LSC Updates - February 22, 2006
LSC Issues Program Letter, Gives Basic Guidance for Implementation of Recently Enacted Amendments to "Violence Against Women Act"
February 21, 2006, LSC issued Program Letter 06-2 as a guide to legal services programs for implementing significant changes included in recently enacted amendments to the "Violence Against Women Act" (VAWA 2006). The changes, which affect the eligibility of individuals for legal services as well as the use of LSC funds to support those services, become effective this year. Using a Question-and-Answer format, LSC Program Letter 06-2 addresses a series of issues arising out of the expanded scope of LSC recipients' permissible representation.
Programs are reminded that each program's Board of Directors must formally adopt these client eligibility criteria changes consistent with both the LSC Program Letter and the recipient program's priorities.
At the American Bar Association's Mid-Year meeting of its House of Delegates--the policy-making body of the Association--bar leaders from states affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, in a special presentation, reported on how the legal communities in their states were working to provide legal services to the thousands of people faced with a legal crisis in the wake of the hurricanes. Melissa Pershing, Executive Director of LSC-funded Legal Services Alabama, delivered the report on behalf of the Alabama State Bar. The report, "Rebuilding Lives: Alabama's Legal Response to Disaster" discussed the scale of the devastation inflicted on Alabama, the types of legal problems faced by those affected, and the work of various organizations throughout the state, including Legal Services Alabama, to address those problems.
The Winter 2005 edition of Equal Justice Magazine is now available online at www.ejm.lsc.gov. The cover story, "Vulnerable Immigrants Look to Legal Services," highlights how LSC-funded programs help bridge the gap, sometimes a vast gulf, between populations new to the United States, and the justice system that is meant to help one and all. Also featured is a write-up of the LSC Board of Director's experiences touring the agricultural fields of California's Salinas Valley, where they met with migrant farmworkers, farm owners, and farmworker advocates who work to secure a better life for those that toil in the "salad bowl for the world."
The Washington Post - February 17, 2006
As Mayor Anthony A. Williams develops his fiscal 2007 budget, we hope he weighs carefully the request of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission for an annual appropriation to provide civil legal services to low-income District residents. By one estimate, more than 100,000 poor people in the District have unmet legal needs that include housing-related problems, family law and language assistance. Clearly, access to civil justice in the nation's capital should not turn on income or economic status. By providing official funding for civil legal assistance--similar to programs available in 42 states--Mr. Williams and the D.C. Council would be ensuring that residents who are unable to overcome impediments to justice on their own will get the help they need.
The commission is an organization of considerable legal heft. It was created by the D.C. Court of Appeals last year to tackle the glaring problems of unmet legal needs and barriers to legal access. The commission's membership is diverse: It consists of judges from the D.C. Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, past presidents of the D.C. Bar, community leaders and other providers of legal services.
It is difficult to see how the mayor could ignore the commission's request for $6.2 million annually. More than 30,000 lawyers work in the city, but only a dozen provide legal services in offices east of the Anacostia River. What's more, no full-time legal-services lawyers are working in Northeast Washington, according to the commission. What does that mean in practical terms? Reports the commission: "Of the 49,000 cases filed annually in landlord/tenant court, about 99% do not have lawyers even though tenants face eviction in virtually every case." Similar legal barriers exist for the more than 39,000 District residents who speak little English and who have trouble accessing government services and the legal system.
City leaders should find these conditions, and more like them, unacceptable. The D.C. Access to Justice Commission has provided a sound remedy -- one we hope Mr. Williams will adopt in his fiscal 2007 budget.
Gabe Friedman, The Los Angeles Daily Journal (CA) - February 8, 2006
Bruce Iwasaki, former head of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, was still looking for a pen in his new office this week when the good news arrived: On the same day that he joined Lim, Ruger & Kim as a partner, Iwasaki received the John Minor Wisdom Award for professionalism in public service.
The award, given by the American Bar Association's litigation section, honored Iwasaki for his service at Legal Aid, which provides legal advice to low-income people.
During his nine-year tenure as executive director, the number of staff attorneys grew to 60 and the annual budget doubled to $14 million.
But this was far from Iwasaki's mind on Monday when he started a business dispute and consumer plaintiff practice at Lim, Ruger & Kim, a small, minority-owned firm in downtown Los Angeles.
The combination of starting a new job and receiving the award left him lightheaded.
"I'm very humbled to receive it ... people who receive awards often get a big head," Iwasaki said. "It's a recognition not for me, but my colleagues at the Legal Aid Foundation."
Certainly, Iwasaki is credited with restoring quality of service at the Legal Aid Foundation in Los Angeles. Besides doubling its resources, he also oversaw the merger of the Los Angeles and Long Beach Legal Aid organizations.
Dennis Rockway, director of advocacy and training for the organization in Los Angeles, credited Iwasaki with creating a "culture of learning." Iwasaki said that he always sought to bring the same quality of service that people expected from the private sector. He is well positioned to know the difference.
After graduating UCLA School of Law in 1976, he spent his first decade practicing general poverty law at Legal Aid, followed by nine years at O'Melveny & Myers practicing business litigation.
In 1997, he returned to Legal Aid and served for nine years as executive director.
Last Friday, Iwasaki left the Legal Aid offices near Koreatown for the comforts of private practice in downtown again.
Only two days back into private practice, Iwasaki was still trying to articulate the difference.
He said that executive directors and law firm partners require similar skill sets.
The skills needed to schmooze at fundraisers resemble those used for business development in private practice.
As far as providing quality service, Iwasaki said he spent the past nine years studying how to raise standards at Legal Aid.
"In my view, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles is one of the most important law firms in town," Iwasaki said. "It is the place for people with no where else to turn."
Fundraising Challenge Gives $110,000 Boost to Alaska Legal Services
February 8, 2006
The fundraising challenge issued by the Anchorage and Fairbanks law firm of Guess & Rudd P.C. to members of Alaska's legal community came to a successful conclusion on January 31, 2006. Guess & Rudd P.C. had pledged to donate $10,000 to Alaska Legal Services Corporation's Robert Hickerson Partners in Justice Campaign if eight other Alaska law firms or members of the legal community made a matching $10,000 donation.
Ten challenge matches were donated or pledged, resulting in a total of over $110,000 earmarked for ALSC's annual fundraising campaign. ALSC Executive Director Andy Harrington stated "The Guess & Rudd challenge re-energized our annual fundraising campaign through friendly competition among members of the legal community - and overwhelming generosity on the part of the donors - at a time when we most needed a financial boost. We are grateful beyond words to Guess & Rudd, and to all of the donors, for their commitment to the provision of legal assistance to Alaskans in need."
ALSC's annual fundraising campaign provides operating revenue for services on behalf of low-income Alaskans who seek civil legal assistance. Donors who wish to contribute to the campaign, which ends June 30, can make an online donation at www.partnersinjustice.org or request a donation form from Director of Volunteer Services and Community Support Erick Cordero at 907-222-4521.
February 8, 2006
Low-income New Yorkers have a new ally in their struggles with crushing debts. The New York City Bankruptcy Assistance Project (NYC BAP) opened its doors this week to assist indigent New Yorkers in navigating through the bankruptcy process-without charge to the debtor.
The Project is a response to the passage by Congress, last April, of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), which made it more difficult for consumers to obtain relief from debts through bankruptcy.
The Project is housed at Legal Services for New York City (LSNY), the largest provider of free civil legal services to poor people in the United States, and will be headed by William Kransdorf, an attorney with over 13 years of experience in bankruptcy law and legal services for poor people.
"This Project will directly help some of New York City's most vulnerable, hard-working poor people get on their feet and participate in the economy," states Andrew Scherer, LSNY's Executive Director. He added that "for people who have recently climbed out of dependency on public benefits-or out of homelessness-it can be devastating to then have your wages garnished or your checking account seized. This Project will help prevent that kind of setback."
Max Solomon, The Pennsylvania Lawyer - February 2006
Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA) is proving that pro bono work can do more than provide free representation for underprivileged clients, while rewarding the consciences of responsible attorneys. It can also dramatically boost careers.
The organization's new Lawyers on Loan program is fielding top-notch counselors for clients on a pro bono basis and grooming young lawyers at area firms in the process. The program was conceived in September 2004 during Mark Nowak's term as president of NLSA's board. Nowak is a partner at the Pittsburgh firm of Thorp Reed & Armstrong.
"The NLSA task force kicked around various ideas for promoting increased private lawyer involvement." Nowak says. "But the more they thought about it, the more they realized they should take that idea to the next level."
That notion became the Lawyers on Loan program, which encourages Pittsburgh-area law firms to contribute an associate to NLSA for one year of pro bono duty. The program was immediately adopted by Thorp Reed and Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, another area firm with 150 lawyers. Other firms are being actively recruited.
"It would have been easy simply to write a check," says Douglas E. Gilbert, managing partner of Thorp Reed. "But by [us] providing one of our lawyers, the NLSA is able to offer expanded and higher quality services while giving talented young associates an opportunity to get in the trenches and rapidly advance their careers. That's a two-pronged return on investment."
The West Virginia Record - February 8, 2006
Over the last three years, more than 50 law firms and 237 individual donors have given or pledged more than $800,000 to ensure that low-income West Virginians have access to legal representation through Legal Aid of West Virginia.
The Campaign for Legal Aid was co-chaired by Charleston attorneys Al Emch and Scott Segal.
"I think what is impressive is that the state's legal community heeded the campaign's call for on-going support of Legal Aid of West Virginia," said Segal of The Segal Law Firm. "The generous response from the Bar makes me proud to be a lawyer."
Emch of Jackson Kelly PLLC said Legal Aid attorneys "do the work that many of us want to do but can't."
"They have just 37 attorneys working statewide, helping people who have no place else to turn solve their everyday legal problems," he said. "Legal Aid provides real access to the legal system for low-income West Virginians."
Segal and Emch worked with a statewide committee of about 25 lawyers to raise money for the three-year campaign that concluded in December.
Still, demand for Legal Aid services outstrips the organization's ability to provide services, according to a release from the group.
In a national survey of legal aid programs for two months this past spring, it was documented that for every client served by a federally funded legal aid program, at least one person who sought help was turned down because of insufficient resources.
The study also noted that a small percentage (one in five or less) of the legal problems experienced by low-income people are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
In West Virginia, there are more than 316,000 low-income residents eligible for Legal Aid's services. With their 37 lawyers, that equals a ratio of one attorney for every 8,540 low-income residents.
Dan Ruben, The Roanoke Times (VA) - February 15, 2006
"Over a number of years," says attorney Larry T. Harley, "my client had been threatened at gunpoint, had been held at knifepoint literally all night long."
The client's life was defined by terror and abuse until she gained the help of the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society (SVLAS). She secured a protective order that guaranteed her safety and allowed her to stay in her house. The woman's husband left her alone -- probably because she had Harley's help.
"When victims of domestic violence have lawyers," Harley says, "it makes a big difference in their future." The victim feels empowered, and the abuser knows he's going to have to deal with an attorney if he tries anything.
Legal aid organizations like SVLAS serve the poorest of the poor, those who have no other options for representation in the justice system. Legal help from an attorney is critically important, especially for those in dire need. Virginia's legal aid organizations provide help in civil matters, protecting battered women and abused and neglected children, and assisting low-income clients on issues related to custody, debt and eviction.
JoAnn Livingston, The Waxahachie Daily Light (TX) - February 15, 2006
Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas presented its first Ellis County Judges Conference on Friday, with Judge Gene Knize of the 40th District Court, Judge Al Scoggins of the 378th District Court, Judge Bob Carroll of Ellis County Court at Law No. 1 and Judge Gene Calvert Jr. of Ellis County Court at Law No. 2 presenting to more than 20 local and area attorneys.
"This is an idea that has been done in other places - it's just never been done here before," said David Loving III, lead attorney in Ellis County for Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. "We're trying to provide a benefit to the attorneys. We value their time in helping our client population, the less fortunate."
The conference would provide continuing legal education to the participating attorneys, who, in turn, would provide assistance through the Equal Justice Volunteer Attorney Program in Ellis County, he said.
"This is really a good turnout for us," Loving said. "It's great also that the judges were behind it. We have both district judges here and both county court at law judges."
Alex Dobuzinskis, The Daily News of Los Angeles (CA) - February 9, 2006
From helping the homeless find a place to live to advising immigrants on their rights, Neighborhood Legal Service of Los Angeles County has been offering tips on the law for 40 years. Now, the group has an office in Glendale.
"We think Glendale is an exciting place to be," said Neal Dudovitz, the group's executive director. "We also recognize it has, sadly, an extensive low-income community that needs assistance. It has one of the highest number of immigrants of any community in Los Angeles."
Neighborhood Legal Services has more than 40 attorneys. Its biggest office is in Pacoima, and it has another branch in El Monte. The Glendale office will have about six attorneys.
A few weeks ago, the Glendale attorneys helped a homeless woman in her 50s get enough money in disability benefits to allow her to start looking for an apartment.
"She was smiling a lot more and really you could just see a big difference in the way she carried herself," said Abby McClelland, a supervising attorney for the nonprofit.
The Anchorage Daily News (AK) - February 13, 2006
The quality of justice in Alaska's legal system shouldn't depend on how much money somebody has. But the sad truth is that many Alaskans find themselves facing legal dilemmas -- such as domestic violence, divorce, child custody -- and are too poor to afford legal help. Without access to the legal system, they remain stuck in emotionally damaging, even dangerous, situations.
Alaska has a small program, Alaska Legal Services, to supply legal aid to the poor. But the nonprofit organization struggles to find enough volunteer help and funding to sustain its small corps of low-paid, hard-working lawyers. The challenge is hardest in the Bush. In some parts, Legal Services attorneys are the only ones within a hundred miles.
Thanks to leadership of two key Republicans, a modest amount of state money may start going into legal aid for the poor. Anchorage Rep. Lesil McGuire, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, persuaded the House to pass a measure that can help. By a vote of 33-2, the House agreed to create a separate civil legal services account, funded with discretionary deposits from the state's one-half share of any punitive damages awarded in civil trials in Alaska.
On the Senate side, Fairbanks Republican Ralph Seekins has sponsored a similar measure. With such an influential backer in the Senate, the hope is that the Legislature will speedily approve this new funding option.
That's only part of what needs to happen, though. Lawmakers who write the budget should make sure the new fund actually gets some of the state's punitive damage money and then steer that money into legal aid for the poor. The pot isn't huge -- the state collected a total of $642,000 of punitive damages the past two years, according to Legal Services. Even a modest slice would help a great deal. The state hasn't spent its own money on the legal aid program for a couple of years.
Sponsor Rep. McGuire said the bill is "an effort to ensure that the elderly, victims of domestic violence and children have access to a fair and just legal system." Passing the bill doesn't guarantee the funding needed to make good on that goal. But it will improve the odds that the Legislature does the right thing and ensures that more Alaskans can get a fair shake when they need to enter the halls of justice.
Minnesota State Bar Association members have contributed $400,000 to rebuild Gulf Coast legal systems damaged by hurricane Katrina, MSBA President Susan M. Holden announced.
State bar foundations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama received funds to aid displaced lawyers. Three legal services offices-Southeast Louisiana Legal Service Corporation, Mississippi Center for Legal Services Corporation, Legal Services Alabama-and The Pro Bono Project, in New Orleans, also received funding from the MSBA.
In addition to funds, the MSBA collected and shipped truckloads of office furnishings. The first truckload went to Mississippi and equipped a legal services office and small law offices.
On a recent visit to the organizations receiving the funds, Holden met with the heads of legal services organizations across the Gulf Coast to learn more about the specific problems these organizations face in serving the legal needs of lower-income people affected by hurricane Katrina.
"We knew at the outset that this was a disaster unlike any other we have experienced in this country and it warrants an unprecedented response. What struck me, still, is the enormity of the destruction covering such a large geographic area, and the numbers of people impacted long term," Holden said.
"What we learned, graphically, is that the need for legal services in the Gulf region continues to grow as people in this devastated area begin to put their lives back together. There will be extensive legal needs in this area for a long time to come," Holden said.
AARP Foundation Awards Grant to Legal Services of North Louisiana, Inc. To Assist Hurricane Katrina and Rita Evacuees
Legal Services of North Louisiana, Inc. [LSNL] has been awarded a grant of $94,143 to provide legal assistance to evacuees of Hurricane Katrina and Rita who are over 50 years of age. The grant is for one year from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2006. Lone Star Legal Aid in Texas also received a similar grant from the AARP Foundation for $100,000.
Doug German, The Journal Star (NE) - February 6, 2006
Much is written and debated about the economic condition of Nebraska. Many experts contend that we've never been healthier, as they predict steady growth and a bright Nebraska future, mostly in urban areas.
Maybe so, but is it possible that one of Nebraska's best economic opportunities resides in the lowest income levels of our population?
I think so. Here's how:
One-seventh of our state's residents, 250,000 people, earn less than 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which means they individually earn less than $12,000 a year. These fellow Nebraskans either can be a burden on our economy or an opportunity for economic growth. They want to be an opportunity. When I used to handle cases as a legal aid attorney, I would often ask my clients what they wanted most. Invariably the answer was: "Give me a good job. Give me an opportunity."
A growing, thriving state requires a "work-ready" labor force to support new and expanding business.
To be "work-ready," such persons must be self-sufficient. They must have at least the basics: shelter, security and income. And they must have their civil legal affairs in order so they can get to work, stay at work and be productive workers.
According to a study done by the University of Nebraska-Omaha, every dollar spent in solving the civil legal problems of low-income Nebraskans contributes $5 of economic activity to one of the state's communities. This is in addition to the immeasurable benefits of the hope and personal success fostered. Every community in Nebraska should recognize that when individuals and families are mired in civil legal problems, they're held back from jobs, productivity and full participation in our economy.
The point is this: Nebraska has a great opportunity. In fact, 250,000 opportunities. One-seventh of its population seeks jobs or business opportunities. By simply removing the barriers posed by people who are mired in civil legal difficulties, we can create and maintain the workforce we spoke of earlier. We must come together to ensure that one-seventh of our neighbors no longer are left out in the cold. Right now, only 22 percent of those who qualify for this type of help are receiving it. That means that 78 percent, or 195,000 Nebraskans, are left without legal assistance.
In the final analysis, Nebraskans must be willing to see this opportunity, invest in it, and make it happen. Imagine.
Doug German is Executive Director of LSC-funded Legal Aid of Nebraska.
Sponsor: Legal Services Alabama
Project: Disaster Hotline Network
Date: February 8, 2006
Hurricane Katrina created an overwhelming need for disaster relief legal services. However, Legal Services Alabama Inc. (LSA) did not have a centralized intake system at the time of the disaster. LSA's strong desire to address the critical legal needs of clients prompted the program to accelerate its timetable for centralization. LSA decided to use its Disaster Hotline Network as the first step to transition the entire program to a statewide, central intake and hotline configuration.
To learn more about this project, visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov.