LSC Updates - December 17, 2009
Helaine M. Barnett, the longest-serving president in the history of the Legal Services Corporation, announced at a meeting of the Corporation's Board of Directors on November 30 that she would step down as LSC's chief executive at the end of 2009, completing six years in office and in accordance with her contract.
"Since this is my last Board meeting, I would just like to put on the record what a privilege and honor it has been for me to serve as president of the Legal Services Corporation for these past six years. It has been the pinnacle of my career as a legal aid lawyer and pursuing LSC's important mission has been a most fulfilling experience," she told the Board members.
Since her appointment in January 2004 as LSC president, Helaine Barnett has overseen a growth in federal funding for civil legal assistance-from $326 million to $420 million in FY 2010. Under her leadership, LSC issued a groundbreaking report in 2005, "Documenting the Justice Gap in America," which showed that LSC-funded programs turn away one person for every person they serve. An updated and expanded version of the report was released this year, reaffirming the original finding and including new data indicating that lower state courts, particularly housing and family courts, are facing significantly increased numbers of unrepresented litigants. In her Board remarks, Helaine Barnett noted that the Justice Gap Reports "have helped shape the dialogue with Congress and contributed to increased federal funding."
During her tenure, President Barnett led a Quality Initiative to enhance and promote high-quality civil legal assistance to eligible clients of LSC-funded programs. The initiative serves as LSC's vision for supporting, building and institutionalizing strategies within legal services programs to increase the capacity for the delivery of high-quality legal services. The centerpiece of the initiative is the revised LSC Performance Criteria.
She also has overseen efforts to enhance collaboration with other national and local organizations to address the impact of the foreclosure crisis on low-income Americans, to improve access to legal aid following a natural disaster, and to strengthen LSC relations throughout the access to justice community.
LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland said, "The leadership that Helaine Barnett has provided the Legal Services Corporation and all of our partners in the equal access to justice community has been invaluable. She always places the civil legal needs of low-income Americans at the top of her priorities, and has been completely dedicated to ensuring clients of legal services programs receive high-quality representation. She defined the justice gap and the challenge we face to fulfill our national promise of equal justice for all. She is a champion of the law, and we are deeply grateful for her six years of public service at the Corporation."
In her remarks to the Board, Helaine Barnett noted that she traveled from coast to coast, to more than 40 states, as LSC president, visiting with staff in urban, rural and statewide programs, in migrant farmworker programs, on Native American reservations and in disaster-struck areas of the Gulf Coast. "Throughout this journey, I thank you all for your friendship and support and, most importantly, for your dedication to the cause of equal access to justice for all."
During her 43-year career, Helaine Barnett has served on local, state and national commissions and committees. She has been honored with the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, the New York University School of Law Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award, the New York State Bar Association's Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Service in the Law, the National Association of Women Lawyers Public Service Award and numerous other awards and citations. She also was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Suffolk University, and was invited to give the Sherman J. Bellwood Lecture at the University of Idaho.
President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 3288) into law on December 16. The bill provides a $30 million increase to the Legal Services Corporation for Fiscal Year 2010.
The Senate sent the bill to the President after a 57-to-35 vote on December 13. The House approved the bill, 221 to 202, on December 10.
The bill provides $420 million for LSC. Of the total, LSC will distribute $394.4 million to the 137 LSC-funded nonprofit legal aid programs across the country.
"This additional funding will help every one of our programs promote equal access to justice and provide needed civil legal assistance to low-income individuals and families," LSC President Helaine M. Barnett said. "We greatly appreciate the support of the President and the Congress for making this funding increase possible. Many of our programs are overwhelmed with requests for legal assistance from low-income Americans because of these hard economic times, and this additional funding will help programs better serve their clients."
In addition to providing funds for the provision of civil legal assistance, the fiscal 2010 appropriation includes $3.4 million for technology grants that expand access to legal information, $1 million for a loan repayment program that helps new lawyers burdened with education-related debt, $17 million for administration and oversight of legal aid grants and $4.2 million for LSC's Office of Inspector General. The bill also lifts a statutory restriction on the ability of LSC-funded programs to pursue the recovery of attorneys' fees when it is permitted or required under federal or state law.
The Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation for LSC lifts the statutory prohibition on the recovery of attorneys' fees by LSC-funded programs. In light of that action, LSC's Board of Directors voted on December 15 to suspend enforcement of LSC's regulation prohibiting grantees from claiming, collecting or retaining attorneys' fees. The suspension went into effect December 16, when the President signed the appropriations bill. A Board committee will consider what steps to take next after receiving an options paper from LSC's Office of Legal Affairs.
The Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation met at LSC's offices in Washington, D.C., on November 30. The meeting, which was held in conjunction with an orientation session for the five persons nominated to the Board by President Obama, included the establishment of a fellowship program and meetings of some of the Board's committees.
First on the Board's schedule was a joint meeting of the Audit and Finance Committees. During the open session of the meeting, the committees recommended that the full Board approve the use of funds from the LSC President's Discretionary Fund to establish a summer fellowship program and then named the fellowship in honor of the LSC president.
The Helaine Barnett Summer Fellowship Program will permit a first- or second-year law student at the New York University School of Law to receive $8,200 for a 10-week internship in the Washington offices of LSC. One NYU law student will be selected each year for the fellowship, which will provide exposure to the work of LSC, to LSC's role in providing oversight and to the importance of ensuring high-quality delivery of legal services to the poor. Helaine Barnett received her law degree from NYU's law school, which has a major focus on public interest law, and the program named in her honor would be designed to mentor qualified and committed NYU law students interested in pursuing a career in civil legal services. The internship program will begin in 2010, and the selected fellow will be supervised by LSC's vice president for programs and compliance.
The committees also recommended that the Board approve a revision to the retirement plan for LSC employees. The change raises the minimum hours of service required to qualify for tax-deferred salary contributions and affects temporary employees, interns and part-time staff.
In other committee action, the Governance and Performance Review committee met to consider and act on the performance review of LSC's Inspector General and the Search Committee met to discuss the appointment of an interim president following President Barnett's departure at the end of the year.
During the meeting of the full Board, members reviewed the performance of the Inspector General and approved the fellowship program for NYU law students to work at LSC and the revision to LSC's retirement plan.
A federal appeals court has upheld 1996 restrictions on the activities of programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), including activities paid for by non-LSC funds.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-to-1 decision on November 23, ruled in favor of LSC in an appeal of a federal district court ruling in a case brought by Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO), a grantee of LSC, the Oregon Law Center (OLC), a non-LSC program, and other plaintiffs.
The majority opinion ( 160k) found that the 1996 funding restrictions do not discriminate against a particular viewpoint and are constitutional. "The Restrictions simply limit specific procedural tools and strategies that grantee attorneys may utilize in the course of carrying out their legal advocacy," the appeals court wrote.
The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) hosted its 2009 Annual Conference in Denver from November 18-21. The yearly event brings together representatives from all corners of the legal community for discussions and training sessions on the latest issues in public interest law.
Leaders and staff from the Legal Services Corporation participated in a number of conference sessions. Sarah M. Singleton, a member of LSC's Board of Directors, and Karen J. Sarjeant, LSC Vice President for Programs and Compliance, were panelists at a session entitled, "Envisioning the New LSC." Singleton and Sarjeant also helped lead a session on the intersection of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett led a session to update attendees on recent developments at the Corporation, including the recently released 2009 Justice Gap Report, the status of LSC's appropriation for FY 2010 and the upcoming transition for LSC's Board of Directors.
Other LSC staff participated in sessions on subjects including technology, financial management, delivering legal services in rural areas and enhancing legal aid to survivors of natural disasters.
LSC has released a report on partnerships among law schools and legal aid programs. The information in the report was collected in connection with LSC President Helaine M. Barnett's participation in the Twelfth Annual Liman Public Interest Colloquium at Yale Law School in March 2009.
The collaborations discussed in the report demonstrate the range of ways that law schools and legal aid programs work together to increase access to justice for low-income Americans and promote the work of civil legal aid programs throughout the country. Law school professors serve on the boards of directors, as co-counsel on cases, as editors of legal handbooks and manuals and as scouts for talent so legal aid programs can hire the right people at the right time. Students are also a vital resource for programs. They participate through work/study placements, clinics and as volunteers. They compete for internships, externships and summer clerkships.
"As this material shows," writes Barnett in her cover letter accompanying the report, "our programs recognize that an essential way to instill equal justice as an underlying value in the legal profession is to embed it in legal education. That is why our involvement with law schools is so important to the future of civil legal aid and access to justice."
Download the report. ( 178k)
The Legal Services Corporation is now accepting applications for the 2009-2012 round of its Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Named after a member of LSC's Board of Directors, the program helps alleviate the oftentimes staggering educational debt burdens of new attorneys at LSC-funded programs.
Some eligibility requirements governing an attorney's participation in the program include: being a full-time attorney employed at an LSC-funded program, having no more than five years experience with the program, having a total outstanding debt of at least $50,000 in eligible law school loans and meeting certain annual income requirements. Recipients of assistance must commit to remain with their program for three years.
Instructions for submitting an application and all supporting documentation are available by clicking the link below. All applications and other materials must be submitted to LSC no later than Friday, January 8, 2010.
Sarah M. Singleton, a member of LSC's Board of Directors since 2006, was appointed to a New Mexico judgeship by Governor Bill Richardson on December 7.
"Ms. Singleton is bringing with her more than thirty years of legal experience and I am confident she will serve the 1st Judicial District Court and the people of New Mexico justly," said Gov. Richardson in his announcement. ( 24k)
Singleton is a shareholder and attorney in the Santa Fe law firm of Montgomery & Andrews, where her practice focuses primarily on natural resources law. She is a long-time member of the State Bar of New Mexico and served as its president from 1995-1996. She has also served on a number of state and national bodies dedicated to increasing access to justice, including the New Mexico Access to Justice Commission, the New Mexico Civil Legal Services Commission and the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.
F. William "Bill" McCalpin, chairman of LSC's Board of Directors from 1980-1981 and a member of the Board from 1979-1981 and 1993-2003, died on December 9 as a result of injuries suffered during a fall. He was 88 years old.
McCalpin was widely recognized as a leading champion of legal aid on a national level and in his home state of Missouri. In addition to his service on LSC's Board, McCalpin was a president and a member of the board of directors of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, chairman and a member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and a member of an advisory committee for the national legal services program that preceded LSC. On a state level, he was a member of the Missouri Bar's Commission on Legal Services, the Missouri Statewide Legal Services Commission, and a director of the Missouri Legal Aid Society.
Victor M. Fortuno, LSC's general counsel, who worked with McCalpin during his tenure on LSC's Board, said, "Bill was the sort of person and lawyer who inspires others to be lawyers and causes them to aspire to the greatest traditions of the profession. He, more than just about anyone else that comes to mind, made me proud to be a lawyer. He was a remarkable man and lawyer, and served as a shining example to so many. He was a man of principle and unwavering integrity, and I will miss him dearly."
Allison Roselle, The Legislative Gazette (N.Y.) – December 7, 2009
This year's economic crisis and historically low interest rates have reduced by 75 percent a fund that assists organizations that help New York's less affluent residents pay for legal services in civil proceedings.
The Senate's Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee and its Judiciary Committee are holding a series of hearings this month and next on what the Senate Democratic majority conference is calling a funding crisis facing New York's Interest on Lawyer Account fund. And the state Office of Court Administration has released a judiciary budget request to the Legislature that includes a proposal to provide $15 million in IOLA funding.
In 2008, there was approximately $32 million in IOLA dollars available to fund 71 programs, but the economic downturn and low interest rates is expected to leave the fund with just $6.5 million available to distribute in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
According to the Senate majority conference, the clients of lawyers paid for with IOLA grants won nearly $250 million in wrongfully denied benefits, mostly federal benefits.
"IOLA cannot meet soaring demands for civil legal services at the very time New Yorkers most need them," said Gerard Savage, deputy chief of staff to Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, who chairs the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee. "Civil legal service providers form a vital web of programs that help protect at-risk New Yorkers and their families."
Note: See below to read the state senate testimony of a mother whose family was saved from homelessness, thanks to South Brooklyn Legal Services, part of the Legal Services NYC network, after she lost her job with a bank during the financial meltdown.
Tierney Plumb, Washington Business Journal – December 10, 2009
Sources of funding for legal aid programs have been slashed in D.C., according to a new report ( 269k) by the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers.
The study shows that legal service organizations are facing budget cuts this year even though demands for assistance have risen 20 percent in the past year, estimates D.C. legal services lawyers.
The report is based on information collected directly from the legal services providers, which were surveyed in September and October and asked to provide a one-year look back.
The study found that sources of funding for legal aid programs have sharply fallen, including a 60-percent drop in Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts grants the D.C. Bar Foundation awarded in June 2009.
Scott Daugherty, The Capital Gazette (Md.) – December 7, 2009
The weak economy is cutting into a vital source of funding for legal aid in Maryland, leaving many area residents without any help to navigate the courts in civil matters, according to a state panel.
A report released last month ( 1mb) by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission found the Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts program, which historically provided about half of the state's funding for legal aid, is generating about 70 percent less revenue than it did two years ago.
The program, which diverts interest from many attorney-held bank accounts, is expected to pull in about $2 million this fiscal year, down from $6.7 million two years ago.
"The interest rate is so low now that the funds that would normally flow through IOLTA are seriously diminished," said Judge Irma S. Raker, a retired member of the Maryland Court of Appeals and the chairwoman of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission.
To make matters worse, the fiscal problems come as more people need the help of legal aid attorneys. According to the report, a record number of Maryland residents are appearing in court without lawyers.
"Legal service providers are just inundated with people who have never had to navigate the system," said Susan Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corp., the entity that oversees the lawyer's trust program and issues grants to the state's legal aid organizations.
Note: The Washington Post published an article entitled "Need is up, but funding plummets for legal aid" on Dec. 7 that highlights the legal aid funding crisis in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Click here to read the article.
Associated Press – November 21, 2009
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled [on November 20] that a state law allowing landlords to notify tenants of eviction hearings by certified mail is unconstitutional.
The decision voids rules that said service of notice was complete when a letter was mailed, even without proof the letter was received. The ruling notes that certified mail may not be delivered in time to give tenants a chance to prepare for a hearing.
The case involved the War Eagle Village Apartments in Sioux City and resident Geneva Plummer, who faced eviction.
Frank Tenuta, manager of the Iowa Legal Aid office that represented Plummer, says landlords must change how they notify tenants of eviction hearings.
"Landlords will have to rely on other means, usually personal service by either a sheriff's deputy or private processor," he said.
Download the court's opinion. ( 112k)
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.
Family Saved from Homelessness
Note: The following testimony was delivered by a client of South Brooklyn Legal Services, part of the Legal Services NYC network, during the New York State Senate's hearings on the funding crisis confronting the state's legal aid programs. See above for more information.
My name is Carolyn Davila and I have been a tenant at [an apartment complex] in Brooklyn for the past 13 years. I live in the apartment with my partner Frankie Lopez and our two children Christian, aged 13 years old, and Destiny, aged 11 years old. Christian has a learning disability and is hearing impaired.
Without the help of the attorneys at South Brooklyn Legal Services, one of the constituent corporations of Legal Services NYC, my family and I would be homeless. I worked for Citibank for 17 years until I was laid off in April 2008 after the economic downturn. My family has been living off of my unemployment insurance and Frankie's new job that started in October 2008.
At the same time I was being laid off, I was also being sued in housing court by my landlord in an "Owner's Use" holdover. Basically, my landlord stated that he wished to use my affordable, Rent Stabilized apartment for his own use and that I would need to move. When I received the court papers, I was very scared because our rent was very affordable and I was fearful that without a job my family would have to move to the shelters. If we went to the shelter, I was afraid that I would not be able to find work.
Luckily, I was able to find Legal Services, and they agreed to take my case. My attorney explained to me that there are very few defenses to an "Owner Use" holdover, but after discussions with me, he believed that the landlord did not serve me with court papers properly. He prepared my affidavit and filed a motion stating that the landlord had not served me properly. My case was scheduled for a "traverse" hearing where the landlord had to prove that I was served properly.
I was very scared about the hearing as I had never been in court before. But my attorney met with me several times beforehand and we were well prepared for the hearing. On the day of the hearing, my Legal Services attorney cross-examined the process server and pointed out that the process server had described me improperly in his affidavit of service and basically caught him in a lie. When I was cross-examined by the landlord's attorney, I was well prepared by my Legal Services attorney and I was able to answer all her questions confidently.
About a month later, the judge ruled in my favor and we won our case! The judge specifically found that the process server had lied in his affidavit of service and agreed with my attorney's argument. Under the law, we are entitled to a new two year lease and I feel like I have a new lease on life. Without the threat of eviction, I am no longer worried where my family will be living and I can start looking for employment. Frankie was able to find work because we were not placed in the shelter. And my son can continue at his school where he is receiving special education and there will be no disruption of services.
If I had not found out about Legal Services, I am certain that my family would have become homeless. I would never have been able to understand the court process and I would never have been able to find out, let alone raise, the defense that won my case. In fact, Citibank had referred me to another lawyer who wanted $3500 for him to represent me, which was impossible at that time.
I had never had need for legal help before because I had been working at Citibank for 17 years before being laid off. Legal Services provided my family with the stability that we needed at a moment of crisis in our lives. Since getting a Legal Services attorney, Frankie has found a job, my son has continued uninterrupted special education services and I am now actively looking for employment. Without Legal Services, I do not know what I would have done.