Candace Gebhart retires from NHLA, leaves lasting impact on legal aid communityPosted Mar 25, 2022
Over the last 15 years, few at New Hampshire Legal Assistance have been more instrumental in providing essential services to clients than Candace Gebhart. The range of her advocacy is extraordinary, covering access to shelter for homeless persons and families, preventing evictions, enforcing the rights of elderly clients to in-home services, obtaining and preserving Social Security benefits for people with disabilities, securing welfare assistance for New Hampshire’s poorest individuals, and property tax relief for seniors.
Candace’s career at NHLA will come to an end this month, and we wish her the best with her retirement.
“I had no idea of the huge, unmet need for legal aid nor how differently low-income people are treated across all segments of society,” she said. “As a paralegal, working for NHLA was a dream job because I was given a very high degree of responsibility advocating for clients who often hear, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you,’ and are beaten down by a legal system that is confusing and unapproachable.”
NHLA, the entire legal aid community, and the numerous community organizations Candace has collaborated with over the years will miss her presence.
“She has done it all here – from many hundreds of individual cases to complex class action litigation, to building a network of relationships that reaches into every corner of our state,” said NHLA Executive Director, Sarah Mattson Dustin. “Whenever I receive a client satisfaction questionnaire singing Candace’s praises – which is often – she’ll always tell me some variation of ‘well, that client was just terrific!’ She cares so deeply about getting people a fair shake, and she’s changed thousands of lives for the better.”
“In all of her endeavors, Candace has been a force to be reckoned with,” NHLA attorney Elliott Berry said. “She employs an extremely rare combination of charm with a ‘junk yard dog-like tenacity.’”
Candace’s experience and her extensive knowledge of the law have made her an important mentor to younger attorneys and paralegals at NHLA. Everyone enjoys working with her, and no one has ever had anything bad to say.
“The only time I have ever been angry with her is when she told me that she was retiring,” Berry joked.
As Housing Justice Project Co-Director alongside Berry, Candace has been instrumental in shaping NHLA’s housing advocacy and keeping it on course.
“Candace has been a valued friend to me as well as countless co-workers,” Berry said. “Over the years, her administrative skills have consistently made up for my shortcomings as the managing attorney of the Manchester office. She has been an important part of almost everything that I have achieved over the last 15 years at NHLA.”
Handling bankruptcy cases is one of the areas where Candace really shines in her legal work.
“Bankruptcy is all about forms,” said Stephanie Bray, Managing Attorney of the NHLA Claremont office. “And Candace is the forms queen. Luckily, she is passing along her knowledge to us before she retires.”
Candace saved dozens of homeowners from foreclosure, but she helped one elderly client with disabilities named Viola* avoid losing her home three separate times.
“Bankruptcy is also about dealing with client foibles and setbacks,” Bray explained. “The margin of error in adhering to a bankruptcy plan is super thin, and every time there was a crisis, Candace talked Viola back into compliance while she yelled at creditors to calm down.”
Candace initially represented Viola in a difficult Chapter 13 situation, in which Viola completed her payments and kept her home. But when paperwork errors meant some of Viola's payments were put toward an old municipal sewer bill, Candace determined where the faulty charges were coming from and worked tirelessly to correct it.
“This is not always easy if you are looking at baffling mortgage statements and escrow analyses, which are difficult even for an attorney to tease out,” said Bray.
The ink was barely dry on the settlement of the second case when Viola got off track with her property tax payments. With extensive help from Candace in applying for a mortgage modification, Viola now has an affordable payment that is paid monthly by automatic debit the day after she receives her disability benefits.
“What Candace did for Viola was something most lawyers would not have taken on,” said Bray. “Not only did Viola’s case require technical skill, it required empathy and knowing how to talk to a client going through significant challenges.”
Candace was also a key player in NHLA’s successful litigation to force the creation of a new prison for women that provides programs and services in parity with those offered to male prisoners.
“Candace’s dedication to the women prisoners and her untiring efforts to secure needed programs and services for the women at both the Goffstown and Concord prisons is something that I will always remember and admire,” said Alan Linder, a former NHLA attorney who worked closely with Candace on the case. “Her commitment and passion in advocating for her clients was an inspiration to me.”
While doing all of this, Candace has been one of NHLA’s most active participants in local service provider groups, including the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care, a collection of nonprofits in the Greater Nashua area with the shared goal of addressing homelessness.
“Candace brings a good legal perspective to the table and has represented many of our clients in municipal welfare hearings,” said Bob Mack, a welfare officer with the City of Nashua and Chair of the GNCOC’s Ending Homelessness Committee. “We all admire her commitment and desire to work with those on the fringe.”
“Working with our clients is never routine and incredibly rewarding,” Candace said. “NHLA is the best law firm in New England, and I have been so privileged and honored to work with passionate and dedicated colleagues doing good work. I will miss that.”
Please join us in wishing Candace a happy retirement and thanking her for her long-lasting contributions to legal aid.