LSC's Board of Directors held its third quarterly meeting of 2009 in Topeka, Kansas, on July 24 and 25. The meeting included a celebration of the Corporation's 35th anniversary, a program visit to the Topeka office of Kansas Legal Services and meetings of the full Board and its five committees.
On the evening of July 24, Kansas Legal Services hosted a reception at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka to celebrate the Corporation's 35th anniversary. The legislation establishing LSC was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on July 25, 1974.
At the reception, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett announced that President Obama had issued a proclamation to mark the occasion and that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) had placed commemorative statements in the Congressional Record to celebrate the milestone.
Left to Right: LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland, Lynette Petty, Shaye Downing, Kathleen Coode, AdviceLine volunteers Robin Maxon and Mike Culver, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert E. Davis.
Barnett read excerpts from the Presidential Proclamation, which had been released by the White House earlier that day. "We have made great progress in protecting the legal rights of our citizens, and the Legal Services Corporation has played a vital role in this story for more than three decades. With continued support, it will serve those in need and help our Nation live out its highest ideals.... I call upon legal professionals and the people of the United States to honor the contributions of this vital organization." Click here for the full text.
Sen. Harkin's July 23 statement for the Congressional Record concluded by saying, "On this anniversary, I salute the Legal Services Corporation and LSC-funded attorneys for the vital work they do every day on behalf of Americans who need qualified counsel. Every day that a legal aid attorney protects the safety, security and health of our most vulnerable citizens, they bring this nation closer to living up to its commitment to equal justice for all." Click here for the full text.
Sen. Cohen's statement on July 24 noted that "LSC's work is more important than ever before, partly because of the impact of the current recession." He added, "I welcome my fellow Members of Congress to join me in recognizing the critical role that the Legal Services Corporation plays in helping America live up to its commitment to ensure equal access to justice for all." Click here for the full text. ( 47k)
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert E. Davis welcomed LSC and spoke of its importance in helping meet the civil legal needs of the state's poor. In their remarks, he and Barnett invoked the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education as they reaffirmed the importance of ensuring equal access to justice for all Americans.
Following their remarks, LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland joined Barnett and Marilyn Harp, executive director of Kansas Legal Services, to honor volunteers who perform pro bono work on behalf of the program's clients. Those honored were: Kathleen Coode, an attorney from Prairie Village, Kan.; Lynette Petty from the Washburn University School of Law; Shaye Downing from the law firm of Sloan, Eisenbarth, Glassman, McEntire and Jarboe; Julia Butler from the law firm of Riling, Burkhead and Nitcher; and all the volunteers from the Kansas Elder Law AdviceLine.
Ramona Shump, who served on LSC's Board of Directors from 1978 to 1981, attended the reception and had the honor of cutting a special cake provided for the celebration.
In the morning, the Board visited the headquarters of Kansas Legal Services, which serves the state's 105 counties from 13 offices. During the visit, program staff discussed pro bono outreach and their work providing civil legal aid to the unemployed, the homeless, the disabled, farmers, military families and victims of domestic violence.
One of the program's successful partnerships, the Topeka Moving Ahead Program, is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps the homeless and the disabled find employment. The program provides participants with a legal needs assessment and helps prepare them to find solutions to legal matters, such as garnishments placed on wages by creditors.
Another successful initiative involves the program's medical-legal partnership that helps urban and rural residents of the state access medical and dental care. The partnership includes an arrangement with Legal Aid of Western Missouri to serve Kansas children receiving care at a Missouri children's hospital in the Kansas City metro area.
The Board's official work began with meetings of the Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services and Audit Committees. The Provisions Committee heard from Kansas Legal Services staff on the program's use of LegalMeetings, a web conferencing software funded in part by LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program, to enhance leadership and training. The committee also heard presentations from LSC staff on the Corporation's private attorney involvement action plan and loan repayment assistance program. Discussion of Native American delivery and funding was deferred to the next meeting.
The Audit Committee continued its discussion on LSC's contracts with consultants and heard a report from the Inspector General on the selection of an outside auditor for FY 2009.
The Finance Committee heard a staff report on reprogramming funds for LSC's loan repayment assistance program, approved a consolidated operating budget for FY 2009, heard a presentation on LSC's financial reports for the first six months of FY 2009, heard a report on the appropriations process for FY 2010 and approved a temporary operating budget for FY 2010.
The Operations and Regulations Committee heard staff reports on grantee board governance and oversight, LSC's Freedom of Information Act function, program visits and issues relating to LSC's Independent Public Accountant.
The Governance and Performance Review Committee discussed procedures for conducting the performance review of the Inspector General and for complying with the Sunshine Act when conducting performance reviews of senior officials. The committee also heard a staff report on the availability of transition materials for new board members and discussed procedures for conducting oversight of compensation for LSC officers.
Chairman Strickland opened the meeting of the full Board and heard reports from President Barnett and Inspector General Jeffrey E. Schanz. The Board then heard reports from its committees. It approved a resolution providing for the adoption of a revised consolidated operating budget and the reprogramming of loan repayment assistance funds.
On July 15, during day three of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) discussed the legal profession's unique role in securing equal access to justice for all Americans.
"I think, as attorneys, we all have a special responsibility for equal justice, and that requires equal access," said Cardin, noting the vast disparity between the numbers of private attorneys and legal aid lawyers available to serve the public.
Having a lawyer makes a difference, he said. "If you have a lawyer, you're more likely to be able to save your home, to get the health care that you need, to be able to deal with consumer problems."
Cardin is a former chairman of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation and a former member of the state's access to justice commission. Last year he chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on closing the justice gap, at which LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and Board Member Jonann C. Chiles testified.
"Congress needs to do more in this area," said Cardin. "There is no question about that. And I'm hopeful that we will re-authorize the [LSC] Act and provide additional resources."
Asked by Cardin to comment on the issue, Sotomayor said that "public service and pro bono work is probably the main topic...I speak about."
"I've given multiple speeches in which I've talked to law school bodies and said, Make sure your students don't leave your school without understanding the critical importance of public service in what they do as lawyers'....that's a core responsibility of lawyering."
Our Founding Fathers' fundamental belief in public service is a "spirit that is the charge of the legal profession," she said. "Helping people receive justice under the law is a critical importance of our work."
The Legal Services Corporation is encouraging its grantees to contact their local child support enforcement agencies regarding a new funding opportunity for online legal assistance relating to child support.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has announced its intention to award state enforcement agencies up to $1,200,000 for 17-month projects aimed at addressing immediate needs resulting from the economic downturn. The announcement lists examples of initiatives that may be undertaken with grant funds.
As an example, OCSE points to, "Using partnerships and collaborations with organizations that develop online legal information, automated forms, and other systems to improve the process and experience for those who represent themselves (pro se)."
"This speaks directly to what legal aid programs have been doing for years with statewide websites and document assembly programs," says LSC's Glenn Rawdon, program counsel for technology. "This partnership will allow both groups-legal aid programs and child support agencies-to improve the tools available to low-income people struggling with these issues as a result of the economy."
LSC has been working with OCSE to identify areas where legal aid programs and child support agencies could collaborate to benefit the groups they serve.
The Board of Directors of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services has adopted a resolution aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 103 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions.
LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local 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."
Indiana Legal Services, the Indiana Bar Foundation and the Indiana State Bar Association have released a report, "Unequal Access to Justice: A Comprehensive Study of the Civil Legal Needs of the Poor in Indiana," showing that the demand for civil legal services from low-income residents far exceeds the supply.
The report found that 86 percent of survey respondents with incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty level reported having at least one legal problem in 2008-most dealing with consumer finance, family law, housing, public entitlements and health-and that 75 percent of those seeking help from Indiana Legal Services, and 62 percent who sought help from a pro bono attorney, were unable to receive the representation they needed.
"The most obvious reason that the legal needs of the poor are not being met is that there are not enough attorneys serving this population," says the report, noting that there is only one legal aid attorney per 8,850 residents living below 125 percent of poverty.
The report also compares certain demographic data from 2008 and 1999-the last year a similar study was done-and found that Indiana's poverty population has grown by 35 percent over the time period.
Like many legal aid programs across the country, Iowa Legal Aid's funding is shrinking while its caseload is growing.
According to a July 24 article in the Des Moines Register, the program had a net funding loss in 2008 despite receiving increased federal funding and despite enjoying bipartisan support from state lawmakers. A budget crisis forced the legislature to reduce its civil legal aid funding while reduced revenue for the state's IOLTA program resulted in less grant money from that source.
Meanwhile, the group saw more clients than it did the year before, an increase that Dennis Groenenboom, executive director of the program, blames on the recession.
"Much of what we're seeing is tied to the current economic conditions," he told the Register. "We've always had high demand. But the number of people contacting us for problems related to the economy has been dramatic."
According to Groenenboom, the number of forfeiture and real-estate claims brought to the program tripled between January 2008 and January 2009.
Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) is hosting a series of foreclosure prevention workshops in Florida's Alachua County aimed at connecting struggling homeowners with organizations that can provide advice and assistance. Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is one of those organizations participating in the workshops.
Lena Smith, pro bono manager for the program, told the Ocala Star-Banner that her organization would have a team of staff and private attorneys available to consult with homeowners. "It will be a one-stop shop for people to get legal advice, credit counseling and other services all under one roof," she said.
Smith added that the program's offices have been overwhelmed with foreclosure work in the past year and has itself offered several foreclosure workshops to help homeowners. See below for a story of how the program helped prevent foreclosure for one homeowner.
Rep. Stearns told the Star-Banner that the foreclosure crisis is reaching severe proportions and that educating homeowners is part of the solution to the problem.
Memphis Business Journal – July 23, 2009
As a result of the rise in foreclosures and evictions in the city [Memphis], the Shelby County Sheriff's Office and Memphis Area Legal Services are working to educate citizens on the subject.
As part of the partnership, sheriff's deputies and civil process servers are delivering pamphlets about the process to property owners and renters summoned to court. Statistics show there was a 180% increase in foreclosures in Shelby County from 2000-2008 and 9,047 [renters] were evicted in the last six months of 2008. The Sheriff's department and civil process servers handled 1,261 of those evictions and private process servers delivered 7,786 notices during that time. The partnership was created as part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act signed into law in May. The law requires 90 days before tenants can be forced out.
Webb Brewer, director of advocacy for Memphis Area Legal Services, said the most important part of the process is that renters or homeowners open and read all letters about the properties they inhabit. Legal services will offer assistance to anyone who asks.
The goal of the partnership, said Shelby County Sheriff Mark Lutrell, is to tell renters about their rights.
"Some renters have not been told by landlords about a pending eviction," Lutrell said in a statement. "Our goal is to ensure property owners, especially tenants, understand their legal options before they're evicted."
The National Association of Pro Bono Professionals will host a webinar entitled, "The Basics of Pro Bono in 90 Minutes or Less," on Oct. 29 from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
The event is sponsored by LexisNexis and will be led by pro bono professionals Martha Delaney of Minneapolis, Minn., Pat Gerrich of Phoenix, Ariz., and Helenka Marculewicz of Dayton, Ohio.
Topics for discussion will include forms and procedures that make for a good pro bono program, the basics of recruitment and retention, and how and why to recognize your volunteers.
Participation is free but pre-registration is required. Interested parties should submit their name and contact information to Helenka Marculewicz at Helenka@GDVLP.org or (888) 346-3857.
Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories illustrate the day-to-day struggles-and victories-of poor Americans seeking justice under law.
Ms. Cook was a recently widowed, disabled senior citizen living on a fixed income when she began having trouble making payments on her mortgage and car loan. She contacted a local broker to see if she could get enough cash to pay off her car and generally get back on her feet following the death of her husband.
Instead Ms. Cook, who had substantial equity in her home, was sold an adjustable rate mortgage that increased her monthly payments by 500 percent, exceeding her total monthly income by more than $1,000.
Still determined to make the payments, Ms. Cook took a job as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army during the Christmas season. She also took in children from the Department of Children and Families, for which she received a small stipend. As a result, she was able to make two monthly payments on her new adjustable rate mortgage-payments that would have been enough to bring her old mortgage up to date.
When she could no longer keep up with the higher payments, the mortgage company filed suit to foreclose on her home. Desperate, she contacted Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida for help. An attorney with the program succeeded in stopping the foreclosure proceedings and entered into negotiations with the company. A settlement was reached allowing Ms. Cook to take a reverse mortgage that kept her in her home and gave her enough money to get back on her feet.
Ms Cook received the good news one year after her ordeal began, while she was still helping the Salvation Army collect donations at Christmas.
The original version of this story appeared in Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida's 2008 Annual Report. Click here to download the full document. ( 453k)