LSC Updates - July 26, 2006
On July 17-18, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and LSC Vice President for Programs and Compliance Karen Sarjeant attended the summer meeting of the Southeast Project Directors Association in St. Petersburg, Florida. The meeting brought together leaders from 35 LSC-funded programs operating in 11 states throughout the Southeast. Last year, these programs received about one-third of LSC's national basic field funds, and closed about one quarter of all the cases closed by LSC-funded programs.
LSC President Barnett updated the attendees on national developments in the legal services community, such as the status of LSC's FY 2007 appropriation, and the progress of LSC initiatives such as the quality agenda, the Leadership Mentoring Pilot Program, and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
LSC Vice President Sarjeant moderated a panel discussion on quality, focused on LSC's Revised Performance Criteria. Members of the panel were Janet LaBella from LSC's Office of Program Performance, Don Saunders from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, Alex R. Gulotta from the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Don Isaac from Florida Rural Legal Services.
Maria Kantzavelos, The Chicago Lawyer (IL) - August 2006
The next time Illinois lawyers set out to renew their licenses to practice law, they'll be faced with a few new questions that don't have a right or wrong answer. As part of the annual registration process with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, lawyers will be asked how many hours they spent helping poor clients in the preceding 12 months.
While answering "zero" to that question and one that asks how much money they donated to legal aid services won't get lawyers kicked off the master roll of attorneys, leaving the questions blank would, according to new Supreme Court rules that took effect on June 14.
The newly amended Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f) requires all licensed attorneys to state annually whether they have provided pro bono legal services, and the estimated number of hours they provided without charge or expectation of a fee. Lawyers also must disclose the amount of any monetary contribution they made to a legal services organization that helps people of limited means.
Legal aid advocates in Illinois are praising the rule change, which has been endorsed by both the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. They say the measure, which was designed to help boost pro bono legal services across the state, can serve as an annual reminder to lawyers of their professional responsibility to engage in pro bono activity.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Alayna DeMartini, The Columbus Dispatch (OH) - July 24, 2006
The problems vary: They're about to be evicted. Their ex stopped paying child support. They're deep in debt and fearing bankruptcy.
They all want the same thing: a lawyer.
The Legal Aid Society of Columbus gets about 100 calls a day like that. The nonprofit organization can take only a fraction of the cases, so many callers are turned down.
Helping more low-income people get legal advice or representation was the goal of a task force the Ohio Supreme Court set up last year. The committee recently issued a list of ideas for the Supreme Court to consider.
One of the more controversial recommendations is that lawyers be urged to volunteer 50 hours a year working for clients without the means to hire them. They would not be required to volunteer but would be required to report their volunteer hours every two years, when they renew their licenses.
Another recommendation is to simplify and standardize forms for divorce, custody and child support, so people are less likely to need an attorney.
"There's a sense among some people that lawyers make things really complicated so that people need lawyers," said Thomas Weeks, executive director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association of Columbus.
"Although that may be true in some instances, the law deals with very complicated matters. I think people need to understand this."
The Report and Recommendations of the Supreme Court of Ohio Task Force on Pro Se & Indigent Litigants is available at www.sconet.state.oh.us/publications.
Donna Walter, St. Louis Daily Record/St. Louis Countian (MO) - July 13, 2006
Getting to and from class is something most students take for granted, but for a wheelchair-bound high school junior in the Normandy School District it's a constant struggle. That struggle may be near an end now that the district has agreed to renovate the buildings to improve accessibility.
The district initially agreed to do this work two years ago, but the work didn't get done.
The high school student's lawyer, Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder, managing attorney of the Children's Legal Alliance of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said the district's incentive to complete the work this time is a fine of $500 a day for each day past the deadline the renovations remain incomplete. The fines will go into a fund to help the student with higher education or independent living expenses.
Kutnik-Bauder was the lead attorney on the case, aided by Daniel Claggett, managing attorney of LSEM's consumer unit, and Ann Lever, LSEM's director of litigation.
The journey to make Normandy High School wheelchair-accessible began just after Kutnik-Bauder's client, identified in federal court documents only as J.S., completed her first semester of seventh grade at Normandy Middle School, which also was not wheelchair-accessible.
"This has been a long, drawn out struggle," said Hilda Shipp, J.S.'s mother. "It is unreal that a child would have to go through what she has been through just to get an education."
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Michael Higgins, The Chicago Tribune (IL) - July 17, 2006
Just last year, many low-income residents in the south suburbs would have been hard-pressed to fight a landlord seeking to evict them--even if the evictions were illegal.
But since February, legal-aid lawyers have staffed the Markham branch of Cook County Circuit Court, consulting with poor clients in eviction cases and providing free representation to about 15 percent of them.
"The cases we actually accept for representation, we typically win," said Eugene Edwards, a supervisory attorney in the South Holland office of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
The program is just one small sign of the recent sevenfold increase in state funding for legal aid, which is now up to $3.5 million for fiscal 2007.
In fiscal years 2001 through 2005, the state's funding for legal aid was mired at $500,000 or less annually.
The program at the Markham courthouse was partially funded by a $30,000 grant from the 2006 budget. Grants for 2007 will be awarded in December.
At the courthouse in Markham, many of the low-income tenants simply haven't paid their rent. But Edwards said others have been retaliated against for reporting building-code violations or for refusing to make illegal "side payments" to their landlord in violation of subsidized-housing rules.
Without a lawyer, they could easily be steamrolled.
"It becomes more like a mill, instead of actual trials," Edwards said. "At least with us, the playing field is somewhat level."
Florida Legal Services www.FloridaProBono.org Comes Online: Site Billed As Florida's 'Go To' Place For All Things Pro Bono
Florida Bar News - July 1, 2006
Thinking of doing some pro bono work, but aren't quite sure how to get started? Florida Legal Services has launched a comprehensive pro bono Web site to provide all the answers.
The site is billed as a pro bono resource center to help guide volunteer attorneys so they can help in representing individuals, families, and nonprofit organizations in need of legal assistance, said FLS's Barbara O'Stean.
The site includes pro bono opportunities, contact information for all the local pro bono coordinators, detailed information about the pro bono rules, an online pro bono library, answers to the most-asked pro bono plan questions, and links to other pro bono resources.
Note: LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program partly funded the creation of www.FloridaProBono.org.
Georgia Legal Services Implements New Web-Based Case Management System To Improve Services For Clients
Press Release, Georgia Legal Services - July 2006
Georgia Legal Services has implemented Legal Server, a web-based case management program, "to help us serve clients more efficiently and effectively, providing better services to more clients," says Phyllis Holmen, Executive Director. Legal Server is an easy-to-use software application that provides web-based case management solutions for legal services agencies throughout the country. Georgia Legal Services is the first legal aid organization in the state to successfully implement Legal Server.
"Many of our clients are isolated individuals, the elderly, women with children, and the working poor. We have 12 offices throughout the state, and our staff attorneys and paralegals are on the road on a daily basis circuit-riding to see clients and attend court in 154 Georgia counties. With so many offices and legal staff working throughout the state, it became increasingly clear that we needed a more flexible and integrated case management system to be able to manage our caseloads and other organizational needs," says Ms. Holmen.
To improve service delivery, Georgia Legal Services strives to offer better opportunities and more flexibility for staff to achieve case handling, administrative, and other client-related work through technology, especially in today's competitive, high-tech market and fast-paced innovations. "We are the largest civil legal aid organization in the state, and we sought a technology solution that would connect all locations with a statewide network, a single client database, integrated financial and personnel functions, and improved management information," states Rita Holcombe, Information Technology Director.
Legal Services For New York City Receives Nearly $5 Million In Grants From NY City Council For FY 2007
Press Release, Legal Services for New York City - July 5, 2006
On June 30, 2006, the New York City Council approved a $53 billion dollar budget that included nearly $5 million in funding for Legal Services for New York City (LSNY). The funding will be divided among these vital LSNY programs:
- $1,588,000 for the City Council Low-Income Legal Services Program that provides services to the most vulnerable New Yorkers in all five boroughs: senior citizens, survivors of domestic violence, disabled and chronically ill children and adults, unemployed workers, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and imminently homeless children and adults;
- $1 million for the Housing Preservation & Development Anti-Eviction Program to provide legal assistance to low- and moderate-income families faced with illegal evictions and substandard housing conditions;
- $357,500 to help low-income New Yorkers apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit;
- $500,000 for the Keeping Families Together Program, a holistic approach to keeping families together to avoid or shorten foster care and group home placements; and
- $1,250,000 for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Unemployment Insurance (UI) Advocacy Program to represent individuals, families and children who have been denied SSI or UI benefits.
The budget also includes a $250,000 grant for a new city-wide hotline. The grant would fund required servers, software, and consulting services to provide the hotline functionality for LSNY staff and volunteers city-wide.
Department Of Justice Announces Grants For Training On Prevention Of Immigration-Related Job Discrimination
Press Release, Department of Justice - July 10, 2006
The Department of Justice today announced the award of nearly $725,000 in grants to 11 nonprofit groups serving communities throughout the country to conduct public education programs for workers and employers about immigration-related job discrimination.
The grants, which range from $45,000 to $85,000, are being awarded by the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) of the Civil Rights Division. Recipients will assist discrimination victims; conduct seminars for workers, employers and immigration service providers; distribute educational materials in various languages; and place advertisements in local communities through both mainstream and ethnic media.
The OSC grant recipients [include]:
Colorado Legal Services - will educate service providers and newly-arrived Asian and Muslim immigrants in the Denver area as well as rural migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout the state.
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles - will serve Latino and Asian immigrants and refugee workers and employers in the greater Los Angeles area.
Joe Surkiewicz, The Daily Record (MD) - July 21, 2006
When a Social Security recipient got a call from a collection agency trying to get him to pay off an old student loan, something didn't sound right. So the man - who is blind, doesn't own any real property and has less than $6,000 in assets - called the Legal Aid Bureau's Senior Hotline for help. And he got it. A staff attorney took his call and told the client his SSI income is collection-proof and the collection agency was trying to trick him. In fact, the Legal Aid attorney told him, student loans can be discharged with a showing of permanent and total disability. She also told the client that the collector's violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Maryland commercial law for attempting to trick him into paying the debt. The Legal Aid attorney sent him a list of consumer advocates, so he can find a consumer law attorney to sue the collectors.
Last year, more than 14,000 Marylanders called Legal Aid's legal hotlines and got immediate help with their problems in family, consumer, health, public benefits, landlord/tenant, senior and other areas of law. Following an eligibility and issue screening, the hotlines provide immediate guidance on a legal problem, determine whether the individual needs additional help and, if so, connects the caller to a further source of assistance - at Legal Aid or another appropriate provider. The story of Legal Aid's legal hotlines is one of humble beginnings - and spectacular growth.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Sponsors: Legal Aid of Western Ohio
Project: Court Legal Access Service
Date: July 20, 2006
The Court Legal Access Service project allows Legal Aid of Western Ohio to conduct intake and deliver legal services from donated office space in the Toledo Municipal Courthouse.