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LSC Updates - July 28, 2010

LSC Board Launches Fiscal Oversight Task Force

LSC Board Members Robert J. Grey Jr. (left) and Victor Maddox will lead the task force.
LSC Board Members Robert J. Grey Jr. (left) and Victor Maddox will lead the task force.

LSC's Board of Directors has approved creation of an independent task force (PDF icon 27k) to review and make recommendations to the Board regarding LSC's fiscal oversight responsibilities and how LSC conducts fiscal oversight of its grantees.

LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi, who proposed the task force, said it grew out of his review of Government Accountability Office reports and other issues concerning LSC following his nomination last year to the Board. "Given the number of issues that have confronted LSC in the recent past, I thought as a matter of some urgency that I wanted to get a blue-ribbon task force in place to help us take a hard look at how we conduct fiscal oversight-how we have in the past, how we do it currently, and to give us advice on how we might best do it in the future," Chairman Levi said.

The task force's "findings and expertise will be critically important as the Board works to expand legal assistance to low-income Americans across the nation," Chairman Levi said.

The task force will seek information and advice from other grant-making organizations, accounting firms, technology experts, and other business and academic advisers familiar with institutions similar to LSC, Chairman Levi said. Current and former LSC employees will not serve on the task force, he said, "so that we get a completely independent look at our operations and we can all stand by and feel good about the process that we went through."

Board members Robert J. Grey Jr. and Victor Maddox will lead the task force, which is scheduled to issue findings and any recommendations by March 31.

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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves $430 Million for LSC

The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 22 approved $430 million in Fiscal Year 2011 funding for LSC. Of that amount, $401.7 million would provide grants for the delivery of civil legal assistance to low-income Americans.

In addition to the funding for legal assistance to the poor, the Senate bill would provide $3 million for technology innovation grants; $1 million for student loan repayment assistance to help nonprofit legal aid programs recruit and retain talented attorneys; $4.3 million for the LSC Office of Inspector General, and $20 million for management and grants oversight.

The Senate Appropriations Committee acted on the proposed LSC budget as part of the Fiscal Year 2011 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) serves as the Committee's Chairman and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is the Vice Chairman. The Senate Subcommittee that oversees LSC funding is chaired by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.); the ranking member is Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

LSC's current funding is $420 million, and the $10 million increase in the Senate bill is contingent upon a certification from the LSC Board of Directors Chairman and the LSC President that implementation has been completed on recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office in 2007 and by the LSC Inspector General in 2008 and 2009.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees LSC funding approved $440 million in FY 2011 funding on June 29. The House Subcommittee bill would continue existing restrictions on the use of funds, but lifts the restriction on the ability of LSC-funded programs to consolidate related client cases into class-action suits. The Senate Appropriations bill would continue existing limitations on the use of federal funds, but lifts restrictions on the use of non-federal funds except in litigation involving abortion or litigation on behalf of prisoners.

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Congress Authorizes $35 Million for Foreclosure Legal Assistance Program

Congress has authorized $35 million in funds for a grant program aimed at providing legal help to low- and moderate-income Americans facing the loss of their home due to foreclosure.

The grant program would be administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would award funds on a competitive basis to state and local legal organizations whose primary business or mission is to provide legal assistance.

Priority would be given to organizations operating in the 125 metropolitan areas with the highest rates of home foreclosure, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget. Only homeowners of owner occupied-homes and tenants facing eviction as a result of foreclosure are eligible for assistance. The funds may not be used to support class-action litigation.

The authorized funding is contained in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173), which was approved by Congress on July 15 and signed into law by President Obama on July 21.

The authorization merely provides authority for the program to exist; Congress must appropriate money to the program before it begins to operate.

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LSC to Work With GAO on Improving Grants Management

LSC will implement recommendations of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to improve internal controls over grant awards, LSC President Victor M. Fortuno said on July 13.

"The stewardship of taxpayer dollars is one of our most important responsibilities," President Fortuno said. "We accept all GAO recommendations and will closely work with the GAO and the Congress to enhance oversight of grant awards and the performance of the independent nonprofit programs that receive LSC funding."

In its report, "Legal Services Corporation: Improvements Needed in Controls Over Grant Awards and Grantee Program Effectiveness," the GAO makes 17 recommendations to improve internal controls and how LSC documents its grant evaluation process. Download the GAO report. (PDF icon 1.14 mb)

The report also notes that LSC has taken steps to improve its governance and accountability practices since previous GAO reports were issued in 2007. LSC has provided additional documentation to GAO on partially implemented recommendations and is awaiting GAO's final approval.

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LSC Board Announces Selection of Search Firm

LSC's Board of Directors has announced the selection of search consultants Ellen Brown and Dale Jones of Heidrick & Struggles to handle the Corporation's recruitment of a President.

The recommendation to retain the firm was made by the Board's Search Committee, which was impaneled in April. The Search Committee members are LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi, LSC Vice Chair Martha Minow and Board members Charles Keckler, Victor Maddox and Laurie Mikva.

The Search Committee includes an advisory group, whose members are Frank B. Strickland and Douglas S. Eakeley, both former LSC Board Chairmen; LaVeeda Morgan Battle, a former LSC Board Vice Chair; Robert E. Stein, Chairman of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, and Deierdre L. Weir, Chair of the Civil Policy Group at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

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LSC Chairman's Remarks at NLADA Conference in Chicago

LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi gave brief remarks on July 23 during the National Legal Aid and Defender Association's Substantive Law and Litigation and Advocacy Directors Conferences in Chicago.

"It is an honor to appear before this group of dedicated litigation directors and others on the front lines of equal justice," said Chairman Levi to the conferees. "We are all better, our nation is better, because of the work that you do, year in and year out."

"This is an important time for LSC," he continued, remarking on the Corporation's new Board of Directors. "I think you will see that we are an energetic and serious group that hopes and expects to accomplish much during its time in office."

Levi then discussed the Board's search for a new president for the Corporation, plans to commission a fiscal oversight task force, the need for increased federal funding for civil legal aid and greater participation by pro bono attorneys and the private bar, and potential recruitment challenges facing legal aid programs due to retirements among the Baby Boom generation.

Download Chairman Levi's full remarks. (PDF icon 19k)

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LSC Leaders Speak at Southeast Project Directors Meeting

LSC President Visits New Legal Aid Office in St. Petersburg, Fla.

LSC President Victor M. Fortuno, center, with Bay Area Legal Services staff: (from left to right) Joan Boles, Deputy Director; J.P. LaCasse, Chief Operating Officer; Dick Woltman, Executive Director; Lisa L. Brody, Managing Attorney of the new St. Petersburg office.
LSC President Victor M. Fortuno, center, with Bay Area Legal Services staff: (from left to right) Joan Boles, Deputy Director; J.P. LaCasse, Chief Operating Officer; Dick Woltman, Executive Director; Lisa L. Brody, Managing Attorney of the new St. Petersburg office.

LSC Board Member Laurie Mikva and LSC President Victor M. Fortuno attended the Southeast Project Director and Administrator's (SEPDA's) Annual Meeting in St. Pete Beach, Fla., held July 18-21. SEPDA is composed of representatives from about 30 legal aid programs in about ten southeastern states.

Laurie Mikva and Victor Fortuno, at a "Q & A" session moderated by SEPDA President Sam Buchanan, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Legal Services, participated in discussions with program staff on a wide range of issues, including the impact of the BP oil spill on clients, serious recruitment and retention challenges facing programs and fiscal oversight.

Fortuno also took questions from attendees at a separate session focused on LSC activities. Jane Ribadeneyra, a member of LSC's Office of Program Performance, spoke at a session focused on LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program. She was joined by Marc Theriault, a technology project manager at the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Ky.

Following the SEPDA meeting, Fortuno visited the new St. Petersburg office of the Tampa-based Bay Area Legal Services. LSC provided funding for the office, which is centrally located in the program's client community and has allowed the program to decrease its overhead and shift more resources to direct client services.

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LSC Vice President Profiled in Ohio State Magazine

Sarjeant
Sarjeant

Karen J. Sarjeant, LSC Vice President for Programs and Compliance, is profiled in the latest issue of All Rise, a quarterly publication of the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.

In the article, Sarjeant, who graduated from the law school in 1975 (and remains a die-hard Buckeye to this day), reflects on her life-long career in legal services-a career that began in the law school's legal services clinic and has included a prestigious Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship, years of service at legal aid groups throughout the country and three stints with the Legal Services Corporation, including her current one, which began in 2005.

Says Sarjeant in the article, "I feel very fortunate to have the career that I am having and the support of my family who always believe in the importance of the work that I do. That is very gratifying."

Click here for the full profile (see page 52). (PDF icon 2.76mb)

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Field News

ABA Survey Reveals Pro Se Problem in State Courts

Press Release, American Bar Association – July 12, 2010

In a survey released [on July 12] by the American Bar Association, judges indicated that a lack of representation in civil matters is hurting those individuals' cases, and is negatively impacting courtrooms.

Approximately 1,000 state trial judges responded to the survey, which posed questions about their dockets, self-representation and the impact on the courts. More than half of the judges stated that their dockets increased in 2009, with the most common areas of increase involving foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer issues such as debt, and non-foreclosure housing issues such as rental disputes.

Sixty percent of judges said that fewer parties are being represented by lawyers, with 62 percent saying that parties are negatively impacted by not being represented. The impact is exemplified through a failure to present necessary evidence (94 percent), procedural errors (89 percent), ineffective witness examination (85 percent), failure to properly object to evidence (81 percent) and ineffective argument (77 percent).

Continue reading the press release or download the full survey. (PDF icon 145k)

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Apply Now for New Civil Legal Aid Loan Repayment Program

Apply now to participate in the Department of Education's new Civil Legal Assistance Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program. Applications are due no later than August 16, 2010, but funding will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis so all interested parties are urged to apply as soon as possible.

The Department estimates that fewer than 1,000 eligible applicants will receive loan repayment assistance from the program, given the available funding for the current fiscal year.

To be eligible to participate in the program, an applicant must be employed full-time as a civil legal assistance attorney, must seek repayment assistance for eligible federal student loans, must not be in default on the loan for which they seek assistance and must be continually licensed to practice law.

Attorneys are advised to consider the effect of the Ineligibility for Double Benefits clause (see seventh section heading).

The full application and details of the program are available on the Department of Education's website.

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Georgia Legal Services Program Cuts Staff

The Georgia Legal Services Program, which provides free civil legal aid to low-income Georgians in all but five of the state's 159 counties, has been forced to cut staff positions due to the faltering economy, according to a July 7 article in the Fulton County Daily Report.

The article, "Georgia Legal Services Cuts Staff," by Ben Smith, notes that the program has lost 11 full-time and part-time positions from its 167-member staff due to layoffs, voluntary departures and the elimination of unfilled positions.

The program is losing one full-time lawyer, four unfilled attorney positions, two full-time paralegals, two part-time paralegals and two unfilled secretarial positions.

Phyllis Holmen, executive director of the program, blames the losses in part on reduced funding from Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, which is expected to be less than $1 million this fiscal year-down from $2.8 million in 2007.

"The fact that we have to take this action makes us unhappy," said Holmen.

Learn more about the Georgia Legal Services Program at www.glsp.org.

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Pennsylvania Legal Aid Group Doing More With Less

Anne Danahy, Centre Daily Times – July 19, 2010

Amid an uncertain economy, the agency that offers free legal help with civil cases to low-income people in central Pennsylvania is seeing demand climb even as its funding shrinks.

MidPenn Legal Services, which serves Centre and 17 other counties, saw a 23 percent increase in the demand for its services last year. In Centre County, the non-profit's caseload increased 10 percent between 2007-08 and 2008-09.

At the same time, earnings from MidPenn's legal fund dropped $1 million last year and its allocation from the state decreased slightly.

Brent Frank, manager of MidPenn's State College office, said that even with the increased caseload, the flat funding has meant a hiring freeze program-wide.

"Most of the increase is in the consumer and housing area, including credit card problems, mortgage foreclosure, sheriff sales and the like," Frank said. "I believe we fear that these types of problems put even more stress on families so that we will see an increase need for other areas of law as well, including family law matters like protection from abuse, custody and divorce problems."

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Long-Time Leader of Alaska Legal Services Steps Down

Amanda Bohman, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – July 17, 2010

One of Alaska's top legal advocates for the poor has accepted a state job in the consumer affairs section of the Attorney General's Office.

Andy Harrington worked for Alaska Legal Services Corp. for 28 years, eight of those as the statewide agency's executive director.

The 54-year-old said he swapped jobs partly to finish vesting with the state retirement system and partly because he feels Alaska Legal Services is stable and might benefit from new leadership.

"[There are] a lot of young, bright attorneys working for legal services," Harrington said. "It's a good time for someone else to come in with fresher ideas and try those."

The nonprofit law firm, which has 10 offices across Alaska, offers free legal representation to low-income Alaskans who are denied benefits, about to be evicted or are fighting debt collectors. The agency also deals with family cases, including custody battles.

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Microsoft Donates $600,000 in Software to Puerto Rico Legal Services

The Microsoft Corporation has donated $600,000 in software programs to Puerto Rico Legal Services (PRLS), providing its attorneys and support staff with a revamped computer system that will greatly benefit the program's clients.

Akhtar Badshah, senior director of community affairs for Microsoft, said that Puerto Rico Legal Services would receive free licenses to vital programs such as Microsoft Office 2010, Windows 7, and other software at no cost to the organization.

"Microsoft and its employees have long recognized the importance of being engaged in supporting communities around the world," said Badshah. "By offering grants of software we can partner to create social and economic opportunities that can change peoples' lives and transform communities…. We wish PRLS every success in attaining its important goals through the use of this software. Keep up your good work."

Charles S. Hey-Maestre, executive director of PRLS, thanked Microsoft for its donation, saying "it allows PRLS to update and revamp one of the primary tools our attorneys have this day and age: the personal computer and the servers that support it. And this, in turn, will enhance the quality of services we provide in the cases in which we serve hundreds of thousands of poor people in Puerto Rico, whose only hope of maintaining a home, the custody of a child or a job is the diligent and timely advocacy performed by PRLS attorneys."

Learn more about Puerto Rico Legal Services at www.servicioslegales.org.

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Sprint Offers Legal Services Programs Special Broadband Pricing

The Legal Services Corporation, the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP) and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation have announced that Sprint is now offering broadband services to all legal services programs at reduced, General Services Administration-level pricing.

NTAP will host a webinar on Friday, July 30, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time for those interested in learning more. LSC's Glenn Rawdon and Sprint's Zachary Shields will present details of the new program.

Click here to register for the webinar.

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Upcoming Trainings on Oil Spill Response, Document Assembly

Florida Legal Services and other groups are hosting a training session for public interest lawyers and other advocates regarding the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast. The event will feature sessions on the claims process and public benefits issues and is scheduled to include presentations from Alaska advocates who worked on the Exxon-Valdez disaster. The event is scheduled to take place in Pensacola, Fla., on September 20-21. Click here for more information.

The State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project is hosting a training session for new HotDocs developers in the LawHelp Interactive community. The event may also include a track of sessions for intermediate developers, if sufficient interest is expressed. Registration is free for participating legal aid and pro bono program staff, as well as selected court system staff. The event will be held in Atlanta on September 16-17. Click here for more information.

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Awards

  • Ben Carter of the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Ky., has received the Kentucky Bar Association's Outstanding Young Lawyer Award for his outstanding accomplishments and community service as a young lawyer, which include his development and implementation of mediation process to help prevent home foreclosures in Louisville. Learn more. ( 518k)
  • David G. Hall, executive director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, has been named one of the 25 greatest Texas lawyers in the last 25 years by Texas Lawyer magazine. Hall, who has led TRLA for more than 25 years, "has had an important impact on the law in Texas-and on the lives of many low-income Texans who cannot afford lawyers-by devoting his career to legal aid," says the magazine. Learn more. (Registration required.)
  • Ernesto Sanchez, executive director of Idaho Legal Aid, has been named the first recipient of the Justice for All Award given by the Diversity Section of the Idaho State Bar. The award was established to recognize an individual who has made a singularly important and meaningful contribution to the promotion of diversity in the legal profession and in the law, as well as championing access to justice for the disenfranchised in Idaho. Learn more.

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Correction

The client success story in the July 1 issue of LSC Updates incorrectly identified Chet Randall of Pine Tree Legal Assistance as the lawyer who represented the client in the case described. Jill Hunter, a staff attorney with the legal aid program, represented the client.

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Success Story from South Brooklyn Legal Services

Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories illustrate the day-to-day struggles-and victories-of poor Americans seeking justice under law.

Home Saved, Bank Fined

Note: This story originally appeared on the website of South Brooklyn Legal Services.

A Brooklyn man being sued for foreclosure was led to a legal victory with the help of South Brooklyn Legal Services attorney Sara Manaugh. Not only did a judge find the suit frivolous, but $10,000 in sanctions [were ordered] against the bank for foreclosing on a property they didn't even own.

Mr. G bought a home in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2007 with the assistance of two loans from an organization known as "GE Money Bank."

But within two years a foreclosure had been filed by a bank, U.S. Bank National Association, which claimed it had acquired the senior mortgage after the mortgage had been assigned first from GE Money Bank to a trust held by Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, and then from that trust to a different trust held by U.S. Bank.

SBLS attorneys dug up online records on a database maintained by Wells Fargo, the custodian of both trusts, which revealed that Mr. G's mortgage loan was not owned by U.S. Bank-it was still held in the original trust.

Judge Wayne P. Saitta of Kings County Supreme Court wrote, "It appears that the plaintiff never owned the debt which was the subject of the foreclosure action. Plaintiff has submitted no evidence that the note was ever transferred to it.... Simple due diligence would have revealed that the plaintiff did not own the mortgage upon which it sought to foreclose."

The judge threw out the foreclosure lawsuit against Mr. G and ordered that U.S. Bank pay $10,000 in sanctions for this "frivolous litigation."

The judge wrote, "The court can only speculate in how many other cases plaintiffs with no interest in mortgages wrongfully foreclose on them and collect proceeds to which they are not entitled."

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