LSC Updates - June 16, 2008
On June 12, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies approved $390 million for the Legal Services Corporation's FY 2009 budget, a $40 million, or 11 percent, increase over current funding levels. The subcommittee is led by Chairman Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va., and Ranking Member Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., both staunch supporters of legal aid in their home states and for all low-income Americans.
The decision to recommend this substantial increase comes two months after LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland testified before the subcommittee on the crucial need to close America's justice gap by increasing federal funding for civil legal aid programs. According to LSC's groundbreaking 2005 report, Documenting the Justice Gap in America-The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans, chronic funding shortages force LSC's grantees to turn away 50 percent of eligible low-income Americans seeking their assistance. Since then, numerous statewide legal needs studies have found that LSC's report vastly underestimates the unmet civil legal needs of poor Americans.
"Our low-income clients and those who seek to become our clients confront the justice gap every day," said LSC President Helaine M. Barnett. "They are the ones for whom we must close the gap, one eligible person, one family, one opportunity at a time. On their behalf, I would like to thank Chairman Mollohan, Ranking Member Frelinghuysen, and all the subcommittee members for taking this critical next step."
The Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill will now go the full House Appropriations Committee for consideration, which is scheduled for June 19.
On June 10-11, LSC hosted its Executive Directors Conference in Washington, D.C., which brought together the leadership of all LSC-funded programs for two days of discussion on some of the most important topics currently confronting civil legal aid programs. LSC's last Executive Directors Conference was held in 2004 to coincide with the Corporation's 30th anniversary.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett opened the conference by recognizing and thanking the Executive Directors for their dedication and tireless work to ensure their legal aid programs deliver the highest-quality services to low-income Americans in conformance with the mandates of Congress.
"You accomplish all this with excellence and dedication. You bring passion to your efforts. You change with the times...You are the diplomats, the emissaries, and visionaries for your programs," said Barnett.
New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice-and former LSC Board Member-John T. Broderick, Jr., followed Barnett with a stirring speech on the importance of civil legal aid programs in helping realize America's promise of equal justice for all. Congressman George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, addressed the group during lunch on the conference's first day, where he discussed the importance of his committee's efforts to provide loan repayment assistance to legal aid lawyers.
The first conference session, moderated by Karen Sarjeant, LSC's Vice President for Programs and Compliance, gave LSC an opportunity to clearly communicate its expectations of Executive Directors and their programs on topics such as compliance, grants management, internal control issues raised in recent Government Accountability Office reports, enhanced private attorney involvement, technology capacities, LSC's Performance Criteria, leadership mentoring, LSC's Loan Repayment Assistance Program, case service reporting, and disaster planning.
After hearing from LSC, the Executive Directors had an opportunity to tell the Corporation, in a session moderated by President Barnett, what it could do to provide more support for enhanced leadership of programs. Other sessions on the first day focused on recruitment and retention issues, transition planning and leadership development, and the use of technology to better serve more clients. The second day's sessions focused on Congressional actions affecting LSC, and the role of Executive Directors in promoting program quality-a session facilitated by LSC Board Member David Hall.
The National Archives and Records Administration hosted a special reception for the conferees after the first day of sessions. Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for the Office of Records Services, and Marvin Pinkert, Director of the Center for the National Archives Experience, welcomed the guests and invited them to enjoy the building's various exhibits, including the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, which houses original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. The original copy of the LSC Act, which established the Legal Services Corporation in 1974, was also on display for the event.
LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland and President Barnett honored long-serving Executive Directors with special awards recognizing their years of dedicated service. Ten directors have celebrated their 20th anniversaries since LSC's last Executive Directors conference, and nine have celebrated their 30th anniversaries.
This conference provided a unique opportunity for LSC and the leaders of its grantees to discuss important issues, and allowed program directors to exchange information and experiences about their work with colleagues from around the country.
LSC has announced the appointment of Stephen Barr as director of media relations, effective July 1.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett said, "Steve Barr brings a wealth of experience and exceptional skills to this important job with the Corporation. We look forward to working with him to make a wider audience of Americans aware of the mission and work of LSC."
Barr comes to the LSC from The Washington Post, where he was an editor and staff writer for 29 years. Since 2000, Barr has written the Federal Diary column, focusing on issues of interest to government employees and retirees. He also was a National News staff writer, covering federal management and personnel issues, the congressional appropriations process, veterans affairs, postal issues, government technology and other topics.
Other assignments at The Post include a six-year stint as editor of The Federal Page and as an assignment editor on the news desks for National and Style. Before joining The Post, Barr was an assistant state news editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va.
Barr has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. He served in the U.S. Army, including a year with the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.
Glenn Rawdon, LSC Program Counsel and co-administrator of LSC's Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, presented on technological innovation in America's legal aid programs at a conference hosted by Legal Aid Ontario on June 6.
Rawdon discussed the need for technological innovation as a strategy to help bridge the justice gap, and the importance of forming strategic partnerships with other actors-the courts, law schools, the private bar-to create projects that can help improve access to justice. He summarized some of the most successful projects created by funding from LSC's TIG program, including the nationwide network of statewide legal assistance web sites, the National Legal Services Document Assembly Server, LiveHelp, educational videos, and more, followed by a live demonstration of several of the projects.
Staff from LSC-funded programs also presented on their unique perspectives using technology to improve the delivery of legal services. Ed Marks from Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Alison Paul from the Montana Legal Services Association, and Hugh Calkins, formerly of Maine's Pine Tree Legal Assistance, all spoke about how technology has enabled their programs to more efficiently and effectively serve their clients.
The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP) has launched a blog for legal aid professionals to discuss LSC's new report, Technologies That Should Be in
Place in a Legal Aid Office Today, which defines the technology capacities that LSC-funded programs should be utilizing to ensure efficient program operation and effective delivery of client services. The blog allows for anonymous posting to facilitate frank discussion.
The issuance of this new report is LSC's first step towards implementing the Corporation's strategic vision for technology it committed to developing in its Strategic Directions for 2006-2010. The report covers a variety of topics relating to the operation of a legal aid program, including management of client and case data, support for private attorneys, security, training, supervision of legal work, and direct assistance to low-income persons.
LSC has asked its grantees to complete an online survey by June 20 that will inform the Corporation about the extent to which grantees have access to the technologies described in the report, and will help LSC develop and implement strategies to help grantees acquire them.
NTAP is partially funded through LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program. Its mission is to help legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology.
The Board of Directors of Micronesian Legal Services has adopted a resolution aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 90 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions.
LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono.
Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ), which coordinates the six LSC-funded programs that make up the state's legal services delivery system, announced the launch of a new Pro Bono Foreclosure Defense Initiative on May 28. The effort seeks to recruit at least several hundred volunteer attorneys to represent low-income homeowners facing foreclosure or who lost equity in their homes due to predatory lending or consumer fraud. LSNJ will provide training to the volunteers, cover all court fees, and extend the organization's malpractice insurance to cover the attorneys' work.
Colorado's Access to Justice Commission has released a report, The Justice Crisis in Colorado, summarizing the findings from its 2007 series of statewide hearings on the unmet civil legal needs of the poor. Panelists at the hearings included judges, legislators, and bar leaders, who heard testimony from witnesses including low-income residents who did not receive assistance with their legal problems, judges, legal aid attorneys, and other advocates for the poor.
The report shows that the number of Colorado's civil legal aid attorneys has substantially decreased while the number of poor people has increased, that state funding is woefully inadequate to meet the unmet need for civil legal services, that self-represented litigants impose serious burdens on courts, and that pro bono attorneys alone can not meet the need. The report recommends substantially increasing funding for Colorado Legal Services, increasing salaries and benefits of legal aid lawyers, encouraging increased pro bono service by private attorneys, and improving services for pro se litigants.
Laura Tuggle, Managing Attorney of the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation's housing unit, testified before a joint Congressional hearing on June 4 about the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in ensuring affordable housing following a natural disaster. Tuggle's testimony focused on the affordable housing stock pre- and post-Katrina, and the challenges for restoring it to at least pre-Katrina levels in the future. The hearing was co-chaired by Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Henry Cuellar, D-TX, who head subcommittees of the House Committees on Financial Services and Homeland Security. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., and Charles Dent, R-Pa., Ranking Members of the subcommittees, were also in attendance.
The Louisiana State Bar Association and the Louisiana Supreme Court honored two Louisiana legal services lawyers during the groups' 22nd Annual Pro Bono Awards Ceremony on May 20. James A. Wayne, Sr., Executive Director of the Capital Area Legal Services Corporation, and Bernadette D'Souza, Managing Attorney of the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation each received a career public interest award for devoting more than ten years of excellent work and leadership in providing significant service on behalf of the poor.
The Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee's (NSLSC) Pro Bono Project and the Suffolk County Bar Association celebrated its annual Pro Bono Recognition Night on April 10. The event was attended by hundreds of supporters who honored the pro bono efforts of attorneys who contribute selflessly of their time and expertise to assist the program's clients. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York, was also in attendance to praise the work of the volunteers and to announce that the New York State Office of Court Administration will provide funding to NSLSC for a new coordinator to expand the Pro Bono Project's outreach and recruitment efforts in Suffolk County.
The Monroe County Bar Association of New York and the Houston Bar Association of Texas will each receive a 2008 Harrison Tweed Award for achievement in preserving and increasing access to legal services for the poor.
The Monroe County Bar Association is being recognized for its leadership and fundraising efforts to create a single location where all civil legal services providers in the county are housed. The Houston Bar Association is being honored for its Equal Access Initiative, which is an organized campaign to increase the number of pro bono cases handled by volunteer lawyers participating in the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program. The program's goal is to increase participation by 25 percent each year for five years, and already increased participation by 50 percent in the first year.
The award, given annually by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, will be presented during the ABA Annual Meeting in New York on Friday, August 8, at a joint luncheon of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, National Association of Bar Executives and National Conference of Bar Foundations.
Register by July 7 for the Management Information Exchange's 2008 National Fundraising Conference, "Scaling New Heights: Justice and Resource Development," to be held July 31-August 2 in Washington, D.C. If you are an experienced fundraiser, new fundraiser, executive director, board member, advocate, or communications professional, this conference is for you.
On June 18, the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging will host a free teleconference and live audio web cast entitled, "Ethical Issues to Consider when Providing Legal Services to Older Clients." Some topics to be covered include, spotting the "red flags" indicating diminished capacity, recognizing signs of undue influence, and understanding the ABA's model ruled on confidentiality, conflicts, and informed consent.
The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.
The Brandeis Partners for Justice Fellowship is an innovative partnership between the Legal Aid Society of Louisville and the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. The partnership provides faculty members with a deeper understanding of the civil legal problems of low-income clients and exemplifies the law school's commitment to public interest law. Under the partnership, the law school provides a faculty member to the Legal Aid Society for a semester, during which time the faculty member works on projects related to his or her area of interest and expertise. The program also exposes fellows to courtroom and community work on behalf of low-income persons. In 2008, the Legal Aid Society is hosting its second Brandeis Fellow to help draft in-house manuals and documents and conduct a series of training sessions on legal writing for the Legal Aid Society's staff.
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.
Notable Niece Beats Eviction, Wins Rights for All Public Housing Tenants
Tina Hendrix, niece of the legendary rock star Jimi Hendrix, had her own infamous "experience" with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) recently, one that nearly cost her the Section 8 apartment she called home. But, thanks to the Northwest Justice Project (NJP), she kept her apartment and forced the Housing Authority to reform the entire process for terminating tenants.
The trouble started when Hendrix's teenage daughter, who suffered from a mental illness, started running away and secretly submitting applications for other apartments in the city, only to return home a few days later to stay until the next escape. Hendrix never notified the SHA of a change in residency for her apartment, which determines the amount of rental assistance public housing tenants qualify for, because her daughter always came back and was never gone longer than ten days, the time at which Hendrix would be required to notify SHA.
Eventually, some of her daughter's applications found their way to SHA officials, who assumed Hendrix had failed to notify them that her daughter had moved, which constituted fraud. When she learned of an impending hearing before SHA to decide her fate, Hendrix contacted the Northwest Justice Project for help.
In preparing the argument to submit on her behalf at the hearing, NJP staff attorney Eric Dunn ran into a roadblock all too familiar to cases involving the city's public housing tenants: since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) did not require SHA hearing officers to be lawyers or have any legal training, SHA forbid lawyers from making legal arguments on behalf of their clients, as such arguments were considered too complex.
Dunn filed suit on Hendrix's behalf, arguing that SHA's "informal hearings" were unlawful and violated her due process. The court agreed, issuing an injunction against SHA preventing the hearing, and bringing the two parties together to reach a settlement.
SHA agreed that all future hearings would be conducted by a hearing officer with a law degree and at least three years of legal experience, and that all hearing officers will be selected by a committee of five members, one of whom must be chosen by a tenants' rights organization.
Thanks to NJP, Hendrix never lost her rental subsidy during the entire time her case was in process and gets to stay in her apartment knowing that she has done a good deed for all other public housing tenants who might find themselves in a similar situation.