Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, Inc. (LSVI) began in 1969 under the name, Virgin Islands Community Legal Services, Inc. The incorporators were attorneys Almeric L. Christian, Alphonso A. Christian and Sidney Cohen. It began as a part of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) ‘War on Poverty” program. This territory-wide agency began with two executive directors. Attorney Harry Dreis was the director of the St. Thomas office, which was located at #4 Nye Gade, and Attorney Richard Unruh was the director of the St. Croix office, which was located at #6 Company Street, Christiansted. Attorneys Leroy Mercer and Michael S. Federoff were also executive directors during the formative years of the agency. The agency was re-incorporated in 1972 under its present name, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, Inc. Attorneys Jean-Robert Alfred, Brian L. Masony, Ronald W. Belfon, Allison P. Thompson and Mr. Harvey Nielsen (co-acting) have all served as executive directors of the agency. Attorney Richard Austin is the present executive director of LSVI.
LSVI is governed by a Board of Trustees, which includes eligible clients and lawyers. The agency has offices on St. Croix and St. Thomas and serves St. John on an outreach basis from St. Thomas. The populations served include the elderly, low-income individuals and victims of domestic violence. Our program priorities include vital survival areas such as food, housing, safety, employment, and health care.
LSVI justice advocates have been involved in many precedent setting cases, such as Hosier v. Evans, 8 V.I. 17, 314 F. Supp. 316 (DCVI 1970), which championed the constitutional rights of non-citizens residing in the territory to attend public schools. This case is still the primary case cited in U.S. Courts for non-citizen resident rights; and was cited in the recent Nazareth case, which involved temporary emergency housing rights for hurricane victims.
Legal Services programs, both locally and nationally, have always had problems with funding. Notwithstanding these challenges, they have survived the Reagan years, the Contract on American Years and locally, the present economic crisis. The long term objective of LSVI is to obtain stable and dependable funding which will allow it to continue providing effective, efficient and high quality civil legal assistance to eligible clients.