LSC Updates - April 16, 2008
On April 4, more than 700 volunteer lawyers reported to eight call centers throughout North Carolina to provide free legal assistance to approximately 7,000 residents during the North Carolina Bar Association's (NCBA) first-ever statewide public service day. The event was part of Bar President Janet Ward Black's "4ALL" Campaign, which seeks to make "justice for all" a reality in North Carolina. The core message of the campaign is that lawyers have a moral obligation and professional duty to help make the judicial process available to the most vulnerable in the state.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to show her support for the endeavor, and to meet and thank the volunteers. She observed the non-stop phone calls to the WBTV call center from residents seeking legal assistance, and the 11:00 am "shift change" of volunteers. Barnett was interviewed live on the station's News at Noon program, along with Janet Ward Black, where she conveyed her support for the project and discussed the need for private attorney involvement to help close the justice gap in America. The project was made possible by the invaluable support of attorneys from Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), who floated throughout the call centers to lend their legal expertise to the volunteers handling difficult questions. President Barnett had the opportunity to personally thank Ted Fillette, Senior Managing Attorney of the Charlotte office of LANC, and members of his staff. Fillette not only led his team to the WBTV call center, but also assisted in answering questions himself.
"It was an amazing day!" said Black. "Hundreds of NCBA members helped thousands of North Carolinians in just one day. Callers were so appreciative of the assistance our volunteer lawyers provided. We are extremely grateful to our volunteers, the NCBA staff and Legal Aid of North Carolina for pulling off this unprecedented event."
The "4ALL" campaign uniquely incorporates elements of fundraising, building legislative support, and raising public awareness. Its four goals have been to "educate, legislate, donate, and participate," and it has shown great success in all four. For example, more than $570,000 has been raised to date for an endowment fund, which is hoped to reach $1 million by this summer.
Click here to read, "Public Service Day A Resounding Success" from the North Carolina Bar Association.
Click here for more information on the "4ALL" Campaign.
Decision Upholds Application of Program Integrity Regulation
On April 7, the U.S. District Court of Oregon granted LSC's motion for summary judgment to dismiss a legal challenge to LSC's application of its Program Integrity Regulation. The regulation, 45 C.F.R Part 1610, seeks to ensure proper separation between LSC grantees and other groups engaged in certain restricted activities, including lobbying state and local legislatures, participating in class action lawsuits, and receiving attorney fees. Since 1996, Congress has prohibited LSC grantees from participating in these activities with funds from LSC and from all other sources.
Judge Paul Papak ruled that LSC's enforcement of the regulation against the plaintiffs in the case, the LSC-funded Legal Aid Services of Oregon and other legal aid organizations, did not violate the groups' constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. The court had previously dismissed the plaintiffs' claims that the regulation was unconstitutional as written, and also dismissed a suit brought by the State of Oregon, which argued that the regulation infringed on its sovereignty and violated the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Department of Justice participated as an intervener in the case on behalf of the United States.
Additional Funding for LSC Removed Due to Technicality
On April 10, the U.S. Senate passed a housing reform bill (H.R. 3221) that includes $30 million in grant funds for organizations providing counseling services to homeowners facing foreclosure-related legal problems. The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, or NeighborWorks America, a federally-funded non-profit dedicated to supporting community revitalization efforts, will administer the funds. The measure was attached to the bill as an amendment by Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Chair of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding LSC. Her amendment originally included an additional $37.5 million specifically for LSC-funded programs, but a technicality of parliamentary procedure forced her to remove it. She highlighted the importance of legal aid for families facing foreclosure in a statement released after the bill's passage.
"The mortgage companies have expensive lawyers on their side. Borrowers and homeowners are by themselves trying to do what's right, but they do not understand the legal lingo. Legal advice can make all the difference. They do not need a bail-out, but they do need a helping hand."
According to Mikulski's press release, the House is working on a similar piece of legislation, expected to be considered in the coming weeks.
Click here for Senator Mikulski's press release.
LSC is seeking proposals from parties wishing to apply for grants to provide high-quality civil legal services to low-income Americans in 30 states and territories. LSC is seeking proposals from: 1) non-profit organizations that have as a purpose the provision of legal assistance to eligible clients; 2) private attorneys; 3) groups of private attorneys or law firms; 4) state or local governments; and 5) sub-state regional planning and coordination agencies that are composed of sub-state areas and whose governing boards are controlled by locally elected officials.
Applicants must file a Notice of Intent to Compete by May 16 to be eligible. Grant proposals are due June 2. LSC will hold a teleconference on May 14 to assist applicants and to promote the competitive grants process.
Click here for more information, including a complete list of the service areas up for competition. ( 20k)
Click here to visit the new LSC Grants web site, which contains useful information on all aspects of the competitive grants process.
The Boards of Directors of two more LSC-funded programs have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 84 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions. The two programs are:
- Legal Services of Northwest Jersey
- Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, N.Y.
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."
Click here for the list of LSC-funded programs that have adopted pro bono resolutions.
Attorneys with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid are among the scores of lawyers who have volunteered to provide legal representation to the mothers of hundreds of children placed in state custody after being removed from a ranch belonging to a polygamist sect of the Mormon Church. More than 400 children were taken from the ranch amidst allegations of sexual and physical abuse.
A Texas district court will begin holding hearings to determine the status of the children on April 17, in what the Associated Press dubbed one of the biggest child-custody cases in U.S. history. Texas law requires attorneys to be appointed in parental rights termination cases, but Schleicher County, where the hearings will be held, does not have enough resources to appoint the number of lawyers necessary. Volunteer attorneys from throughout the state have stepped up to provide representation.
Click here for the Texas Access to Justice Foundation's press release.
Click here for more information from the Associated Press.
The Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) and the University of California, Irvine's Santa Ana Family Health Center (UCI FHC) will announce the launch of their new medical-legal partnership on May 16.
The two organizations began collaborating late last year after recognizing a significant overlap between their two client communities. The fruit of that collaboration, the MedLaw Project, will help ensure that the basic needs-food, housing, education, health care-of the children of Santa Ana and its surrounding areas are met. The project will help Health Center staff recognize the legal components of their patients' medical problems through training in the law and public health. LASOC staff will work closely with the Health Center to identify the legal and medical needs of their clients, and provide them with representation when necessary.
U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., who is scheduled to speak at the launching ceremony, said, "MedLaw Project is a good model of cross-professional cooperation which can improve the overall well-being of disadvantaged individuals. I commend UCI FHC and Legal Aid Society of Orange County for initiating this innovative project."
Note: The Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee of LSC's Board of Directors focused on medical-legal partnerships during its October 2007 meeting in Portland, Maine. Approximately 30 LSC-funded programs are participating in medical-legal partnerships in more than 20 states.
Kentucky's legal services programs will lose $1 million a year under the budget approved recently by the state legislature. Jamie Odle of Kentucky's Access to Justice Foundation told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the cuts represent the salaries of ten of the state's 70 legal aid lawyers, and that legal aid programs will be forced to turn away even more eligible clients than they already do. The cut amounts to almost 10 percent of the legal aid system's total budget of $10.8 million a year, according to the Journal.
"These cuts are going deep to the bone," said Jeffrey Been, Executive Director of the Louisville-based Legal Aid Society. "I think the test of government is how it treats the poor and the vulnerable, and I think we are failing the test."
Click here to read, "State cut $1 million in Legal Aid funding" in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) is celebrating forty years of providing legal assistance to Minnesota's Native American communities on the White Earth, Red Lake, and Leech Lake reservations. Created in 1967 with funds from the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, what was then known as the Leech Lake Reservation Legal Services Project was the first independent Native American legal services office in the country. In 1974 the program began receiving funds from the Legal Services Corporation and adopted its current name after expanding to serve clients on the White Earth and Red Lake Reservations. "Anishinabe" means "the people" in the Ojibwe language.
ALS is celebrating its anniversary with open houses at its three offices-located in Cass Lake, Red Lake, and Naytahwaush-on April 18, and a ceremony on April 25. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell A. Anderson is expected to attend the ceremony as a special guest.
Click here for more information about Anishinabe Legal Services.
Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF) is hosting a series of free foreclosure prevention workshops throughout their twelve-county service area to educate homeowners on their rights and responsibilities, and to help them keep their homes.
The workshops provide information for homeowners currently or soon to be in delinquency, holders of adjustable rate mortgages, and renters facing eviction from foreclosed properties.
"We are getting hundreds of people to turn out at each one," said Larry Glinzman, Public Relations Manager for CLSMF. "The need is unbelievable."
Lena Smith, a CLSMF staff attorney, says, "The people most affected by foreclosures are the people least equipped to deal with them-the low and moderate income community."
Click here for more information.
Pro Bono Net – April 9, 2008
The 12th Annual Webby Awards has nominated LawHelp.org for the Best Law Site of 2008. LawHelp.org offers state-based legal referrals, know-your-rights information and a variety of self-help tools. It was created and is managed by Pro Bono Net, the nonprofit leader in technology solutions to expand access to justice for those in need.
LawHelp won the 2007 Webby Award for Best Law Website, and is the only repeat nominee in the category.
"We are honored to be singled out for the second year in a row as creators of the top legal website," said Mark O'Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. "It is especially gratifying that a nonprofit organization committed to increasing access to justice for those in need can be recognized for its innovative work."
From now through May 1st, online fans around the world can cast their own votes for LawHelp.org in The Webby People's Voice Awards presented by Nokia at http://pv.webbyawards.com.
Note: LawHelp.org is funded in part by LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program, which supports innovative technology projects that increase access to justice for low-income Americans and helps legal aid programs operate more efficiently.
The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.
Mississippi's Pro Bono Practice Manual
Law firms and legal aid organizations throughout the state of Mississippi have collaborated to create a comprehensive practice manual for pro bono attorneys, a key element in a larger effort to recruit more private attorneys and provide them with better support. The manual contains 200 new practice resources, including a detailed overview of each area of law, client questionnaires, sample forms and petitions, references to cases and statutes, and additional practice material.
Click here for more information on the manual.
Click here to visit the LSC Resource Information.
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.
Legal Aid Helps Disabled Girl Participate in Graduation
Legal Aid of Nebraska attorney Shelldon Skelcher helped a student with special needs participate in her high school graduation ceremony. The case sparked the introduction of a bill in the Nebraska Legislature.
Larry Randolph had asked the Southwest Nebraska School Board to allow his daughter, who is autistic, to participate in a social graduation. She had not been held back any grades, but would not be able to complete her studies by the time of the ceremony. Her father asked that she be allowed to walk, even though she would have to wait for her diploma. The school board denied his request, citing a policy that prohibits students from participating in graduation ceremonies without fully completing high school.
"I felt like she was being short changed, like everything else in her life," Randolph said. "It was just like another thing she couldn't compete or participate in."
Skelcher met with the school board in December and asked them to make an exception for the teenager. The board tabled the issue until January. In the meantime, the Randolphs reached out to State Senator Mark Christensen, who contacted each board member.
Skelcher came to the January meeting prepared to debate Randolph's case, but the board members had already changed their minds. They unanimously voted in favor of Randolph's daughter.
This case has impacted more than just one family. As a result of becoming involved with the Randolphs' issue, Christensen introduced a bill to permit special education students to participate in a social graduation at their parents' request and receive a certificate of attendance while continuing to work towards completing their studies.
Following the school board vote, Randolph said he and his wife were pleased that something positive had finally happened for his family. Seeing their daughter walk at her high school graduation was especially meaningful, as the Randolphs lost their 21-year-old son in a motorcycle accident in August 2007.
"The Randolphs showed great courage as parents," Skelcher said. "Legal Aid is proud of any assistance we could provide them and their daughter."