LSC Updates - September 7, 2006
Press Release, State Justice Institute - August 2006
In a bid to tighten the bonds between courts and legal aid providers, [the State Justice Institute] and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) recently inked a $637,734 agreement--a Partner Grant--that funded a slate of innovative technology projects designed to improve access to justice for pro se and other low-income litigants.
The SJI-LSC Partner Grant [worked in concert with] LSC's existing Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program. LSC added language to this year's TIG request for proposals highlighting the potential partnership with SJI and soliciting proposals that directly linked courts and legal aid providers. The response was such that, even with our combined resources, SJI and LSC could fund only a fraction of the proposals submitted.
Helaine Barnett, President of LSC, had this to say about the LSC-SJI pact, "After many years of each supporting innovative ways to improve access to justice using technology, it is quite fitting that the Legal Services Corporation and the State Justice Institute become partners in this effort. The contribution by SJI to LSC's TIG program this year will mean many more resources available to low-income, self-represented litigants across the country."
A brief synopsis of funded projects follows:
- Indiana Legal Services - the project will develop a comprehensive Spanish language portal using HotDocs, but print an English version of the forms that can be submitted to the court. ($70,000)
- North Penn Legal Services - the project will create a single, easy-to-use, interactive web site where residents of Pennsylvania can get information they need to help them better understand courts and access court resources. ($35,000)
- Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma - the project will develop and deliver information and court forms via the internet to pro se litigants in "Guardianship of a Minor" and "Domestic Violence Emergency Protective Order" proceedings in Cleveland County District Court using HotDocs and A2J software. ($29,500)
Cynthia Di Pasquale, The Daily Record (MD) - August 30, 2006
The state's largest holder of lawyer trust accounts, Bank of America, plans to double the net interest rate it pays on those accounts starting next month. At 1.5 percent, the new rate remains lower than that offered by some other banks on the Maryland Legal Services Corp.'s IOLTA Honor Roll.
"Given the bank's market share, though, the increase from 0.7 percent could mean an extra $500,000 annually, all of which goes to help fund legal services providers. Any rate increase means a significant increase in dollars with the larger banks," said [Maryland Legal Services Corporation] Executive Director Susan M. Erlichman. "Now we can provide funding for up to 1,000 more people next year. And that's what we're talking about...every dollar more goes to a person who would [otherwise] be turned away from getting needed legal services."
Note: The Maryland Legal Services Corporation was established to raise funds and make grants to nonprofit organizations for the provision of civil legal assistance to low-income persons in Maryland. MLSC's principal funding source is the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation and Equal Justice Works Announce Legal Aid Fellowship Opportunities in Texas
Press Release, Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation - August 22, 2006
The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, in partnership with Equal Justice Works, has announced its 2007-2008 legal fellowship opportunities, which will enable three public interest attorneys to implement special projects at Texas legal aid organizations. The two-year projects will focus on increasing the availability of civil legal assistance to low-income Texans.
Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, said that fellowship work is integral to ensuring access to justice for indigent Texans.
"Equal Justice Works fellows have done tremendous work here in Texas at organizations such as Advocacy, Inc., Lone Star Legal Aid and Dallas Legal Hospice," Torres said. "Their work is making a significant difference in the lives of low-income Texans, including children, the homeless and people with disabilities."
The legal projects must introduce new services or expand upon services provided by the host organization. Preference will be given to projects which impact a significant number of people, can be replicated in other communities and create lasting institutions or programs.
To apply for the Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program, applicants must submit an application online at www.equaljusticeworks.org by September 19, 2006, 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. For more information about Equal Justice Works fellows in Texas, visit www.teajf.org.
Emily Umbright, St. Louis Daily Record/St. Louis Countian (MO) - September 1, 2006
Whether it was fighting for the freedom of mentally ill patients or the rights of consumers, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's mission over the past 50 years has been providing a gateway to justice for people unable to afford the cost of legal representation and support.
The organization celebrated its golden anniversary [August 30] with roughly 380 supporters at the Renaissance Grand Hotel.
Despite the inroads since it formed in 1956 as the Legal Aid Society of the City and County of St. Louis, the need for representation is always there, said LSEM Executive Director Dan Glazier.
"We want to serve more folks who need our help," he said. Glazier estimates the organization that served more than 7,200 clients in 21 counties last year currently reaches about 1 in 5 people who qualify for assistance.
"We want to be able to increase that number," he said.
Resources are the key to its sustainability. Glazier, along with LSEM Board of Directors President Susan Rowe, an attorney with The Stolar Partnership, are currently working on how to improve efficiency throughout the entire geographic region LSEM covers, with a focus on rural communities.
In addition to expanding its services, the organization remains focused on maintaining the caliber of quality that brought it such victories in the past as the creation of the Adult Abuse Act, which in the late 1970s made it possible for battered spouses to obtain orders of protection against their abusers.
Preserving that quality while stretching resources to adequately compensate its staff has been a chief concern.
"People work there because they're committed to the work," said Rowe. "Dan and I both feel strongly that it's important to try, if we can, to continue to work on increasing the salary ranges of the people who work there."
Note: The St. Louis Daily Record compiled a list of memorable cases in LSEM's 50 year history. Here are some of them:
- Working in tandem with Legal Services of Southern Missouri, LSEM represented residents of a subsidized apartment complex in the Missouri Bootheel. The Charleston Housing Authority had planned to demolish the apartments. Nearly all of the tenants were black and the Legal Services groups argued successfully that the demolition of federally subsidized housing units can have a disparate impact on the basis of race. The 8th U.S. Court of Appeals agreed. The first ruling of its kind in the nation.
- In Weaver vs. Reagen, Legal Services teamed with the Saint Louis University Law School Clinic to oppose the refusal of the Missouri Medicaid program to pay for the drug AZT, which in the late 1980s was the only available treatment for AIDS. The 8th Circuit agreed that the decision on the medical necessity of the drug should be made by the recipients' doctors.
- State ex rel. Holterman vs. Patterson helped ensure low-income residents access to the judicial system. The ruling allowed Legal Services to make a determination and certify when a party is unable to pay and should be provided a waiver of costs and fees. Previously, the decision was at the discretion of the court.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Maria Kantzavelos, Chicago Lawyer - September 2006
Old Highway 51 offers a break from the flatness and vast stretches of cornfields that dominate the view Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez takes in on his 400-mile trek from Chicago to Cobden, a small town about 20 miles south of Carbondale. The winding road features a glimpse of the peach orchards where some of his clients on an early evening in July had wrapped up another day of work. And a rolling, plush green countryside in the distance becomes the backdrop to the Union-Jackson Migrant Camp, where dozens of families and individuals settle for several months at a time in a nomadic lifestyle built around labor.
Keberlein Gutierrez, a staff attorney with the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project, has reached his destination when he points out the rows of stark white cinder block, barracks-style housing as Carmen Lopez walks out.
The 64-year-old man with a husky build and dark, weathered skin looks up from his tattered Western-style hat as he approaches the abogado--Spanish for lawyer. He pulls a handkerchief from a pocket of his faded, dirt-stained jeans and wipes his brow. In his other hand, a burning cigarette dangles.
The two men take a seat at a picnic table outside the makeshift office where Keberlein Gutierrez has arrived to meet with Roberto Hernandez, a recent law school graduate working in Cobden as part of an internship with the legal aid project.
The project, which is part of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, is said to be the only legal aid program in the state that specifically serves migrant agricultural workers.
The project represents migrant workers in disputes over wages, working conditions, housing and field sanitation. It also assists workers with other needs, such as obtaining emergency food stamps and other public benefits.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Kelli Gauthier, The Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN) - September 2, 2006
Betty Sermons knows that if it hadn't been for Ron Haynes, an attorney with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, she might not have been able to spend her upcoming 43rd birthday with her daughter Bria, 12.
After Ms. Sermons was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several years ago, she became bedridden, and Bria was put in foster care.
Unable to afford legal representation, Ms. Sermons approached Mr. Haynes, and they set to work proving she was a fit mother. Bria has been back with her mother now for three months, and according to Ms. Sermons, mother and daughter couldn't be happier.
"When she came back, she hollered, 'Momma, I'm home!'" Ms. Sermons said.
Ms. Sermons said she appreciates the persistence Mr. Haynes had for a case that didn't look hopeful.
"At one time when it looked like all odds were against me and it looked like I wasn't going to get her back, he still hung in there and helped me to get her back," she said. "I'm very grateful."
Legal Aid of East Tennessee is a group of attorneys funded by government grants and private donations. The lawyers give free legal help to those in the region who cannot afford an attorney.
In Mr. Haynes' five-county region, he is the only full-time lawyer. He said this means he is the only lawyer for 27,000 people with low incomes.
Without his own secretary or paralegal, Mr. Haynes said it is often a struggle to keep up with the volume of cases.
"Sometimes the caseload may be too full, and I can't take a good case," he said. "(It's stressful) to say no to someone in need, but I can't take every case."
The Miami Herald (FL) - September 3, 2006
Legal Services of Greater Miami is celebrating its 40th year of providing free civil legal services to the poor in South Florida. With two out of every five children in Miami living in poverty, according to the 2004 Census, and more than 400,000 people living in poverty in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the need for legal representation in areas such as housing, employment, special education and benefits has never been greater.
Legal Services receives funding from Legal services Corp. in Washington, D.C., and from Miami-Dade County, the Florida Bar Foundation and other foundations, and private donations from lawyers and others. Legal Services' board of directors recognizes its duty to ensure that these funds are wisely spent, to help as many people as possible.
Legal Services has been a dedicated steward of the funds entrusted to it, with annual "clean" audits performed by an independent auditor. Board meetings are held at Legal Services' offices, with monthly project/staff reports, so that board members understand the importance of our work. Because of the vision and financial support of members of the Chesterfield Smith Society and the Campaign for Justice, Legal Services was able to buy its own office building, creating a one-stop site for other nonprofits to also provide services to the poor.
Through careful management, Legal Services was able to pay off its mortgage early this year, freeing up more money to be dedicated to representing and advocating for the most needy in our community.
I am proud to be able to assure all that the funds provided to Legal Services are being dedicated to helping those who most need legal help. Now is the time for more support from the federal government and others for Legal Services' essential work.
Darrell Payne, President, Board of Directors, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., Coral Gables
(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.)
Education Lawsuit Settled
Southern Arizona Legal Aid (SALA) has recently settled a lawsuit filed in federal District Court against the Bisbee Unified School District on behalf of a 15-year old child who had been excluded from school because of the District's "concerns about her residency."
Neeila B. is a United States citizen who had been living with her legal resident aunt in Bisbee, Arizona for three years while attending middle school. Bisbee is located approximately 15 miles from the Mexican border. On occasion, Neeila would visit her mother in Mexico. Because of this, the District became "concerned" that she may not be a resident.
In the fall of 2005, without notice or any opportunity for an administrative proceeding, the District unilaterally removed Neeila from school. Prior to SALA's intervention, she missed 22 days of classes. SALA was able to obtain a legal guardianship for her aunt and based upon that, the District allowed her to return to school. In December of 2005, SALA filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation for her emotional distress, and loss of educational opportunity. Additionally, SALA sought injunctive relief to require that the District provide the minimum guarantees of procedural due process to students in similar situations.
Following a series of lengthy negotiations, the School District agreed to provide monetary compensation for Neeila and also adopted a policy that requires written notice to parents and guardians, and an opportunity for administrative review and ultimate hearing in front of the school board. The District also agreed that students already admitted to school would remain in class pending the results of the hearing.
The case was handled by SALA Executive Director Tom Berning, SALA supervising attorney Susan Kolb, and SALA staff attorney Alicia Morado. For further information, contact Tom Berning at (520) 623-9465, ext. 4101.