LSC Updates - July 5, 2007

Full Senate Appropriations Committee Approves $41.4 Million Increase

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski

On Thursday, June 28, the Legal Services Corporation was slated for a $41.4 million or 12 percent increase for FY 2008 by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. In moving the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies bill to the full Senate for action, the Committee set proposed funding for LSC at $390 million.

Chairwoman of the CJS Subcommittee, Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, "I am pleased that we were able to take another step in bringing the funding of LSC in line with the needs of low-income Americans for high-quality civil legal assistance. This proposed increase would not only allow LSC programs to directly serve more eligible clients, but would strengthen their infrastructure and allow them to use technology to provide service in a more cost-effective and efficient manner."

The LSC budget increase is, in part, recognition of LSC's groundbreaking report, Documenting the Justice Gap: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans, which was completed in September 2005. The Justice Gap Report documents that nationwide, for every person helped by LSC-funded programs, another is turned away. Fifty percent of those actually seeking help are turned away for one primary reason: lack of resources.

Helaine M. Barnett, President of LSC, said, "We are most appreciative of this action by the Appropriations Committee and its reflection of their awareness of the critical need for civil legal assistance. I wish to thank Chairman Byrd, Chairwoman Mikulski, and Senators Cochran, Shelby, and Harkin for their leadership in helping us strive to close the justice gap in America."

Earlier this month, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved a $28 million increase for LSC for FY 2008.

To read the press release in its entirety, click here.

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DNA-People's Legal Services Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Left to Right: Executive Director of DNA-Peoples Legal Services Levon Henry, LSC Board Member Sarah M. Singleton, and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett.
Left to Right: Executive Director of DNA-Peoples Legal Services Levon Henry, LSC Board Member Sarah M. Singleton, and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett.

DNA-People's Legal Services, the oldest and largest legal services program serving Native Americans, celebrated its 40th anniversary on June 22 in Window Rock, Arizona. Board member Sarah M. Singleton attended, bringing greetings from the Board, and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett delivered the keynote address.

Observing that in the Navajo language "DNA" means "attorneys who work for the revitalization of the people," Barnett said, "and that is exactly what DNA has been doing for 40 years."

The program scored a victory for religious freedom in March of this year that made news nationwide: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that flooding the San Francisco Peaks with artificial snow made from treated sewage would desecrate a site sacred to 13 tribes and hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. The decision affirmed a key provision of the Religious Freedom Act of 1993. (The U.S. Forest Service and the Snowball Corporation have filed a request for a rehearing en banc, which is pending.)

DNA's service area includes the Navajo Nation and portions of three states: Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. This is a remote, rural area where 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, unemployment is consistently in the 50 percent range, and one-third of the homes lack electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.

Barnett said, "Too many of our country's 4.1 million Native Americans experience debilitating poverty and the attendant consequences of poverty ... This is a tragedy."

She continued, "Equal access to justice cannot remain an aspiration. It must become a reality. America promises justice for all, not just for those who can afford to pay for it. The ideal may never be fully realized, but we can come closer to it."

For more information on DNA-People's 40th anniversary, click here.

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Board Member David Hall Explores Pathways to Justice with Staff of Pine Tree Legal Assistance

David Hall
David Hall

On June 15, LSC Board member David Hall, a professor at the Northeastern University School of Law who specializes in civil rights, legal education and social justice, spoke at an annual retreat for the staff of Maine's Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the state's sole LSC-funded program. His speech, entitled "Pathways to Justice," described justice as "an illusive and continuous journey that we undertake and embrace," not something that waits "at the end of the legal rainbow."

"For when you live in the midst of poverty," he said, "the pathways to justice are not four lane highways that can be easily traversed; they are rough and sometimes invisible mountain trails which you must discover and sometimes create." The challenge for legal services lawyers -- "weary, yet holy rainmaker[s] trying to bring life to desert places" -- is to not only seek justice, but to "create it and often build the pathways that will allow our clients to obtain it.

"You may feel that this is too much to ask of any group of individuals, and especially those who are poorly paid and struggling to survive themselves," he said, but "the greater the challenge the more precious the miracle, and if you see justice as a journey and not a destination, then you know that you can create miracles every day."

For Hall's full remarks, click here.

For information about his book, The Spritual Revitalization of the Legal Profession: A Search for Sacred Rivers, click here.

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LSC-Funded Programs Make News Helping Victims of Unscrupulous Lenders

A front-page story in the July 3 print edition of the New York Times, "New Scheme Preys on Desperate Homeowners," features two LSC-funded programs and their clients, Essex-Newark Legal Services and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, as well as South Brooklyn Legal Services.

Essex-Newark Legal Services is handling the case of Aleem Morris. He accepted an offer of "help" from a real estate company when, after losing his job as a forklift operator three years ago, he fell behind in mortgage payments. The company offered him quick money, a repaired credit rating, and a rent-free place to live for year. As he said, "Who wouldn't take a deal like that?" Instead, Morris lost more than $100,000 in equity as well as his home.

Shakeela Muhammad, a client of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, is featured in the story as well as the accompanying video, "Beware of Equity Stripping." After becoming ill, she was laid off from her job at the Bank of America and fell behind in her mortgage payments. Instead of helping her keep her home, as promised, the company stopped making payments, refinanced, and pocketed the more than $44,000 in equity she had accumulated.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, described as "bann[ing] for-profit mortgage rescue operations from the state after numerous complaints," is also mentioned in the Times story. Coakley is spearheading a pro bono effort to help victims of these unscrupulous lenders in Massachusetts (see Updates story below).

For the complete New York Times story and video, click here.

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LSC-Funded Programs Combat Cyber Piracy

As part of the National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP), the law firms of Dickstein Shapiro and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy are contributing pro bono expertise, helping LSC-funded programs to copyright their names and combat cyber piracy. The project is also supported by an LSC Technology Initiative Grant to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which LSC's Board of Directors plans to visit in conjunction with its October 26-27 meeting in Portland, Maine.

Cyber piracy encompasses a variety of practices with a common goal: misdirecting or confusing people searching online for organizations or services. Often, a similar Web address is used to lure people to a site, a practice known as "cyber squatting." For example, a search for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society could lead to, which advertises for-profit legal services. Cyber squatting is a problem for more than 70 percent of all legal aid organizations, including many LSC-funded programs, according to NTAP.

For more information, click here.

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LSC in the News

Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Creates Fellowship with Law School

Based on press release

Chuck Greenfield
Chuck Greenfield

Avi Soifer, Dean of Law School
Dean Avi Soifer

The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii have created a two-year fellowship for a recent graduate with an interest in, and demonstrated commitment to, public interest law.

Chuck Greenfield, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, said, "Legal Aid helps bring justice to our community. We are looking for recent law school graduates who have a commitment to public interest law and want to make a difference."

"We are proud that outstanding students will get this opportunity to make a difference on behalf of members of our community who most need their help," said Aviam Soifer, Dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law.

The first fellow, slated to start at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii this September, will be expected to develop a unique project that significantly enhances the delivery of legal assistance to the Hawaiian low-income community. The salary will be $40,019 the first year and $41,620 the second year.

For more information, click here.

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Tennessee Program Welcomes Housepian as Executive Director, Bids Farewell to Wiltshire

Based on news reports and press releases

Gary Housepian, a long-time legal aid and government attorney who is currently managing director of the Nashville-based Disability Law and Advocacy Center, will succeed Ashley Wiltshire as Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (LAS) effective August 1.

Wilshire, Executive Director of LAS for 31 years, joined the program while still a student at Vanderbilt University. In addition to the law degree he earned at Vanderbilt, he has a bachelor's degree from Washington & Lee University and a master's degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Kathryn Edge, President of the LAS Board of Directors and an attorney with Miller & Martin, said, "Ashley's dedication to seeking justice for Tennessee families serves as an inspiration to the Board and to the legal profession. He retires knowing he has helped thousands of Middle Tennesseans who had nowhere else to go."

To read the full press release, click here.

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LSNY Is First LSC-Funded Program to Adopt Pro Bono Resolution

On June 12, Legal Services for New York City (LSNY) became the first LSC-funded program to adopt, as LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland urged in a letter, a resolution to develop strategies to increase private attorney involvement in delivery of legal services to the poor. LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt such resolutions as they work in their communities to engage private attorneys in the delivery of legal services. The adoption of local resolutions is one of the activities in the LSC Board of Directors private attorney action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."

For LSC's model pro bono resolution, click here.

To visit LSNY's Web site, click here.

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Nassau/Suffolk Program for Cancer Patients Includes Legal Services

Based on news reports

A newly funded project of the New York State Department of Health, for people and families affected by cancer in Nassau and Suffolk counties, recognizes that legal and health problems are often intertwined. Denise Snow of the Permanency Legal Assistance Needs Project (PLAN) is both an attorney and a nurse. She has already begun work on cases involving hospital debts, insurance denials, and guardianships.

The project is targeted to low-income families. Services include helping with legal directives such as powers of attorney, health care proxies, wills, and guardianships, as well as problems with health insurance coverage and related creditor and housing issues.

For more information, click here.

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Massachusetts Pro Bono Attorneys Help Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Based on press release

Last week, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's office, in collaboration with several bar and advocacy groups, hosted a two-day training session, on June 20 and 21, for local attorneys who have volunteered to provide pro bono legal assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. Approximately 150 attorneys from throughout the Commonwealth attended the training, each committing to take on at least one pro bono case.

"We are in the midst of a foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts -- a crisis that is further compounded by many homeowners' inability to retain qualified legal counsel to represent them in foreclosure proceedings and protect their best interests," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "I am thrilled that so many members of the private bar, from a broad range of legal backgrounds, have volunteered their time and services to assist these homeowners in what is a very stressful and confusing time."

The Attorney General's Office worked with a number of organizations to organize this initiative, including the Boston Bar Foundation, which funded the training; the National Consumer Law Center, which spearheaded the training; the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association; the Boston Bar Association; the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center; the Massachusetts Bar Association; the Bar Associations of Worcester, Hampshire, Hamden, and Berkshire Counties; and several local minority bar associations.

For the full press release, click here.

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Anthony Young, Executive Director of Southern Arizona Legal Aid, received the Arizona State Bar Association's Sharon A. Fullmer Legal Aid Attorney of the Year Award. The award recognizes a legal services lawyer who demonstrates "aggressive advocacy on behalf of low-income clients in extreme need." Young participated in LSC's recently completed Leadership Mentoring Pilot Project. He graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Law and worked for Western Nebraska Legal Services before moving to Arizona.

For more information, click here.

Edward F. Hudson II, an attorney with the firm of Stull PLC in Detroit, received the Legal Aid and Defender Association's 2007 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award in recognition of his "commitment to assure equal access to justice for all." A graduate of the Duquesne University School of Law, earlier in his career Hudson was a staff attorney for the Detroit Legal Aid and Defender Association and the United Auto Workers Legal Services Plan.

For more information, click here.

Sheldon Roodman, who recently retired after 30 years as Executive Director of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAF), received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the June 28 Annual Campaign for Justice Luncheon. U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, a former member of LAF's staff, presented the award.

For more information, click here.

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New York Times Editorial Lauds Steps Taken to Close the Justice Gap

A June 26 New York Times editorial, "Closing the Justice Gap," begins, "Here's another way the rich are different from the poor: They have lawyers. Poor people can count on free legal aid in criminal cases, but in civil proceedings -- battles with landlords, employers, government bureaucracies -- justice costs money, which means lots of people have to do without it."

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer "is adding tens of millions of dollars in new spending for civil legal services ... through a simple regulatory change," explains the editorial. "It will take New York's main source of money for civil legal services -- the interest earned in special accounts that law firms use to temporarily hold clients' fees -- and quintuple it, by requiring banks to pay competitive interest rates."

The editorial continues, "For the nonprofit legal agencies that help thousands of poor New Yorkers, the money will be a godsend. Organizations like Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, which stretches its thin budget over seven counties, will no longer have to turn away about half the people who come to it for help -- a typical ratio in this line of work ...

"The benefits are widespread, since each dollar for legal assistance saves many that would be spent on other social services. People unfairly rejected for Medicaid wind up in emergency rooms. Families that can't fight unfair evictions end up in homeless shelters."

For the complete editorial, click here.

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Success Story from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri

(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.)

Bosnians in St. Louis Celebrate Citizenship

Betsy Taylor, Associated Press - June 27, 2007

After nearly eight years in the United States, Bosnian war refugee Adila Palalija finally can call herself an American.

She is one of 34 Bosnians enjoying their first days as U.S. citizens after they sued about the matter.

The group filed a federal lawsuit in March in St. Louis, claiming the government was unlawfully delaying their applications to become citizens. The roughly three dozen Bosnians became citizens Friday during a festive naturalization ceremony at Harris-Stowe State College in St. Louis. The case was dismissed in court the same day because lawyers said the refugees received the relief they were seeking.

"We're celebrating, yes," Palalija said yesterday through a translator.

About 40,000 Bosnians settled in the St. Louis area in the 1990s after the war in the former Yugoslavia.

They were asked to wait five years before applying for citizenship, said Ann Lever, litigation director for St. Louis-based Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

Dozens sought waivers, claiming disabilities should excuse them from taking the citizenship test in English. The waiver requests were approved, but their applications toward citizenship stalled. The disabilities ranged from war-related post-traumatic stress disorder to medical conditions, such as stroke. Each person provided certification of physical or mental impairments.

The lawsuit was resolved when the government reviewed the facts and decided they were eligible for naturalization and exempt from the civics and language requirement, Lever said.

She noted 35 Bosnians were part of the lawsuit. One of them was not able to take the oath to become a citizen last week. That woman temporarily left the country because officials believed they might have found her husband's remains in Bosnia. She will become a citizen when she returns, Lever said.

Because it took so long to become a citizen, Palalija, 79, went for about a year without the benefit of a federal income supplement program that she relied on to help meet her basic needs.

She lost a son in July of 1993, a soldier who was killed by a grenade. Her other three sons live in the United States.

One of them, Ekrem Palalija, 45, is an electrician who has been sick but said he will take his own citizenship test in English next month. He said another brother has provided them an apartment for free until his mother's citizenship was resolved.

"In the meantime, we saved some money. We were able to survive," he said.

Lever said the Saint Louis University Legal Clinic and the St. Louis office of the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry worked on the case.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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