LSC Updates - October 19, 2006
On October 5, 2006, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett spoke at the Delaware Bar Foundation's 25th Anniversary celebration. The Foundation distributes Interest on Lawyers' Trust Account (IOLTA) funds to the state's legal services programs, including the LSC-funded Legal Services Corporation of Delaware (LSCD).
The event attracted prominent leaders from the state's judicial, legal, and banking communities, including Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, Justices Jack Jacobs and Randy Holland, Douglas B. Canfield, Executive Director of the LSC-funded Legal Services Corporation of Delaware and representatives from other legal services providers. The Wilmington Trust Company was honored with the Foundation's Financial Leadership Award for holding more IOLTA accounts than any other bank in Delaware.
Ms. Barnett updated the attendees on national developments in the equal justice community, including the findings in LSC's grounbreaking report, Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans, LSC's FY 2007 appropriation and FY 2008 budget request, LSC's private attorney involvement initiative, LSC's Quality Agenda, and recent news stories about LSC. She concluded her remarks by stressing the importance of partnerships and collaborations in ensuring that equal access to justice becomes a reality. "We cannot do it alone. All of us--the legal services community, attorneys in private practice, the judiciary, state and local governments, the business community, law schools, faith-based communities, and our society as a whole--must work together to meet the unmet legal needs of the poor."
On September 21, 2006, Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLSC) celebrated its tenth anniversary. The event was attended by SLSC staff and representatives from partner organizations.
An award was presented to Norm Janes, the program's Executive Director, in recognition of his achievement in becoming the President of the Connecticut State Bar Association, one of the very few legal services executive directors in the country to lead a state's bar association.
Michael A. Genz, Director of LSC's Office of Program Performance, represented LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and the Corporation and delivered remarks to the attendees. He discussed LSC's FY 2007 appropriation and FY 2008 budget request, LSC's private attorney involvement initiative, LSC's Quality Agenda, and the importance of partnerships and collaborations to having an effective civil legal services delivery system.
On October 17, 2006, LSC Vice President for Programs and Performance Karen J. Sarjeant attended Kentucky Legal Services' Statewide Planning Meeting, held in Lexington, Kentucky. The meeting was primarily a discussion of program quality, with representatives from the state's LSC-funded legal services programs, non-LSC-funded programs, and Kentucky's Access to Justice Foundation in attendance.
Ms. Sarjeant led a discussion of LSC's Performance Criteria, the cornerstone of LSC's Quality Agenda, and how LSC views and can use the new criteria. Program staff had an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. An interesting part of the meeting was a presentation on Kentucky's Pro Bono Development Project. The project is a partnership between the Kentucky Bar Association and the Kentucky Legal Services Network, and is coordinated by the Kentucky Access to Justice Foundation. Made possible by a three year grant from the state bar, the project aims to increase pro bono participation in the delivery of civil legal services throughout the state.
U.Va Today - October 3, 2006
The University of Virginia School of Law has appointed professors Kenneth S. Abraham, Lillian R. BeVier and Paul G. Mahoney to serve as the newest David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professors of Law. The appointments were made by the U.Va. Board of Visitors on Sept. 29. Supported by an aggregate gift of more than $49.2 million, the professorships were the bequest of David A. Harrison III ('39, Law '41) in 2002.
"The professorships signal to the world our commitment not only to remain in the very first rank of American legal education but also to challenge the nation's leading private universities for the nation's leading law professors," said law school Dean John C. Jeffries Jr.
The Harrison chairs are reserved for senior teachers and scholars of national distinction. "All stand at the pinnacle of their fields, with long records of accomplishment and distinction and many years of service at the School of Law," Jeffries said.
Lillian BeVier has taught constitutional law (with special emphasis on First Amendment issues), intellectual property, real property and torts since coming to Virginia in 1973. She is the author of two books, "Is Free TV for Federal Candidates Constitutional?" and "Campaign Finance 'Reform' Proposals: A First Amendment Analysis," and numerous articles and book chapters. The University of Virginia Alumni Association gave BeVier its Distinguished Professor Award in 2006. Having been nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2003, she is currently a member and vice-chair of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation. She serves on the national Board of Visitors of the Federalist Society.
"I am incredibly honored to be a Harrison Professor, and - like all my colleagues - am grateful beyond measure for his generosity to the law school," BeVier said.
A retired lawyer, investment banker and farmer, the late David A. Harrison III of Hopewell, Va., died in 2002 at the age of 85. With his estate and a previously established trust, Harrison and his wife Mary contributed more than $150 million to the University.
Kate Coscarelli, The Star-Ledger (NJ) - October 13, 2006
Nearly 120,000 poor New Jerseyans with civil legal problems, from divorce to housing disputes, tried to get legal help last year and were turned away because there are not enough resources, a new study has found.
While the report revealed that about 7,000 more people received assistance than in 2004, the justice gap among the state's low-income residents "remains huge," the report states.
Legal aid officials also said they worry that the numbers don't represent the full picture since many poor people don't realize there could be a legal solution to their problem or they believe that reaching out is futile, said Melville Miller, president of the nonprofit Legal Services of New Jersey in Edison.
"Words like 'crisis' and 'urgent' and 'emergency' are overused in our political parlance, but what else would one call it when you have that many people turned away and most people are not getting representation?" said Miller. "That means most people are not going to have a measure of justice that they would get if they were being represented."
"People Without Lawyers: New Jersey's Civil Legal Justice Gap Continues," was released [October 13] by the 40-year-old LSNJ, which runs a network of legal assistance offices around the state. It examined state court data to determine how many people were appearing before a judge without representation, and focused on areas of the docket that low-income people visit most frequently. It also studied caseloads at the 25 legal-services offices around the state.
Note: Legal Services of New Jersey coordinates New Jersey's statewide legal services delivery system, which includes LSC-funded programs, but does not receive LSC-funding itself.
David Pendered, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA) - October 10, 2006
When Dolores Sheriff heard about a program aimed at helping poor, elderly residents repair their homes, she jumped at the chance to participate.
But after being displaced for six weeks while workers hammered away, turning in $45,000 in invoices to the program, the Sheriffs' homecoming was anything but happy.
The couple said they found cigarettes burns on their furniture. Neighbors told them about wild parties in the house. Some of their belongings were missing. And the work, they said, was generally shoddy. Even a ramp built for wheelchair-dependent Louie Sheriff is useless because it's too steep, leaving him housebound.
The Sheriffs were among the victims of Atlanta's poorly managed program that has taken in more than $5 million in federal money over the past five years but has little to show for it, according to a report outlining an investigation by the city.
The city undertook its investigation after the federal Housing and Urban Development Department issued a scathing report in November criticizing oversight of Atlanta's HOME Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program. Investigators from the city's law department decided to take a closer look at nine randomly selected houses refurbished under the HOME program.
Their report concluded that the program was mismanaged, with contractors receiving payment before the work was started and sometimes full payment for work not completed, and it recommended that the employees who still worked for the city be disciplined.
That report, released in August, is now in the hands of the federal housing agency's Office of Inspector General, which could start its own investigation and forward results to the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
Atlanta Legal Aid--a nonprofit organization that represents mainly the elderly and ill on matters including housing, consumer fraud and spouse abuse--filed suit in April on behalf of the Sheriffs and five other low-income homeowners who participated in the program and complained about the quality of the work. The city quickly settled the lawsuits, paying residents a total of $90,000.
Karen Miniex, a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid, condemned the handling of the program. Miniex has helped with the six lawsuits.
"The lack of compassion and an understanding of the problems and how they're affecting the lives of people [program administrators] represent and are supposed to protect is unbelievable," Miniex said. "The problems are so obvious to me, when I get the documents and see the work that's been done or hasn't been done. I don't understand why it's not obvious to the city and I don't understand why it has been allowed to go on for so long."
Kristen Wyatt, The Associated Press - October 13, 2006
Maryland's highest court on [October 12] sided in part with legal immigrants who sued to block Maryland from cutting their health care benefits.
The court unanimously upheld an injunction blocking the state from cutting the Medicaid benefits to almost 3,000 children and pregnant women who are recent immigrants.
But the judges said it was wrong for a Montgomery County judge to award retroactive benefits because the case hasn't been settled.
The Court of Appeals decision means the immigrants will keep their health care coverage while the courts decide whether Maryland violates its constitution by abolishing the program.
"We're extremely happy," said Regan Bailey, a Legal Aid Bureau lawyer for the immigrant group.
The case began in 2005, when Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration removed almost 3,000 people from health care coverage under the Medicaid program. The move was made to save $7 million in the state budget. A group of immigrants sued over the change.
The federal government stopped providing funding for health care for needy immigrant children and pregnant women who have been in the U.S. for less than five years in 1996. After that, Maryland decided to continue the program and pay for it entirely with state funds.
State lawyers argued that Maryland was free to drop the coverage to save money because the Medicaid coverage wasn't required by the federal government. That question has not been settled, though Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., writing for five of the seven judges, said that the state "failed to justify" the decision to cut the money.
The opinion also said that immigrants were "likely" to win their case, justifying an injunction barring the cut.
Lawyers for the immigrants said they hoped state lawyers would drop the case, leaving intact the injunction and the health care coverage.
The Associated Press - October 4, 2006
A Rhode Island judge ruled the state can't collect co-payments on prescription drugs from poor and disabled people enrolled in the state Medicaid program, unless the General Assembly changes the law.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato Jr. on [October 3] prevents a proposed $1 co-payment on generic drugs and a $3 co-payment on name-brand drugs that state officials say will save Rhode Island's government about $60,000 a month.
The General Assembly approved the co-payment plan in June as part of the state budget. But lawyers for Rhode Island Legal Services filed a lawsuit claiming that lawmakers didn't change the necessary state statutes to make the co-payments legal.
Fortunato temporarily blocked its implementation Sept. 20, a day before it was scheduled to take effect.
The Medicaid program provides health care for about 14,000 people. Many live on a special Social Security payment totaling $660 a month, said Legal Services attorney Gretchen Bath.
She said a $1 or $3 co-payment can cause serious hardship for many people in the program because they have so little income.
Michele R. Marcucci, Inside Bay Area (CA) - October 13, 2006
The state is delaying needed medical care for thousands of poor people by taking too long to process Medi-Cal applications, three advocacy groups charge in a new lawsuit.
Filed on behalf of three Bay Area residents, the suit charges that the state is taking more than seven months on average to process disability-based Medi-Cal applications, instead of the 90 days they are allowed.
Meanwhile, some people who have no other way of paying for needed medical care are going without it, they charge.
In a sample of 2,188 Medi-Cal disability applications filed in 2005, none was processed in 90 days as required, the suit claims, and a 10,000 to 12,000 application backlog exists.
The groups filed the suit after getting numerous complaints about the state's handling of the applications, said Michael Keys of Bay Area Legal Aid, one of the three groups suing the state in an effort to fix the problem.
The suit was filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.
Press Release, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - October 2, 206
The Department of Housing and Urban Development [October 2] awarded $18.1 million in grants to 102 groups in 85 cities throughout the nation to help reduce housing discrimination.
The grants, funded through HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program, will be used to investigate allegations of housing discrimination, educate the public and the housing industry about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act, and work to promote equal housing opportunities.
Grants were awarded under one of two initiatives:
- Private Enforcement Initiative grants (PEI) - HUD awarded $13.9 million to assist groups in the investigation and enforcement of alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act and substantially equivalent state and local fair housing laws.
- Education and Outreach Initiative grants (EOI) - HUD awarded $4.2 million to groups that educate the public and housing providers about their rights and obligations under federal, state, and local fair housing laws.
Note: Fourteen LSC-funded programs received a total of $2.5 million dollars in grants.
Steven Cischke, The Metropolitan News-Enterprise (CA) - October 10, 2006
[California Supreme Court] Chief Justice Ronald M. George has endorsed a resolution passed by the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations, calling for free legal representation for those who cannot afford it in matters affecting sustenance, shelter, safety, health and child custody.
George told the MetNews Sunday, the day after the conference vote:
"I think that access to justice really requires that we extend the availability of both counsel and interpreters, at least in the core category of civil cases such as landlord-tenant and family law matters, and perhaps small claims as well.
"So, I think this is a very worthwhile objective, and of course, to make it feasible, it will require that funding is made available to the courts to pursue it."
Note: Visit the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations website to read the resolution: http://www.cdcba.org/res_2006.html.
Barbara L. Jones, The Minnesota Lawyer - October 9, 2006
Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) could generate substantially more funds for Legal Aid groups if the state Supreme Court adopts a proposal backed by the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA).
The MSBA has asked the high court to amend its rules to require lawyers to maintain IOLTA accounts in financial institutions that pay a market rate of interest. While some major banks are already paying interest at rates similar to those that would be required under the proposed rule, at least one bank in Minnesota pays only .001 percent interest on such accounts.
Lawyers deposit client monies in pooled IOLTA accounts when they will only be held for short periods of time. In Minnesota and numerous other states, the interest on such accounts is used to fund Legal Aid programs.
The change advocated by the MSBA would increase the amount of IOLTA funding available to Legal Aid substantially. Those involved say it could add up to millions of dollars.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Mark Morey, Yakima Herald-Republic (WA) - October 12, 2006
Chrisse Duncan's son, J.J., has Down syndrome and can't stay on his own, his mother says.
So when the state moved to reduce the number of hours that she is paid to care for him, it threatened their existence as a family.
Without the state funding, Duncan would have to work outside the home and pay someone to care for her son.
Unsure what to do, she called a legal services hotline and was referred to Don Kinney, a longtime public aid lawyer in Yakima who works for the Northwest Justice Project.
Kinney managed to restore the amount of state funding that she needed to care for her son after benefits officials reviewed doctors' reports on her son's requirement for a full-time caretaker.
"It was a long, hard work, but he did it, and we thank him and the system so very much," Duncan said. "Without them, we would be nowhere."
Duncan told her story Wednesday to a crowd gathered for an open house hosted by the Alliance for Equal Justice, a network of legal aid groups across Washington.
The event, which brought together about 40 attorneys and others at The Seasons performance hall in Yakima, was meant to highlight the need for civil legal services for the poor, elderly and other disadvantaged residents.
On October 14, 2006, the LSC-funded Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) of Maryland celebrated 95 years of providing high-quality civil legal services to the state's low-income residents. The event brought together current and former staff, board members, volunteers, and other friends of the organization, to reminisce about the Legal Aid Bureau's past, and reconnect for the future.
Wilhelm Joseph, Executive Director of the LAB, said, "The work we do constitutes a continual cycle of confronting challenges and executing appropriately. Yet celebration is an oft-overlooked, yet very important, phase of the cycle. [This] event is our way of saying thank you to all who have given, to encourage those still giving and to shed light on hope for those who will be giving in the future."
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett praised the organization in a letter, saying, "You have a nationwide reputation for high quality advocacy, fearless and independent representation of children who are the victims of abuse and neglect, special emphasis on the rights of the elderly and disabled, and you are fortunate enough to have deeply committed and talented staff...Congratulations! You have many reasons to be proud. LSC appreciates your extraordinary contributions and we look forward to continuing to work together in the cause of equal justice for all."
Five current LSC employees in the Office of Program Performance are Legal Aid Bureau alumni, including Vice President Karen J. Sargeant, Director Michael A. Genz, Senior Program Counsel John C. Eidleman, and Program Counsels Janet LaBella and Stephanie Edelstein.
Note: Portions of this article were taken from "Maryland Legal Aid Honors Six as it Celebrates 95" by Joe Surkiewicz, Communications Director for the Legal Aid Bureau, for Maryland's Daily Record.
Click here to read the article. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
NLADA Legal Aid News - October 11, 2006
Technology can be a daunting topic to track as an executive director, manager, or advocate. National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP) has redesigned LStech.Org (aka LSNTAP.Org), and it is now available for use. NTAP aims to create technology content applicable to every legal aid audience: director to techie.
Here you'll find information about GIS Mapping, Statewide Websites, XML, RSS, Hotline Technology, Case Management Systems, Wikis, Disaster Tech Planning, Future Trends on Low-Income Usage on Internet, and more.
The website is easy to post to; NTAP seeks active involvement from programs in generating content and giving feedback to content there.
The Baltimore Sun (MD) - October 6, 2006
The Sun's article "Legal aid board turned on whistleblower" (Sept. 24) would have made more sense on the blogs of far-right organizations that have been trying to eliminate civil legal aid to the poor in this country for the past 35 years.
The Legal Services Corp. (LSC) is being considered for a long-overdue funding increase by Congress this session, which is driving its opponents to a frenzy.
They have apparently found a friend in the supposed "whistleblower" inside the organization, whose actions have drawn criticism from the American Bar Association and others for attacking legal aid programs.
Created by Congress in 1975, LSC received $326 million this year. It is governed by an 11-member board (six Republicans and five Democrats) appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Nearly 96 percent of LSC's budget goes directly to 138 independent programs (such as Maryland's Legal Aid Bureau) in the United States and its territories that provide legal aid in nearly a million cases annually for families facing loss of their homes or seeking protection from domestic violence or access to medical care, child support and employment.
The real story is that LSC is grossly underfunded, and most people eligible for assistance with critical legal problems go unserved.
LSC's congressional appropriation today is less than half of its 1981 level when adjusted for inflation.
Congress needs to help LSC do its job of helping provide access to justice in our country.
Robert J. Rhudy, Baltimore
The writer was executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corp. from 1986 to 2003.