LSC Updates - August 10, 2006
LSC will soon issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for 45 CFR Part 1621, LSC's regulation establishing a client grievance procedure for people who feel they were improperly denied legal assistance, or are unhappy with the assistance they received. The regulation was written in 1977 and has not been updated since.
On January 18, 2006, and March 23, 2006, LSC held Rulemaking Workshops to facilitate discussion of the regulation among staff of LSC-funded programs and other interested parties. Attendees shared their comments and concerns in regards to the current regulation, and discussed how to revise the regulation in order to address their concerns.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Federal Register in the near future.
On August 10, 2006, LSC will publish a notice in the Federal Register soliciting public comments on LSC's proposed FY 2008 budget request to Congress. Written comments may be submitted by mail, fax or email to Charles Jeffress using the contact information below. Written comments must be received on or before September 1, 2006.
In FY 2006, LSC received $326.5 million, $308.3 million of which was for basic field programs. The FY 2007 budget request of $411.8 million has already been submitted to Congress, and LSC is awaiting Congressional action.
Charles Jeffress, Chief Administrative Officer
Legal Services Corporation
3333 K St., NW
Washington, DC, 20007
Mary Vorsino, The Honolulu Advertiser (HI) - August 1, 2006
The state has stopped automatically suspending rental subsidies for low-income tenants when landlords allege damage to a property--substantiated or not.
The policy has long been criticized by Hawai'i housing advocates who say tenants are not given a chance to dispute claims and face homelessness and the loss of rental vouchers if they do not pay up.
"The policy was ripe for abuse by landlords who are looking to force tenants into paying for questionable charges," Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i housing attorney Nhi Tran said. She said if a rental voucher commonly known as a "Section 8" voucher is suspended, the tenant is entitled to a hearing.
"The policy was depriving tenants of that right," she said.
Under the new state practice, landlords must pursue a claim against a tenant in court. If a judgment is made against a tenant, the state can withdraw a voucher.
Gavin Thornton, head housing attorney for Legal Aid, said he has seen at least eight cases on O'ahu in the last six months of Section 8 voucher holders being accused of damage they dispute.
He said the tight housing market gave more leverage to landlords and put more pressure on tenants to resolve disputes. Vouchers expire if they are not used within six months. The state was counting the days that a voucher was on hold against tenants.
"One of our big concerns and one of the reasons we're so excited about the policy change is that I don't think a lot of people understand what their due-process rights are," Thornton said. "One of the more egregious things about the policy is that it...could eventually result in your voucher being terminated. The whole issue here is that they're entitled to a hearing."
Boston Business Journal - July 27, 2006
Legal Aid University, a Boston organization that provides continuing education for legal aid attorneys, received a $50,000 grant from the American College of Trial Lawyers to improve its online training program.
The money was part of the association's Emil Gumpert Award, which honors programs that maintain or improve the administration of justice. The award recognized LAU's efforts to better prepare lawyers who work for legal aid programs, which typically have limited training and travel budgets.
Legal Aid University, which spun off from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute this year and has a budget of $500,000, is seeking to grow into a national organization. It conducts courses in Massachusetts and Seattle, and is hoping to open a satellite in Mississippi, covering such topics as witness examination, closing arguments and document drafting.
Note: Through its Technology Initiative Grant program, LSC has previously provided funding to Legal Aid University.
Brad Newman, Amarillo Daily News (TX) - August 6, 2006
Chris Wrampelmeier's workspace has all the necessities and amenities of any law office, plus the commanding view that comes from working 11 stories above downtown Amarillo.
But Wrampelmeier doesn't limit his work to well-heeled clients who walk through the doors of the Underwood Law Firm. He's among several local lawyers who take certain cases for people who can't afford legal representation--and never send them a bill.
"There certainly is a great need for legal aid in the Panhandle," he said. "The issues I see here are real issues."
The cases he accepts are filtered through Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, a program offering legal aid to people who otherwise can't afford it. The organization sponsors legal assistance clinics in Amarillo monthly, giving local attorneys a chance to meet with people in need.
Legal Aid's Amarillo office is only one of many in northwest Texas. The organization helps people in 114 counties in Texas and is the largest organization in the northwest region that provides attorneys for low-income clients in civil cases.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City Herald (WA) - August 2, 2006
Eighty-eight percent of Washington's low-income residents with civil legal issues never have their day in court.
People embroiled in landlord-tenant disputes or faced with personal crises because of problems receiving public benefits often aren't aware free help is available, and suffer consequences affecting their health and family safety.
But a new branch office of the Northwest Justice Project hopes to provide another avenue for people in southeastern Washington to get legal assistance they couldn't in the past.
"Since we opened we've seen that there is a real need for attorneys to provide some kind of advice and guidance and representation in this area," said senior attorney Noah Leavitt.
The Northwest Justice Project, or NJP, is a not-for-profit statewide organization supported by state and federal money and a very small percentage of private funds. Clients seeking free legal aid services must meet strict eligibility requirements with income and citizenship status.
A $3 million increase in state funding for civil legal aid afforded the project to reopen a southeast Washington office.
Leavitt and Meg Bridewell will be based in Walla Walla and Scott Crain in Pasco, but all three attorneys will split their time between the two offices. Their priorities include public housing, consumer law, public entitlements, family law and domestic violence situations.
"Each and every day you will be working with people who come to you because they face profound life difficulties," James Bamberger, director of the state Office of Civil Legal Aid, wrote in a congratulatory letter to Leavitt. "You and your colleagues will help them understand their legal rights and responsibilities."
He added: "You will provide many with the assistance they need to help them solve their own problems. And some you will represent in court or before administrative agencies on matters relating to the most fundamental aspects of their lives--preservation of shelter, family safety and security, access to necessary public services and benefits, and the like."
Tammy Anderson, Pacific Daily News (Guam) - July 29, 2006
Lawyers don't come cheap and oftentimes people try to take legal matters into their own hands in hopes of saving some money.
For some things, such as name changes and uncontested divorce, creating and filing the legal document yourself is OK, say local attorneys. But in all things, you should be very careful before you sign the dotted line.
"Could you do your own power of attorney? Sure you can. It's not rocket science," says Guam Legal Services Corp. Director Daniel Somerfleck, frankly noting that there are no restrictions.
What lay people don't realize, is there may be complications in something that is seemingly simple, one of the reasons his office helps people over age 60 draw up a power of attorney.
Attaching your signature to a legal document you don't understand may have big consequences, says Somerfleck. Elderly parents have unknowingly signed away their land or real estate by freely giving their signature.
"Everything around us is legal documents," Somerfleck said, and "after you sign...there is no turning back."
If you do not decide to hire an attorney, Somerfleck said, it is important that everyone involved in the legal process understands exactly what is happening.
Before you finally sign your name, Somerfleck advises reading the fine print, using common sense and seeking out legal consultation to make sure you fully understand what you and your signature are agreeing to.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED
Sponsors: Pennsylvania's Neighborhood Legal Services Association
Project: Older and Wiser
Date: July 27, 2006
The Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA) launched the Older & Wiser Project to deliver legal information to senior citizens through a collaborative effort between state legislators, private attorneys, and NLSA. Private attorneys lead seminars on a range of topics including powers of attorney and living wills, guarding against senior fraud, understanding retirement benefits, and more.
(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.)
Legal Aid Of East Tennessee Offers Help To Those Who Cannot Help Themselves
The Valley Beautiful Beacon (TN) - July 27, 2006
Lindsay (name changed to protect her privacy) and her mother walked into Legal Aid of East Tennessee two years ago after being referred by her juvenile probation officer. She had such a severe anxiety disorder that she was unable to attend school due to the crowds of people. She made a series of poor choices, especially when it came to the peers with whom she associated, stopped going to school, and became involved in drugs.
As a condition of her probation, she was ordered to attend school. Laurie Draves, director of the Special Education Advocacy Project at Legal Aid of East Tennessee reviewed her educational and medical records to determine her specific problems and assisted her in obtaining special education certification. Lindsay soon began attending a specialized program in the local school system and experienced tremendous success. To date, she is drug free.
Earlier this year, as a high school junior with excellent grades, Lindsay came back to Legal Aid and asked for assistance in graduating early from high school and going to college. Once again reviewing records, Ms. Draves found that Lindsay had met all of the requirements for graduation from high school with a regular diploma. Ms. Draves invited a vocational rehabilitation counselor from the Tennessee Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to meet with Lindsay and, before the meeting was over, she was accepted for their services and signed the paperwork for her college tuition to be paid through that agency. In addition, if she chooses to pursue a post-graduate degree, they will provide full funding for her studies. She will be attending a local college this fall and plans on obtaining a four-year degree in the medical field.
Ms. Draves recently received a rewarding phone call from the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency inviting her to an awards dinner. They informed her that, because of Lindsay's outstanding progress, they were awarding Lindsay another college scholarship to help with related expenses. "As I watched Lindsay accept her award, I was reminded of the rewards of the work we do every day at Legal Aid. It is very gratifying to watch as a young person blossoms from a confused kid, spinning out of control, into a bright, articulate young woman who will now become a productive member of our community," said Ms. Draves.