LSC Updates - September 14, 2005
SENATE APPROVES $34 MILLION INCREASE TO LSC 2006 FUNDING
During Senate consideration of FY 2006 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriation bill, the Senate adopted Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) amendment which increased LSC funding by $34 million. As a result, the total amount approved by the Senate for LSC's FY 2006 appropriation is $358.5 million, with $8 million specifically earmarked for providing legal assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Previously, the House approved $330.8 million, the same amount as LSC's budget for FY 2005. The LSC Board of Directors had requested $363.8 million for FY 2006.
Senator Harkin strongly urged his colleagues to support the amendment stating that "50 percent of the people eligible for legal services in America are being turned away because the programs simply are underfunded." He also stated that the amendment would merely restore LSC funding to its levels from two years ago when adjusted for inflation. Senator Harkin said it is "unconscionable" that funding for legal services has been cut by one-third since 1995, while poverty levels in America have been increasing.
Senator Harkin noted that 25 percent of the increase, or $8 million, would go specifically to those programs providing assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina. He stated that Katrina has caused the "largest displacement of people since the Civil War." Harkin said, "legal services will be the best on-the-ground arbiters of whether deadlines need to be extended to reach the hundreds of thousands eligible for assistance." He concluded by stating that if his colleagues believed in equal justice under law, and that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," they would support his amendment. (The entire transcript of Senator Harkin's statement is available in the Senate section of the Congressional Record (pages S979-S9780) for September 8, 2005 at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getpage.cgi?dbname=2005_
LSC ISSUES GUIDANCE FOR PROGRAMS' RESPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA
On September 9, LSC issued guidance to its programs for responding to the increased need for their services following Hurricane Katrina. To ensure that the greatest number of evacuees and other affected people receive the legal assistance they need, programs were reminded that LSC regulations and reporting requirements allow them some flexibility to represent clients in an emergency situation. Specifically, while LSC's regulations relating to income and asset eligibility, case priorities, legal assistance to aliens, and solicitation still apply, they all leave room to allow programs to respond quickly and effectively to the drastic new demands for their services. Similarly, the immediacy with which programs must address their clients' needs means that they will not be able to provide documentation for case files to the extent they would in less demanding times. This is understandable and will be taken into consideration when reviewing case service reports. LSC will also respond favorably to requests from programs for extensions of other various administrative reporting requirements. While the losses suffered by the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Katrina can never be replaced, legal services programs can and will attempt to meet as much of the emerging need for legal assistance as possible. LSC continues to work with its programs to help them make a difference in the lives of their clients and give them a voice and some degree of control in these trying times.
PLAN TO SET UP WAIT LIST FOR MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Steve Limtiaco, Pacific Daily News (GU) - September 9, 2005
Local government officials yesterday submitted the first of four court-ordered plans to improve services for residents with mental disabilities.
U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall last month gave the governor and mental health and disability officials more time to draw up specific plans after they failed to meet last December's court-ordered deadline to improve services.
Guam Legal Services sued the government in 2001 for failing to provide appropriate community-based services to three men who suffer from mental retardation or mental illness. The men had been locked up at the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse because the government did not have any other place to treat them.
The Governor, the mental health department and the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities yesterday submitted a plan to create a waiting list for services. It was due Sept. 12, under threat of monetary penalties and jail time, but was submitted early to the court and to Guam Legal Services.
Guam Legal Services has several days to accept or reject the plan and the court has the final say on the matter. The final three plans are due Oct. 11, including: A plan for prompt placement of clients in community-based services; grievance policies and procedures; and a plan to meet minimum care requirements, such as minimizing the use of physical restraints. (To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.guampdn.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?
LOW-INCOME INDIVIDUALS LACK LEGAL SERVICES
Maria Hoover, Springfield Business Journal (MO) - September 5, 2005
People in Springfield who need a lawyer's help aren't always able to afford it, according to a recent survey. The survey, conducted for the Community Legal Empowerment Advocacy Resources Project, polled 179 low-income residents in Springfield and found that 67 percent of them needed legal services but could not pay for them.
Julie Conway, communications director for the Ozarks Area Community Action Corp., which participates in the CLEAR Project, said that the group used the survey to gain a better understanding of the key issues for which low-income individuals need legal services.
Housing is one of the main areas in which survey respondents reported a need for legal assistance, with 18.4 percent indicating that legal issues had prevented them from getting housing. Other areas in which survey respondents noted the need for legal services included employment and domestic situations, such as domestic violence, Conway said.
Conway said that for the survey, completed for the CLEAR Project by an MSU graduate student, low-income was defined by federally established poverty guidelines. Of the respondents, nearly 95 percent reported monthly incomes of $1,500 or less, or a maximum of $18,000 a year. (To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.sbj.net/weekly_article.asp?aID=44403732.
INTERPRETER SHORTAGE LEAVES COURTS IN A BIND
Claire Cooper, The Sacramento Bee (CA) - September 8, 2005
A deepening shortage of interpreters in California's civil courts is leaving some of the state's most vulnerable residents powerless to protect their homes, jobs and civil rights, a special study commission reported Wednesday.
The Commission on Access to Justice, convened by major public and private institutions ranging from the state court system to the state Chamber of Commerce, said the number of qualified interpreters has declined in the past decade by one-fourth overall and one-third for those certified in Spanish, the language used by most of the 20 million Californians who speak little or no English. At the same time, immigration has increased, particularly among groups that are not likely to be English-fluent.
"The starkest consequence ... is simply that justice is unavailable" to those who are most vulnerable to evictions, repossessions of property, wage garnishments and violations of their civil rights, the commission reported.
State Chief Justice Ronald George said there's no quarrel with the study findings, but neither is there "any immediate prospect" for funds to relieve the crisis. George, who has made access to justice his priority as administrative head of the state's judicial system, said, "Access is meaningless if the parties and the court don't have a precise understanding of the proceedings."
California, unlike jurisdictions such as Kansas, Kentucky and Washington, D.C., does not require interpreters in most civil proceedings and appropriates no money to pay them in civil cases - even where they're required by statute, as in cases filed under the federal domestic violence act or the state small claims act.
Litigants who can afford interpreters can try to hire them privately. But low-income immigrants and the judges who preside over their cases - most often family law disputes or evictions - must resort to their own devices. Many are uneasy about doing so.
Martha Valles, a Legal Services of Northern California paralegal, said clients who are told to provide their own translators often say they have no one. Because they think the effort will be futile, "a lot of times they don't even go to court," she said.
Raising interpreters' pay to make the job more attractive is among the report's recommendations. Other recommendations could be easier to implement. Those include making interpreter training more widely available through community colleges and nonprofit organizations in the hope of increasing the current 15 percent pass rate on certification exams, and exploring the creation of apprentice positions for out-of-court translation services that may not require the high skill levels demanded of courtroom interpreters.
The state courts' administrative office already has taken a number of steps to put more interpreters to work, including sponsoring workshops to prepare Spanish-and Korean-speaking applicants for certification exams and collaborating with the University of California to develop interpreter training programs. (To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.sacbee.com/
LEGAL AID AVAILABLE TO HELP HURRICANE KATRINA EVACUEES
Trish Hollenbeck, Northwest Arkansas Times - September 11, 2005
Important documents can get left behind when people are leaving home in a rush with a handful of belongings and clinging to survival. The result is often a myriad of legal difficulties.
Navigating those legal issues is a key part of the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, and Legal Aid of Arkansas has been visiting shelters throughout the state in an effort to offer services for hurricane evacuees.
There are a variety of legal issues for them to deal with, and many are just focusing on sustenance issues now and will handle legal matters later, said Susan Purtle, pro bono manager and senior attorney for Legal Aid of Arkansas, which has offices in Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Harrison, Newport, Helena, West Memphis and Mountain View.
Legal Aid of Arkansas covers 31 counties while the Center for Arkansas Legal Services handles the remainder of the state. Both are part of what is called the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership.
As part of its cooperation with legal service organizations in the affected Gulf states and the American Bar Association, the partnership has developed an addition to the Legal Services Partnership Web site. It provides not only links to resources available to help in this situation but forms and agency contact information to help people facilitate service to any of the hurricane's victims who seek legal aid support.
With many of the evacuees in shelters throughout the state, the outreach to shelters is an effort to let evacuees know there are services available, and all they need to do is call a hotline number, which is toll free 1-800-9 LAW AID (1-800-952-9243) They may call 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Tuesdays, there is a block of evening time to call, 5:15 to 7:15 p.m.
Legal issues related to the hurricane, Purtle said, include replacing Social Security cards and birth certificates, as well as qualifying for housing assistance and food stamps. "We have a point person on our staff for any type of issues that may arise," Purtle said. "We're just kind of waiting for them," she said of people who will need to sort out some legal matters.
CITY COUNCIL TO CONSIDER INCREASED MUNICIPAL COURT FILING FEE; MEASURE TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR LOW INCOME TOLEDO RESIDENTS
August 31, 2005
Low-income people in Toledo will find it easier to get free legal assistance in civil cases thanks to the Toledo City Council, Mayor Jack Ford, and the Toledo Municipal Court Judges. A $10 filing fee increase on civil cases in the Toledo Municipal Court will generate approximately $210,000 for use in housing and debt collection cases. The fee increase would not apply to criminal cases or to small claims court filings.
"It is our hope to have the new filing fee in effect before the end of September," says Judge Zmuda. "The funds generated would be used to provide legal assistance to low income people who might otherwise go unrepresented. One way we would do this is by supporting the efforts of Legal Aid of Western Ohio Inc. (LAWO), who would devote two attorneys, with support staff assistance, to representing low-income individuals in housing and debt collection actions."
"We currently do not have the resources necessary to meet more than a fraction of the need for legal representation in housing and debt collection actions in the Toledo Municipal Court," says Kevin Mulder, executive director of LAWO. "Our nation was founded on the concepts of fairness and justice. It is neither fair nor just when only one side of litigation has access to an attorney. The measure that City Council is considering and the Judges have approved will go a long way toward making our justice system more fair, just, and accessible to low income residents of Toledo," he adds.
HATCH ANNOUNCES GRANT TO AID VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Staff, Tooele Transcript Bulletin - September 2, 2005
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) announced this week that Utah Legal Services agency will receive $722,111 through a Legal Assistance for Victims Grant. This grant program was created and reauthorized through Hatch's Violence Against Women's Act of 2000.
"This grant program supports projects that provide important legal services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking," noted Hatch. "The projects this program funds will help provide critical legal services, either through direct representation or victim advocacy, to people who have tragically suffered at the hands of others. This extra helping hand can greatly enhance their safety and quality of life."
According to the U. S. Department of Justice, since receiving a LAV award in 2003, Utah Legal Services has provided counsel and advice to 1,226 victims and has represented 410 victims in court actions. With the continuation of this grant, Utah Legal Services will continue to represent and advise victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence in Utah. In addition, they plan on hiring a Spanish-speaking paralegal to help Latino victims receive services in their primary language. (To view the article in its entirety, go to: www2.tooeletranscript.com/index.php?option=content&
SUMMIT TO ADDRESS PROBLEMS OF JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
September 6, 2005
Educators, law enforcement and government leaders, judges, lawyers, social workers, parents and youth will gather at the first Juvenile Justice Summit Friday-Saturday, Oct. 21-22 at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit.
Their purpose will be to develop an action plan to improve the juvenile justice system and help troubled youth return to normal lives. The summit will focus on improving the system and preventing children from entering or re-entering it.
"Every year, thousands of children find their way into the legal system as juvenile offenders or victims of neglect and abuse," says Deierdre L. Weir, executive director of Legal Aid and Defender Association, Inc., which is sponsoring the summit. "We need to rescue those already in the system while keeping others from ever having to enter it."
"We'll explore the issues in depth, of course," says Weir. "But more importantly, we'll design a plan of action to reduce the number of children who get into trouble and help those already in the system resume normal lives. When the summit is over, we'll really get to work on solutions."
Staff, Wausau Daily Herald (WI) - September 4, 2005
Erin McBride and Brynne McBride, attorneys with Wisconsin Judicare Inc. and co-founders of Legal Grounds Wisconsin, were selected by the State Bar of Wisconsin as "Lawyers Demonstrating Exemplary Commitment to Community." A 30-second television spot will highlight the McBrides' unique legal coffeehouse, where volunteer attorneys answer brief legal questions over a complimentary cup of coffee. The commercial will air on both network and cable television stations this fall. Wisconsin Judicare Inc. is a nonprofit, legal service corporation serving the northern 33 counties of Wisconsin. (To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.wausaudailyherald.com/
Client Success Story
SUCCESS STORY FROM LEGAL SERVICES FOR NEW YORK CITY
September 9, 2005
Three plaintiffs in a recent case had no income or assets other than their monthly Social Security or SSI checks which they receive due to old-age or disability. Each plaintiff had their bank account repeatedly frozen by creditors even though the bank could readily determine that each account contained only direct deposit SSI or SSD, which are exempt from collection. In each case, the plaintiffs bounced rent checks and incurred fees because their accounts were improperly and repeatedly frozen.
The outcome of this case provides new hope that creditors may soon be unable to freeze the bank accounts of poor and needy elderly and disabled New York residents whose sole source of income is federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. In a seminal August 31, 2005 decision, Mayers v. New York Community Bancorp, Inc., Judge Charles P. Sifton of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York denied motions for dismissal and summary judgment filed by the Courts, banks, and other defendants in a lawsuit filed by SSI and SSD recipients claiming that freezing their bank accounts pursuant to restraining orders violates both their due process rights and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
The decision is significant and could be far reaching because it would help thousands of indigent elderly and disabled persons in New York State whose accounts are improperly frozen each year. State law provides that creditors collecting on a debt can freeze a debtor's bank account for up to twice the amount of a judgment by serving a restraining notice on the debtor's bank. Under the law, banks are compelled to immediately freeze the account upon receiving the restraining notice. The problem is that the Social Security Act specifically prohibits the attachment or garnishment of SSI or SSD benefits.
Technological developments have allowed creditors to seek multiple restraints on bank accounts because they can now serve millions of restraining notices electronically at minimal cost. Even when the debtors are able to lift these temporary restraints (which often last weeks) through contact with the creditors or court action, they can cause severe hardship by depriving them of funds for their essential needs, causing default in rent payments and bounced checks, and leading to unaffordable bank fees and charges. Due to direct deposit technology, depositors often lose access not only to the funds already in their account, but also to the subsequent month's check. Many of these depositors have difficulty arranging for the release of their funds due to the very disabilities that entitle them to receive federal benefits.
In the past, courts permitted such restraints on the theory that banks could not tell in advance whether the deposited funds were exempt. However, in allowing the case to proceed, Judge Sifton ruled that the advent of electronic direct deposit technology, which allows banks to determine instantly that deposits are exempt SSI and SS funds, compels a reexamination of prior rulings on this issue.