LSC Updates - September 21, 2006
At its meeting on September 18, 2006, LSC's Board of Directors approved, on a 9 to 1 vote, $429.6 million for LSC's FY 2008 budget mark. The total figure includes $407.7 million for basic field programs, a 20% increase over the Senate Appropriations Committee's FY 2007 recommendation for LSC's basic field line-item. The budget mark also includes:
- $5 million for the Technology Initiative Grant program;
- $1 million for the Loan Repayment Assistance Program;
- $12.6 million for Management and Administration; and
- $3 million for the Office of Inspector General.
Further details on LSC's FY 2008 budget will be provided early next year.
LSC has awarded its Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) for 2006. This year, LSC awarded a total of $1,242,893 in 31 grants to 24 LSC-funded programs. In a new funding partnership with the State Justice Institute (SJI), an organization which works to improve the quality of justice in state courts nationwide, SJI provided $318,867 in matching funds for TIG projects designed to improve access to justice for low-income and pro se litigants.
This year's grants will fund innovative technology projects that:
- Develop and improve statewide legal assistance websites;
- Provide training and technical assistance to staff of LSC-funded programs;
- Enhance LSC-funded programs' intake systems;
- Help pro se litigants represent themselves in court; and
- Improve the overall technological infrastructure of LSC-funded programs.
Notable projects funded by the TIG program this year include:
- The Legal Aid and Defender Association's project to provide self help legal information and forms in Arabic on Michigan's statewide web site, www.michiganlegalaid.org. The Detroit program was awarded $52,600 for the project, which will include an online video tour of the local District Court in Arabic to familiarize pro se litigants with the court's processes and procedures.
- Legal Services Alabama's (LSA) Video Conferencing Pilot Project. The program was awarded $47,600 to fund a pilot project establishing video conferencing capacity connecting an Alabama courthouse and a mobile video conferencing unit serving the state's rural residents.
LSC's efforts to defend the Congressionally-mandated restrictions on its programs have been affirmed by the recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Velazquez v. Legal Services Corporation, also known as Dobbins v. Legal Services Corporation.
This decision in the ongoing Velazquez case deals primarily with LSC regulation Part 1610, which requires an LSC grantee to separate itself physically and financially from any "affiliate" organization that performs work prohibited by the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996. Some of the 1996 restrictions include participating in class action suits, seeking attorneys' fees, and personally soliciting clients. This case was initiated when a few LSC-funded programs sued to prevent LSC from enforcing the regulation on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Previously, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that LSC's application of the regulation imposed an "undue burden" on the First Amendment rights of LSC-funded programs to use their non-LSC funds to support constitutionally protected activities, and was therefore unconstitutional.
On September 8, 2006, The Circuit Court over-ruled the District Court. In its decision, the Circuit Court said the District Court either "misinterpreted or missed" the Circuit Court's earlier guidance on this case, and found that the adoption and subsequent application of a separate undue burden test by the District Court "was in error." The case was remanded to the District Court, with instructions that it determine whether LSC's application of the regulation leaves the programs in this case without "adequate alternative channels" to exercise their otherwise constitutionally-protected activities.
The Mississippi Sun Herald - September 15, 2006
Experts told a commission studying legal aid for the poor that between one-third and one-half of the people in Mississippi who apply for legal services are turned away.
Jayne Buttross, chairwoman of the Mississippi Legal Services Foundation, said about 550,000 poor people are eligible for services but only 30 attorneys are available to provide those services.
The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission met for the first time [September 13] in Jackson. Members of the judiciary, a representative of the governor, legislators, business and community leaders, members of the clergy and others make up the 24-member Access to Justice Commission.
Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr., who signed the order on behalf of the court creating the commission in June, said, "No one in here is going to accept 'no' when it comes to access to justice for all people."
"There are thousands and thousands of people out there who you don't know, who you will never know, who are depending on you. Don't lose sight of that," Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson told the commission.
Commission members talked about raising the awareness about needs for legal services among the public and among attorneys who can help. They also discussed the need to develop resources to pay for legal services.
Note: Click here to read the Sun Herald's editorial on the subject, "Access To Justice Should Not Depend On How Much Money Is In Your Pocket."
Press Release, Office of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) - August 28, 2006
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, today announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will release $987,228 to the University of Alabama for the development of a Domestic Violence Law Clinic. Senator Shelby was instrumental in securing these funds during the fiscal year 2006 appropriations process.
"The Domestic Violence Law Clinic will provide victims of domestic violence with much-needed legal assistance," said Senator Shelby. "I am confident that the assistance provided by the Clinic will prove critical in both protecting and assisting victims of crime with housing and employment. Students working at the clinic will also be exposed to a real-life legal education not found in their school books."
The Domestic Violence Law Clinic will provide free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in West Alabama. These funds will be used to hire personnel, purchase equipment, and provide training.
PR Newswire - September 15, 2006
Actress Daryl Hannah, Actor Anthony LaPaglia, and advocates from eight Southern California non-profits gathered to discuss the problem of child trafficking. The Conference, entitled "Hiding in Plain Sight: Finding and Protecting Child Victims of Trafficking," was designed to increase advocates' ability to identify and assist child trafficking victims.
Kay Buck, Executive Director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) noted, "In Southern California, we've only scratched the surface of this growing problem. It is critical that advocates and other members of the community become more aware of child trafficking so that these victims can be identified and rescued and their traffickers can be brought to justice."
The Conference is sponsored by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, Public Counsel, Free the Slaves, and San Diego Youth & Community Services.
Advocates attending the Conference at the Cathedral Plaza downtown participated in workshops on a variety of topics including Immigration Laws that Affect Trafficking Victims, Federal and State Anti-Trafficking Laws, Identifying and Talking to Child Trafficking Victims, Guardianship Strategies for Children, Working With Law Enforcement, and Southern California Resources for Child Trafficking Victims.
CAST Executive Director Buck explained, "The organizers and speakers at this conference come from agencies that collaborate with law enforcement to combat human trafficking and assist victims in a broad range of contexts. Community members who attended walked away with a better understanding not only how to identify trafficking victims, but also about legal resources, support services, and other types of assistance available to child trafficking victims."
Residents Facing Eviction For Hanging Out In Hallways "We Feel Like We're In Prison...We Can't Even Stand Outside."
Scott Goldstein, The Dallas Morning News (TX) - September 9, 2006
La'Nisha Howell and several of her neighbors are facing eviction from the Estell Village apartments in Oak Cliff. Their crime: hanging out.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Ms. Howell, who has lived in the complex on and off for nine years. "It's sad. We feel like we're in prison over here. We can't even stand outside."
At issue is one among a list of 20 "House Rules" at Estell Village--which is run by the Dallas Housing Authority--that says tenants agree "not to obstruct the sidewalks, entrances, corridors, hallways, and/or stairways of the development, and not to use them for any purpose other than entering or leaving the buildings."
Residents say that means they can be cited for violations such as watching their children play, smoking cigarettes, gathering for a barbecue with friends or waiting in the parking lot for rides.
Officials began strictly enforcing the rule last year after some residents complained that they were afraid of those standing outside, said DHA spokeswoman Michelle Raglon.
But some of those facing eviction say DHA employees and security officers are rounding up the wrong residents and creating an even tenser atmosphere.
Ms. Howell is one of at least 10 residents represented by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas lawyers challenging the evictions. In August, she had a DHA grievance hearing, where her lease termination was upheld.
She is accused of hanging out outside her apartment 14 times between January and July. Like fellow residents, she said she was never cited for the violations and did not receive a list detailing them until her DHA grievance hearing.
Kervyn Altaffer, managing attorney for Legal Aid, said residents of a public housing residence such as Estell Village are only to be evicted for a "substantial violation" of their lease. Residents say the house rules were not part of the original lease agreement but were added later.
"This is a question of what constitutes obstructing and what's a substantial violation," Mr. Altaffer said. "If people are standing in front of their door talking, they're not obstructing anything. DHA is overinflating this to use this as an excuse to clear everybody out of this apartment complex."
Press Release, Office of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) - August 21, 2006
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced [August 21] that Iowa Legal Aid has received $296,168 from the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. Harkin secured these funds as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"The Legal Services Corporation is a critically important program that supports legal aid nationwide. These funds will directly help those who lack the means to defend themselves, including senior citizens and people with disabilities," said Harkin. "Access to its services helps these individuals pursue justice in the areas of housing, unemployment, domestic violence, and other complicated legal concerns."
The grant will help Iowa Legal Aid implement a health and law project. Working with community health centers in three regions of the state, they will work to improve the lives of low-income Iowans and reduce health care costs over the long term by addressing the underlying legal problems. The grant will also help to establish a cooperative working relationship between medical personnel, social workers and lawyers.
Erica Werner, The Associated Press - September 15, 2006
A federally funded California nonprofit that gives legal help to Central Valley farmworkers and others violated federal prohibitions against political behavior, soliciting clients and other activities, an inspector general's report said Thursday.
The report was requested by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, who's been critical of California Rural Legal Assistance and also of the federal Legal Services Corporation that funds it.
The report found that California Rural Legal Assistance, which claims to provide free legal help to 20,000 poor rural Californians each year, apparently flouted congressional reforms blocking actions like lobbying and advocacy, getting involved in class-action litigation and representing illegal immigrants.
The Legal Services Corporation's inspector general, Kirt West, found "substantial evidence the CRLA has violated federal law" by soliciting clients, working a fee-generating case, requesting attorney fees and associating with political activities.
Jose Padilla, CRLA's executive director, issued a statement Thursday night saying his organization was "doing exactly the job Congress and the Legal Services Corporation funded it to do."
In the past year, Padilla said, CRLA has recovered unpaid wages for hundreds of workers, obtained protective orders for victims of domestic violence, prevented hundreds of low-income residents from being illegally evicted and successfully challenged what he called enforcement agencies' "long-time failure" to adopt toxics and pesticides standards for fields and orchards where thousands of people work.
Nunes said the inspector general's report shows CRLA as an out-of-control company pursuing a political agenda with disregard for the law.
"They're basically just an extreme environmentalist organization and they're constantly after agriculture and other industries that they don't like. They're not out at all to help poor people, that's for sure," Nunes said in an interview. He said constituents have complained about CRLA soliciting them to bring lawsuits about pesticides and other issues.
CRLA got $6.7 million from the Legal Services Corporation in 2006 to serve migrant workers throughout the state and help poor residents in the Central Valley. It's one of a handful of Legal Services Corporation grantees in California.
A spokesman for the Legal Services Corporation, Tom Polgar, said he hadn't yet read the report.
"If the IG's allegations are accurate, that would be a serious matter" that LSC would have to address, he said.
Press Release, The National Association for Law Placement - September 1, 2006
The National Association for Law Placement has recently published the 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, a biennial report that provides salary information for both entry-level and experienced attorneys at public sector and public interest organizations.
According to the NALP 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, the median entry-level salary for an attorney at a civil legal services organization is $36,000; an attorney with 11-15 years of experience can expect a salary of $55,000. The median entry-level salary for public defenders is about $43,000; with 11-15 years of experience, the median is $65,000. The salary progression for state and local prosecuting attorneys is similar, starting in the mid 40's and progressing to $68,000 to $73,000 for those with 11-15 years of experience. Finally, salaries for attorneys in public interest organizations, such as those dealing with women's or environmental issues, start at $40,000 and rise to $65,000 with 11-15 years of experience.