LSC Updates - December 5, 2007

LSC's Semiannual Report to Congress

On November 30, LSC's Board of Directors submitted its Semiannual Report to Congress, which highlights LSC's activities and achievements from April 1 through September 30, 2007. The report complements the Semiannual Report of LSC's Office of Inspector General, which was submitted to Congress in October.

Some of LSC's significant achievements during the reporting period include:

  • $2.1 million in Technology Initiative Grants awarded,
  • 39 on-site visits to LSC-funded programs conducted to ensure the delivery of high-quality legal services in compliance with federal laws and LSC regulations,
  • The revision of LSC's Case Service Reporting System and handbook to ensure LSC-funded programs provide accurate and consistent data about the nature and scope of their work, and
  • The adoption of a resolution by LSC's Board in support of enhanced private attorney involvement with LSC-funded programs.

To download the report by LSC's Board, click here.

To download the report by LSC's Office of Inspector General, click here.

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Four More LSC-Funded Programs Adopt Pro Bono Resolutions

The Boards of Directors of four more LSC-funded programs have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 60 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions. The four programs are:

  • Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
  • Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York
  • Massachusetts' Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
  • Puerto Rico Legal Services

LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."

For a complete list of programs who have adopted pro bono resolutions, click here.

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Appropriations Update

The U.S. Congress has not yet approved the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies spending bill for FY 2008, which contains funding for LSC.

LSC will to continue to operate at FY 2007 levels through December 14, under a continuing appropriations resolution (CR) signed into law on November 13. Congress will have to pass an additional CR if any of the spending bills have not been approved when the current CR expires.

The Senate approved $390 million for LSC in October of this year, while the House approved $377 million in July. The funding levels approved by both chambers each represent a potential budget increase for LSC--$28 million or $41 million respectively.

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LSC in the News

Washington Post Highlights Law Student's Quandary: Is Public Service Affordable?

On November 30, the front page of the Washington Post discussed an issue all-too familiar to the legal services community: the impact of crushing educational debt loads on new attorneys' ability to pursue public-interest legal careers.

The article told the story of Georgetown University Law Center student Beirne Roose-Snyder, who is struggling to decide between a high-paying job at a corporate law firm, or a lower-paying--but potentially more satisfying--global health law fellowship.

The decision is not easy to make. The $145,000 a year salary at the law firm would clear her and her husband's educational debts and allow the couple to pursue their dream of adopting a child. On the other hand, Roose-Snyder jokes with her husband that the corporate job, "would reinforce a part of my personality that neither of us likes very much, the Type A, traditional, ambitious a power suit." The fellowship with Georgetown's O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law would allow her to work in a field she is immensely passionate about and that appeals to her Quaker faith, but the pay is less than half of what she would make with the firm.

Roose-Snyder's situation is familiar to law students throughout the country. The Post article cites figures from the American Bar Association, which found that in 2005-2006 law school students borrowed anywhere from $54,000 to $83,200 to finance their education. Meanwhile, the yearly median starting salary at private law firms is $95,000, but only $40,000 at public interest organizations. The average starting salary for an attorney at an LSC-funded program, $37,000, is the lowest in the legal field.

This year, the U.S. Congress acted in recognition of this problem when it passed legislation providing for loan repayment assistance to civil legal aid attorneys.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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John McKay, Former LSC President and US Attorney, Helps Launch New Legal Aid Office

John McKay, former LSC President John McKay, former LSC President

John McKay, former LSC President and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, was in Longview, Washington, recently to celebrate the opening of a new office of the Northwest Justice Project, the LSC-funded legal aid program serving the entire state.

According to the Daily News Online, the new office is one of three opening this year thanks to a $5.27 million increase in state funding for civil legal aid. These offices will help close Washington's significant justice gap, which was documented in 2003 by the state Supreme Court's Task Force on Civil Equal Justice. The Task Force found that less than 15 percent of low-income households with civil legal problems receive legal help.

For his part, the Seattle-born McKay has long-dedicated himself to closing the justice gap in his home state and throughout the country. As President of LSC from 1997 to 2001, McKay launched an initiative to ensure that LSC-funded programs were operating as part of comprehensive, integrated, statewide delivery systems, which would most effectively meet the legal needs of low-income Americans.

Prior to joining LSC, McKay chaired Washington's Equal Justice Coalition, which advocates for increased civil legal aid funding.

McKay is currently an adjunct professor of law at the Seattle University School of Law. His brother, Michael McKay, a founding partner of the Seattle law firm of McKay Chadwell, currently serves on LSC's Board of Directors. He served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington from 1989 to 1993.

For a bio of John McKay, click here.

To read, "New Legal Aid Office Can Help Bring Justice For All," from the Daily News Online, click here.

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Atlanta Legal Aid Finds Subprime Mortgages Responsible for Majority of Local Foreclosures

William J. Brennan, head of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society's Home Defense Unit William J. Brennan, head of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society's Home Defense Unit

The Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) has found that subprime mortgages accounted for the majority of foreclosures on a record breaking day in November.

The study analyzed data from 1,609 homes set for foreclosure in the 13-county metro-Atlanta area on November 6, and found that 74 percent had mortgages written since 2005, and 67 percent of the total mortgages were subprime.

William J. Brennan, Jr., head of the ALAS Home Defense Unit, told the Fulton County Daily Report, "It should be older mortgages that get foreclosed on, not brand new ones. When you make loans to people who can't pay, you're going to have foreclosures right away. We believe that's what these numbers show. Borrowers would not be going into default so quickly unless they were not being properly qualified as to their ability to pay."

Brennan and Georgia Tech professor Dan Immergluck, who also analyzed the foreclosure data, agree that newer mortgages are going into foreclosure as a result of "lax or nonexistent" underwriting--the process by which lenders verify borrower's ability to afford a mortgage.

"Many subprime borrowers are not qualified financially for anything but the teaser rate--if they're even qualified for that. We are seeing people with an annual income of $6,000 with a $120,000 loan," he told the Daily Report.

To read, "Foreclosures Increase For New Loans, Studies Show," in the Fulton County Daily Report, click here.

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Maryland Court Throws Out "Too-Strict" Medicaid Eligibility Rules

Legal Aid Bureau Client Wins Case That Could Affect Thousands
Andy Zieminski, Capital News Service – November 28, 2007

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled [November 28] that the state health department was using too-strict a standard in determining Medicaid eligibility for at-home health services.

The department rejected 85-year-old Ida Brown's application for coverage under the Older Adults Waiver Program in 2005 because it said the Alzheimer's patient did not require constant care from a licensed health practitioner, its standard for admission to the program.

But a three-judge panel of Maryland's second-highest court ruled that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's standard was stricter than federal eligibility requirements.

The ruling could affect as many as 13,000 Marylanders who are either in the program or waiting for approval to apply, said Mary Aquino, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Bureau who represented Brown.

The court determined that people should be eligible for the program if they need constant care and supervision provided by health care aides, but not necessarily the level of care that would require licensed or highly skilled nurses.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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South Brooklyn Legal Services Saves Home Believed To Be Part of Underground Railroad

The Associated Press reports that New York City officials have canceled the demolition of a historic Brooklyn house believed to be part of the Underground Railroad, the series of safe-houses used for shelter by escaped slaves heading north.

The house was scheduled to be demolished and replaced by an underground parking garage as part of a redevelopment plan. In June, South Brooklyn Legal Services, part of the LSC-funded Legal Services for New York City, filed suit on behalf of a community group to prevent the demolition, arguing that the city failed to examine the house's historical significance.

When the city did study the issue, it found no positive evidence that the house was used as part of the Underground Railroad, though it was owned by prominent abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell, and contains secret passageways and underground tunnels connecting it to other houses in the neighborhood.

For more information, click here.

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Legal Services of Greater Miami Launches Summer Fellows Program

Marcia Cypen, Executive Director of Legal Services of Greater Miami (right), stands with Eugene Stearns of Stearns Weaver Miller, and Donna E. Shalala, President of the University of Miami. Marcia Cypen, Executive Director of Legal Services of Greater Miami (right), stands with Eugene Stearns of Stearns Weaver Miller, and Donna E. Shalala, President of the University of Miami.

On November 28, Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI) launched its Summer Fellows Program, which will provide three summer internships for students from three Florida law schools. The Fellows will receive a hands-on introduction to public interest law by rotating through three LSGMI projects, which focus on public benefits and immigration, disability law, and affordable housing.

The program was founded by the Florida-based law firm of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, which also agreed to make an annual contribution in support of the LSGMI's work, and to provide 100 hours of pro bono legal services to LSGMI clients each year.

"We applaud Stearns Weaver Miller for its commitment to promoting careers in public interest law and instilling the value of pro bono work in a new generation of attorneys, while providing critical resources to LSGMI to enhance representation of the poor," said Marcia K. Cypen, Executive Director of LSGMI.

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Virginia: Blue Ridge Legal Services' Pro Bono Program Celebrates 25 Years

Executive Director John Whitfield Honored by Bar Association

John Whitfield, Executive Director of Virginia's Blue Ridge Legal Services, receives award for his 25-plus years of service to the program. John Whitfield, Executive Director of Virginia's Blue Ridge Legal Services, receives award for his 25-plus years of service to the program.

Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) and the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Bar Association celebrated the 25th anniversary of their jointly sponsored Pro Bono Referral Program at a ceremony on October 10, 2007.

Through this program, thousands of low-income clients have been screened by BRLS and referred to members of the Bar, who have donated more than 16,000 volunteer hours--worth approximately $2.4 million--to close more than 2,000 cases from 1987 to 2006.

Launched in 1982, the Pro Bono Referral Program has received national recognition as one of the most successful pro bono programs in the nation. It received LSC's Rural Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award in 1993, the American Bar Association's prestigious Harrison Tweed Award in 1995, and the Virginia State Bar's Lewis Powell Pro Bono Award in 1998.

At the same ceremony, the Bar honored BRLS Executive Director John Whitfield with an award for his 25-plus years of service to BRLS. "John has helped poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to ignore or forget: the homeless and lonely, the old and sick, the helpless and mentally ill, and those who suffer from prejudice. He has offered his service to all of these with genuine care and dignity, and often with personal sacrifice. His concern, grace, humility and commitment are an example for attorneys everywhere."

For more information about BRLS's Pro Bono Referral Program, click here.

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TRLA Attorney Wins "Houser" Award

Robert Doggett, attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Houser Award recipient, as portrayed by artist Pat Bailey. Picture courtesy Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. Robert Doggett, attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Houser Award recipient, as portrayed by artist Pat Bailey. Picture courtesy Texas Low Income Housing Information Service.

On November 7, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Robert Doggett received a Houser Award from the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS) for working to help low-income people obtain safe, decent, and affordable housing.

The awards recognize individuals who have committed themselves to improving the lives of low-income people by improving the availability of and access to shelter.

According to the TxLIHIS, the name "houser" was used for reformers in the 1930's who dedicated themselves to eliminating widespread poverty characterized by substandard and unaffordable housing. The work of the "housers" became so widely-known that the word made it into dictionaries of the time.

Note: Pat Baily is an artist with Art from the Streets, an arts program for the homeless in Austin, Texas. For the past three years she has been producing portraits of Houser Award winners. Sales of her work enabled her to move into an apartment of her own.

For more information, click here.

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Oregon Legal Aid's Senior Law Project

Raymond Rendleman, The Portland Observer (OR) – November 21, 2007

Legal issues can be a major source of hassle and anxiety for anyone, regardless of circumstance. For those 60 and over, decreased mobility and limited income can make justice even more difficult to come by.

The fact that seniors can have additional barriers to fair treatment led Legal Aid Services of Oregon to create the Senior Law Project. Each month the program organizes 25 free advisory clinics at nine senior centers throughout Multnomah County.

In a pro-bono outreach effort receiving increased attention and overwhelming praise, the approximately 100 volunteer lawyers serve about 1,000 seniors each year.

Eva Ingram can attest from personal experience to the project's helpfulness. A widow living on a fixed income, Ingram was horrified to find a ring of hers missing from the list of items a previous senior-care facility had agreed to keep vaulted while she rehabilitated from a stroke.

Ingram was reluctant to get professional help because she feared paying a large sum just for a consultation. After the senior-care facility failed to respond to a small-claims judgment, she sought help at the East County YWCA, which just happened to be one of the senior centers hosting the Law Project.

Once she enlisted volunteer lawyer Eric Kearney in the fight, she soon got paid back for the ring.

To read this article in its entirety, click here.

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Success Story from Georgia Legal Services Program

(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.)

"Had it Not Been for Her Help, I Don't Think We Would Have Made It"

Former Georgia Legal Services Client Thanks Paralegal Who Changed Her Life

Ms. Renee Green and her son Galen at her wedding on December 31, 1998. Ms. Renee Green and her son Galen at her wedding on December 31, 1998.

The Fall 2007 issue of the Georgia Legal Services Program's (GLSP) Civil Justice newsletter features a moving example of just how meaningful legal aid can be in the lives of clients.

Renee Greene was 18 years old in the summer of 1978. A recent high school graduate, Greene had no job, no real family, and a six-month-old baby boy to support. After fruitless job searches, a rejected military application, and a denial for temporary assistance from the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), Greene found herself living in a homeless shelter with her son. She was contemplating suicide when the shelter staff referred her to the United Way, which put her in contact with GLSP.

Paralegal Arnez Cherry took Greene back to the DFCS office and helped her successfully reapply for temporary assistance, despite the clerk's insistence that Greene did not qualify. With temporary assistance, food stamps, and Medicare benefits, Greene was able to find a job and eventually complete a paralegal training program.

Today, Greene is married, has worked as a paralegal, and is an ordained minister. She has four sons, eight grandchildren, and recently celebrated the release of her first book, In My Skin, the true story of her life in Columbus, Ga., during and after the Civil Rights Movement.

In the summer of 2007, Greene was able to reconnect with Arnez Cherry, the GLSP paralegal who helped her get back on her feet. "I just wanted to contact her to say thank you' for helping us back then....Had it not been for her help, I don't think we would have made it."

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