LSC Updates - July 13, 2006
On July 13, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee considered the bill containing LSC's FY 2007 appropriation. The committee approved a total of $358,527,000 for LSC in the next fiscal year, including:
- $337,782,000 for basic field programs;
- $1,980,000 for census adjustments;
- $2,970,000 for the Technology Initiative Grant program;
- $12,825,000 for Management and Administration; and
- $2,970,000 for the Office of the Inspector General.
The committee's recommendation is $19.6 million above the $338.8 million approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 27, and $31.9 million above LSC's FY 2006 budget of $326.5 million. This substantial increase in funding is a result of an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and cosponsored by Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) that added $31.5 million to the amount approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science on July 11.
Full Senate consideration of the bill is expected in September, after which the House and Senate will meet in conference to resolve differences in the two bills. The combination of the Senate Appropriations Committee's action and last month's House action makes it likely that LSC will receive its first funding increase in four years.
On June 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed Jonann E. Chiles as a member of LSC's Board of Directors for a term expiring July 13, 2008. President Bush nominated Chiles, an attorney from Little Rock, Arkansas, on March 13, 2006, to replace Ambassador Robert J. Dieter, who became the U.S. Ambassador to Belize last summer.
Steve Lash, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin - July 10, 2006
Citing the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history, the American Bar Association is urging the Senate to approve at least $358 million for the Legal Services Corp. next fiscal year, a $28.2 million increase from the federal funding slated for LSC this year.
The additional funds are needed, in large part, to provide legal aid to the thousands of Gulf Coast residents thrust into poverty in the nearly 11 months since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region, the ABA said. Ideally, the Senate should meet LSC's request for $411.8 million in federal funds next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, ABA President Michael S. Greco stated in a July 6 letter to Senate appropriators.
"The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution states that the first enumerated function of government is to establish justice,'" Greco wrote in his letter. "A real crisis exists for the millions of low-income persons who are unable to access the justice system; many of these individuals have expanded legal needs or are suddenly poor because of natural or other disaster."
In his letter, Greco also made a direct appeal to lawmakers, stating that LSC assists "low-income persons in every congressional district in the country." The corporation has provided legal aid for indigent and suddenly poor people after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, as well as for families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Greco added.
The Senate is expected to pass its funding legislation for LSC by the fall. A committee of Senators and House members will then meet to iron out differences between their chambers' funding measures, followed by Senate and House votes on final passage of identical legislation.
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Press Release, Office of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) - June 29, 2006
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, former head of the Maryland Legal Services Corp., praised an amendment that added $25 million in funding for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC) saying, "it's important that all Americans have access to our legal system."
The Congressman had written a letter to House appropriators urging additional money be approved for the LSC in the FY '07 budget. He pointed out that last year's appropriations had been cut for the program, which provides legal services for low-income Americans.
"Today, a crisis exists in our ability to ensure access to the legal system for millions of low-income individuals and families, many of whom are facing new challenges and need assistance after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma," the Congressman wrote appropriators. The funding was added during consideration of the FY 2007 Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations bill.
Rep. Cardin headed Maryland's Legal Services Corp. from 1988-1995. At his urging, the University of Maryland School of Law instituted the Cardin Requirement, which requires law students to serve as pro bono student attorneys for low-income clients in Maryland who cannot afford to hire lawyers.
The Sun Herald (MS) - June 30, 2006
The Mississippi Supreme Court has created a panel to develop a program [for] legal representation to the poor in civil cases.
Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. issued an order [June 29] on behalf of the court creating the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission. The commission will represent business and community leaders, clergy, and representatives from all three branches of state government.
"This Commission's overriding objective is to make sure that every citizen of this state, regardless of economic status, has reasonable access to justice and that no one is excluded because they don't have the money to hire an attorney," said Justice Jess H. Dickinson, the court's liaison to the legal services community.
The commission, Smith said, would identify the current and future needs of the legal services community in providing access to justice to the poor in Mississippi, develop and establish a statewide plan for delivery of and funding for legal services to the poor, and make recommendations to ensure that the resources and funding are applied to the areas and organizations of greatest need.
Trish Hollenbeck, The Northwest Arkansas Times – June 24, 2006
The Peace at Home Family Shelter, Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Washington County Bar Association are teaming to create a project designed to educate lawyers and law enforcement officers on domestic violence.
The Freedom Project was initiated [June 23] during a domestic violence and family law training seminar at the Clarion Inn in Fayetteville.
The groups presenting the event are inviting Northwest Arkansas attorneys to help low-income women and children obtain equal justice by having qualified attorneys for divorce and child custody issues.
Judith Selle, director of the Peace at Home Family Shelter, said legal aid is providing the help for the orders of protection, but legal representation related to divorce and custody is another component of the process.
As a member of the Freedom Project, the attorneys would have the option of designating the types of cases they would be willing to handle and at each stage of representation, they would have help from Legal Aid staff, as well as other volunteer family law attorneys, law clerks and court reporters.
On June 26, the Legal Aid Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAF) celebrated its 40th anniversary with a sold-out fundraising luncheon that drew 560 people and raised over $500,000. Former Senator John Edwards, who currently directs the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, delivered the keynote address at the event. He described poverty as one of the great moral issues facing America today and urged the audience to do something about it, saying, "We, all of us, need to inspire America again."
Veronica Nett, The Charleston Gazette (WV) – July 08, 2006
Local attorneys are helping to narrow a growing gap between the legal needs of low-income residents and the services available.
Through the Campaign for Legal Aid, local attorneys are donating their time and money to counteract budget cuts to Legal Aid of West Virginia.
Legal Aid, a private nonprofit corporation, provides services to those who cannot afford legal representation. Funded through federal, state and private donations and grants, recent cuts in federal funding have forced the organization to turn away clients.
"There's a justice gap," said Adrienne Worthy, director of Legal Aid of West Virginia. "There's a gap in the need and the ability of a program like us to provide services to poor people."
With a budget that has not increased since the 1990s and further cuts foreseen in coming years, West Virginian attorneys launched the Campaign for Legal Aid in 2002. The campaign has raised $750,000 exclusively from local lawyers. Its goal, for the next two years, is to raise another $500,000.
"The Legal Aid Office is part of a safety net," Worthy said. "It means the difference between shelter and homelessness, food or no food and paying the bills or not."
Nina Coolidge, The Lexington Herald Leader (KY) - July 4, 2006
When Roy Freeman Jr. was injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago, he wasn't sure what to do or where to look for help. He needed help securing his disability benefits but didn't have money to pay a lawyer.
Freeman turned to lawyers at the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services.
"They take a personal interest in you," Freeman said. "I wish there were more people out there who helped people like they helped me."
Known more commonly by its abbreviation, Appalred, the organization serves primarily low-income individuals and families whose incomes do not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Appalred serves about 6,000 clients annually, but its director, Larry York, said the hope is to increase that number to 10,000. To reach more people, Appalred has added a hotline that connects new clients with a centralized intake office, York said. Appalred employees there tell clients what services they are eligible for and which office to contact.
Among many other things, Appalred serves clients who've been ripped off by mechanics, had disputes with their landlords or had their government benefits terminated. Many clients are elderly residents who need help with Medicare benefits or long-term care facilities.
Appalred receives the largest portion of its funding from the Washington, D.C.,-based Legal Services Corp., a private, non-profit organization that provides funding to legal services groups. Appalred receives about $1.9 million a year from the LSC, York said. The rest of the organization's $4 million annual budget comes from a variety of other places, including state and federal government funding, York said.
Kim Bell, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - July 10, 2006
When Lois Doty stepped off the elevator onto the sixth floor of a downtown office building, she saw a waiting room bathed in warm pastels. It was a comforting atmosphere. No pressure.
She had just left a jealous boyfriend who had put a box cutter to her throat and threatened to cover her head with a bag.
Doty, 34, needed help. The St. Patrick Center told her about a new agency on Olive Street for victims of domestic violence. And what Doty experienced there in May, she said, was a life-saver.
"These people are God-sent," she said Friday. "You're right at home. They're not judgmental."
The St. Louis Family Justice Center, at 1139 Olive Street, serves victims of domestic violence. Thirteen agencies have offices on the sixth floor--from a nurse practitioner who can photograph bruises and test for sexually transmitted diseases, to a lawyer who helps accompany a victim to the courthouse to get an order of protection.
Having the free services under one roof is a big selling point, especially for someone such as Doty, whose only transportation is a city bus line.
The center opened in January, fueled by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. It is one of 15 such centers around the country, most of which were established by President George W. Bush's Family Justice Center initiative.
Since its opening, the St. Louis center has helped about 250 people, most of them walk-ins, and handled 300 phone calls.
The center is under the nonprofit St. Louis Family Violence Council. More than 40 agencies have partnered in the venture. The 13 on-site agencies include ALIVE (Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments); Legal Services of Eastern Missouri; Missouri Social Services' children's division; and the St. Louis police.
Jay Fisk, an attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said some lawyers who took turns staffing the office at the Family Justice Center had gotten so involved in the victims' cases that they went beyond legal advice. Some have begun escorting the victims to the Civil Courts building two blocks away to apply for a protection order.
"When we first started, we were supposed to sit here, take notes and give legal advice," said one of those lawyers, Don Hood. "I became frustrated really early, like I wasn't doing enough, and I started walking them down to the courthouse."
Hood, who volunteers his time for Legal Services, said he had helped some victims in dicey situations.
"We've put them into cabs and they're going somewhere else, maybe out of state, and they have to leave now or they'll be killed," he said. "We're dealing with dangerous people; some of these abusers are men with rap sheets as long as my arms and legs."
Sponsors: Wisconsin Judicare
Project: Legal Grounds Wisconsin
Date: July 6, 2006
Two Wisconsin Judicare attorneys launched Legal Grounds Wisconsin, a coffee house that offers free coffee and legal advice to those in need of legal assistance. Legal Grounds Wisconsin seeks to increase pro bono involvement by recruiting volunteer attorneys to staff the coffeehouse while also increasing service delivery to people seeking brief legal advice on civil legal issues.
(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.)
The Associated Press - July 2, 2006
A court's ruling in favor of a legal immigrant who sued the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development because the notice denying him unemployment wasn't in a language he understood could affect other state agencies, advocates say.
The letter Javier Mendoza received was in English, a language he had indicated to the state he didn't speak well.
By the time Mendoza found someone to translate the letter, the deadline to appeal the notice had expired and the state concluded he didn't have good grounds to file a late appeal.
However, [the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands] took up his case and the Rutherford County Chancery Court ruled in March that the Department of Labor and Workforce Development must communicate with non-English speaking workers in a language they understand.
"The department is not obligated to send all notices in all languages," ruled Chancellor Robert E. Corlew III, who also granted Mendoza his unemployment benefits. "However, when the department knows a claimant is limited English proficient, the department is obligated to provide notice that is reasonably calculated to convey to the claimant the decision and deadlines for his appeal."
Because Mendoza couldn't understand the state's decision, the 15-day deadline from receipt of the letter could not be imposed on him, Corlew said.
Barbara Futter, managing attorney for Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, said Corlew's decision is going to affect all state agencies receiving federal funds.
Since the court ruling, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development has made "strong efforts" to assist those with limited English skills by providing people as interpreters and using a telephone translating service and providing several forms in Spanish, said department spokeswoman Milissa Reierson.
Agency staff members across the state also were provided training on how to assist clients with limited English proficiency over the past year, she said.