LSC Updates - January 12, 2005
DECISION BY US DISTRICT COURT IN VELAZQUEZ & DOBBINS AND STATUS OF LSC'S PROGRAM INTEGRITY REGULATION
Statement of LSC President Helaine M. Barnett January 11, 2005
On December 21, 2004, Judge Frederic Block of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a decision in the cases of Velazquez v. LSC and Dobbins v. LSC, Nos. 97-CV-182 and 01-CV-8371, (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Dobbins"). The court upheld the constitutionality of the prohibitions on participations in class actions, client solicitation, and claims for the collection of attorney's fees. However, the court's decision would enjoin LSC from taking adverse actions under 45 CFR Part 1610 against the three plaintiff entities (Legal Services for New York City, South Brooklyn Legal Services and Farmworker Legal Services of New York) on the basis of specific proposed affiliations with entities engaged in restricted activities.
By way of background, under LSC's program integrity regulation, LSC grantees must be legally separate from entities engaged in restricted activities, must not transfer LSC funds to them, must not subsidize restricted activities with LSC funds, and must maintain physical and financial separation from such entities. Whether the requisite physical and financial separation exists is to be determined on a case-by-case basis and LSC must ensure that enforcement of the program integrity regulation in specific situations does not violate the First Amendment.
In Dobbins, three plaintiff entities offered specific proposals for affiliations with organizations that would engage in restricted activities. After careful consideration, LSC rejected their proposals as failing to provide sufficient physical and financial separation. LSC OLA External Opinion EX-2003-1009 (June 24, 2003). The court determined that the plaintiff-entities' proposals, as modified by the court, would satisfy the requirements of Part 1610 as the court construed them under the First Amendment and the court's decision would enjoin LSC from taking any adverse actions against these three entities based on the implementation of these modified proposals. LSC's Board of Directors will decide whether to appeal the Court's decision.
The court's preliminary injunction applies only to the three plaintiff entities and only as to the modified proposals ruled on by the court. Part 1610 remains in force and has not been changed and neither have LSC's enforcement policies. LSC grantees with program integrity questions about their specific situations are encouraged to bring those questions to LSC's General Counsel for guidance.
Related documents available online:
1) Velazquez v. LSC & Dobbins v. LSC, 97-CV-182, 01-CV-8371 (E.D.N.Y. December 21, 2004).
2) 45 CFR Part 1610 - Use of Non-LSC Funds, Transfers of LSC Funds, Program Integrity, Final Rule with Preamble, 62 FR 27698 (May 21, 1997).
3) LSC Office of Legal Affairs External Opinion 2003-1009.
PUBLIC SERVICE BECOMING VIABLE FOR LAW SCHOOL GRADSDaily Record Staff, Kansas City
Daily Record (MO) - January 6, 2005
According to a survey by Equal Justice Works, law school graduates are increasingly able to pursue careers in public service because of the greater availability of loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) and public interest scholarship programs. Such programs help to offset the cost of a pricey legal education. "If you owe $100,000 for your education, you're probably going to have a difficult time accepting a public service job paying $35,000 because you have to deal with that crushing debt burden," said Mary Mulvenon, Equal Justice Works program manager for research. "The good news in the survey is that since our last report in 2000, the number of law school LRAPs has increased by more than 50 percent, and that's helping to pave the way for new lawyers to pursue a pu blic service career that might otherwise be impossible for them."
GROUP ASKS STATE TO SPEND MORE ON LEGAL AID TO THE POOR
Mary Tallon, Associated Press - January 8, 2005
The Equal Justice Illinois Campaign is asking is seeking a $5 million increase in state funds. Currently, Illinois provides less than $500,000 a year to legal aid programs. According to the group, formed to lobby for increased funding for legal aid programs, the state ranks last among the nation's largest states. "We are ecstatic to have the support of the state, but the bottom line is the state needs to do their share," says Leslie Corbett, executive director for the Equal Justice Illinois Campaign. While the legal aid groups in the state had a combined budget of $36 million in 2004, most of it came from the federal government, according to Marc Marquandt, assistant director of The Lawyer's Fund Trust of Illinois. However, federal funds are decreasing and other sources of funding have not increased, he notes. "Any knowledgeable observer of the situation sees that money needs to be increased across the board and the state has a role to play there," says Marquandt.
"HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS" PROGRAM HELPS FAMILIES TAKEN TO COURT BY LANDLORDS
Jim O'Hara, The Post-Standard (NY) -December 18, 2004
Four years ago, a small group of lawyers joined together to help stop 18 eviction cases from going forward and prevent those people from becoming homeless on the holidays. That small, last-minute effort was the catalyst for the "Home for the Holidays" program, which continues four years later. This annual program has expanded with a greater number of attorneys lending their time and skills to a much larger caseload. According to officials, 53 cases were on Friday's court calendar, with a similar number on Thursday. "To the 35 or 39 families who get to stay in their homes over the holidays, yes, it makes a difference," says Dennis Kaufman, Executive Director of Legal Services of Central New York. Sometimes, the best-case scenario is that the people are given additional time from the landlord so they don't lose their home over the holidays, Kaufman says. However, in some cases, the eviction case is dismissed altogether. Last year, the "Home for the Holidays" program prevented 35 families from becoming homeless over the holidays. In 2002, the number was 39. The program is a collaboration involving Legal Services of Central New York, the Frank H. Hiscock Legal Aid Society, the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, and the Volunteer Lawyer Project of the Onondaga County Bar Association.
FUNDING CUTS ENDANGER LEGAL SERVICES FOR LOW-INCOME CLIENTS
Bob Lowry, Montgomery Advertiser (AL) - December 13, 2004
Legal Services of Alabama is having to "make some hard decisions" as a result of scarce resources, says Larry Gardella, director of advocacy. The nonprofit organization is reevaluating its priorities to assess the most critical needs of its client. The organization was established in February 2004 with the merger of Legal Services Corporation of Alabama, Legal Services of Metro Birmingham, and Legal Services of North Central Alabama, which served low-income Alabama residents for more than 25 years. According to Gardella, chronic budget problems and f ederal funding cuts forced the organization to close three offices, laying off almost a third of its staff in the process. "This keeps us from doing nearly all we would like to do for our clients," he says. "No one can meet all the needs. You can start from there. Our federal funding is not anywhere near what the increased cost of living has been since 1978."
COURT RULES INDEFINITE LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR MINORS ARE ILLEGAL
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (OH) - December 17, 2004
The Eighth District Court of Appeals (Ohio) issued a decision yesterday, ruling that juvenile courts cannot continue to enforce indefinite driver's license suspensions issued prior to 2002 once the minor has reached the age of 21. Approximately 6,681 adults in Cuyahoga County, who have been denied adult driver's licenses as a result of such suspensions, will be affected. "We see no compelling reason to create a judicial exception to the legislatively imposed limits on juvenile court jurisdiction... The damage to young adults unable to obtain a valid driver's license is well documented in both this record and in the community in general," the Court stated. David B. Dawson, deputy director of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, argued the case on behalf of the juveniles. "The decision is an important step to removing barriers to employment for low-income people," he says. "The continued enforcement of illegal license suspensions of those who are now adults limits the opportunities of poor people to obtain employment, especially outside of Cleveland where most of the manufacturing jobs exist. The ability to drive is a matter of economic survival."
SUSAN A. BUFFETT FOUNDATION PLEDGES DONATION TO LEGAL AID
Associated Press - December 14, 2004
The Susan A. Buffett Foundation plans to donate thousands of dollars in the fight for equal justice for low-income Nebraskans. Legal Aid of Nebraska will receive up to $25,000 throughout each of the next seven years, provided Nebraska attorneys also contribute to the organization. For every $2 attorneys donate above $180,000, the Foundation will contribute $1, up to $25,000 annually. Many lawyers have already contributed. Legal Aid has requested that $250,000 be donated for each of the next three years in order to secure the Foundation's pledge. Almost 40 percent of necessary funds have been promised, says Doug German, Director of Legal Aid of Nebraska. "The youngest Nebraska citizens have little hope for healthy growth if their families are crippled by legal problems," says Dan Pederson, President of the Foundation. The Foundation regularly contributes to causes on behalf of children, and this grant would be keeping with its history, says Pederson.
VICTIM GRANTS AWARDED
Topeka Capital-Journal (KS) - December 17, 2004
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced the awarding of more than $4 million in grants from the federal Victims of Crime Act to more than 50 Kansas organizations, including $90,305 for Kansas Legal Services. The federal Act contributes to organizations that offer direct services to crime victims.
FROM COMPASSION, JUSTICE...
Catherine J. Douglass, The Wall Street Journal (NY) - December 21, 2004
In 1993, I left my partnership at a major law firm to create a new organization that would deliver free legal help to women in New York City who could not pay for attorney representation when they were fac ing family crises. A clear novice in the nonprofit sector, I was at first quite overwhelmed by the daunting challenge of bringing in the resources necessary to support the organization. I have since learned many lessons about resource development, in its broadest sense, through hard experience. But looking back 12 years later, I am surprised to find myself acknowledging that one of the most satisfying parts of my job is attracting new contributors to our cause, people and institutions eager to provide the essentials not only for survival but for growth. The need for financial support is a given. But so is enlisting the time and talents of people who care - the bedrock of any nonprofit that, like ours, delivers its services by recruiting, mentoring and supporting a cadre of volunteers.
Our primary challenge is, and has been from the beginning, to let people know what needs our organization addresses and why they matter. Even most lawyers don't really appreciate that most indigent and working-poor people in our city are forced to fend for themselves in court without lawyers when they need basic legal protections. We, therefore, make use of hard statistics and compelling stories to demonstrate the immensity of the need to people in a position to help. We start with the fact that one in five New York City residents lives below the poverty level; one in three of the city's children. We look to leading judges to help us convey our message, among them U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who observed recently, "There has never been a wider gulf between the need for legal services and its availability."
In one sense, I entered a whole new world when I left the corporate sector to do public-interest work. But fortunately, I discovered a way to remain connected to the most important part of the world I left - highly talented and generous human beings with a desire to make the world a better place for those less fortunate. Together we will continue the search for new and creative ways to corral resources to bring justice to more women and children.
Ms. Douglass is the founder and executive director of inMotion, Inc. (for more information go to www.inmotiononline.org).
LSC Resource Library Update
Project: Land of Lincoln Assistance Foundation: The Law and Health Project
Date: December 10, 2004
The Law and Health Project is a collaborative effort of the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, the Southern Illinois University School of Law, the Abundant Health Resource Clinic, and Southern Illinois Healthcare -- each of which shares the common goal of providing services to low-income and uninsured persons without private health insurrance. Southern Illinois Healthcare has become a major supporter of Abundant, a free health care clinic available to both uninsured and underinsured people of Jackson County, Illinois. The project partners recognized that those seeking care at the Abundant clinic also had related legal needs, and this realization forged their collaboration.
The first step of the Law and Health Project was to institute a 12-week pilot program to determine the extent of the patients' legal needs. This program was a resounding success and was the basis for the request for a VISTA volunteer to continue the project, which was granted. This program not only benefited Land of Lincoln's clients but also the healthcare partners, which received Medicaid reimbursements for $330,000 of services provided in just a year and a half. The partners are now discussing expansion of the project, with a greater financial contribution by each. For more information on this and other projects, please visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov/rs.htm.
Client Success Story
SUCCESS STORY FROM IOWA LEGAL AID
(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.)
"Connie," who had survived years of domestic violence, had finally obtained a restraining order that forced her husband out of the home. She was ready to move on with her new life, with her granddaughter by her side. However, after being liberated, Connie was severely injured at work by a falling piece of heavy machinery. She suffered severe arm and neck trauma and two herniated disks, confining her to a wheel chair.
"I was in bed for two years and couldn't move," she says. "It turned out that the injury caused other physical problems. I could not afford a wheelchair so I went to Iowa Legal Aid for help after Title 19 denied my claim." Teresa Jones of Iowa Legal Aid became Connie's tireless advocate. "I went to see her at her apartment to sign papers," Jones recalls, "and was shocked to find her using an office chair to get around her apartment. In order to walk without the chair she had to hang on to the wall."
Jones contacted Connie's physician for a full report and promptly submitted it to the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS), which had previously denied her claim. This time IDHS responded by granting the claim -- not just for any wheelchair, but for a new electric wheelchair. "I love it. I can get around now," Connie says. "[My grandddaughter and I] try to go to the movies every Friday night. We can do things together, and it is really nice. If I hadn't had this legal representation from Iowa Legal Aid, I would have been squashed. It has been great to have the freedom and peace of mind."