LSC Updates - April 19, 2006

Ernestine P. Watlington, Former LSC Board Member, Dies at 70

Ernestine P. Watlington, former member of LSC's Board of Directors, passed away peacefully in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on April 13. She was 70 years old. Ernestine was appointed to LSC's Board by President Clinton in 1993 and served until April 5, 2006, earning her the record for longest consecutive service by a Board member in LSC's history. While Ernestine's service on LSC's Board afforded her an opportunity to advocate for low-income people on a national level, she never stopped working to improve the lives of the less fortunate in her own community. She founded the Edgemont Community Action Center and later became Director of Harrisburg Community and Economic Affairs. She was a founding board member of the Law Coordination Center and Dauphin County Legal Services, and an active member of the South Central Pennsylvania Foundation and the Pennsylvania Low-Income Housing Coalition.

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LSC's Revised Performance Criteria Now Available on the Web

As noted in the last issue of LSC Updates, LSC unveiled the revised Performance Criteria for LSC-funded programs at the 2006 Equal Justice Conference on March 31. The Performance Criteria are now available on the web.

To download the Performance Criteria, click here

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LSC in the News

Legal Aid Society of Orange County's I-CAN! Earned Income Tax Credit Program Highlighted at Event Hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver

April 12, 2006

The Legal Aid Society of Orange County's I-CAN! Earned Income Tax Credit program was the highlight of California First Lady Maria Shriver's "Connect California" festival, held on April 12. The festival was part of a larger campaign launched by Shriver to help California families access underused government assistance programs, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides tax reductions and wage supplements to low-income people. I-CAN! EITC is a web-based program that allows people to file for their tax credit online. It has already returned millions of dollars to taxpayers since 2002. In an editorial about the event in the Orange County Register, Shriver said, "I especially want to get the word out about our country's largest resource for working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit makes work pay for people who earn under $37,236 a year...Hundreds of thousands of Californians who could get these federal dollars don't apply for them. We need this money in the pocketbooks of California families, not sitting in Washington, D.C."

LASOC's I-CAN! EITC was launched with an LSC Technology Initiative Grant.

To learn more about LASOC's I-CAN! EITC project, click here

To read Maria Shriver's editorial in the Orange County Register, click here

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Legal Aid Vetoes Prompt Outcry

Michele Morgan Bolton, The Times Union (NY) - April 14, 2006

Lawyers and advocates for the poor Thursday demanded a reversal of $4.6 million in budget vetoes that killed civil legal-aid funding for New York's poor.

But it seemed a waste of breath.

A spokesman from Gov. George Pataki's state budget office rejected any hope the money would be restored.

"As the governor has indicated, many of these programs are worthy programs," John Sweeney said. "But the Legislature's budget was unaffordable and would have created very real fiscal difficulties for this state."

Advocates who work with thousands of the needy and vulnerable in the legal system said state officials have no idea what real fiscal difficulty is.

Lillian Moy, whose nonprofit Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York stands to lose $216,000, pointed to such cases as families on the verge of eviction.

"These are essential services," said Moy. "Our society would never leave someone cut and bleeding on the sidewalk. But here they say, `It doesn't matter. We can't help you.'"

An estimated 4,000 people a year go unhelped because of a lack of money and staff in that agency alone. That's without this week's elimination of the sole source of state funding, advocates said.

"It's outrageous that the governor would deem investing in justice as somehow unnecessary or inappropriate," said Anne Erickson, president of Empire Justice Center. The statewide nonprofit organization provides training and support to legal services programs.

The $4.6 million Pataki cut from the state budget is exactly what the state provided last year. It is significantly less than the $7.2 million New York offered in the past. It comes on top of a decline in payments by the New York State Interest on Lawyer Account Fund and the federal government.

To read the article in its entirety, click here

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Medical-Legal Collaboration A Boon To Kids; Families

Stephanie Potter, The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (IL) - April 10, 2006

A program that serves the legal needs of disabled and sick children and their families has been expanded.

The Chicago Family Advocacy Program is a partnership between Health & Disability Advocates, the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago [(LAF)].

The project, which will provide a variety of legal help to the children and their families, will receive pro bono support from the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP. The legal services will be provided on site at the children's hospital.

Attorneys working on the program will help families obtain disability and unemployment benefits, help with housing problems and landlord/tenant disputes, and even with immigration and domestic violence matters.

LAF, which has about 80 attorneys, will be the principal provider of legal services to the families.

"What I'm excited about is the multidisciplinary approach," said LAF Executive Director Sheldon H. Roodman. "The unmet need for legal services in Cook County is tremendous. This is another entry point for people to obtain legal services."

To read the article in its entirety, click here (REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

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New Children's Law Center To Assist Foster Children

Press Release, Bay Area Legal Services - April 10, 2006

Bay Area Legal Services has established the new Children's Law Center to assist foster children living in Hillsborough County. The Center is funded by The Florida Bar Foundation and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. The Children's Law Center will provide representation to foster children ages birth through five, including their siblings, with the primary goal of reducing the time children are in foster care.

Along with decreasing the time children are in the foster care, the Children's Law Center is also striving to increase permanency through reunifications with parents or appropriate long-term placements and adoptions. The Center also hopes to integrate its representation of foster children into Hillsborough County's foster care system by working with the courts, local agencies and other groups serving abused, abandoned, and neglected children.

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Elderly Accuse City Of Shoddy Home Repairs

S.A. Reid, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - April 12, 2006

In 2004, Louie and Delores Sheriff signed up for city help with repairs to their southeast Atlanta home.

The $48,000 worth of city-approved work included a new ramp to ease access to and from the home for wheelchair user Louie.

But two years later, the elderly man and his wife claim they came up short--by about 15 feet--on what they were promised.

The wheelchair ramp stops on a steep incline about 15 feet from the street, leaving Sheriff unable to leave the house without help from city firefighters.

The Sheriffs aren't the only ones complaining.

Atlanta Legal Aid is suing the city, employees and contractors with the city's Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation program on behalf of the Sheriffs and other low-income, senior and disabled homeowners.

The complaints accuse the city and other defendants of program mismanagement and substandard and incomplete work. The Sheriffs, for example, claim drunken contractors stole tools and other items from their home while completing only a fraction of the scheduled repairs.

And they say a city inspector signed off on shoddy work. "I thought we should have gotten a better deal than we got," said Louie Sheriff, 80, who suffers from heart failure and serious lung problems.

The rehabilitation program, administered by the city's Housing Bureau, is designed to help low-income residents living in substandard housing with repairs intended to bring their homes up to code. In return, homeowners agree to stay in their homes for at least 10 years and allow the city to put liens on their property for the duration.

To read the article in its entirety, click here

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Legal Aid Gets Grant To Aid Special Ed Kids

Janet H. Cho, The Plain Dealer (OH) - April 6, 2006

Baker & Hostetler LLP has given the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland an $80,000 grant over the next three years to support an attorney who will be an advocate on behalf of Cleveland students with special needs.

Legal Aid lawyer Chitra Ramanathan will become the first Baker Hostetler special education attorney. She would represent students, predominantly in the Cleveland Municipal School District, who may have physical or learning disabilities.

"Sometimes parents are not in a position to be effective advocates for their children in special education issues, because I'm not sure in every case that they know what their rights are," said Steven Kestner, Baker & Hostetler's executive partner, whose wife taught the hearing-impaired in the Mayfield and Hudson school districts.

For example, if a child were suspended from school, it could be because of a behavioral problem, but if it was because he was never properly diagnosed with a learning disability, then Ramanathan could lobby to get him the special help he needs, said Melanie Shakarian, director of development for the Legal Aid Society.

Legal Aid received start-up money from the Raymond John Wean Foundation in 2003 to start its special education practice and hire Ramanathan. Baker & Hostetler's grant means the advocacy will continue for at least three more years, Shakarian said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here

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Crowe & Dunlevy Foundation Makes Leadership Pledge

The Journal Record (OK) - April 6, 2006

The Crowe & Dunlevy Foundation has made a leadership pledge of $20,000 to the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma 2006 Fundraising Drive.

"The endorsement and backing of the private bar in providing legal assistance to low-income individuals and families is critical to fulfilling the American promise of equal justice for all," said Thomas R. Brett, a Crowe & Dunlevy attorney, retired U.S. district judge and chair of the statewide 2006 fund-raising drive

"We are most effective when we help to underwrite the work of the experienced poverty law attorneys at Legal Aid than if we were to attempt to take on similar cases ourselves as pro bono," he said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here (REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

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Civil Law Remedies Dwindling for the Poor [Editorial]

The Albuquerque Journal (NM) - April 8, 2006

Federal funding for a program established in 1974 to give low-income Americans access to the civil legal system has for more than a decade failed to match a need that has been growing.

Santa Fe attorney Sarah Singleton, confirmed by the Senate last month to fill a slot on the bipartisan, 11-member Legal Services Corporation board, is out to reverse that trend which, in New Mexico, has staggering implications.

The state, which ranked 47th in per capita income in 2004, has about 128,000 households eligible for free legal services, according to Singleton.

Legal aid programs served about 13,700 households in 2004 but, for every 10 clients they can accept, 17 are turned away because there's not enough money to go around.

That means thousands of New Mexicans don't have access to the courts to address domestic violence, family law matters, consumer problems, health access, housing issues, benefits issues, education issues and employment matters.

Federal funding for legal aid programs was slashed in the mid-1990s, in part due to backlash against activism by legal aid providers.

And since 2002, the funding has been steadily dwindling, although inflation has nibbled away while the case load has piled up. New Mexico received $4.8 million in 2004.

The result, Singleton says, is that 80 percent of low-income families who need legal assistance cannot get it, despite increased funding from state and private sources.

Until Congress begins funding the nonprofit Legal [Services] Corporation at a level commensurate with the need, the constitutional right to redress grievances will not be guaranteed. The bedrock American ideal of justice for all will be restricted to justice for those who can afford it.

To read the article in its entirety, click here (REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

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