The ACLU of West Virginia maintains an active legal program to assure that the Bill of Rights and the rights guaranteed by the West Virginia Constitution are preserved for each new generation. In addition to our legal staff, we depend upon many dedicated lawyers from around the state who are willing to donate their time and talent to the cause of protecting individual freedom. The cases we choose often receive a great deal of attention because the issues we address cut close to the way people live their lives and deal with both traditional and new threats to civil liberties on many fronts.
We do not enter into litigation lightly. We receive hundreds of requests for help every year. From those, we may litigate or provide amicus assistance in five to ten cases. In addition, we may monitor and negotiate other issues without litigation.
The times when we are able to solve problems without filing suit – by quietly and patiently educating public officials about constitutional rights – do not generate much media attention but are an equally important part of our legal program. Our goal remains to realize the promise of the Bill of Rights for all and to expand the reach of its guarantees to new areas.
Requesting Legal Assistance
How do we select cases?
The ACLU usually files cases that affect the civil liberties of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between two parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:
Is this a significant civil liberties issue? What effect will this case have on people other than the parties involved? Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?
What are civil liberties?
The civil liberties we seek to protect include:
Freedom of Speech and PressFor example: a student is suspended for writing a newspaper article critical of the principal; a police officer is disciplined for speaking out against police brutality; a group is charged for police protection when it applies for a demonstration permit.
Freedom of Religion This involves both the right of individuals to religious beliefs and the separation of church and state.
Privacy For example: illegal search and seizures (warrantless searches).
Equal Protection/Discrimination For example: a sheriff’s department which refuses to accept women deputies; a refusal to allow homeless people to vote because they have no fixed addresses.
Due Process For example: a community group is denied a permit by the police and the town provides no appeal of the police decision.
What cases affect others?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways.
First, we sometimes challenge a policy or practice which directly impacts upon many people.
Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others in the long run when it establishes or expands legal protections. For example, a lawsuit challenging drug testing of one employee, if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of workers in the future.
Why does the ACLU prefer cases without factual disputes?
We tend to take cases which do not involve complicated disputes of fact, but prefer to take cases where the issue is a question of law. Facts are considered to be in dispute whenever you have one version of what happened and the other party(s) has a different view. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case where the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim.
The reasons we often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes are:
- Our limited resources (it is often expensive to prove a case which involves substantial factual disputes)
- A court might never reach the civil liberties legal issue if it resolves the facts against the client
- The case is less likely to have a broad impact on others if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case.
What does it cost?
Types of cases the ACLU generally can NOT accept
Types of cases the ACLU does not generally accept include:
- An individual was fired without a good reason or just cause.
- An individual is being denied benefits such as worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits.
- Criminal cases or complaints about a person’s attorney in a criminal case. Only in limited cases, for example when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in activity protected by the Constitution (such as participating in a political demonstration), do we consider accepting criminal cases.
- Child custody/support or divorce cases.
- Private civil disputes including contractual matters
Why does the ACLU turn down cases that fall within the guidelines for acceptance?
There are many cases and problems of unfairness and injustice which the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive many requests for assistance each month. Therefore, we cannot accept all of the complaints that fall within the guidelines discussed above. We must select those which we believe will have the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties.
Can the ACLU advise me about a case?
The ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case or provide other types of assistance, (for example, reviewing your papers or conducting legal research to assist you), if we do not accept your case. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases that we do accept.
Important note about deadline:
All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights and depending on what rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and these agencies usually have their own time deadlines. The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult with an attorney promptly to find out what deadlines apply in your case.
If you believe your case may be the kind of case we accept, you can submit an online intake form or download the form (pdf) and mail the form to:
ACLU of WV Foundation ATTN: Legal Intake P O Box 3952 Charleston WV 25339-3952
You may also write a brief letter explaining your situation. Please be brief, but give details such as when and where the problem occurred. Be sure to include dates and specific information regarding the names of all people (government agencies) with whom you have a complaint. You must include your postal mailing address, we do not respond to complaints via email or on the telephone.
While we do not generally accept intake in person or by phone, if you have a disability and require an accommodation to effectively submit your complaint in another format, you may reach us in the manner most convenient to you (including by postal mail, phone: 304-345-9246 ext. 101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and simply indicate that you require an accommodation and the best way to reach you. Our staff will make arrangements to receive your complaint as soon as we are able.
Please do not attach any original documents. If we need more information, we will contact you. We will let you know as soon as possible whether we can accept your case. Please be patient. We have limited resources.
Become A Cooperating Attorney
Legal Internship Program
Law students interested in public interest work in an Appalachian region are encouraged to apply for summer intern positions with the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia Foundation (ACLU-WV).
Law students working at the ACLU-WV will gain valuable experience working under the supervision of the ACLU-WV staff and cooperating attorneys on a wide variety of civil liberties and social justice issues.
Students interning with the ACLU-WV may participate in many aspects of litigation and legal advocacy including legal research, legal writing, interviewing witnesses, and other factual and legal investigation. Interns also participate in meetings of staff and co-counsel discussing case selection and trial strategy.
Students are encouraged to seek grants or fellowships from public interest fellowship funds through their law school or other funders. Arrangements may also be made with the student's law school for work/study stipends. Some summer students have received law school credit for their work. Unfortunately, the ACLU-WV must rely on students’ ability to obtain their own funding for the internship.
The ACLU-WV prefers students who will have completed two years of law school, have a demonstrated interest in civil rights, civil liberties and social justice, and possess excellent writing, communication and organizational skills. Exceptional first-year students are also encouraged to apply. The ACLU-WV is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and encourages applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, and veteran status.
Applications for summer intern positions are accepted on a rolling basis and will be reviewed until the internships are filled. Interested applicants for the summer clerk positions are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible.
Students interested in spending a summer or a semester with the ACLU-WV should send a cover letter, resume, transcript, list of three references (with email and phone number contact information), and short writing sample (5-10 pages). Applications can be sent by email to email@example.com and addressed to Jamie Lynn Crofts, Staff Attorney, with “Law Student Internship” in the subject line. Applications may also be sent by mail to:
Jamie Lynn Crofts, Staff Attorney
Attn: Law Student Internship Application
ACLU of West Virginia Foundation
P.O. Box 3952
Charleston, WV 25339-3952
The ACLU-WV will confirm the receipt of applications by letter or email. No phone calls please. Qualified applicants will be contacted directly by ACLU-WV attorneys for an interview.
|WV State Bar Lawyer Referral Service||(304) 558-7991||Low-cost legal consultation|
|Martindale.com||Search for attorneys by geographic area & field of practice.|
|WV State Bar Lawyer Information Service||(800) 642-3617||Call Tuesdays, 6 to 8 p.m.|
|Lawyer Disciplinary Board||(304) 558-7999||Investigates complaints regarding legal ethics|
|Legal Aid Society of West Virginia||(304) 343-4481 (800) 642-8279||Legal services for low-income individuals Long Term Care Ombudsman: (800) 834-0598|
|Innocence Project||(304) 293-7249||WVU, P.O. Box 6130, Morgantown, WV 26506 Investigates allegations of wrongful conviction.|
|Domestic Violence Counseling Center||(304) 342-7752||Information & Referral for victims of domestic violence.|
|West Virginia Advocates||(304) 346-0847 (800) 950-5250||Advocacy organization for persons with disabilities.|
|Wrightslaw.com||Special education information regarding law & advocacy.|
|WV EMS TSN: WV Emerg. Med. Serv. Tech. Suppt. Network, Inc.||(304) 366-3022||Advocacy for persons with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.|
|Developmental Disabilities Information||(304) 558-0627||Family support program|
|Equal Employment Opp. Comm. (EEOC)||(800) 669-4000||Employment discrimination|
|WV Equal Employment Opportunity Officer||(304) 558-0400||Employment discrimination (state employees)|
|WV Human Rights Commission To report hate crimes call: (304) 558-0546 or (877) 421-5074||(304) 558-2616||Discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, or disability in places of public accommodation, housing, and employment.|
|WV Div. of Labor, Wage and Hour Section||(304) 558-7890||Employee wage and hour rights|
|U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employ. Stds. Admin.||(304) 347-5206||Employee wage and hour rights|
|Senior Legal Advice and Referral||(800) 229-5068||Statewide program; legal advice & referrals for people 60 years of age and older.|
|Consumer Protection||(304) 558-8986 (800) 368-8808||Information about a variety of consumer issues.|
|Child Protective Services||Depends on county||See telephone directory under West Virginia, State of; Health and Human Resources, Department of; Bureau for Children and Families; Local Offices.|
|Individuals representing themselves may find the following helpful: Going Solo: Representing Yourself in the West Virginia Courts, also available on-line or by calling (304) 558-0145.|
Know Your Rights Manuals
Know Your Rights When Encountering Police
Know Your Rights: LGBTQ Students Guide
Prisoners’ Assistance Directory (2012 resource): A list of national and state-based organizations that assist prisoners and their families in various capacities.
Know Your Rights: Medical, Dental and Mental Health Care (2012 resource): Prison officials are obligated under the Eighth Amendment to provide prisoners with adequate medical care. This principle applies regardless of whether the medical care is provided by governmental employees or by private medical staff under contract with the government.
Know Your Rights: Freedom of Religion (2012 Resource): Generally, beliefs that are “sincerely held” and “religious” are protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Know Your Rights: Publications Sent by Mail (2012 Resource): Restrictions on prisoners’ access to publications cannot be arbitrary; they must be “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” That said, in practice, courts often will accept the judgment of prison authorities in deciding whether censoring a publication is reasonable.
Know Your Rights: Legal Rights of Disabled Prisoners (2012 Resource): Statutes exist under both the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect the rights of prisoners with disabilities.
Know Your Rights: Environmental Hazards and Toxic Materials (2011 resource): Exposing prisoners to dangerous conditions or toxic substances may violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment if, with deliberate indifference, they expose a prisoner to a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to that prisoner’s future health.
Know Your Rights: The Prison Litigation Reform Act (2011 resource): The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) makes it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits in federal court. This fact sheet outlines the information you need to know before filing a lawsuit.
Know Your Rights: Privileged and Non-Privileged Mail (2011 resource): The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution entitles prisoners to receive and send mail, subject only to the institution’s right to censor letters or withhold delivery if necessary to protect institutional security, and if accompanied by appropriate procedural safeguards.