LSC Updates - October 4, 2006
LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland Testifies Before House Judiciary Subcommittee On Commercial And Administrative Law
In response to a question, Frank Strickland, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation, testified September 26 that LSC is adopting all 11 of the recommendations in the Inspector General's "Report on Certain Fiscal Practices at LSC," as indicated in LSC's response (see story below).
Strickland appeared at a hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on H.R. 6101, which provides that the LSC Inspector General cannot be removed without the written concurrence of 9 of the 11 members of the LSC Board. Strickland testified that LSC opposes the bill and that, contrary to inaccurate news reports and the Inspector General's testimony, the Board has neither retaliated nor taken any steps to remove the Inspector General. (All of the inaccurate new reports emanated from a single source, Associated Press reporter Larry Margasak.)
September 26, 2006
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its Report on Certain Fiscal Practices at LSC on September 25, 2006. The report makes 11 recommendations and LSC Management has responded positively to each of them. Management is pleased to note the instances in which the report recognizes that LSC has improved its practices after issues have been identified and is also pleased to note the OIG's finding in the Executive Summary that LSC spending practices do not violate any laws. To the extent that LSC has not followed its own procedures, Management has pledged to improve its operations to insure that procedures are followed in the future. Additionally, even though LSC is not subject to most federal requirements, LSC Management is committed to reviewing relevant federal policies as recommended in the report and modifying comparable LSC policies where appropriate.
"LSC will adopt the recommendations made by the OIG in order to improve the fiscal management of the Corporation," according to Helaine M. Barnett, President of LSC. "I am pleased to note that the report clears LSC of any violations of the law and recognizes that the Corporation has already begun revising some policies and more strictly enforcing others."
On September 28-29, the American Law Institute and the Georgetown University Law Center co-sponsored "Fair and Independent Courts: A Conference on the State of the Judiciary," which invited national leaders from the judiciary, academia, the business community, the media, and the legal community. U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O'Connor (retired) co-chaired the event, while Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas attended the entire conference. Chief Justice John Roberts and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales both delivered addresses to the conferees. Chief Justices from 11 state supreme courts were also in attendance.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett participated in a panel discussion on improving the judicial system, along with Richard Scruggs, Senior Partner at the Scruggs Law Firm, the Honorable Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Indiana, and the Honorable Larry D. Thompson, Former Deputy Attorney General. Pete Williams, Justice Correspondent for NBC News, moderated the discussion.
Ms. Barnett's comments stressed the importance of equal access to justice to improving the judicial system. Addressing the conference's theme of fair and independent courts, Ms. Barnett discussed how the "gap in the amount of representation available for the growing needs for civil legal assistance to the poor" has a negative impact on the fairness and independence of the judiciary. "Without access, a significant segment of the population will lack confidence in the system. An erosion of the perception that the system is just and equitable also erodes confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the judicial system."
The recently enacted FY 2007 Defense appropriations bill contained a continuing resolution that will fund the majority of the Federal Government at FY 2006 levels until November 17, 2006. As of the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, only two (Homeland Security and Defense) of 13 appropriations bills for FY 2007 have been signed into law.
If the remaining 11 bills have not been passed by November 17, another continuing resolution will be necessary.
LSC's FY 2007 appropriation is contained in the Science, State, Justice and Commerce spending bill, which is still awaiting passage by the full Senate. Previously, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $358.5 million for LSC in FY 2007. The House of Representatives approved $338.9 million on June 27, 2006, and the FY 2006 appropriation was $326.5 million.
After Senate passage, the House and Senate will meet in conference to reconcile differences between the two bills.
Mary Vorsino, The Honolulu Advertiser (HI) - September 21, 2006
Attorneys for the poor are decrying a federal regulation that allows Micronesians in their home countries to get federally funded legal aid but does not extend similar services to those living in Hawai'i.
"We're on an all-out assault to get rid of this law," said Chuck Greenfield, who became executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i four months ago.
"In some public housing projects, we can represent one tenant, but this restriction prevents us from representing his neighbor. It is an intolerable situation."
Legal Aid of Hawai'i officials estimate they are turning away hundreds of Micronesians each year because otherwise, the private, nonprofit group would face losing federal money, which makes up one-third of its operating budget.
Sekap Esah, president of Micronesians United, said the lack of the legal services makes Micronesians a target for scams and other abuses.
"In Micronesia, they get the service free, and Americans, when they come to Micronesia, they get the service free. But when we come here in the U.S., the service is not free. We have to pay private attorneys," Esah said. "It's very, very hard."
The federal regulation, instituted in 1997, is an interpretation of the Compact of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Because the compact specifies services available to countries rather than citizens, U.S.-subsidized legal services offered to Micronesians are available only within the boundaries of the countries served, according to the U.S. Legal Services Corp., the agency that monitors federal funding for legal services.
"We agree with Legal Aid of Hawai'i that this is not a logical situation, but we cannot change it," said Barbara Moldauer, spokeswoman for the U.S. Legal Services Corp. "It has to be done by changing the law."
Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - September 23, 2006
Fifty refugees from Bosnia who say they were exempted from some citizenship requirements due to wartime trauma have accused the federal government of illegally holding up their bids to become Americans.
Their lawsuit, filed Thursday, asks the U.S. District Court to force the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to issue their papers. It says the 50 refugees, all of whom suffered injuries or psychological stress during the Bosnian war, want citizenship to ensure they can stay in the United States.
"They are frightened," said Ann B. Lever, a lawyer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. "Their history makes them fear that, if they don't become citizens, they could be driven out."
Legal Services filed the lawsuit along with the St. Louis University Legal Clinic and Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry. The refugees are between the ages of 40 and 90.
Chester Moyer, agent in charge of the immigration office in St. Louis, said his office had not seen the lawsuit. "We will look at each individual case, but we need to review them," he said.
The lawsuit alleges that in each case, federal immigration officials have issued a medical exemption from having to take the usual tests for proficiency in English and basic American civics. It says federal law requires the government to grant or deny citizenship within 120 days of granting the exemptions but alleges that the 50 refugees have waited from 10 months to almost two years without an answer.
Jesse Bogan, San Antonio Express-News (TX) - October 2, 2006
Nearly 70,000 South Texans stoop along produce rows and reach into orchards around the country each year, their children often beside them, to do the grunt labor that machines still can't.
As migrant farm workers, they hoe cotton, cut onions, pack tomatoes and do other grueling jobs many don't realize exist in the age of mechanized agriculture. Far from the grocery shelf, the age-old burden of harvesting still rests on the spines of those on society's lowest rungs.
It's done in an environment still prone to abuse that typically isn't reported if the hours are long and the money is good, labor rights attorneys said.
But when it doesn't pay well, complaints trickle in, especially with the unrenowned task of "detasseling" seed corn, said to sprout more lawsuits from South Texas migrants than any other job.
Workers walk along corn rows, reach up and pull the tassels off the tall stalks so the plants won't self-pollinate, an effort necessary to produce high yielding hybrid corn seed.
"The expectation is that they are going to get a bunch of money in a short period of time, and it never works out that way," said Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc., which represents farm workers.
Detasseling suits tend to settle before trial. Nine have been filed in federal courts in the Rio Grande Valley since 2004 on behalf of dozens of workers alleging their rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act were violated.
Plaintiffs claim they had poor working and living conditions after being lured to far-flung jobs in the nation's breadbasket with false wage promises.
"I wouldn't say there are more or worse problems in detasseling than other agricultural employment, but because the problems in detasseling directly impact our clients' meager pocketbooks it seems they are more likely to come forward with these claims," said Ramakrishnan, who represents 12 plaintiffs, including four juveniles, in the most recent case, filed Aug. 29.
The suit alleges Iowa-based giant Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Juan Pablo Gonzalez, a labor contractor from Mercedes who recruited the workers, "knowingly misled" them and failed to define the work and payment conditions in writing at the time of recruitment, among other claims.
"He treated us like slaves," plaintiff Juan Del Toro, 46, of Weslaco, said of Gonzalez, who he said recruited him in the summer of 2005 along with his wife and three teenage children.
The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation (TEAJF), which distributes state funds to Texas legal aid organizations, has announced its grants for 2006-2007. In total, TEAJF will distribute $17.8 million dollars in funds collected from IOLTA accounts, court filing fees, and a fund created for organizations that provide civil legal services to low-income victims of crime.
The three LSC-funded programs in Texas received nearly $12 million in grants, including:
- $3.6 million for Legal Aid of Northwest Texas;
- $3.4 million for Lone Star Legal Aid; and
- $4.8 million for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Lisa Melton, TEAJF's director of grants, said, "The organizations funded by the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation are the only hope for so many low-income people to resolve their legal problems. I have the opportunity to spend time in these programs and see the work they are doing and hear about the positive impact they are having on people's lives. The opportunity to witness the work of outstanding staff attorneys, pro bono lawyers and program advocates is what gives meaning to my work at the Foundation."
The Story Group - September 29, 2006
Atlanta Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that has been a mainstay of the Atlanta legal community since 1924 by providing legal representation for Atlanta's poor in civil legal cases, announced that it has surpassed its most ambitious 2006 fundraising campaign goal of $1.3 million.
In 2005, the organization's resources permitted it to serve only 20 percent of eligible citizens in cases involving issues such as immigration, employment, health care, domestic violence and children's issues. Reaching this year's ambitious campaign goal was critical to expanding resources and assisting additional citizens who can't afford legal advice.
"To serve the poor is to influence the future of our community, and there has long been a gap between those we could serve and those we could not," said Terry Walsh, campaign co-chair and partner at Alston & Bird. "We were faced with a challenge and I'm proud to say that Atlanta's legal community has again answered the call and narrowed the gap."
The campaign's success gives the local charity the confidence and certainty to begin new projects, such as its Health Law Partnership (HeLP), which offers legal assistance specifically to indigent, ill children at Scottish Rite and Egleston Hospitals.
With the assistance of approximately 60 local attorneys and law firm staff member volunteers, the co-chairs lead the year-long campaign and donations continue to come in. "The commitment of the private bar to the Annual Campaign this year was tremendous," said Atlanta Legal Aid Director Steve Gottlieb. "And the increase in contributions allowed us to serve hundreds of more clients with critical legal problems which affect their everyday lives. Just as importantly, the success we had in the Campaign gives me the ability to start new programs like HeLP, which serve children and other especially vulnerable populations in the Atlanta area."
Klaus Sitte, MLSA Executive Director, The Montana Lawyer – August 2006
When I was young, my brother and I frequently entertained ourselves with a Gilbert Erector Set. This almost magical box of metal girders, plates, gears, panels, nuts and bolts provided endless hours of enjoyment, while we imagined ourselves into different characters. We learned a lot from that set: wheels and pulleys work together; some parts fit with each other while others do not.
Many years later, I realized we rarely used our Erector Set by itself. Sometimes we used the multi-use parts with my American Flyer train, other times with our Marx Fort Apache play set. Whatever the activity, the Erector Set provided the essential building blocks for other activities, making it twice as fun.
After three years at the helm as MLSA's executive director, I find myself more frequently drawing on some rather basic parallels. Learning from life's many lessons, I have come to realize that MLSA serves as an Erector Set for access to justice in Montana.
This year marks the 40th Anniversary year of the incorporation of Montana Legal Services Association. After more than a decade of dwindling federal funding, severe restrictions on services and office closures, MLSA reorganized and reshaped itself to meet the new and increasing demands of Montanans living in poverty. MLSA is not alone in rethinking ways to deliver services. The State Bar is reinvigorating efforts toward pro bono coordination, while the Access to Justice Committee is continuing to work on new pro bono projects. The Equal Justice Task Force is grappling with the "next steps," following the Legal Needs Study. The Montana Justice Foundation has taken new efforts toward stabilizing funding resources. Even the Montana Legislature's Law & Justice Interim Committee is considering options to help low-income Montanans seeking access to justice, following a half dozen hearings around the state.
So, in this anniversary year, this is a good time to review how MLSA works with the access to justice network in the state.
Press Release, Alaska Legal Services Corporation – September 20, 2006
Alaska Legal Services Corporation observed its 40th anniversary on September 15, 2006. Staff, supporters, alumni, and friends celebrated ALSC's 40th birthday at events held in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.
Incorporated September 15, 1966, ALSC was initially funded through the Office of Equal Opportunity until 1974, when the Legal Services Corporation was created by Congress, and signed into law by President Nixon, as a private, non-profit corporation to seek equal access to justice under the law for all Americans by providing civil legal assistance to those otherwise unable to afford it.
Andy Harrington, Executive Director, stated "Throughout its 40-year history, ALSC has stood for the principle that justice should not be a function of wealth. The many men and women who have worked with ALSC have helped countless Alaskans preserve family stability, secure safe and affordable housing, protect their paychecks, and gain access to the health care they need. All those affiliated with ALSC should be proud of the contribution they have made to the pursuit of justice for Alaskans in need."
In celebration of its 40th anniversary, ALSC launched its statewide 2006-2007 Robert Hickerson Partners in Justice annual fundraising campaign on September 15. The annual campaign, which will run through June 30, 2007, is named is memory of the late Robert Hickerson, who served as ALSC's executive director from 1984 to 2001. Information about the campaign and other opportunities for charitable giving can be obtained from the campaign website at www.partnersinjustice.org.