LSC Updates - September 26, 2007
The LSC Board of Directors' Finance Committee voted September 17 to recommend that the Board of Directors adopt a $471.3 million budget request for LSC for FY 2009, a 20 percent increase over the FY 2008 budget approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The recommendation is based upon the same principled approach used by the Board for the past two years, seeking a 20 percent increase in Basic Field Grants in order to close the justice gap, documented in LSC's groundbreaking 2005 Justice Gap Report.
The full Board will act on LSC's FY 2009 budget request when it meets in Portland, Maine, on October 26. The request will be submitted to Congress early next year. The request includes $445.2 million for Basic Field Grants; $5 million for Technology Initiative Grants, $1 million to continue a pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program, $17 million for Management and Administration, and $3.1 million for the Office of Inspector General.
In response to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Legal Services Corporation Governance and Accountability Practices Need To Be Modernized and Strengthened, issued on September 17, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and Board Chairman Frank S. Strickland issued this statement: "We take the GAO's report on LSC governance and accountability very seriously and are moving diligently to implement the report's recommendations with regard to both governance and management."
The first page of the report says, "LSC's management and board agreed with the recommendations." To implement those recommendations, LSC management has:
- Begun reviewing the Government Accounting Standards Board standards to determine the appropriate financial reporting standard for LSC. The evaluation is expected to be completed by the end of October 2007.
- Adopted elements of a Continuity of Operations Plan program. A comprehensive program is expected to be completed during 2008.
- Established a task force to develop proposals for an LSC compliance program, which will include a comprehensive code of conduct. The goal is to have recommendations to the Board of Directors by the January 2008 Board meeting.
- Committed to improving the risk management program at LSC. The Corporation has managed its risks well over the past 33 years, and will review and implement additional elements that are desirable and appropriate for an organization the size of LSC.
LSC's Board of Directors will:
- Ensure that new members receive orientation to familiarize them both with LSC's programmatic roles and on governance and accountability.
- Continue to receive updates from management on issues having to do with LSC's operating environment, governance, and accountability.
- Either create a separate Audit Committee or assign the function to the Finance Committee.
- Determine how to assign responsibility within the Board for compensation issues.
- Formalize the functions of Board committees by adopting charters for them.
- Consider adopting a formal means by which the Board can evaluate its collective performance and the performance of individual members.
- Encourage the LSC Inspector General, who is charged with contracting with LSC's auditor, to require that the auditor report within 45 days of the end of the fiscal year.
- Work with management as appropriate on any risk management program, internal controls, and financial reporting.
For the complete LSC news release, click here.
Senator Thad Cochran
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) was the keynote speaker at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project on September 21 in Jackson, Mississippi. The project is a joint venture of the Mississippi Bar Association and the state's two LSC-funded programs, the Mississippi Center for Legal Services and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. Low-income people whose needs cannot be met by these programs are referred to the project, where staff attempt to match them with private lawyers willing to do pro bono work. Each year, more than 1,500 attorneys participate, providing legal assistance to more than 5,000 low-income individuals.
Cochran described the project as "the first of its kind in the Nation" and "an example of what is good about America and our volunteer spirit" in a tribute read into the Congressional Record on August 10, 1984.
Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson, who delivered the invocation at the anniversary celebration, said, "We are not ever going to be able to raise enough money to fund Legal Services to the level necessary to provide adequate legal counsel to the poor. The only realistic solution to the problem is to provide a well organized, well administrated, adequately funded system of volunteer lawyer representation for the poor, and to recruit a sufficient number of lawyers in Mississippi to handle the cases."
The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project was founded in 1982 as the Pro Bono Project of the Mississippi Bar. Since its inception in 1982, it has provided legal help to more than 45,000 low-income people in Mississippi.
On September 15, Cruz Reynoso, a founding board member and former executive director of California Rural Legal Assistance, received the UC Davis Medal, the school's highest tribute, previously awarded to former President Bill Clinton, astronaut Stephen Robinson, and philanthropists Robert and Margrit Mondavi. In addition, the UC Davis School of Law established a scholarship in his honor, the Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access.
"Cruz Reynoso is one of the great civil rights leaders of the second half of the 20th century," said Rex Perschbacher, dean of the UC Davis School of Law. "Never forgetting the law's obligation to serve both the rich and the poor, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, he tirelessly worked on behalf of California's farmworkers and rural poor, both in private practice in the Imperial Valley and through his dynamic leadership of California Rural Legal Assistance."
Reynoso, the son of a farmworker, was the first Latino to serve on the California Supreme Court. He was awarded the Presidential Medial of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor, in 2000 for his "compassion and work on behalf of the downtrodden."
For the complete UC David news release, click here.
Central California Legal Services is the 25th LSC-funded program to adopt a resolution encouraging private attorney involvement. The program's Board adopted the resolution on August 16. LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after the resolution adopted by LSC's Board of Directors in April of this year. Urging programs to adopt such resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."
For a list of programs that have adopted pro bono resolutions, click here.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which provides legal services to victims of domestic violence in partnership with the Sylva office of Legal Aid of North Carolina, has been awarded a $425,000 grant from the Tribal Government Program created by the 2005 Violence Against Women Act. The grant will be used to help pay the salaries of two full-time legal aid attorneys, train them in tribal law, update the program manual and other resources, expand community outreach, and increase private attorney involvement in the program.
To read the full story at citizen-times.com, click here.
By Chicago Tribune technology columnist Jon Van
Increasingly, state and local legal aid groups across the country are spreading technology pioneered in Chicago to help people represent themselves in court by consulting with a computer rather than a lawyer. A tool called A2J, for access to justice, grew out of a study conducted seven years ago by faculty and students at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
The study found there aren't enough lawyers available to help the needy with legal problems, and that technology could help. Web pages can explain a person's rights and options under various legal scenarios, said Ron Staudt, Kent associate vice president for law, business and technology.
This year the Legal Services Corp. has allocated $2.1 million in grants, a majority of the money to help expand self-representation programs for poor litigants. The group estimates that the A2J program and another piece of software called HotDocs have been used by poor litigants and pro bono lawyers to generate more than 70,000 legal documents.
Staudt said he envisions expanding the A2J concept as a way of interviewing people seeking to use a variety of government agencies.
"It's a guided interview that walks you through data collection," he said. "These programs could be online and available through computers at the agencies. Someone who goes to the Social Security office to apply for benefits could do a self-interview on a computer to provide the needed information. This would leverage the time for the professionals working at the agencies."
To read the full story, click here.
(Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories from the field illustrate the day-to-day struggles - and victories - of poor Americans seeking justice under law.)
A state agency was wrong in refusing to pay for the medical bills for psychiatric treatment of a 14-year-old rape victim, a Superior Court judge ruled this month in a Wake County lawsuit.
The N.C. Crime Victims Compensation Commission initially told the victim's mother that it wouldn't pay $8,000 owed to doctors and hospitals because the Brunswick County girl was drinking alcohol and using marijuana at a party the night she was raped.
But Superior Court Judge R. Allen Baddour Jr., in a Sept. 5 ruling, found that the 20-year-old man who raped the girl, and other adult men at the 2004 party, plied the girl with drinks and encouraged her to use marijuana once she was intoxicated. The man has never been charged, and Baddour indicated that Brunswick County investigators did not conduct a thorough investigation.
The mother's attorney, Monica R. Savidge, with Legal Aid of North Carolina, said the victim faced resistance throughout the ordeal.
"She did all the right things, and at every juncture she was told it doesn't matter," Savidge said.
The mother agreed.
"The state is not there for a victim of a crime," the mother said.
Other states -- including Alaska, California, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Pennsylvania -- have laws that say the conduct of a sexual assault victim cannot be held against him or her, Savidge said. In North Carolina, the commission may deny a victim money if he or she was engaged in a nontraffic-related crime at the time of the incident. It can award money whether or not someone is charged in the crime.
The 14-year-old girl went into a deep depression following the incident and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court records. The family didn't have medical insurance at the time, and bills from doctors and hospitals began arriving at their home.
To read the full story at newsobserver.com, click here.
An article in our September 12 issue, "Congress Approves Loan Repayment Assistance for Legal Aid Lawyers," incorrectly stated that the College Cost Reduction and Access Act provides benefits for civil legal aid lawyers with less than 10 years of experience. Lawyers with 10 or more of experience can, if certain conditions are met, have outstanding federal loan balances forgiven. As of this writing, the bill awaits the President's signature.