LSC Updates - August 20, 2009
President Obama nominated five individuals on Aug. 6 to serve on LSC's Board of Directors: Robert J. Grey, Jr., of Virginia, John G. Levi and Martha L. Minow of Illinois, Julie A. Reiskin of Colorado, and Gloria Valencia-Weber of New Mexico.
Robert Grey is a partner in the law firm of Hunton & Williams. Working from the firm's Richmond and Washington offices, Grey's practice focuses on administrative matters before state and federal agencies. He served as president of the American Bar Association from 2004 to 2005 and chairman of the ABA House of Delegates from 1998 to 2000.
In 2005, Grey published an article in the ABA Journal recounting his participation in LSC's 30th anniversary celebration a year before. He described the Corporation as "a standard bearer of all that is good about our profession, of all we stand for and work for....If you're not familiar with this historic, results oriented group of men and women," Grey told his readers, "you should be, since their work resides at the very heart of what it means to be a lawyer."
John Levi is a partner in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin LLP, where he specializes in employment litigation, executive compensation and labor-management relations. He is also a member of the Illinois and Chicago Bar Associations. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Levi hired Obama for a summer internship in 1988 following the future President's first year at Harvard Law School. Levi also hired Michelle Robinson-the future First Lady-to work at the firm, where she was assigned to advise Obama during his internship.
Martha Minow was named Dean of Harvard Law School in June 2009 after serving as a professor there for nearly 30 years. Her classes focused on constitutional law, family law, public law, and nonprofit organizations. She has also served as the school's Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law, the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of Law and the Acting Director of the University's Program on Ethics and the Professions. She began her career as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Julie Reiskin is the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, a statewide disability-rights organization run by and for the disabled. During her tenure, Reiskin has worked to help create a sustainable and client-friendly Medicaid program, advocated on behalf of individuals and trained others in health advocacy and policy. In 2008, the City and County of Denver named Reiskin as one of the area's unsung heroes for her leadership role on publicly funded long-term health care. She previously served as the coalition's policy analyst and was a partner in a Connecticut consulting firm specializing in diversity issues throughout southern New England. She also had a private psychotherapy practice.
Gloria Valencia-Weber is a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, where she specializes in Native American law. She came to the school in 1992 to establish the Indian Law Certificate program, which prepares students to work with tribes, Indian clients and the federal government. She started a similar program at the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1990. She served on the Board of Directors of the LSC-funded Oklahoma Indian Legal Services from 1991-1992.
The Senate must confirm the nominees before they are sworn in as official members of the Board.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett was one of five women honored by the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession at its 19th Annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon, held in Chicago on Aug. 2 during the ABA Annual Meeting.
The Margaret Brent award is named after the first woman lawyer in the United States, according to the ABA. It is given to women who have achieved professional excellence and inspired other women to excel in the legal profession.
Helaine M. Barnett is the first civil legal aid attorney to serve as LSC President and, now in her sixth year, is the longest-serving president of the Corporation. She previously worked at the Legal Aid Society of New York City for 37 years, the last 10 as head of its multi-office civil division.
The awards luncheon, described by the National Law Journal as the meeting's "largest ticketed event," featured remarks by Commission Chair Roberta D. Liebenberg, ABA President H. Thomas Wells, Jr., President-Elect Carolyn B. Lamm, and all five honorees. Special video presentations highlighting the lives and careers of the award-winners were also shown.
In her remarks, Barnett thanked the Commission for the honor and paid tribute to her mentors, friends, family, and colleagues past and present. She continued by highlighting the justice gap confronting low-income Americans throughout the country and urged those in attendance to help close the gap by supporting increased federal funding, participating in pro bono and pro se initiatives, working with state, local and private funders, and playing a part in strategic partnerships aimed at meeting the civil legal needs of the poor.
"On behalf of all civil legal aid attorneys, thank you for this recognition of our work," she said. "I hope you will join me in accepting as all of our responsibilities the important role we can play in helping to provide equal access to justice to the less fortunate. I hope that working together our nation's promise of equal access to justice will one day be not just for some, but truly for all."
The policy-making body of the American Bar Association has adopted a recommendation urging governments at all levels to provide additional funding to address the civil legal needs of victims of natural disasters.
The 555-member House of Delegates, which is responsible for the control and administration of the ABA, adopted Recommendation 102B during its August 3-4 meeting in Chicago.
The report accompanying the recommendation notes that "despite the efforts of FEMA, the ABA and the Legal Services Corporation, legal assistance for residents of communities affected by disasters has been inadequate due in large measure to a lack of adequate resources" and that organizations serving victims "are themselves significantly impacted by the disaster and need an infusion of aid."
"Dedicated staff and pro bono volunteers stand ready to meet the legal needs of disaster victims," concludes the report, "if only they have the resources to do so. This Recommendation recognizes the need for emergency supplemental funding for the programs which supply that legal help, to make sure that in the wake of a major disaster lawyers are able to maintain their ongoing service, absorb the new caseload created by the disaster and facilitate their community's return to normalcy. It would be a resource very well spent."
More than 200 events have been confirmed or are being planned for the National Celebration of Pro Bono that will be held October 25 through 31 across the country.
The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is sponsoring the celebration, a first for the nation. Events are scheduled to be held in at least 45 states, according to the committee's tally at the start of August.
The celebration is a coordinated effort to showcase the significant difference that pro bono lawyers can make to their country and its justice system, their communities and the clients they serve. Organizers also hope the event will help recruit new volunteer attorneys to meet the ever-growing needs of the country's most vulnerable citizens. In many communities, legal services programs are collaborating with state and local bar groups, courts, access to justice commissions, law schools and others to plan events that recognize volunteer contributions to the mission of their programs.
For information about the national celebration, and resources to help in planning an event, go to the National Celebration of Pro Bono website at www.celebrateprobono.org.
On August 20, the Legal Services Corporation hosted the fifth in its series of conference calls with legal aid programs and national consumer and poverty law organizations to discuss initiatives aimed at addressing the ongoing nationwide foreclosure crisis.
Topics of discussion included a new program in Los Angeles that lets homeowners use "soft" second mortgages to pay down their principals, a new report from the Maine Judicial Branch Commission on foreclosure diversion, and a new grant program from the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance. Participants also discussed aspects of the Obama administration's foreclosure prevention plan.
More than 20 participants joined the call. They were representatives from the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center, Pro Bono Net, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and 12 legal aid programs in California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Virginia.
Requests for Information
The National Language Access Advocates Network (N-LAAN) is conducting a survey to asses how well legal aid programs (both LSC- and non-LSC-funded) work to make their services accessible to clients of limited English proficiency. N-LAAN is a national network of legal advocates dedicated to eradicating language discrimination and promoting language rights. Their survey is based on Standard 4.6 of the ABA Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Aid. N-LAAN hopes to release the results of the survey at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association Annual Conference in Denver later this year. Respondents should submit their responses (one per program) by October 15. Contact Lillian Moy at firstname.lastname@example.org or Michael Mule at email@example.com for additional information.
The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) is seeking input from employers in the public-interest legal community on its long-range, strategic planning process for the next five years.
NALP is a non-profit, educational association serving law schools, legal employers, and lawyers by providing information, coordination and standards regarding the legal employment process. NALP's membership includes most ABA-approved law schools in the U.S. and hundreds of legal employers from the public and private sectors.
Specifically, the organization is seeking expertise, judgments and perspectives on:
- Perceptions of NALP (e.g., Awareness of-and value placed on-its employment and salary research data, websites, publications, leaders, etc.);
- Important professional challenges or trends confronting public interest employers over the next few years (e.g., funding, recruiting high-quality staff, etc.); and
- NALP's role in helping to address these challenges.
Interested parties should contact Terrence Galligan, Assistant Dean for Career Development at UC Berkeley School of Law and a member of NALP's Strategic Planning Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 642-7746.
Maryland's top judge has asked the state's lawyers to contribute time or money to legal services programs struggling to handle an increasing caseload while confronting a looming funding shortage from Maryland's Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program.
"Whether you choose one means or both, your contribution will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Maryland residents and will help preserve our justice system," wrote Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell in his July 20 letter to the state's more than 30,000 lawyers, as reported by the Maryland Daily Record.
"[T]he commitment to professional excellence and preservation of the rule of law is undermined when there is a lack of access, perceived or real, to the justice system," he wrote. "Given the current funding crisis, lack of access is more than theoretical."
The Daily Record reports that the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), which distributes IOLTA grants, is projecting a 70 percent decrease in revenue in 2010 compared to 2008. Susan M. Erlichman, executive director of the group, said she has already heard from lawyers offering help in response to Bell's letter.
Wilhelm H. Joseph, Jr., executive director of the Legal Aid Bureau, MLSC's largest individual grantee, said he has also noticed more lawyers offering to donate time or money and is resolute in the face of what the future may hold.
"Any diminution of services is not an option," said Joseph.
The Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has selected Silvia R. Argueta to be its next Executive Director. Argueta has served as Interim Executive Director of the Foundation since October 2008. She joined LAFLA in 1999 and was promoted to senior attorney in its Government Benefits Unit, where she handled a range of legal issues involving access to health care, Medi-Cal, Medicare, Social Security and California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids.
"Silvia is a seasoned and compassionate attorney whose leadership and dedication to LAFLA's mission will advance the Foundation's legal work at a time when the demand for free legal services is enormous. She has a passion for litigation and effective policy changes that have a positive impact in the lives of poor and disadvantaged clients," says Harriet Posner, President of LAFLA's Board of Directors and a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Argueta's many accomplishments include serving as lead counsel in Harris, et al v. Board of Supervisors, et al, a federal court case that prevented the closure of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and the closure of 100 beds at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.
"For 80 years, LAFLA has been at the forefront in helping low-income and poor clients navigate the halls of justice, and now in these difficult economic times when many are losing their homes, jobs, benefits or suffering from domestic violence, we will continue to pursue the promise of equal access for those who have nowhere else to turn. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead an outstanding staff and to work with such a dedicated board," said Argueta.
Kate Day Sager, Olean Times Herald – August 6, 2009
When a poor person arrives at the office of Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc., in Olean, the one thing the staff makes certain of is that the individual is treated with dignity.
The humanitarian effort shown by the staff towards all clients is likely one of the reasons that the office's Family Court Project was recently honored with the Biennial Awards for Excellence in Mandated Representation by the New York State Bar Association.
Jeffrey Reed, managing attorney for the Legal Assistance office in Olean, said the state award was an honor as he and his staff strive to help the underprivileged in an unbiased manner.
"We try to provide an environment that is welcoming...anybody who needs any kind of a lawyer is in some degree of crisis," Mr. Reed said. "People don't go to lawyers unless something in their lives forces them to. So when they come here, we want to make sure they are treated professionally."
The federally funded agency, which has six lawyers, three paralegals and one administrative assistant in Olean, helps 700 to 800 low-income people each year. Of that number, approximately 450 people are helped by the Family Court Project. The other 300 or more are helped with disability issues, as well as housing and public benefit issues.
Cynthia E. Elliott, executive director of Kentucky's Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD), was presented the Key to the City of Prestonsburg, Ky., by Mayor Jerry Fannin on July 27 in honor of the program's work on behalf of the city's residents.
For 38 years, AppalReD has been the sole provider of legal services to low-income people in 37 counties in eastern and southeastern Kentucky. Mayor Fannin expressed the city's appreciation for the dedication and commitment of the AppalReD staff. The organization's headquarters is in Prestonsburg.
"This award is quite an honor," said Elliott, "We are privileged to be able to serve the people of Prestonsburg." Representatives from the LSC were in attendance at the ceremony.
The Association of Pro Bono Counsel and the National Association for Law Placement are sponsoring a free, national, online training session for attorneys beginning extended public service placements at legal aid programs and other public interest organizations. The session will provide an overview of the differences in law firm and nonprofit practice settings, insight on working with low-income clients and background on the current economic challenges confronting the public interest community. The session will be led by a panel of leaders in the legal aid community and private bar. It will be held on Sept. 9 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
For more information, contact Kelly Tautges at email@example.com or (312) 554-8356.
The Management Information Exchange will hold its Biennial Conference for Legal Services Managers in Albuquerque on October 1 and 2. The conference, entitled, "Up, Up and Away! Real Skills for Managing Now," is designed for new and experienced managers of legal aid programs and will offer a variety of workshops focusing on the real skills needed to manage effectively now. Topics include: planning strategically when resources are scarce, difficult conversations and effective communication, managing creative systemic advocacy, and generational approaches to technology and service delivery.
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.
Dedicated Attorney Helps Free Mother from Abuse
It may seem trivial: a family court petition to require a mother to instruct her children to draw pictures for their imprisoned father. For Patricia Miller, it was anything but.
For her, it was the latest assault in her ex-husband's years-long campaign of fear and harassment that had included stalking, abuse, rape and kidnapping. Now behind bars, he tried using the law against her-repeatedly hauling her into court over custody issues like the one above.
Thankfully, she had the law on her side and a trusted legal aid lawyer who knew her case and was ready, willing and able to help.
Patricia had worked with attorney Susan Griskonis of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York for years, starting with her attempt to divorce her abusive spouse.
"She knew every part of what was going on and what to do," said Patricia of her attorney. "She actually listened to me...I was scared of everything before I went to Susan. She made me feel like everything wasn't my fault."
Despite the husband's attempts to fight it, Susan successfully shepherded the divorce through the courts. She then secured a protective order from the district attorney's office after presenting a package of evidence that included blood-soaked letters he had sent Patricia.
Susan also worked with the prison system to ensure that Patricia would be alerted if her now-ex-husband-then behind bars but soon to be let out on parole-cut his GPS monitoring bracelet.
It proved important. Two weeks after his release, he did cut his bracelet but thanks to Susan's work, Patricia was immediately moved to a safe house while the authorities captured and returned him to prison.
But it wasn't over. He began filing new family court petitions, including the one about the drawings. Because this was an ongoing pattern, Susan went beyond preparing arguments to get the frivolous charges of the moment dismissed. Though family court testimony is usually restricted to the time frame of the alleged violation, she prepared to use any chance to educate the judge about the real context of the case.
"It was important to get the evidence relating to abuse, stalking, and his threats of violence on the record," she explains. When an opening arose in court, she was ready with prepared questions and evidence to submit.
Although she and Susan had practiced, this was terrifying for Patricia, but in the end it was also empowering. "She testified about things over the course of years," says Susan. "Things he didn't know-times she lied and hid from him, sought safety. She was amazing."
"Susan gave me the confidence I needed to stand up to him," says Patricia. The judge ruled quickly and firmly in Patricia's favor, but more importantly, says Susan, "Now the court knows. At the end there was a sympathy for her that will be helpful in the future. And there will be a future."
Patricia is thinking about the future too. "Now instead of just being scared, I've been thinking of ways to protect ourselves," she says. "I know now there are people out there who are helping us, who understand."
Note: The original version of this story appeared in the June issue of the Legal Aid Society's newsletter, "Legal Aid Matters." Click here to download the full issue.