LSC Updates - February 16, 2005
LEGAL AID, COURTS LOOK TO DODGE AX
T.R. Goldman, Legal Times (DC) -
February 14, 2005
Although the Bush administration has made clear its goal of fiscal austerity in the Fiscal Year 2006 budget, the federal judiciary and the Legal Services Corporation hope they are not among the budget's victims. Both are watching warily and are taking aggressive stances when it comes to their own funding requests. LSC, the independent agency whose 3,700 attorneys have a client base of 45.2 million people, is requesting $363.8 million in funding from Congress in FY06. It would mark an increase over the $330.8 million appropriation it received in FY05, when the agency asked for $352.4 million. The White House Office of Management and Budget makes a competing suggestion for LSC funding: $318 million in FY06, after recommending $329 million in each of the previous four years. "All too often, when there are federal cuts, there is simply no one to pick up the slack - given the overwhelming need," says LSC spokesman Eric Kleiman.
FISCAL 2006 BUDGET: LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION
Liriel Higa, Congressional Quarterly (DC) -
February 7, 2005
In his FY 2006 budget, President Bush is requesting $318 million for LSC, 5 percent less than the FY05 appropriation of $335 million (ultimately reduced to $330.8 million after two across-the-board budget cuts). For the past four consecutive years, the administration has proposed $329 million in funding for LSC. Spokesman Eric Kleiman noted that LSC has asked Congress in FY06 for $364 million, the amount needed to match the rate of inflation for the past three years. Kleiman said that the agency has been dealt a "double whammy" in recent years - rapidly rising numbers of poor Americans eligible for legal aid combined with congressional appropriations that have not kept pace with the rate of inflation.
ABA PRESIDENT-ELECT MICHAEL S. GRECO CALLS FOR "RENAISSANCE OF IDEALISM"
Brennan Center Legal Services E-lert - February 4, 2005
ABA President-elect Michael S. Greco called for a "renaissance of idealism" in the legal community during his keynote address at the Alabama Law Foundation's annual dinner. Greco urged attorneys to lead a "resurgence" in pro bono and public service and to expand the reach of the landmark Gideon case that guaranteed a right to counsel for criminal defendants. He noted that the legal community must realize, once and for all, that people in poverty must have access to counsel if they are to receive justice. "Such critically important assistance should not be measured out by the teaspoonful...It should be available to all who qualify," Greco said. To meet this standard, he called on law firms to increase the availability of lawyers who offer pro bono services, and he encouraged attorneys to call their representatives in Congress and seek adequate funding for LSC.
STUDY: LACK OF FUNDS LEAVES POOR FACING LEGAL SYSTEM ALONE
Mary Tallon, Associated Press - February 9, 2005
According to a new study of Illinois' legal aid system, tens of thousands of the state's poor face important legal issues without the help of an attorney. The report, commissioned by a coalition of attorneys' groups, concludes that those in poverty received help with only one of every six civil legal problems they encountered in 2003. The study also called on Illinois to appropriate a minimum of $5 million to civil legal aid programs in the next budget. Currently, the state contributes $473,000, ranking it last among the 10 most populous states in funding legal services. "People are being forced to try to be their own advocates in a number of areas simply because there are no legal aid resources available," says Mark Marquandt, the study's research director.
TARGETING PREDATORY LENDERS TOUGH, PANEL TOLD
David Flaum, The Commercial Appeal (TN) - February 5, 2005
Tennessee needs comprehensive legislation to target predatory lending practices, a task force advised state lawmakers. The problem partially stems from the fact that many banks do not do business in some areas of the community, where people are driven to predatory lenders, according to state Rep. Joe Towns Jr. "If more regulated institutions were available," says Towns, "we wouldn't be having this discussion today." Webb Brewer, an attorney with Memphis Legal Services and a member of the task force, agreed: "Something is better than nothing, but the real answer is comprehensive legislation. Unless we have a comprehensive state bill, we're just nibbling around the edges." However, the state's top financial service regulator notes that federal "pre-emption" of bank regulations could make enforcement difficult. The task force recommended using a 5-year-old North Carolina statute, thought by many to be the "gold standard" for state legislation on this topic, as a model.
Denise Buffa, The New York Post (NY) - February 9, 2005
A new program devoted to preventing homelessness in the South Bronx is being hailed as the first of its kind in the nation. The Housing Help Program - a partnership of the Civil Court of the City of New York, United Way of New York City, Legal Services for New York City-Bronx, and Women in Need - includes a specially trained judge and court team to handle eviction cases from beginning to end. Supportive services that address issues such as inability to pay rent, job training, family counseling, and substance abuse will also be offered. "Rather than simply deciding a case and then shuttin g our eyes to what happens after a family leaves the doors of our courthouse, it's time to think about future outcomes," says Judge Fern Fisher, a city Civil Court Administrative Judge spearheading the effort. The South Bronx has one of the highest rates of homelessness in New York City.
SISTER HELEN PREJEAN TO ADDRESS LEGAL AID OF WESTERN MISSOURI'S JUSTICE FOR ALL LUNCHEON
February 8, 2005
Sister Helen Prejean, author of the critically acclaimed Dead Man Walking, will speak at Legal Aid of Western Missouri's (LAWMO) Seventh Annual Justice for All Luncheon on May 10 at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. Sister Helen's book has been translated into 12 languages and was made into a motion picture that won Susan Sarandon a Best Actress Oscar in 1996 for her portrayal of Sister Helen. The annual luncheon will celebrate the inaugural year of a three-year, $1.5 million Justice for All fundraising campaign to benefit LAWMO.
FEDERAL GRANT TO LOCAL GROUPS WILL HELP HOMELESS
Pat Hathcock, Victoria Advocate (TX) - January 28, 2005
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is the recipient of a $109,999 federal grant earmarked for paralegal services to help the homeless with legal issues. The full $634,005 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is being divided among nine of the programs that comprise the Victoria Homeless Coalition, which provides services to at least 151 adults and 28 children who are homeless in Victoria, Texas. "It's a three-year grant," says TRLA attorney Nicole Love. "So it's like $35,000 per year to find a legal assistant to help with things like Social Security benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, sometimes family-oriented law."
HOMELESS PROGRAMS GET HUD FUNDING
The Honolulu Advertiser (HI) - January 31, 2005
The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii/Homeless Holistic Legal Services Program has been awarded a $129,339 grant as part of a $6 million package by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to aid Hawaii's homeless population. The grants were awarded by HUD's Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance program and were announced by Gov. Linda Lingle and Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
JUSTICE FOR ALL: LSC CELEBRATES 30 YEARS
Robert J. Grey Jr., ABA Journal - January 25, 2005
Robert J. Grey, Jr. is President of the American Bar Association, and this was excerpted from the President's Column.
A few months ago, I was privileged to be a part of the 30th anniversary celebration of an organization that has become a standard-bearer of all that is good about our profession: the Legal Services Corporation. If you're not familiar with this historic, results-oriented group of men and women, you should be, since their work resides at the very heart of what it means to be a lawyer. Its work is multifaceted, but its mission is really quite simple: "Equal justice under the law." We are all familiar with this phrase. We learn it in civics class, explore its consequence to our democracy in law school, and see it etched on courthouse walls nationwide. Essentially, it holds that justice, as an inalienable right, should never be determined by financial well-being or station in life. Justice for everyone is the prerequisite for a healthy, prosperous and peaceful society.
Of course, simply declaring this founding tenet of our democracy does not make it a reality. Practical application requires the legal profession - the link between citizens and their system of justice - to do everything it can to bring the hopefulness of our system to those who require it. LSC stands at the forefront of this cause by providing thousands of small, everyday victories that, while never mentioned on the evening news, have a profound effect on the lives of so many. LSC programs provide civil legal assistance to Americans who are eligible under the federal poverty guidelines. The programs assist with the very basic concerns of everyday life, such as domestic violence, employment, housing, health care and fraud.
As it is with all great organizations of high purpose, the LSC was the inspiration of great leaders like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell. As president of the ABA in 1964, Powell provided essential support for a federally funded legal services program. In a remarkable speech to the ABA House of Delegates, Powell declared that justice "should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status."
Through the years, while providing extraordinary service to communities around the country, the LSC has faced great challenges as well. In the 1980s and '90s, its very existence was threatened by those who felt that equal justice under the law was not important enough or threatened enough to justify any federal assistance at all. Under this assault, the legal community, and the ABA most prominently, rose up and argued for LSC's continued funding. Because of the efforts of lawyers, the LSC enjoys greater support on Capitol Hill today. Yet challenges remain. The number of Americans eligible for LSC-funded programs now exceeds 43 million and is growing while federal appropriations remain flat.
While the ABA will continue to keep the LSC among the highest of its legislative priorities, it is incumbent on the U.S. legal profession -lawyers like you and me - to join this cause. I urge every one of you reading this to contact your legislators and voice your support for LSC funding. To be sure, there are great demands on this country and on our government's scarce resources. But I can think of no higher priority than equal justice under the law.
To read the full column, go to http://www.abanet.org/journal/redesign/02pp.html.
LSC Resource Library Update
Sponsor: Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)
Project: Legal Interpreter Project (LIP)
Date: February 2005
The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC) has developed the Legal Interpreter Project (LIP), which provides language services to legal aid clients. Interpreters are chosen from the community, then are subject to a pre-screening via telephone, and then must attend a two-day training program. After the training, their communications and interpretation skills are evaluated. Interviews, as well as oral and written tests, are also administered. The interpreters chosen are then compensated for their services as they help legal services programs overcome language barriers that prevent eligible clients with limited English proficiency from seeking legal counsel.
The program has been highly successful, producing 39 interpreters. Since its inception in 2001, LIP has assisted on over 250 projects. Due to popular demand, APALRC has developed a manual entitled "Ensuring Meaningful Access to Legal Services: A Model for a Legal Interpreter Project." For more information on this and other projects, please visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov/rs.htm.
Client Success Story
SUCCESS STORY FROM LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF GREATER CINCINNATI
(Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories from the field illustrate the day-to-day struggles, and victories, of poor Americans seeking justice under law.)
One day, a small fire erupted in the laundry room of a Westwood apartment complex. The building was shut down by order of the fire department, which declared the structure unsafe. Basic services, such as heat and water, were discontinued. While some of the tenants found temporary housing with relatives or in motels. Others, lacking a place to live or store their belongings, stayed in the building and prepared to face the elements of early winter and darkness.
When the landlord did not act to repair the damages caused by the fire, tenants sought out the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati (LASGC) for help. "Families were unraveling," recalls LASGC staff attorney Marcheta Gillam "Nothing was happening, and the costs of being out of their homes were mounting."
Gillam filed a lawsuit, seeking an injunction ordering the landlord to make emergency repairs. It took three weeks, but the strategy was a success. A judge ordered immediate steps to be taken by the landlord. Within days, tenants were able to move back into their homes, their heat and electricity restored. The owner also waived one month's rent, and several families continued to seek LASGC's help with individual legal problems, their faith in the system bolstered.