LSC Updates - March 14, 2007
Every year LSC celebrates Black History Month by participating in events that recognize the contributions African-Americans have made to securing equal access to justice.
This year, LSC invited the Honorable Juanita Bing Newton, New York State Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, to be the featured speaker at LSC's Black History Month Celebration. Judge Newton's current responsibilities include identifying and evaluating impediments to meaningful access to justice throughout the state and devising and implementing initiatives to address them. She spoke to LSC staff about the importance of remembering the lives, struggles, and achievements of Africans and their descendants; about the life of Judge Jane M. Bolin, the first female African American judge in the United States; and the importance of ensuring equal access to justice for all Americans.
As another part of LSC's Black History Month celebration, six African-American employees of LSC spoke to the students of the Annapolis Road Academy Alternative High School in Bladensburg, Maryland about the variety of career opportunities available to them in the equal justice community.
The purpose of the event was to encourage, strengthen and inspire students who may feel that success is out of their reach. The presenters spoke about their personal experiences on the diverse paths that led to their current work.
The LSC staff who presented were:
- Reginald Haley, Program Analyst for LSC's Office of Program Performance (OPP);
- Althea Hayward, Program Analyst, OPP;
- Carla Smith, Program Counsel for LSC's Office of Compliance and Enforcement (OCE);
- Bert Thomas, Program Counsel, OCE;
- Evora Thomas, Program Counsel, OPP; and
- Timothy Wilson, Administrative Services Manager for LSC's Office of Financial and Administrative Services.
Students were also asked to write their own personal life stories, and discuss how they can apply the lessons they have already learned to formulating plans for the future. The three best stories were chosen and one student was asked to present during LSC's Black History Month celebration.
On March 12, 2007, Glenn Rawdon, Program Counsel for LSC's Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program, received a Distinguished Service Award from the State Justice Institute (SJI) for "playing a vital role in the rebirth of the State Justice Institute." In 2006, SJI provided approximately $318,000 in matching funds for 10 TIG grants to fund technology projects aimed at improving access to state courts by self-represented litigants. SJI provides grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts nationwide. SJI honored Rawdon for helping them meet a Congressional requirement that all of their grants be fully matched by another party. Were it not for the work of Rawdon and others, SJI would not have met that goal. Kevin Linskey, Executive Director of SJI, said that "in a town with too few thank-yous...I felt that Glenn and others deserved some recognition for their work."
For more information on the State Justice Institute, click here.
For more information on LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program, click here.
On March 16, 2007, the National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP) will be hosting a free online training session on the top ten technological innovations being used in the legal services community today. Some of the featured technologies are:
- I-CAN! EITC, which helps low-income people apply for their Earned Income Tax Credit;
- LegalMeetings, a web-based video conferencing program; and
- HotDocs, a legal document assembly program.
The training session is recommended for Executive Directors and other managers, but is open to anyone in the legal services community with an interest in technology.
Note: NTAP is partially funded through LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program.
For more information on the training session, click here.
Colorado Legal Services has helped win a lawsuit that will force a property management company to relocate victims of domestic violence whose lives are in danger.
The defendant in the case, Wyneneicka Blackwell, was raped, beaten, and stabbed by her ex-boyfriend in her federally-subsidized Denver apartment in 2003. When the police still had not caught the perpetrator months later, Blackwell, fearing for her safety, asked her landlord to transfer her to another apartment in a different complex. The landlord refused. Blackwell was forced to move out of her long-time home and stay with a succession of relatives which, along with memories of the attack and the constant fear of being found by her ex, began to take a psychological toll.
Colorado Legal Services, along with lawyers from Legal Momentum and the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, filed suit in federal court on behalf of Blackwell against the property management company that owned her apartment complex, Urban Property Management. The lawsuit claimed Blackwell was discriminated against on the basis of sex and that her history as a victim of domestic violence was used against her.
As part of the settlement, Urban Property Management has agreed to relocate victims of domestic violence within five days after receiving a request, post notices about the new policy, provide training to employees about domestic violence and fair housing laws, and to pay Blackwell $60,000.
To read an article on the case published in the Denver Post, click here.
Paul T. Rosynsky Inside Bay Area (CA) - February 28, 2007
A landlord's attempt to raise the rent for about 44 low-income seniors living in his building was temporarily denied by a federal judge who ruled that the dwellers can stay in place until court proceedings end.
The ruling was welcome news to seniors living at the Park Village Apartments building on Park Boulevard Way in the city's Glenview district.
The seniors had thought they would be forced to move after their landlord, Mortimer Howard, first gave notice last March that he no longer would participate in the federal Housing and Urban Development's subsidy program.
Because he no longer would participate in the program, Howard gave the seniors 30 days to either pay market rate for rent or find a new place to live. He amended the notice to 90 days in October.
For many, the market rate of $1,192 per month for a one-bedroom apartment was more than they earn.
The only problem for Howard, however, was a federal law that mandates landlords give residents a year's notice before ending participation in the subsidy program.
City officials and [California's] Bay Area Legal Aid rose to the seniors' defense and filed a lawsuit against Howard arguing that the landlord failed to follow federal law.
They also asked a judge to prevent Howard from either raising the rent or evicting tenants until the court proceedings are resolved.
Federal Judge Saundra Armstrong agreed earlier this month, saying the tenants can stay as long as they continue to pay their roughly $300-a-month subsidized rent.
"It gave our clients a peace of mind," said Lisa Greif, an attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid. "A lot of our clients have limited English skills, are disabled and have been there a long time. The prospect of moving someplace else was pretty daunting."
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
Abdon M. Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-Times (IL) - March 5, 2007
Lawyers who make big bucks representing the rich are being asked to share with lawyers who make peanuts representing the poor.
The Chicago Bar Foundation starts its campaign [March 5] to get Chicago's major law firms to lean on every partner for $500 and every associate attorney for $100 to help fund legal aid lawyers.
"The average starting salary is about $38,500, and a lot of them are being crushed with debt from school of $60,000 to $100,000," said former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, a partner at Jenner & Block.
Idealistic young attorneys who graduate from law school and join the Legal Assistance Foundation or Chicago Volunteer Legal Services to help poor people generally only last about 2 1/2 years before it gets too tough to pay back their law school loans, according to a study the bar foundation commissioned.
"There is a real crisis--the combination of very low salaries and very high educational debt presents a real barrier for lawyers who want to go into public law," said Kimball Anderson of Winston & Strawn.
"Our study shows we are going to lose 50 percent of them within the next few years," Valukas said. "When that abused woman who lives in Cabrini-Green with two children is trying to get that restraining order and support for her family, the lawyer is not going to be available to do it."
So the bar foundation is trying a first-of-its-kind fund-raising campaign from within the legal community. Leaders of just about all of Chicago's major law firms--where lawyers are paid handsomely--have signed on.
The money raised will be given to pro bono legal agencies to help boost salaries.
For more information on the Campaign, click here.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
Press Release, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services - February 28, 2007
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) announces that Bruce Beneke, who has served with great distinction as its Executive Director for the past 30 years, has decided to step down from that role effective August 1, 2007. He will continue working at SMRLS in a new senior role.
The Board is also pleased to announce its selection of Jessie R. Nicholson to become the new Executive Director of SMRLS. Ms. Nicholson has also been an outstanding leader at SMRLS for nearly 22 years, including 10 years as its Deputy Executive Director. She is the first African American woman to lead a civil legal aid program in the Upper Midwest.
SMRLS is Minnesota's oldest legal aid program. It provides free legal assistance in civil matters to low-income Minnesotans who reside in St. Paul and all 33 counties of southern Minnesota. SMRLS has 59 lawyers and a total of 110 staff and 600 volunteers to serve over 200,000 persons eligible for its services. SMRLS has 11 offices and is funded by a wide variety of federal, state, and local public and private sources.
Mr. Beneke is a 1969 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. He joined SMRLS as a VISTA in 1972 and became its Executive Director in 1977. He has been awarded the Minnesota State Bar Association's "Professional Excellence Award."
Under Mr. Beneke's leadership, SMRLS has pioneered domestic abuse, immigration, migrant, education law, and rural legal aid work in Minnesota. SMRLS has also added special programs to assist the homeless (Project HOPE), to repair substandard housing (Project HALO), and to prevent housing discrimination (Project HELP). It also created the Immigrant Law Center and Centro Legal.
Ms. Nicholson previously served as a staff attorney specializing in housing and in immigration law. She is currently senior leader of SMRLS' Refugee, Immigrant, and Migrant Services (RIMS) program. She was recognized by William Mitchell College of Law as one of its five most distinguished graduates during its centennial celebration.
In stepping down, Mr. Beneke stated his gratitude to have held such a special job for so long and his respect for all staff, Board, and volunteers of SMRLS who "have demonstrated time and again your deep commitment, outstanding expertise, and tireless work to make a respectful and significant difference in the lives of people who face poverty, discrimination, violence, and other hardship."
For more information on Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, click here.
Press Release, Georgia Legal Services Program - March 2007
Georgians who were affected by the early March tornadoes in Georgia and need legal advice on contracts, housing, FEMA benefits, emergency public benefits or other matters, may be eligible for free legal assistance from Georgia Legal Services Program. Georgia Legal Services lawyers and volunteer lawyers can help sort out legal problems that survivors may have as a result of damage to their home and loss of income. Attorneys may be available at local Disaster Recovery Centers or through Georgia Legal Services offices in Albany, Augusta, Columbus, and Macon.
Early needs after a disaster center on housing issues, disaster benefits, food and income replacement, and identification document replacement. Georgia Legal Services staff and volunteer lawyers may offer basic advice, direct survivors to appropriate agencies, and help sort out communication issues between the survivor and one or more agencies. Volunteer opportunities may be available for local attorneys and vary based primarily on the timing of the legal need
For more information, click here.
Milt Capps, The Nashville Post (TN) - March 6, 2007
Law firms' and attorneys' cash donations to the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee pushed the nonprofit to a record $685,908 gain for the 2006 annual campaign.
LAS Executive Director Ashley Wiltshire told NashvillePost.com this afternoon that continued momentum has already yielded pledges equal to half the financial goal of the group's 2007 campaign, which doesn't officially begin until tomorrow.
Wiltshire said the 2006 campaign attracted 1,735 gifts from firms and individuals, with a total value more than $39,000 greater than the 2005 annual-campaign total. This year's proceeds included $110,500 contributed by donors outside the legal profession. That non-lawyer portion of the campaign was led by Rob McNeilly, president of SunTrust Bank.
Wiltshire said that thanks to the now-traditional early pledges of Nashville law firms, the 2007 campaign will officially begin with $355,000 in pledges already in the coffer, toward this year's $710,000 goal.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
Christopher Sheffield, Memphis Business Journal (TN) - March 5, 2007
Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc., finished its annual fund-raising campaign with a record in donations.
The 2006 Access to Justice campaign brought in $200,000, up from $145,500 in 2005 and a significant leap from the $115,500 in 2002, says MALS executive director Harrison McIver.
While 2006 was the most successful campaign to date, McIver says that shouldn't "diminish the work of prior years that served as a foundation for us to be able to realize the success we're enjoying today."
At the next quarterly meeting of the MALS board of directors, the organization will address some plans for the funds, McIver says. Some of his goals include expanding the number and/or types of cases the agency can handle, upgrades in information technology and addressing salaries for the agency's 14 attorneys, who have a starting salary of $35,000.
The agency has an annual budget of $2.8 million. In addition to donations, the agency gets funding through a variety of grants and contract funds, McIver says.
"We have to address that very pervasive problem because we want to attract very good lawyers for our lawyer positions," he says. "We want to be in the ballgame for those who have a commitment to public service."
To read the article in its entirety, click here. (REGISTRATION REQUIRED)
Christine Varno, The Atlanticville (NJ) - March 1, 2007
Ocean Monmouth Legal Services Inc. (OMLS) hosted an open house at its new Long Branch location last week to highlight the legal aid available to local community members.
A panel of speakers, including Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson and Long Branch Superintendent of Schools Joseph M. Ferraina, shared their views on the value of opening an OMLS office in Long Branch.
"It really is a privilege to share in today's program," said Lawson.
"You will be inspired to make the justice system equal to the poor. Remember to stand back proudly and reflect on the importance of your work," Lawson said, continuing, "May it bring you even closer to the realization of your great mission."
OMLS is a not-for-profit law firm that provides free legal services to qualified low-income residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties.
OMLS offices are located in Freehold and Toms River. A Long Branch office was opened in November to be closer to a large population of the firm's clientele in both Long Branch and Asbury Park, according to OMLS Long Branch office Managing Attorney William Rempel.
At the open house, Ferraina said he was grateful to have an OMLS office in Long Branch.
"You can't have people that are poor going to places that they can't get to," he said. "We are an Abbott District, which means our population is economically disadvantaged. You are open to our community."
Other speakers at the open house included William Dangler, president of the Greater Long Branch Chapter of the NAACP, and former president of the New Jersey State Bar Association Edwin J. McCreedy.
According to Rempel, the mission of OMLS is to provide legal aid to low- and fixed-income residents.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.