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LSC Media Contact

Carl Rauscher
Director of Communications and Media Relations
202.295.1615
rauscherc@lsc.gov

 

LSC Updates - February 1, 2005

WHITE HOUSE RE-NOMINATES FUENTES, PHILLIPS
January 24, 2005

On Monday, the White House re-nominated two individuals to the Legal Services Corporation Board of Directors, Thomas A. Fuentes of California and Bernice Phillips of New York. Fuentes, a prominent philanthropist and GOP leader from Orange County, served on the LSC Board for much of President Bush's first term after receiving a recess appointment. Phillips, a client-eligible community leader from Buffalo, was also nominated during the President's first term, but her nomination never came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. The nominations of Fuentes and Phillips will now move to the Senate for confirmation in the 109th Congress. By law, LSC's 11-member Board of Directors is bipartisan; no more than six members may belong to the same political party.

Opinions

TENNESSEE'S NEEDIEST DESERVE THEIR DAY IN COURT
Chief Justice Frank F. Drowota III,
The Tennessean (TN) - January 2, 2005

The phrase "equal justice under law" is inscribed over the doors of courthouses throughout the United States and Tennessee. "Equal justice under law" means that these doors are open to all, regardless of status and that the eyes of the law look impartially upon those who pass through them. However, there are many Tennesseans who cannot afford to pay for legal services and who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to represent themselves adequately. As a result, many low-income citizens are, in effect, barred from access to justice. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 1 million Tennessee residents may be classified as poor or nearly poor. For the phrase "equal justice under law" to be meaningful, low-income individuals must have access to the courts.

According to a 2003 survey by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, low-income Tennesseans experience on average 1.2 civil legal problems of significance each year. These needs commonly range from legal rights in the areas of employment and domestic legal issues (such as divorce and child custody) to such varying concerns as housing, property rights, debtor-creditor matters, consumer protection, taxation, health care and immigration. In other words, low-income persons experience many of the same legal challenges as everyone else, but they often simply cannot afford to pay for the appropriate legal services. Legal aid and pro bono services enable the phrase "equal justice under law" to mean everything it can and should mean. In contrast to many of the negative stereotypes about lawyers, Tennessee attorneys are doing much to assist low-income Tennesseans in obtaining access to justice.

Frank F. Drowota III is the chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Media Highlights

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT APPROVES FEE FOR LEGAL SERVICES
Georgia Pabst, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) - January 13, 2005

The Wisconsin Supreme Court approved a plan that is expected to generate $850,000 a year in support of civil legal services for the poor. Voting 5-2 in an oral decision, the court approved a measure requiring Wisconsin lawyers to pay a $50 annual fee to practice law in the state. The funds generated would go to support Wisconsin legal aid programs. However, the court ruled that the mandatory fee should be eliminated after two years and encouraged the Wisconsin State Bar and the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to develop a long-term solution to the funding crisis. As a result of decreased IOLTA funding, the foundation approached the high court to levy the fee, though the state bar's board of governors opposed the plan. Instead, it offered an alternative of a two-year, voluntary $50 donation. While the foundation disbursed $1.98 million to 14 agencies in 2000, it will only be able to grant $411,000 in 2005.\

LEGAL AID BUREAU'S LAW SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP HELPS CLIENTS WITH CONSUMER LAW CLAIMS
Joe Surkiewicz, The Daily Record (MD) - January 14, 2005

The most visible cases handled by the Legal Aid Bureau usually involve issues such as contested child custody and housing, but another area of critical importance to low-income clients is consumer law. In this specialty, clients may need assistance with foreclosure, bankruptcy, renegotiating student loans, or help fighting predatory lenders. Protecting the already scarce resources of low-income clients is vital to family stability. "You can lose your home if you're a consumer being sued for missing payments and get a sizeable judgment against you," says Professor Michele E. Gilman, director of the University of Baltimore School of Law's civil advocacy clinic, which works closely with the Legal Aid Bureau. "Consumer law should get more attention." The Legal Aid Bureau often refers cases involving consumer law to Gilman's clinic, which boasts an enviable success rate. Legal Aid offices in Baltimore and throughout Maryland assist clients with a variety of consumer issues and have conducted pro se bankruptcy classes for the last 20 years. "People who do consumer law enjoy that it's creative," says Legal Aid Bureau staff attorney Louise Carwell, who handles many consumer law cases. "New issues arise all the time that aren't tested in the courts. Plus, the cases resolve - not like domestic cases where the emotional hurt doesn't go away."

Program News

YER OUT!
New Jersey Law Journal (NJ) - January 10, 2005

South Jersey Legal Services (SJLS), the prime advocate for low-income residents of Camden facing displacement as a result of municipal development, are themselves being evicted. Last June, SJLS filed suit against the city over a plan that would condemn 1,200 homes to make way for a waterfront development with a marina and golf course. Program leaders only recently learned that the project also included their own offices. SJLS representatives are unsure whether the city included their building before or after they filed suit but note that the patchwork design of the plan has spared some of their immediate neighbors. "It makes you wonder," says Ann Gorman, SLJS deputy executive director. Gary Boguski, SJLS board chairman and a partner at Taylor & Boguski, is hoping SJLS will be able to remain in its present location, which is close to the state and federal courthouses and the public transit system that serves many of its clients.

BILL WOULD FUND ALASKA LEGAL AID GROUP
Matt Volz, Associated Press - January 19, 2005

Alaska State Senator Ralph Seekins (R-Fairbanks) is proposing to create a special account to assist in funding the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), a legal aid group that lost its state funding last year. The bill aims to earmark punitive damage awards from civil cases involving the state into a general fund account that would benefit the group. According to Seekins, the size of the account would vary each year, with last year's funding being approximately $100,000. State funding for ALSC was eliminated after a drastic cut in its appropriations by the legislature and subsequent veto by Gov. Frank Murkowski. Murkowski has stated that the state government is not responsible for funding a group that provides legal assistance to individuals. ALSC Executive Director Andy Harrington says, "We've obviously got some work to do to try to make sure that everybody in Juneau understands how important an issue this is, not only to the indigent clientele we service but to the overall smooth functioning of the court system. While the Governor will be following Seekins' bill, his spokeswoman, Beck Hultberg, refrained from predicting an outcome on allocating state funding to the organization. "It's premature to speculate what might happen," she says.

FIRMS HELP LEGAL AID SOCIETY TOP FUNDRAISING GOAL
The Times Union (NY) - January 6, 2005

Just two months after announcing its annual Justice for All campaign to benefit legal services to the poor, the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in Albany has exceeded its goal. As of Jan. 5, the organization had raised $110,291. "The goal was to get the majority of the larger and most prestigious firms to contribute," says Deanne Grimaldi, development director of the group. "Many of the firms have made multi-year commitments," she notes. "It's more than just a fundraiser. It's become a vehicle to provide ongoing stable funding for legal services throughout the Capital Region and beyond."

Awards/Notes

BAR PRESIDENT HAPPY WITH PRO BONO EFFORT
Christopher Montgomery, The Plain Dealer (OH) - January 14, 2005

Although the Cleveland Bar Association has fallen a little short of reaching its goal for its new pro bono fundraising project, President David Kutlik says he is pleased with the results. After announcing the program shortly after taking office in June 2004, he had hoped to have pledges from at least 50 firms or corporate legal departments, covering 2,500 attorneys to perform 100,000 hours of pro bono services. The city bar received pledges from 35 firms or departments, covering 2,000 attorneys and 70,000 hours, though additional pledges are pending. "We're happy with these hours and with where we are," Kutlik says. "And we think that, based on our record of success last year, we'll have even more success in later years." One of the efforts planned by the new project is holding 36 free legal aid clinics throughout the region in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. 

Program Resources

LSC Resource Library Update
Sponsor: Pine Tree Legal Assistance
Project: Pine Tree Legal Assistance 
Board of Directors Manual
Date: December 2004

Pine Tree Legal Assistance has created a Board of Directors Manual for its board members to use as a reference during member trainings. The manual will be updated each year, replacing the annual board member orientation. It also includes valuable information for the IOLTA foundation and other financial contributors and includes information concerning the following areas - program services, program operations, legal services in Maine, financial issues, and board involvement. For more information on this and other projects, please visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov/rs.htm.

Client Success Story

SUCCESS STORY FROM TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID

(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.)

The "Nunes" family dreamed of owning their own business. After deciding to go into commercial trash-hauling, they contacted their city government in order to complete the required documents. One was a franchise agreement -- a thick legal document, written in English. However, since their primary language was Spanish, making sense of this intimiddating document was nearly impossible.

After contacting Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), Mrs. Nunes was referred to its Legal Assistance to Microenterprises Project. A member of the project assisted the Nunes family by explaining and reviewing the franchise agreement and ultimately helping her complete the application. With the assistance of TRLA, the Nunes family was able to submit the required forms to the city and obtain the franchise agreement. Today, they are open for business.