LSC Updates - November 16, 2005
On November 4, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees met in conference to resolve the differences in their versions of the FY 2006 Commerce and Justice, Science, and related agencies (CJS) spending bill, which funds LSC. The conferees reached an agreement which provides $330.8 million for LSC in FY 2006, the same amount as FY 2005. However, a .28 percent rescission applied to all accounts in the bill will reduce LSC's FY 2006 budget to $329.8 million. Further government-wide rescissions are still a possibility.
The House adopted the conference report on the CJS bill on November 9. On the House floor, Representative David Obey (D-WI), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, spoke against the funding cuts to LSC and voted against the conference report. The Senate approved the conference report on November 16.
LSC is in the process of developing Strategic Directions for the years 2006-2010. To accomplish this, LSC has drafted a document outlining the Corporation's goals for the next five years, as well as its objectives and strategies for meeting those goals. LSC has made this draft available for public comment. Public comments are due by December 16.
A notice with more information on submitting comments will be published in the Federal Register on November 17. The notice will be made available in the Federal Register Notices section of LSC's website.
Thompson Coburn LLP, known primarily for its corporate-law practice, said Monday that it's funding a full-time lawyer at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri to help disabled children fight for the educational services they need.
The Thompson Coburn donation marks the first time a St. Louis-based law firm has fully funded the creation of a specific position at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Thompson Coburn is donating $120,000 to Legal Services, which provides legal help to low-income families, to honor senior partner William G. Guerri.
The Guerri chair sets up a three-year position aimed at representing special-needs children who're trying to get into or stay in school. Guerri, a former managing partner of the firm known for his public service, was among five honorees inducted Monday into the Legal Service group's F. William McCalpin Wall of Justice for their commitment to pro bono work.
Evangeline Gomez, wearing a soft butter-cream business suit, moved across the production studio into the camera's view. She had an important message to deliver.
"Domestic violence happens every minute of every day," Gomez said, beginning her introduction to the domestic violence episode of "Legally Speaking," a weekly legal affairs program taped Thursday at the public access studio in downtown Paterson.
Broadcast Wednesdays at 6 p.m. on Cablevision Public Access Channel 75, and produced by Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, "Legally Speaking" aims to inform low- and moderate-income Paterson residents about their legal rights.
Under the fluorescent lights of the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York's conference room in Utica one recent afternoon, Elly Arnoff, Erin Hanna, and George Martin pored over piles of court documents.
They looked over the case files and doctor reports, debated early interventions and dismissals, sat in on a client interview, and ended their day at the nonprofit discussing evidence with their mentor Susan M. Conn '79, a pro bono attorney at Legal Aid.
Members of this trio, however, weren't second- or third-year law students; these attorneys-in-training were Colgate seniors enrolled in a course titled the Upstate Law Project: Social Security Benefits for Disabled Children.
"To see them in action, it's sometimes easy to forget that they're just undergraduates," said Conn. "They have such energy, passion, and already a pretty good grasp of the concepts."
The Lafayette Parish Bar Association has won the Harrison Tweed Award for its work to provide legal service to the poor -- the only bar association in Louisiana and one of the smallest in the country to ever receive the public service recognitionn.
The award, given by the American Bar Association, recognizes projects that expand access to legal services.
The local bar was tapped for its Lafayette Outreach for Civil Justice Campaign, a fund-raising effort to support programs that provide lawyers for the poor.
Neuner said the campaign has secured pledges of more than $275,000 since beginning in January 2004.
The money, used for court fees and other expenses, is split between Lafayette Volunteer Lawyers, a group of about 350 lawyers committed to pro-bono work, and Acadiana Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm.
Both groups provide legal help to the poor in civil cases, such as divorces, protective orders, child custody disputes, evictions and bankruptcy proceedings.
Acadiana Legal Services Director Joseph Oelkers said the increased funding "is going to translate into expanded access to justice for the poor in Lafayette Parish."
Four area organizations recently became the latest Yes We Can! partners, receiving a combined $575,091 in funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Guardian Inc., Haven of Rest, Legal Services of South Central Michigan and YWCA of Kalamazoo joined seven other organizations that earlier this year were awarded more than $3 million in the continuing effort to transfer Yes We Can! responsibilities from one organization to many throughout the community.
Legal Services of South Central Michigan received $264,023 in Yes We Can! dollars and will use the money to forge a partnership with the Volunteer Center of Battle Creek.
That partnership, according to Legal Services Executive Director Bob Gillett, would be used to coordinate a community effort aimed at preventing the loss of homes due to tax foreclosures.
Gillett said last year about 2,500 property tax foreclosures were executed in Calhoun County - nearly 70 percent of those were owner-occupied, with most of the homes in Battle Creek.
"There's a lot to be done to preserve people's homes," Gillett said. "This grant will allow us to identify foreclosures, through the treasurer's office, as early as possible and then work with 211 (the volunteer center) to work out additional services that might be needed."
Not much - and everything - has changed at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in its 100 years. Attorneys still work to battle issues on behalf of clients who can't afford to pay them, but the attorneys' caseloads are heavier and the ranks of the working poor are more numerous.
However, the battles themselves aren't that different than they were back when the organization was founded.
"We're compiling a history right now, and when you look at the draft and you look at the legal problems of the poor back in 1905, my God, they're the same," said David Dawson, deputy director at Legal Aid since 1985 and an attorney with the organization since 1971.
"They center around shelter, economic survival and economic justice," he said. "Family problems were as prevalent, but what they were concerned about in 1905 were usurious loans and wages, and now if you look at two of our significant issues they're payday loans and predatory lending."
For the past 100 years, Legal Aid attorneys have taken the side of the underdog - those without money, power or influence - in civil cases and made it their mission to provide high-quality legal services to those who need them the most.
South Jersey Legal Services has appealed dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit challenging a redevelopment proposal to demolish a residential neighborhood in Mount Holly.
Legal Services is appealing the Sept. 19 dismissal by Superior Court Judge John Sweeney of its lawsuit alleging discrimination against minorities. It is also appealing the judge's earlier rejection of a claim that the township adopted the West Rancocas Redevelopment Plan in violation of the state housing law.
The nonprofit legal group represents homeowners in Mount Holly Gardens -- a post-World War II development of nearly 300 brick homes and mainly black and Hispanic residents with lower incomes.
The township declared the gardens a blighted and high-crime area before adopting its redevelopment plan, which calls for demolition of most homes and a mix of commercial and mostly market-rate homes to replace them.
ARTIST'S TALENT TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT
Mae Gentry, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – November 11, 2005
"You want me to draw your picture? You have a dollar?" shouted Lois Curtis, a mentally disabled DeKalb County artist whose fight for equality led all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Curtis, 38, spent a recent morning camped out near the cafeteria at Shiloh High School in Gwinnett County, displaying her art and drawing pictures of students, faculty and employees as part of Disability Awareness Month.
Curtis, who earns money selling her artwork, will have her first one-woman show - "Ms. Curtis, it's a pleasure to meet you" - Wednesday through Dec. 23 at Temple Gallery in Decatur.
Curtis has come a long way since she was a plaintiff with Elaine Wilson in a lawsuit in which the Atlanta Legal Aid Society represented the women against Georgia Department of Human Resources Commissioner Tommy Olmstead.
Curtis spent half her life in and out of various state-run institutions for people with disabilities.
She was finally released from Georgia Regional Hospital in 1997, said Sue Jamieson, director of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society's mental health and disability rights project. Jamieson took on Curtis' case in 1995, when she and Wilson sued to have the right to live in the community rather than in state custody.
Some 126,000 poor New Jerseyans who sought legal help last year with civil problems ranging from divorce to landlord-tenant disputes were turned away because the state's legal aid system lacks lawyers, resources and volunteers, a new study has found.
And, legal aid officials say, that figure represents only a fraction of the problem. Thousands more of the state's low-income residents who need legal help never seek it because they don't know where to look or simply believe it is futile, according to the study by the nonprofit Legal Services of New Jersey.
Nearly 1.8 million New Jersey residents are eligible for help from legal aid agencies, the study says. Of those, 178,000 people asked for help last year and only about 52,000 people got representation from the state's network of legal aid programs.
The need for lawyers is so great that the 24 local legal services offices around the state routinely turn people away, the study says. At one point in 2004, Essex-Newark Legal Services closed intake for 30 days in the elder law section because the staff couldn't meet demand. It also had a waiting list of 200 for help in filing divorce papers. And Central Jersey Legal Services, which operates in Middlesex, Mercer and Union counties, also stopped accepting cases at various points throughout the year.
"We have a problem here. ... People really don't have meaningful access to lawyers," said Melville Miller, LSNJ president. "We must stop the rationing of justice."
Legal Aid of North Carolina, which has helped thousands of people in the Wilson area with nowhere else to turn, is celebrating its 25th anniversary Friday.
John Keller, an attorney with the Wilson agency, said the nonprofit strives to help low-income people who otherwise might not get legal representation because they cannot afford it.
"It's really a vital service," Keller said. "Although the Constitution does not guarantee a lawyer to everyone in every case, it is still a bedrock in the American legal system to help to protect people's rights."
Without Legal Aid and the service of private attorneys who work occasionally for the agency on a pro-bono basis, many people would not be able to afford an attorney, Keller said.
Legal Aid helps clients with issues involving unemployment benefits, medical coverage, disability and foreclosures.
"I think all those types of cases either bring income into the community or preserve income already in the community," Keller said.
When a case involves criminal charges, someone who could not afford an attorney would have to ask for a court-appointed lawyer, Keller said. Legal Aid only handles civil cases.
"We deal with people who have legal problems that affect their basic necessities, shelter, food and income," he said.
Legal Aid also helps clients with eviction problems, making sure they have habitable dwellings; unfair lending practices, which could include mobile homes and vehicle sales; qualifications for Medicaid based on disabilities; wrongful job terminations for state employees; and unpaid wage claims. It also provides legal service for senior citizens doing wills and power of attorney, Keller said.
Nearly half of the Maine landlords who were tested under a federally funded program failed to comply with fair housing laws, according to a report by Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a not-for-profit legal aid organization.
Approached by people posing as potential tenants in 72 tests, landlords in Augusta, Lewiston and Portland showed at least some discrimination against people with foreign accents, disabilities or federal housing rent vouchers 48 percent of the time, the report said.
The most common type of discrimination recorded by the testers was against people with children. In 19 tests, seven landlords refused to rent to families with children, citing concerns such as damage, noise and apartment size. Under Maine law, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on their family status.
"People seem to be surprised by that one more than any other," said Patricia Ender, the fair housing project coordinator for Pine Tree.
"You just can't stereotype," she said. "You may have had a bad experience with children once, but you cannot use that to discriminate against other people."