SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CUTS LSC'S BUDGET
On June 23rd, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to mark up the FY 2006 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, which funds the Legal Services Corporation. The committee recommended $324.5 million for LSC for the next fiscal year; $6.2 million less than LSC's FY 2005 budget and the recently passed House appropriation, and $39.2 million less than LSC's request. The bulk of this cut would come directly from the funds that go to the field programs.
HOUSE JUDICARY SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS OVERSIGHT HEARING ON LSC RENT
Following a report by the Inspector General, current and former LSC board members vigorously defended LSC's leasing arrangement before members of Congress in a June 28th Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing. LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland noted that the LSC Board twice unanimously rejected reports released by the LSC Office of the Inspector General which claimed the Corporation will spend in excess of $1 million more in rent than necessary over the 2003-2013 life of its current lease. Chairman Strickland stated that the report failed to prove its case and he considered the matter closed. "The idea was to cap the rent," noted Thomas F. Smegal, Chairman of Friends of LSC and a former LSC board member. "The idea was if we owned the building, we could control rent." He also testified that LSC had sought the advice of Congress and the Office of Management and Budget before closing the deal.
MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE PASSES LARGEST LEGAL AID FUNDING INCREASE IN STATE HISTORY
June 30, 2005
The annual state court system budget bill recently passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by the governor included a $5 million per year increase in statewide legal aid funding; the largest increase in state history. A bipartisan effort intended to restore much of the service capacity lost in the state over the past four years, the provision increases statewide funding from $7.3 million to $12.3 million over the course of five years, effective July 1, 2005. According to Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance, the overwhelming bipartisan support was due in large part to the joint efforts of legal services providers throughout the state, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the state Supreme Court, which has been a consistent advocate for increasing legal services funding. The organization also credits the assistance of the Minnesota Association of Realtors, which agreed to a $4 increase on real estate document filings in order to generate the revenue for the appropriation.
PROGRAMS HELP CORPORATE LAWYERS PROVIDE LEGAL AID TO THE POOR
Gail Appleson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - July 5, 2005
Last year, the Missouri Bar began the Corporate Pro Bono project to facilitate pro bono commitment among corporate attorneys. Hailed as one of a kind in the country, the project helps lawyers find appropriate pro bono projects and insurance coverage. In St. Louis, many of the programs are overseen by Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM). "We try to offer nontraditional forums, other than representing clients in court, and opportunities that don't require long hours out of the office," says Genevieve Frank, director of the volunteer program. One such situation involved an unemployed man with a history of mental illness who bought his wife a van as a surprise. She insisted the van be returned, and although the used-car dealership accepted it, it refused to cancel the loan and to re-sale the vehicle. Instead, the van was auctioned and the couple was left liable for the difference of nearly $5,000. After the collection agency started calling and th e state began demanding sales tax and registration fees, they approached LSEM and were put in touch with Mike Kornblum, an attorney with Safeco Insurance, who donates his time to help poor families with civil legal problems. He successfully fought the state and has, thus far, sheltered the couple from their lenders. More information about the project can be found on the Missouri Bar's website, www.mobar.org.
TEXAS LEGISLATURE RESPONDS TO NEED FOR INCREASED LEGAL AID FUNDING
Business Wire - June 29, 2005
The Texas Legislature recently appropriated an additional $3 million to the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation for civil legal services. The Foundation will distribute the new funds, in addition to the $11.8 million that it already manages each year, to 38 nonprofit legal services agencies throughout the state. "Texas ranks 40th in the nation in per capita funding for legal aid," says Executive Director Betty Balli Torres. "That is unacceptable. The new funding will allow us to help thousands more people with their basic civil legal needs." The additional appropriation will come from the Model Court Collection Act, which is intended to improve collections of fines and fees by county court clerks throughout Texas.
CUTS HAVE LEGAL AID BRACING FOR LAYOFFS
Scott Sandlin, Albuquerque Journal (NM) - June 27, 2005
Legal Aid of New Mexico's 81 employees statewide are holding a collective breath as they await the termination of between 10 to 16 workers due to funding cuts, says director John Arango. The layoffs will result from a reduction of federal funding, he notes, as well as a leveling off of resources derived from a $25 increase in filing fees and the loss of a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for counseling on landlord/tenant issues and housing discrimination. Edna Sprague, president of the union representing Legal Aid employees, says, "It will cut our case acceptance in half at least. We take from one to five new cases every week, and it can be more than that. We're probably going to end up closing our domestic-violence intake for a couple of months."
WORK BEGINS ON ST. LOUIS FAMILY CENTER
Donna Walter, St. Louis Daily Record/
St. Louis Countian (MO) - June 28, 2005
The city of St. Louis is hard at work setting up a one-stop center for domestic violence victims after receiving a $1.25 million Violence Against Women grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The 12,000 square foot center will include law enforcement representatives, victims rights organizations, social services, medical facilities, child care services, chaplaincy services, and civil legal services providers. One of those agencies will be Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM), which received an additional $150,000 grant to establish the center's civil legal assistance program. "The idea is it's a one-stop shop, that a person would be able to get multiplicity of services in one trip instead of being referred to services that might be located all over town," says Kayla Vaughn, director of LSEM's Lasting Solutions program and head of the center's civil legal services planning division.
LEGAL AID FUND RAISING TAPS 500 NEW DONORS
Janet Cho, Plain Dealer (OH) - June 25, 2005
To offset federal and state funding cuts, many legal aid agencies across the country have been forced to appeal to private law firms, attorneys, and foundations for donations. Eleven months after beginning its first fundraising drive, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has tapped almost 500 new donors who have contributed over $810,000. "We have a very committed staff, but we can't provide services to all the poor in our community," says Diana Thimming, president of the Legal Aid Society. The money collected will go towards the organization's $6.1 million operating budget. "Legal aid is able to help only the poorest of the poor," notes Melanie Shakarian, director of development. "To qualify for services, a family of four cannot have an annual income of more than $23,000... Even with strict intake guidelines, there are many families who qualify for service but are turned away because Legal Aid does not have the resources to help them."
CONNOLLY RECEIVES AWARD FROM BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL
June 27, 2005
Mary M. "Meg" Connolly, who received her law degree from Boston College Law School in 1970 and is currently the executive director of the LSC-funded Volunteer Lawyers Project in Boston, was awarded the school's highest honor at commencement ceremonies in May. The Founder's Medal is named after the Reverend John C. Creedon, S.J., who was instrumental in founding the Law School in 1929 and whose dedication to academic excellence and professionalism was the inspiration for the medal. The medal was presented to her by Dean John Garvey.
Connolly's career achievements and long record of public service embody the traditions of professionalism, scholarship, and service that the Founder's Medal symbolizes. She has been executive director for the Volunteers Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (BBA) since 1985. For nine years before that she was deputy regional director of the New England office of the Legal Services Corporation. Connolly is a member of the standing committee on pro bono legal services of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a peer consultant for the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Pro Bono Peer Consultation Project, and, from 2002-2004 was a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. She is also the past co-chair of the Delivery of Legal Services Section of the BBA.
BAR ASSOCIATIONS RECEIVE HARRISON TWEED AWARD
American Bar Association - June 28, 2005
The Lafayette Parish Bar Association (Louisiana), the New York State Bar Association, and the Cleveland Bar Association (Ohio) will each receive a 2005 Harrison Tweed Award for achievement in preserving and increasing access to legal services for the poor. The award winning activities of each of these bar associations demonstrate the wide range of activities that bars engage in to promote access to justice.
The Lafayette Parish Bar Association is being honored for its impressive fundraising campaign that benefited providers of civil legal services in Lafayette Parish. The New York State Bar Association is being recognized for its development of statewide standards to ensure the quality of representation provided to indigent clients entitled to appointed counsel. The Cleveland Bar Association is receiving this tribute for its efforts to increase, improve, and coordinate the availability of pro bono legal services in Cleveland.
The award, given annually by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, will be presented during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago on Friday, August 5, at a joint luncheon of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, National Association of Bar Executives, and National Conference of Bar Associations.The Harrison Tweed Award was created in 1956 to recognize the extraordinary achievements of state and local bar associations that develop or significantly expand projects or programs to increase access to civil legal services for poor persons or criminal defense services for indigents.
HAIL JOHN ADAMS: FOUNDING FATHER, PRO BONO LAWYER
Opinion, Chicago Lawyer (IL) - July 2005
"This July, between the hot dogs, burgers, and fireworks, give a thought to John Adams - Founding Father, second president of the United States, and pro bono attorney. In a 1761 letter, the 25-year-old attorney wrote, 'To what greater object, to what greater character, can we aspire as lawyers than to assist the helpless and friendless in a worthy cause. I say there is none. To devote your skill and energy to the plight of another, without promise of a material reward for oneself, is what sets us apart as professionals... We can never forget that there is a more noble cause to be served than the mere pursuit of individual wealth for ourselves.'"
"John Adams was no saint. In fact, he would probably be at home in many a LaSalle Street corner office. By most accounts, he was vain, arrogant, prickly, impatient, and blunt. But he believed in a fair and equal judicial system, whether British, colonial, or American.
"Not every lawyer has to risk life and limb to be John Adams. All you have to risk is your comfort level. There are a lot of little guys out there looking for someone to help them and take up their cause. Some are sympathetic, some not so much. You, as a pro bono attorney, get to decide who you want to help.
"Some lawyers work to get people off of death row. Others try to keep illegal immigrants from getting deported. One lawyer may want to help the tenant facing an unfair eviction. Another may decide to represent the low-income landlord trying to get rid of a drug-dealing, non-rent-paying tenant.
"Whatever route you choose, remember that pro bono makes you a better attorney and a better person.
"In the words of your fellow member of the bar, 'The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety... It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.'"
Margaret C. Benson is executive director of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Foundation.
LSC RESOURCE LIBRARY UPDATE
Sponsor: Legal Aid of East Tennessee
Project: Self-Help Divorce Project
Date: May 2005
Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) has implemented a self-help divorce clinic program throughout its service area. Drawn from a successful clinic used by the northern region of the program over the past 10 years to assist clients with no children and no property issues, the project allows clients to file for divorce without a lawyer. Due to a generous grant from the Administrative Office of the Courts, the program has been expanded to include parents.
Clients are first provided with a packet of divorce forms and are directed by attorneys on how to complete them, how to proceed at each step of the process, and how to finalize the divorce. Divorcing parents are expected to have reached an agreed parenting plan before filing. In the works is a pro bono mediation component for those parents who require help in achieving a viable custody arrangement.
LAET attributes a large portion of the clinic's success to its collaborators, including the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, which has provided the majority of the funding. Other partners include local judges, court clerks, bar associations, and the Tennessee Bar Association's Access to Justice Committee and Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. For more information on this and other projects, please visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov/rs.htm.
SUCCESS STORY FROM MARYLAND LEGAL AI D BUREAU
(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.)
"Jonathan" contacted the Lower Shore Office of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau concerned about his living conditions; specifically, black mold was growing underneath the ceiling tiles and carpet of his mobile home. The mold had begun to affect the breathing of his young, asthmatic son, and Jonathan was forced to send him to live temporarily with a relative until he could convince the landlord to address the situation.
Unfortunately, the landlord refused to properly insulate the home and remedy the mold situation. Karen Dean, a staff attorney with bureau, and paralegal Wanda Deal Fields investigated the situation, eventually representing Jonathan in escrowing his rent.
"The mobile home was improperly insulated and condensation collected on the windows, soaking the curtains on a daily basis," says Dean. "There were also holes leading directly outside throughout the home."
"I had asked for a 50-percent abatement of Jonathan's $100-a-week rent," she recalls of the legal proceedings. "Judge Patrick Hayman instead ordered that 100 percent of future rent was abated until the premises were certified mold-free by a testing lab."
"Just as nice - the landlord had brought a failure-to-pay-rent case for $712 in rent and late fees," Dean notes. "Jonathan had not paid his rent in seven weeks leading up to the escrow due to the conditions. The judge determined that the landlord had known about the conditions for a month and therefore reduced the amount owed to $300 - no late fees even!"