Legal Aid, Chuck says.
“So many people are facing critical challenges. There is certainly something we can do about that. Good legal advocacy can bring them much-needed relief.”