LSC Updates - August 23, 2006

LSC President Helaine M. Barnett Speaks at Mississippi Conference of Legal Services Programs

LSC President Helaine M. Barnett was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Mississippi Conference of Legal Services Programs held on August 15. She spoke at the Justice Partners Luncheon, where she recognized the achievements of Mississippi's legal services community, especially their efforts in providing services to their clients affected by Hurricane Katrina, and updated the conferees on national developments in the legal services community.

LSC Vice-President for Programs and Compliance Karen Sarjeant and LSC Program Counsel Willie Abrams gave training sessions on LSC's Performance Criteria to staff and board members of Mississippi's LSC-funded programs.

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LSC's Response To Issues In CBS And AP News Stories

August 17, 2006

A distorted picture of LSC's administrative expenditures was conveyed by two news stories (by Associated Press reporter Larry Margasak and CBS evening news reporter Sharyl Attkisson). The facts are:

  • Nearly 96 percent of LSC's budget goes directly to the 138 independent, local programs that provide civil legal services for low-income people--just 4 percent goes for administrative costs and one-tenth of one percent for board expenses.
  • As a matter of principle, LSC is committed to being a careful and frugal steward of taxpayer funds--we have strict policies in place to ensure LSC funds are spent wisely and appropriately.

LSC responded in detail to each of the misleading points raised in the two news stories. For example:

  • The reports of "questionable" travel to foreign countries applied to just one trip over the last three years. In 2005, LSC Board Chairman Frank Strickland and President Helaine Barnett attended the International Legal Aid Group conference in Ireland, a biennial event in which representatives of LSC have participated since 1994.
  • The reports characterized the LSC Board meeting in Puerto Rico as a resort stay instead of what it was: a visit to the program that receives LSC's largest grant because it has the largest proportion of the population living in poverty of any U.S. jurisdiction, 45 percent. During the Friday and Saturday meetings, the Board met from 8:00 to 5:00 each day, visited the local grantee, met with the Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, and Puerto Rican political and bar association leaders, as well as conducted its regular business.
  • The location of a one-time holiday luncheon, the Four Seasons Hotel, was emphasized instead of its purpose: to honor the receptionist, an administrative assistant, and a Program Counsel.
  • The reports implied that LSC officials routinely hire limousines for $400 a day instead of taking taxis or Metro for just $5 a trip. On all but one of 11 trips to Washington on LSC business in four years, Board Chairman Frank Strickland used taxis. The sole exception was in April 2006, when he had a car and driver--a regular sedan, not a limousine--because his schedule was so tight. He had six appointments, several of which were in locations not accessible by Metro, and wanted to ensure that he would not be late to a funeral or meetings with four members of Congress.

Click here to read the full response.

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LSC in the News

ABA Adopts Three Resolutions on Civil Legal Services

The American Bar Association, at its 2006 Annual Meeting held in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 3-8, adopted three resolutions of importance to the civil legal services community.

The first, adopted unanimously by the ABA's House of Delegates, urges federal, state, and territorial governments to provide low-income people with legal counsel in civil cases where basic human needs, such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody are at stake.
Click here to download the resolution.

The second resolution articulates ten principles of a statewide system for the delivery of civil legal services.
Click here to download the resolution.

Both resolutions were recommended by the ABA's Task Force on Access to Civil Justice, which was appointed in August 2005 by then-ABA President Michael S. Greco. The task force was chaired by Howard H. Dana, Jr., Maine Supreme Court Justice and former LSC Board Member. LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and LSC Board Member David Hall served on the task force.

Thirdly, the ABA adopted its revised Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid and recommended that they be adopted by all entities providing civil legal aid to the poor. Portions of the standards will be incorporated into LSC's Performance Criteria that were issued in April.
Click here to download the resolution.

The task force responsible for revising and drafting the Standards was chaired by Sarah M. Singleton, who became an LSC Board Member in March 2006. LSC President Barnett and LSC Program Counsel Janet LaBella served on the task force.

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Questions Raised By Probe Into California's Rural Lawyers

Michael Doyle, McCLatchy Newspapers- August 22, 2006

A federal investigation into California Rural Legal Assistance has thrust the poverty lawyers onto the front lines of a venerable conflict between secrecy and fact-finding.

Investigators demand information about tens of thousands of clients. The lawyers, who have represented numerous Central Valley immigrants and angered some politically powerful interests, contend they must protect those they serve.

The resulting conflict is now bursting from beneath the surface, as legal aid attorneys resist the Legal Service Corp.'s Office of Inspector General.

"This is a morass," Bill Hoerger, CRLA's director of litigation, advocacy and training said Tuesday. "We're really caught in the middle of this."

Investigators have periodically probed the California legal aid group, including the operations of offices in Modesto and Fresno as well as its involvement in settling a class-action lawsuit against the Stockton Unified School District. Lawmakers including Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., and groups including the Modesto-based Western United Dairymen have repeatedly requested investigations of the non-profit group founded in 1965.

Investigators now seek the names of between 35,000 and 40,000 clients represented by CRLA since 2003, among other data. The current inquiry's true scope, though, remains closely guarded.

"This is unprecedented, to our knowledge," Hoerger said. "They won't tell us what they're investigating."

But investigators did reveal, Hoerger added, that the latest investigation "was instigated at the specific request of a member of Congress from California."

Legal Services Corp. Inspector General Kirt West noted in a letter that "usually, we would not even acknowledge there is an investigation pending, out of fairness to the subject."

This time, the investigators struck a nerve when they sent a request for documents, names and data in mid-March. West stressed the request was shaped "constructively and responsively," and with special regard for "the co-equal rights of the poorest among us."

Nonetheless, the request for information exposed the difference between state and federal rules; an intersection, Atlanta attorney William Ide said Tuesday, in which "we're finding intrusions" into traditional state attorney-client protections. A former American Bar Association president, Ide now heads a task force that has raised concerns about the California investigation.

The Legal Services Corp. provides about $40 million a year to California groups including the San Francisco-based CRLA, the Fresno-based Central California Legal Services and the Sacramento-based Legal Services of Northern California.

CRLA's defenders counter that they must abide by the California law governing attorneys, even though they acknowledge the 1995 federal law. The state law requires attorneys to maintain "at every peril" the confidentiality of their clients' names, except in certain circumstances.

"The inspector general's efforts conflict with the rights of California residents who consult with counsel and with the corresponding obligations of California attorneys to assert and protect those rights," American Bar Association President Michael Greco warned West.

In recent days, CRLA advised federal investigators they couldn't meet the demand for client information. West, noting the inquiry remains an "open matter," declined to elaborate Tuesday.

"Can we negotiate our way out of this (conflict)?" Hoerger asked rhetorically. "That's what we're trying to find out."

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

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Minnesota Legal-Aid Offices Feel Cutbacks

David Hanners, The Pioneer Press (MN) - August 21, 2006

Of the seven legal-aid offices that serve low-income people in Minnesota, the five that get federal money have seen those funds cut.

"The result was fewer lower-income people were able to get serviced," said Bruce Beneke, executive director of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services in St. Paul. "Those cutbacks were devastating."

When the state's legal-aid offices first started getting federal money in 1981, those funds made up 78 percent of the total budget. The federal contribution has since dropped to 13 percent.

In 2002, the federal government contributed $4.06 million to the statewide effort, and by last year, that had dropped to $3.5 million. The cuts have forced the legal-aid lawyers to seek money elsewhere to make up the loss, and now the amount collected from all sources statewide is a bit over $25.3 million.

"We're very blessed and very appreciative for the support we get, and the $25 million sounds like a lot, we still have a large unmet need," Beneke said. "We're always hustling."

There is only one lawyer for every 4,275 low-income Minnesotans, studies have shown. For everyone else, there is one lawyer for every 215 people.

Beneke said the legal-aid offices have cut lawyers and staff.

Nobody makes more than $90,000 a year and the rent paid in the downtown St. Paul office is $11.25 per square foot.

"We're frugal in our training. There's very little outstate travel. Our phone systems are old," Beneke said. "The point is there was a huge unmet need because of the limited resources."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Suit: Needy Denied Food Stamps

Jocelyn Wiener, Sacramento Bee (CA) - August 17, 2006

The Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance has repeatedly failed to provide food stamps to the county's neediest residents within the time frame dictated by state law, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Loaves & Fishes homeless services center and several indigent people.

Between January and March of 2006, 734 out of 1,654 eligible applicants for expedited food stamps--or more than 44 percent--had to wait more than three days to receive their food stamps from the county. Some had to wait as long as two weeks, the lawsuit said.

Statewide, during that same time period, about 24 percent of eligible applicants received their expedited food stamps late.

The lawsuit, which was filed last month by Legal Services of Northern California, asks that the county be compelled to promptly process all applications for expedited food stamps and develop a corrective action plan to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.

State law requires that food stamps be provided within three days to the hungriest of the hungry: homeless individuals, destitute seasonal workers, households that take in less than $150 a month in income and have less than $100 in resources, and households that do not earn enough money to pay the mortgage or rent plus utilities.

Regular food stamp applications--those not deemed eligible to be "expedited"--must be processed within 30 days.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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With Friends' Help, MetroHealth Expands Legal Aid Program

Donna J. Miller, The Plain Dealer (OH) - August 11, 2006

Children, the elderly, the homeless and ex-convicts who are patients at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland will receive $1.27 million-worth of free legal help aimed at improving their lives.

The money will pay Legal Aid attorneys--armed with letters from MetroHealth doctors--to navigate bureaucratic mazes that often stand between the neediest residents and their getting Social Security benefits, special education, welfare assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, child care help and decent housing.

Four attorneys and a paralegal will, by mid-August, begin meeting with patients at MetroHealth and its three Cleveland neighborhood clinics--MetroHealth Broadway, Buckeye and McCafferty.

Dr. Robert Cohn, a pediatrician, said "teaming up with Legal Aid attorneys will help us resolve economic, environmental and social problems that can have a negative impact on health."

MetroHealth and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland are contributing $270,000 to the program.

"It only makes sense that doctors with low-income patients and Legal Aid attorneys for low-income families work together," said Melanie Shakarian, spokeswoman for Cleveland's Legal Aid office. "We hope to help more than 400 patient families over the next year."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Bar Association Members Turn Up Volunteer Efforts A Notch

Tim Tibbitts, Crain's Cleveland Business (OH) - August 7, 2006

With more than 72,000 hours of pro bono and service work pledged for 2006, members of the Cleveland Bar Association are continuing to build on a focus toward community outreach that won the professional group accolades last year.

"Our Commitment to Our Community" is the Cleveland bar's initiative to encourage firms to publicly commit to a certain number of hours and then record actual pro bono and community service time.

Started in 2004 under then-president David Kutik, the program was honored last year by the American Bar Association with the Harrison Tweed Award. The award recognizes efforts to develop or expand programs to increase access for the poor to legal services.

In 2005, 2,152 lawyers reported 84,898 hours of pro bono services and other community work, an average of 39.5 hours per attorney. Bar members had initially pledged 71,300 hours for 2005, but delivered more generously than promised.

Volunteer attorneys work at clinics and advice sessions, organized in partnership with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, a nonprofit that provides legal services to the needy. At the clinics, lawyers take on the cases of clients screened and selected by Legal Aid.

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

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Tarrant County Bar Association's Pro Bono Challenge

Press Release, Tarrant County Bar Association (TX) - August 2006

Mark Daniel, President of the Tarrant County Bar Association, has issued a challenge to each attorney in Tarrant County to make a commitment to provide at least 10 hours of pro bono legal services to low income citizens of Tarrant County during the 2006-2007 bar year. This is an opportunity to give back to the legal profession and assist those who presently have no access to our justice system.

The Tarrant County Bar Association and the Tarrant County Bar Foundation have joined Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas ("LANWT") and its Equal Justice Volunteer Program to recruit private attorneys to accept this Pro Bono Challenge. Volunteer attorneys will accept a case that LANWT is unable to service due to funding and/or manpower shortfalls. LANWT will complete the intake and screening of qualified individuals. Volunteer attorneys will automatically be covered under the legal malpractice coverage of LANWT.

For more information, click here.

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Georgia Legal Services' Executive Director Awarded Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Illinois College of Law

Press Release, Georgia Legal Services - August 2006

Phyllis J. Holmen is one of 11 honorees to receive the very prestigious Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Illinois College of Law. Ms. Holmen has served as the executive director of the Georgia Legal Services Program for the past 16 years. Since 1966, the College of Law has had a tradition of honoring annually a select group of distinguished alumni. Ms. Holmen ('74) was chosen because her life and career exemplify the qualities that make her a powerful role model for law students and a living example of the ideals of the profession.

Ms. Holmen is a past recipient of the Tradition of Excellence Award from the General Practice and Trial Section of the State Bar of Georgia, and a past recipient of the Atlanta Bar Association's prestigious Leadership Award for her work in promoting access to civil justice for low-income Georgians and for her leadership of the Georgia Legal Services Program.

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Aspiring Citizens Take First Steps To New Status

Shandra Martinez, The Grand Rapids Press (MI) - August 6, 2006

Ever been a member of the communist party? Tried to overthrow the U.S. government, or any government, for that matter? Are you a terrorist? Were you a Nazi?

These are some of the questions put to Santiago Galaviz-Lopez, 72, and his wife, Maria Gloria Galaviz, 59, in Holland on Saturday as they filled out a 10-page application to become U.S. citizens.

Even their pro-bono attorney, James N. Rodbard, had trouble keeping a straight face as he read some of the questions during a free naturalization clinic sponsored by Farmworker Legal Services.

While some of the questions seemed baffling, the couple respectfully answered them along with others about their tax, residency and employment history.

Grandfather and great-grandfather to more than 40 U.S. citizens, Galaviz-Lopez says he has come to feel a deeper connection to this country than his native Mexico.

"I want to vote. After this many years, I feel like this is my country. I want to have a voice," said Galaviz-Lopez, his comments translated by Olivia Ramirez, a volunteer with Farmworker Legal Services.

Rodbard, who practices business and real estate law in Kalamazoo, is one of 24 attorneys volunteering their time with the Bangor-based Farmworker Legal Services to help 50 permanent residents gain their citizenship over the next the year.

"One of the great things about this is that these people have given great gifts to this country -- their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. That is what every immigrant does. It's not the other way around. To be able to give them the gift of citizenship is incredibly gratifying," Rodbard said.

Note: Farmworker Legal Services is a division of the LSC-funded Legal Services of South Central Michigan.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Landlord-Tenant Laws Praised

James Mayse, Messenger-Inquirer (KY) - August 21, 2006

David Kelly, executive director of the Owensboro Human Relations Commission, receives calls from renters in dispute with landlords on a regular basis.

The callers are often tenants seeking help or advice about how to deal with a landlord. But unless the caller is being discriminated against based on race, sex, age, religion or disability, there is little Kelly and the Human Relations Commission can do.

Neither the city nor Daviess County have an ordinance covering landlord and tenant relations. There isn't a specific agency that handles complaints from either tenants or landlords, and there isn't a set procedure for people to follow when registering a complaint.

Only a few cities have such ordinances. Although the Kentucky General Assembly created the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act in 1984, legislators put in a provision that cities or counties must adopt the law as an ordinance. Few counties and cities have done so.

The state law requires landlords to "make repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition." The law requires landlords to do more than make cosmetic repairs.

"Basically, what that means is you shouldn't have defects that affect health and safety," said Dick Cullison, executive director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. "Generally speaking, people know what ('fit and habitable') is."

The law has covered northern Kentucky cities over 20 years. "I think it's a good law," Cullison said. "The major thing I like about it is it's very clear and easy to understand." Without a law, landlords and tenants in other areas have to rely on previous court rulings to determine what their rights are, Cullison said.

Jeff Been, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, said the law benefits both landlord and tenant.

"If something goes wrong, it requires the parties talk to each other," Been said.

The law should not force landlords to take steps that would consequently raise rental rates, Been said.

"What it really does is begin a discussion between landlord and tenant," Been said. " ... In my view, there's no cost for a dialogue that should be in place, anyway."

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

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LSC Resource Library Update

Sponsors: Legal Services Alabama
Project: Client Service and Compliance Manual
Date: August 10, 2006

Legal Services Alabama developed a "Client Service and Compliance Manual" to provide LSA staff members with a manual of LSA procedures and LSC regulations covering client eligibility standards and guidelines, eligibility determinations and representation, and client grievance procedures.

For more information, click here.

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Success Story From Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO)

(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.)

Hurricane Evacuee's Medicaid Resumes

Seventy-one year old Abdoulaye Camara is an internationally-known African dance instructor and former director of the National Dance Company of Senegal. In 2005, his home, dance school and all of his belongings were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in a loss of important identification and immigration documents. After being stranded in water for four days, he was airlifted to Atlanta. His longtime friend and former student Terri Brown invited him to live in her home in Kansas City, Missouri. In September, Abdoulaye moved in with Terri and began receiving Medicaid a month later.

In March 2006 Abdoulaye was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer and was notified by the Missouri Family Support Division (FSD) that his Medicaid benefits had been terminated. Unable to ambulate while undergoing cancer treatment, he could not obtain and submit the requested documentation for re-evaluation by the deadline date. LAWMO's Medicaid Appeals Project attorney, Stacy Porto contacted Abdoulaye's caseworker who canceled termination of his Medicaid, giving him two 10-day extensions. The attorney obtained Abdoulaye's alien number, which FSD accepted in lieu of a Social Security card and his Medicaid eligibility was reinstated. Working together with LAWMO's immigration attorney, Suzanne Gladney, the attorney also obtained copies of Abdoulaye's immigration documentation.

Now that his identification and immigration documents have been replaced, he is no longer at risk of losing Medicaid, has regained proof of his identity and is no longer responsible for medical bills he incurred during the time his Medicaid was terminated.

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