LSC Updates - January 17, 2007
The Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation will meet at LSC headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 19 and Saturday, January 20.
On Friday, the Board's Committee on the Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services will hear a report from LSC management on a strategic plan for increasing private attorney involvement in the delivery of legal services by LSC-funded programs. LSC grantees are required to spend 12.5% of their LSC grant on private attorney involvement in the delivery of legal services. The Committee will then hear a presentation from protgs and mentors in LSC's Leadership Mentoring Pilot Program, which seeks to help develop a diverse corps of leaders in the legal services community.
On Saturday, the Board will hear a presentation from LSC staff on LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program, which seeks to improve the delivery of legal services through the use of innovative technology projects and a staff presentation on the LSC's competitive grants process.
On January 10, 2007, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced S.237, the "Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act of 2007," commonly referred to as the "AgJOBS Act."
If passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President, Title I, Section 104(h) of the bill would allow LSC-funded programs to represent non-U.S. citizens in matters directly related to that person's application to reside legally, but temporarily, in the United States. LSC-funded programs would also be allowed to provide representation to lawful temporary residents applying to become lawful permanent residents, but only if the representation directly applied to the application process.
Currently, Congressional restrictions prohibit LSC-funded programs from providing this type of representation.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, which has yet to act on it. Eight Senators are co-sponsoring this bill, including Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), Edward Kennedy (MA), and Barack Obama (IL), and Republicans Larry Craig (ID), Mel Martinez (FL), and George Voinovich (OH).
In the 109th Congress, bills containing similar language were introduced in both the House and Senate, but failed to become law.
On January 9, 2007, LSC issued Program Letter 07-1 to inform all LSC-funded programs that they will be required to perform a self-inspection of closed cases before submitting a 2006 Case Service Report (CSR) to LSC. This self-inspection process is designed to help ensure the accuracy of programs' data reported to LSC. It must be completed, and all supporting documents must be submitted to LSC no later than March 1, 2007. While LSC is committed to reviewing the self-inspection process, that review will be deferred until the CSR revision currently underway is complete.
Stephen Deere, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - December 30, 2006
Munevera Causevic couldn't find the words, so she simply lifted her hands and smiled [December 29], trying to convey what a few moments before a judge and a slip of paper meant to her.
The 64-year-old Bosnian refugee finally had a country to call her own again.
She fled an ethnic cleansing campaign in Bosnia a decade ago and then wrestled with a federal bureaucracy for so long that three legal groups sued on her behalf.
Causevic, 65, was one of 50 elderly Bosnian refugees who became citizens during a special naturalization ceremony [December 29] at the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
The refugees' citizenship had been delayed for months, and in some cases years, because of medical waivers they received that exempted them from English proficiency and American civics tests.
In September, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, the St. Louis University Legal Clinic and Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
The 107-page suit said that under the law, the government had 120 days to grant or deny citizenship after granting the exemptions, but it alleged that the 50 refugees had waited from 10 months to two years with no answer.
Finally, the government relented.
"Today settles it," Ann Levers of Legal Services said after the ceremony.
Dan Tuohy, The Portsmouth Herald (NH) - January 9, 2007
When he isn't presiding over the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. is often traveling the state to deliver a plea for lawyers to take on more pro bono cases, citing a widening "justice gap," the danger of there being two court systems, one for the wealthy and one for the poor.
The delivery of justice grows more complicated as more people choose to represent themselves in court, he says.
His is a unique bully pulpit, the position as administrator of state courts. In his role he is urging private companies to donate resources "for the public good," as pro bono means in Latin.
"We all have an ethical and professional obligation to do all that we can do," he said in a telephone interview with [the] Herald [January 7].
Early results are promising. Devine, Millimet & Branch, which has an office in North Hampton, is among the law firms making new commitments. It has created a new pro bono committee and, in collaboration with the Bar Association's pro bono program, launched what it calls a SWAT team of volunteer lawyers to handle landlord-tenant cases on an expedited basis.
Broderick said lawyers and court administrators must "turn and face the beast" to help people whose lives may be fundamentally changed due to a legal outcome.
Broderick said the state is now only serving a fraction of the thousands of people who meet the eligibility for free legal help.
"It's like a triage system," he said.
Broderick said an increase in pro bono services is only part of the solution. And he admits he has heard at least one lukewarm reception to his calls, a response he believes stems partly from the New Hampshire Bar's history of representing those in need.
Besides renewed legal assistance, the court system itself must be less cumbersome, provide additional resources and seek alternatives, according to Broderick.
Note: John T. Broderick is a former member of LSC's Board of Directors.
The New York Times - January 7, 2007
In our legal system, justice costs money, which means lots of poor people have to get along without it. Government has a critical obligation to provide adequate civil legal services for the poor, who would otherwise lack access to lawyers to resolve problems that could easily upend already tenuous lives, in areas like spousal and elderly abuse, child support, housing and disability issues.
Money spent on legal services ends up benefiting all taxpayers. Families that can't fight unfair evictions, after all, end up in homeless shelters, right next to the children and spouses of deadbeat fathers. People rejected for Medicaid wind up in emergency rooms. New York State recognized this long ago, but its legal safety net happens to be more threadbare than others.
This is partly because of the relative meagerness of state financing--about $17.5 million in a state where 2.7 million people live in poverty--and the way it is allocated. The system is supported not by a general budget appropriation but through member items, the secret river of cash controlled by individual lawmakers and doled out in annual bursts of ad-hoc generosity. Other funding for legal help is spread around among 10 or more agencies.
The issue is particularly relevant in Westchester, where legal advocates for the poor once had a friend in State Senator Nicholas A. Spano, a powerful Republican who in recent years treated legal aid as an important constituent service. Mr. Spano is gone now, of course, which could be bad news for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, the only nonprofit organization in the region that provides free, high-quality legal help to low-income people.
The organization is stretched over seven counties--Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster--and, like other nonprofit legal-assistance organizations, estimates that it turns away about half the people who come to it for help.
The Westchester executive, Board of Legislators and county bar association should make sure that life after Mr. Spano does not create short-term hardship for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. And in the longer run, there should be a better system. Advocates for the poor have urged Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make adequate, dependable financing of legal services for the poor a priority of his new administration. They say an ideal amount would be about $50 million a year, on top of what the state already spends.
That figure would put New York's per capita legal spending for its poor into the range set by progressive states like Massachusetts and Minnesota. It is a worthy goal, and one Mr. Spitzer would do well to pursue.
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The Baltimore Sun - January 8, 2007
The Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland is the lawyer for many of the state's neediest in times of great need: An unemployed father facing eviction. A migrant worker who hasn't been paid. A disabled senior in need of assistance. A single mother seeking money from a deadbeat dad. Nearly half of its 47,156 clients in 2005 lived in Baltimore, yet the city routinely shortchanges Legal Aid in its annual contribution, giving considerably less than suburban counties. It's time for the city to pay its fair share.
A committee of the City Council has taken the unusual step of formally urging that the city increase its contribution to $250,000; that's reasonable given the number of Baltimoreans Legal Aid serves.
Three decades ago, the Legal Aid Bureau and others like it across the country were funded primarily through the federal Legal Services Corp. In the mid-1990s, the Republican Congress led an assault on legal services for the poor, trying to put the Legal Services Corp. out of business. Today, about a fifth of the state Legal Aid Bureau's $18 million operating budget comes from the corporation. The rest comes from state contracts, interest on lawyers' trust accounts and other court fees, and local government contributions of about $493,000. Baltimore contributes just $15,000, a paltry sum indeed.
Legal Aid would use the additional money to meet its expenses, as utility and other costs have increased, says Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., the executive director of Legal Aid. Of his 130 lawyers, those starting out get paid $41,000 a year--less than a first-year public defender or assistant attorney general.
When poor people are charged criminally, they are entitled to a lawyer under the law. But if an unscrupulous landlord victimizes those same people, they have to face that challenge on their own. That's where Legal Aid comes in.
Its work can prevent smaller problems from becoming major--and more costly--issues down the road: Evictions can lead to homelessness. Children in need of assistance can end up in foster care. Pregnant women who are legal immigrants and denied state medical care may wind up in the emergency room.
As she reviews the city budget proposal for next year, Mayor-to-be Sheila Dixon should revise Baltimore's previously stingy grant to the Legal Aid Bureau, especially after back-to-back years of budget surpluses. Baltimore can contribute more now or pay later.