LSC Updates - June 14, 2006
On June 14, 2006, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies considered the bill containing LSC's FY 2007 appropriation. The subcommittee recommended a total of $313,860,000 for LSC in the next fiscal year. Of the total: $296.9 million would fund basic field programs; $1.2 million would fund LSC's Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program; $12.6 million would fund LSC's management and administration (M&A); and $2,970,000 would fund the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The total figure approved by the subcommittee would be a decrease of $12.7 million from LSC's FY 2006 budget. Basic field programs would receive $13.1 million less in FY 07 than in FY 06, including elimination of the $1.7 million in census adjustment funds. The TIG program and the M&A line-item would basically receive level funding, while the OIG would receive an increase of approximately $460,000.
The bill containing LSC's budget is expected to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 20.
LSC requested $411.8 million for FY 2007, of which $386.8 million is for basic field programs, an increase necessary to begin bridging the justice gap documented in a report released by LSC in October 2005. The report found that 50 percent of low-income Americans seeking help from an LSC-funded program are turned away due to the program's lack of resources. Additional studies showed that at least 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met.
On May 31, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett convened LSC's fourth Quality Conversation in New Orleans, La. In attendance were LSC executive directors, access to justice commission members and bar association leaders from the four deep south states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Jonann Chiles of Little Rock Arkansas, President Bush's nominee for a seat on LSC's Board of Directors, was also in attendance. The purpose of these meetings is to gain perspectives on high-quality delivery of legal services-what the indicia are, how to measure quality, and what LSC can best do to promote it. This year's meeting focused on the particular problems of the Deep South, which include a very disadvantaged poverty population and a relative absence of funding sources other than LSC and other service providers to address the client population's legal needs. The programs in this region face high demand for their services coupled with high staff turnover and low staff numbers. Also discussed was the considerable progress that has been made in the last several years with the establishment of Access to Justice Commissions in three of the states and increases in IOLTA and state government funding sources. The participants indicated that they gained a great deal from the dialogue and expressed strong interest in continuing coordination and collaboration among the four states.
On June 1, 2006, LSC hosted a Disaster Response Conversation in New Orleans, La., to discuss what was learned, and what is still being learned, in the wake of last year's hurricanes. The event brought together key members of LSC-funded programs from the affected states, and representatives from other organizations that participated in the recovery efforts. Some of the major themes addressed were: the need to plan, coordinate, and partner at the city, regional, and state level, in addition to the office and programs level; the need to create a better relationship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross; the role of legal services programs in the formation of evacuation plans for low-income communities; and the need for legal services providers to advocate for their client communities in post-disaster community planning. As a result of this meeting, working groups formed to ensure continued discussion of these important issues.
At its commencement ceremony on May 21, 2006, Suffolk University Law School awarded LSC President Helaine M. Barnett with an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree "in recognition of her commendable life's work providing legal services to the indigent and for [her] exemplary leadership in the American legal community." Her degree states, "To many members of the legal profession, yours is the career that they wish they had the courage and altruism to pursue. You embody the ideal of justice for all. Therefore, in honor of your dedication and service to those in need, your courage to stand up and speak for those too often overlooked, and your vision to build innovative programs and strong coalitions, Suffolk University is proud to confer upon you the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws."
Former mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani gave the commencement speech at the ceremony, in addition to receiving an honorary degree of his own. U.S. Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) and United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Gustavo A. Gelpi, also received honorary degrees.
Former LSC Board member Maria Luisa Mercado has been selected to participate in Equal Justice Works' Katrina Legal Fellowships Program. The program will place nine experienced public interest attorneys at organizations throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas in order to serve those affected by last year's devastating hurricanes. Mercado will serve for two years at either the Beaumont or Houston office of Texas' LoneStar Legal Aid, where she will serve clients from the surrounding 27 counties that were declared disaster areas.
Tom Knudson, Sacramento Bee (CA) - May 27, 2006
An amendment approved by the U.S. Senate [May 25] as part of its sweeping immigration reform package would make it easier for Latino forest laborers toiling legally in the United States as guest workers to battle abusive employers in court.
Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, amendment No. 4055-informally known as the pinero amendment-would allow such workers to seek help from federally funded legal aid lawyers, a right now available only to guest workers in agriculture.
Guest workers who labor in the woods planting trees and thinning brush, on public and private land, "have been asked to come to the United States because of a labor shortage," Bingaman said this week on the Senate floor. "They are here legally. They pay U.S. taxes."
A hearing on the issue was held in March before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. At the hearing, "We heard that making H2-B forestry workers eligible for legal aid is the single most effective thing Congress could do to address the problem of exploitation of forestry workers," Bingaman told the Senate.
Michael Dale, executive director of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project in Portland who testified at the hearing and advocated just such a fix, reacted positively to Bingaman's action. "I think it's great," Dale said.
Bingaman's amendment was folded into a larger package of generally non-controversial amendments and approved by the bill's bipartisan sponsors, Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Its fate remains uncertain because the Senate bill, which calls for an expanded guest-worker program and a path to legalization for millions of undocumented workers, must now be reconciled with a more conservative House immigration bill.
Note: The Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act on May 25, 2006 by a vote of 62 to 36.
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The Biloxi Sun Herald (MS) - May 23, 2006
The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered private attorneys to contribute money to accounts that will provide legal representation to the state's low income residents.
"The staffing for our legal services organizations has declined to the point that the poor in Mississippi are shamefully underrepresented," Justice Jess H. Dickinson said in news release on Monday. "Because of difficulty with access to legal services for the poor, this court has tried hard over the last couple of years to look for solutions to the problem."
In a ruling last week, the justices made participation in the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts program mandatory for attorneys who have private practices in the state. It had been voluntary in the past.
The program provides funding to the Mississippi Center for Legal Services, North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Mississippi Bar. The organizations provide lawyers to poor people involved in civil matters.
Private practice attorneys must make contributions to the fund beginning Jan. 1, 2007. Judges, prosecutors, public agency attorneys, law professors and certain others don't have to participate.
Stephanie Potter, The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (IL) - May 15, 2006
State funding for legal aid is expected to jump to $3.5 million in 2007, an increase that legal aid advocates hope will offset a decline in federal funding.
"I'm just thrilled," said Leslie A. Corbett, executive director of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, which distributes the state funding. "The $3.5 million really will enable us to help an additional 20,000 people gain access to the legal system."
Corbett said advocates for increased legal aid funding had long stressed that, among the 10 most populous states, Illinois ranked last in legal aid funding.
"This moves us up to eighth and we're happy with that," Corbett said.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation Inc., which serves many of those counties, announced a reorganization plan late last year in which it lost three attorney positions.
Lois J. Wood, executive director of the foundation, said that as a result of loss of staff, she estimates the agency lost the ability to serve several hundred clients. She hopes now to be able to add staff back because of the state budget increase.
"We are so strained in trying to provide that service," Wood said.
Michael T. O'Connor, executive director of Prairie State Legal Services Inc., which serves much of northern Illinois with the exception of Cook County, said the increase is "huge and it couldn't be more timely."
He said that the Legal Services Corp., which once provided about 80 percent of the agency's funding, now provides just under 40 percent.
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Dana E. Sullivan, New Jersey Lawyer - May 8, 2006
In a dramatic turn, the state's IOLTA fund is registering perhaps its best year ever in parlaying interest paid by banks into big bucks-likely $24 million or even more.
That's based on compilations by New Jersey Lawyer on how much the fund accumulated during 2005. The fund refuses to make public the actual amount, but, if anything, it may be even higher than the newspaper's projection.
Either way, for a possible variety of reasons, the fund found itself flush in interest proceeds as the year ended. And that's a big boon for the fund's main beneficiary-Legal Services of New Jersey and its agencies' representation of the poor in civil matters.
A rising tide of bank account interest-and perhaps a boost from a short-lived formula for paying it-made 2005 a banner year for IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts) and the recipients of its grants-Legal Services and legal education programs.
Bottom line? A 50 percent jump in revenue.
Press Release, South Jersey Legal Services - May 25, 2006
After two years of contentious litigation involving several trips to appeals courts, Camden city and state officials announced that it was abandoning the $1.2 billion Cramer Hill redevelopment plan that would have used eminent domain to displace more than 1,000 families.
Represented by South Jersey Legal Services, more than 200 residents of Cramer Hill filed suit in July 2004 seeking to block the project. Since then, the case has seen two judges, several unsuccessful attempts by officials and developers to lift an injunction, several trips to the state appeals court, and invalidation of the plan on procedural grounds on two occasions.
According to statements made by the city's state-appointed chief operating officer at a press conference on May 25, officials will start the process anew, seeking greater input from the community and residents.
"We are not deaf," Primas said. "We have listened to our residents."
"This is a great victory for our clients," said Douglas Gershuny, Deputy Director of South Jersey Legal Services, "but it's not over yet. We have to see what they come back with before our clients can rest comfortably."
According to Gershuny, officials have not withdrawn their plan to demolish 506 units of public and Section 8 housing, and are still moving forward another 40 homes to make room for another project. "If allowed, this plan could result in displacement of some of our most vulnerable clients in an already tight housing market," Gershuny said.
A summary judgment motion on this issue is pending before the court, Gershuny said.
Note: Click here to read "A Community's Quandary," an article about the Cramer Hill case from the Spring 2005 issue of LSC's Equal Justice Magazine.
Rocky Mountain News (CO) - June 2, 2006
Five Chilean guest workers sued the owners of a large northwestern Colorado ranch Thursday, claiming the owners violated labor and wage laws.
The workers said they worked seven days a week, 10 to 16 hours a day, and were paid $2 to $3 per hour, according to Jennifer Lee of Colorado Rural Legal Services, which filed the lawsuit.
Six members of the Wright Dickinson family own the Vermillion Ranch, which holds permits to graze animals on thousands of acres of federal land.
Pauline Dickinson said the family hadn't been notified of the suit and had no knowledge of the allegations. Her son, T. Wright Dickinson, is a former Moffat County commissioner and Great Outdoors Colorado board member.
Lee, in a news release, said the Dickinson family confiscated the workers' passports, visas and Social Security cards when they arrived and withheld their wages until their three-year work contract ended.
"The Dickinsons misused the H-2A visas to obtain foreign workers who worked for wages far below the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour," Lee said.
Lee said the workers received only a half-day off on Christmas each year and were given inadequate medical care for serious injuries.
The H-2A visa is granted for temporary and agricultural workers and limits the labor to ranching or farming for one employer.
Lee said the Chilean guest workers were required to work as mechanics, landscapers and to do other nonagricultural tasks.
Don Jergler, Press-Telegram (CA) - June 10, 2006
A judge ruled Tuesday that the city did not hire enough low-income residents when it built the Pike at Rainbow Harbor project.
The ruling stems from a successful Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles challenge that the city used federal money to build the Queensway Bay project but did not meet hiring minimums aimed at giving opportunities to low-income residents.
Retired Judge Daniel Weinstein, the arbitrator in the case, ruled that while the city had taken steps to make up for the lack of local low-income hiring on Queensway Bay, it wasn't enough.
Weinstein ruled that the city must provide additional opportunities that are equal in "scope and dollar value to the Pike project."
Desiree Grand, The Journal News (NY) - May 26, 2006
Shawanna Chisolm and her 5-year-old son face eviction in a few days.
Milladis Perez has until next week to find an attorney to help her stop the proceedings against her.
Chisolm and Perez are among the several Levister residents who are facing eviction in the fallout of Mount Vernon losing control of its Section 8 housing voucher program.
The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal took over the housing subsidy program last month after a federal audit found the Mount Vernon Urban Renewal Agency had mismanaged it.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the city had violated the program's waiting list rules, among numerous infractions. It was the mismanagement of the 1,000-name waiting list that led to the mass eviction proceedings at the Levister complex off West Third Street.
"Why is this our problem?" said Perez, 48, as she left Mount Vernon City Court yesterday. "We were doing what we were supposed to. The city did this, but we suffer."
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley is representing 16 people from Levister. Yesterday in court, attorney Brendan Newcomb said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case against the tenants.
"This is not a simple non-payment of rent issue," Newcomb said. "This is attributable to the Mount Vernon Section 8 office."
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On May 24, 2006, former Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards delivered the keynote speech at Legal Aid of Western Missouri's (LAWMO) eighth annual Justice For All luncheon. Edwards' message to the approximately 700 attendees focused on fighting poverty in America, noting that there are more than 37 million people in this country struggling to survive, and that "we saw the face of poverty in America" following Hurricane Katrina. "We're the richest and most prosperous nation in the world," he said. "It's wrong."
Richard Halliburton, Executive Director of LAWMO, said that Edwards comments "matched perfectly with what this organization is about-working for low-income people. They were topical and insightful and inspiring." According to Christi Campos, LAWMO's Development Director, "You could hear a pin drop during Senator Edward's speech. He was able to blend our mission with his passion to end poverty very effectively. Luncheon goers left with a renewed energy to support our services and work to improve the lives of low-income families."
This year's Justice For All luncheon celebrated the $1 million dollar milestone in LAWMO's three-year fundraising campaign. With just one and a half years to go, LAWMO is more than halfway to meeting their goal of raising $1.5 million dollars.
Note: This article contains quotes from "John Edwards: Poor are treated immorally in the U.S." published in the Kansas City Daily Record (MO) on May 29, 2006.
[Alaska Legal Services Corporation] Alumni Gathered for Pre-Anniversary Celebration; Director Gets Recognition
Press Release, Alaska Legal Services Corporation - May 18, 2006
Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) alumni and friends gathered on April 26 for an early celebration of ALSC's 40 years of service.
During the celebration, Andy Harrington, ALSC's Executive Director, was presented with an Award of Merit by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich in appreciation and recognition of 25 years of outstanding work in public service and tireless advocacy in the pursuit of equal access to justice for all Alaskans.
Harrington said "It's the efforts of ALSC's staffers, board members, and pro bono attorneys over the years that merit recognition. Anchorage has always been home to ALSC's largest office, and the community should be proud that so many of its attorneys and other citizens have made such outstanding contributions towards equal justice for all."
Andy Harrington has been the Executive Director of Alaska Legal Services Corporation since 2002. He has a law degree from Harvard Law School and joined ALSC in 1982. His work at ALSC has concentrated in the fields of domestic relations, elder law, public benefits, health care coverage, consumer law, Alaska Native issues, and community legal education.
Cynthia Di Pasquale, The Daily Record (MD) - May 26, 2006
Legal service providers in Maryland search near and far for ideas on funding representation for the many low-income clients who seek them out. This week, the search stretched clear across the Atlantic. The Legal Aid Bureau Inc. hosted Jonathan Lindley, executive director of service design at the Legal Services Commission for England and Wales, who shared his perspective on publicly funded civil legal services.
"I'm visiting a lot of institutions, talking about what we do," said Lindley, whose government agency finances both criminal and civil legal aid for indigent defendants, but does not provide any services itself. "Really it's about sharing information, and hoping to provide some ideas of how you here can do things maybe differently, more efficiently and more effectively so that you can get better access to justice for people who live here." Lindley was the guest speaker Wednesday at the Legal Aid Bureau's ninth annual awards and recognition breakfast in downtown Baltimore. Civil legal services for the poor have been a statutory right in Great Britain since the late 1940s and have been organized, along with criminal defense, under its Legal Services Commission since 2000.
Although it is a right, Lindley lamented that legal aid is under-funded in his country. This forces the commission to limit its services by scope and eligibility. Only the poor, as defined by formula, qualify; and even then, civil legal services are limited to basic matters such as housing, child custody, domestic violence, employment and welfare benefits. Immigration and asylum representation are funded separately. "I think there are a lot of similarities" in what the U.S. and U.K. systems cover, Lindley said. "But it's obviously organized very differently in that [U.S.] funding comes from a whole variety of places and the service it offers differs from state to state, or even within states. Definitely there are issues about the relative levels of funding," he continued. How little the federal and state governments invest was the main impetus for bringing Lindley over, according to Legal Aid Bureau Executive Director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. "The most telling facts from Mr. Lindley's speech are simply this: that the population of the United States is approximately five times that of the U.K. population," he said. "Our poor population is more than 12 times that of the European population, and yet...their government appropriates five times more money than our national government does for legal aid. That situation is embarrassing. It's unacceptable."
Note: LSC President Helaine M. Barnett met with Jonathan Lindley and Wilhelm Joseph on May 23 to discuss these issues.
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Sarah M. Singleton, The Santa Fe New Mexican - May 20, 2006
Imagine yourself in court where your spouse, with the help of a lawyer, is trying to get custody of your children. You have no lawyer because you cannot afford one. Or imagine yourself about to lose your home because a lender is foreclosing on your mortgage. The lender has a lawyer, but you don't. The reason you are behind on the mortgage is you have lost your job so you have no money for a lawyer. Does any of this seem fair? Most Americans would say no.
Our sense of fair play led to the creation of the Legal Services Corporation, a federal program that gives money to local programs to pay for lawyers for people who cannot afford them. Today two programs are funded by LSC in New Mexico: New Mexico Legal Aid and DNA Peoples Legal Services. These two programs cover every county in New Mexico and various Native American communities. These programs help low-income New Mexicans obtain basic necessities. The majority of cases handled by legal aid providers help people with family law problems, domestic violence, housing, income maintenance, health care, and consumer problems. More than ten thousand of New Mexico's families, children, elderly, and people with disabilities-our most vulnerable citizens-looked to legal aid lawyers for help in the last year alone.
Unfortunately, the legal aid providers in New Mexico do not have enough resources to help all of the people who are eligible for their services. For every one person that New Mexico Legal Aid can help, it turns away almost two eligible people. The Supreme Court of New Mexico recently recognized that less than 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income New Mexicans are being met.
LSC has asked Congress for $411 million for next year. This request would enable LSC programs to serve an additional 20 percent of the people they are now turning away. To help the rest of the people who are now being turned away, legal aid also needs to have significant funding from the state of New Mexico.
We have always been a compassionate state that cares about less fortunate people who live here. We encourage our policy makers-legislators at all levels, the governor and local government-to support funding for legal aid. Only if we increase funding will we be able to stop the unfair rationing of justice in our courts.
Note: Sarah M. Singleton is a member of LSC's Board of Directors.