LSC Updates - June 18, 2009

Senate Committee Approves Mikva Nomination to LSC Board

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is responsible for conducting oversight of LSC, has approved the nomination of Laurie Mikva to serve on LSC's Board of Directors. Mikva is a former staff attorney from the Champaign office of Illinois's Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, where she specialized in the areas of family law and domestic violence. During her tenure, she oversaw the provision of family law services throughout the organization and helped launch a domestic violence clinic at the University of Illinois College of Law. President Obama nominated Mikva on April 14 to fill the vacant position on LSC's Board. Her nomination now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Click here to learn more about Laurie Mikva.

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Legal Aid Funding to Fight Domestic Violence Increased in House Bill

An amendment to increase funding for a grant program that supports legal assistance to victims of domestic violence was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on June 17.

The amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill increased funding for the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women's Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program by $4 million-from $37 million to $41 million. It passed the House by a vote of 425 to 4 (Roll Call Vote 354).

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who said, "Nearly 70 percent of the women who bravely take their abusers to court do so without legal representation. And too often, having an attorney present is the deciding factor in obtaining that lifesaving personal protection order or getting custody of your kids or receiving transitional housing."

She thanked Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that drafted the bill, and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) for their support of the amendment.

"This amendment is a strong amendment," said Rep. Poe, "it puts forth the proposition that victims' issues aren't partisan issues; they're people issues."

"Too often, domestic violence and sexual assault victims have to appear in court by themselves, alone," he said. "They don't have high-dollar lawyers pleading their cases....Instead, even though those who supposedly loved them chose to beat them up, they have to pay the price to fight their way through the legal system to request civil protection. This shouldn't be. We need to match civil justice with our criminal justice system."

In general, a large share of Legal Assistance for Victims Grants go to LSC-funded programs. Click here to learn more about the program.

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LSC President is Special Guest at Legal Services NYC "Jazz for Justice" Benefit

LSC President Helaine M. Barnett was the special guest of Legal Services NYC at its Jazz for Justice 2009 benefit on June 15. Barnett delivered remarks at the event, which also featured an awards ceremony and a performance by the Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy jazz ensemble.

Board Chair Mark G. Cunha opened the benefit with introductory remarks. A partner in Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Cunha was elected to lead the Board in May, succeeding Fern Schair.

Three charitable foundations-Goldman Sachs Gives, the New York Community Trust and the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund-and the staff of Legal Services NYC received awards.

Barnett began her remarks by thanking Andy Scherer, executive director and president of Legal Services NYC, for his superb leadership, and the program's Board of Directors for exemplifying an engaged Board that provides oversight, leadership and support. She thanked the three charitable foundations for their generous support, which has made it possible to provide more quality legal services to indigent New Yorkers. She also thanked the program's staff, many of whom she has worked with and knows firsthand of their extraordinary dedication, commitment and expertise.

"All of you working together make a meaningful difference in the lives of the low-income individuals and families in New York City and through your service make communities in New York stronger and better," said Barnett. "Thank you for all that you do."

Left to right: Andy Scherer, executive director and president of Legal Services NYC; Helaine M. Barnett, president of the Legal Services Corporation; Jack Rosenthal, president of the New York Times Company Foundation; Lorie A. Slutsky, president of the New York Community Trust; Alan Cohen, Global Head of Compliance for Goldman Sachs, and Mark G. Cunha, Legal Services NYC Board Chair.

She continued by summarizing the challenges confronting legal aid programs across the country, as the recession pushes low-income Americans deeper into poverty and sends millions of Americans into poverty for the first time. As a result, said Barnett, LSC-funded programs like Legal Services NYC are besieged with requests for help from potential clients seeking to avert foreclosure, to obtain access to health care, and to escape domestic violence at the same time that funding from key sources like state and local governments, and IOLA funding is on the decline due to the faltering economy.

"The stark reality that we face today is the demonstrable fact that the need for civil legal aid is much greater than the resources available," said Barnett. "That's why all of us need to do our best to champion and support Legal Services NYC, LSC's largest grantee, and other legal aid programs in New York State and across the nation."

"All of you here are critical to our success. If you are with the private bar, in the courts, in the business or financial community, in law schools, in the foundation world, in local or state government, we need you as partners" to help close the justice gap, Barnett said.

The event was sponsored by a number of private law firms and large corporations.

Click here to learn more about Legal Services NYC.

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Massachusetts Justice Project Adopts Pro Bono Resolution

The Board of Directors of the Holyoke-based Massachusetts Justice Project has adopted a resolution aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 102 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions, now including all four LSC-funded programs in Massachusetts.

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. (PDF icon 106k)

Click here for the list of LSC-funded programs that have adopted pro bono resolutions.

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Field News

Cleveland Legal Aid Program Sees 56% Rise in Need for Help

Olivera Perkins, The Cleveland Plain Dealer – June 16, 2009

Francine Thompson tried to apply for Unemployment Compensation when she got laid off last October, but the state told her she would have to wait until July because she had gotten a severance package. Then Thompson learned that co-workers with severance packages were already collecting.

"Why can't I?" Thompson asked.

The jobless computer analyst wanted to fight to collect sooner, but she couldn't afford a lawyer. She turned to The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. So have a lot of laid-off workers.

"We have seen this marked increase in the number of people coming to us for legal help relating to employment issues," said Melanie Shakarian, the organization's director of development. "We are on pace to field 904 requests for help this year. That is 56 percent ahead of 2008 and 68 percent of two years ago."

She said the organization, focused on serving low-income individuals, is turning away as many as 1,400 people. Demand doesn't seem to be waning.

Click here to continue reading.

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New Report on Unmet Civil Legal Needs in Georgia

The Supreme Court of Georgia's Equal Justice Commission released a report this month documenting the vast unmet civil legal needs of the state's low-income residents. The report, "Civil Legal Needs of Low and Moderate Income Households in Georgia," is based on the findings of a study conducted by the A.L. Burruss Institute of Public Service and Research of Kennesaw State University.

The study found that low-income households experience an average of three civil legal needs a year and that 90 percent of those households received no legal help with their problems. Three-fourths of those interviewed for the study reported being unaware that their problem had a legal solution while others said they did not know where they could find legal assistance.

The report also notes that court personnel cite self-represented litigants as an impediment to the efficient operation of the court system and represent an obstacle to the courts' ability to administer justice for all.

Click here for more information.

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Rhode Island Legal Services Releases Report on Foreclosure and Eviction

Kevin Shalvey, Providence Business Journal – June 10, 2009

A report released [on June 9] says that financial institutions who had foreclosed on properties in Rhode Island [in 2008] evicted 2,338 tenants, with the highest amount, 1,166 evictions, in Providence.

Authored by Steve [Fischbach], an attorney with Rhode Island Legal Services, "Move Out Rhode Island – An Analysis of 2008 Foreclosure Related Evictions" is a collection of data showing where evictions took place and which lenders filed for the evictions.

The three lenders with the most evictions made up 47 percent of all evictions. Deutsche Bank evicted 460 tenants; U.S. Bank evicted 382 tenants and Wells Fargo evicted 262 tenants, according to the report.

The report notes that there were 3,479 reported foreclosures in Rhode Island in 2008.

Click here to continue reading and click here to download the full report. (PDF icon 4mb)

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Texas Legal Aid Programs to Benefit from $26 Million in New State Funding

Darren Barbee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram – June 3, 2009

After months spent agonizing over the loss of millions of dollars in funding for civil legal services for the poor, state and local legal aid officials say the Legislature has come through with desperately needed funding.

Combining money from the state budget with other new revenue sources, legal aid services are expected to get about $26 million over the biennium, said Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Access to Justice Foundation.

While that is about $9 million short of what is needed, she said other funding, such as partnerships with banks, will help narrow that gap.

Three organizations in the state that provide legal services to the poor received additional federal funding that helps to bridge the gap. That includes Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, based in Fort Worth.

It will see a $400,000 drop in funding from state sources. But because of an additional $733,000 from the federal Legal Services Corp., the organization expects to be in good shape for the rest of this year and through 2010, said Errol Summerlin, its executive director.

Click here to continue reading.

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ABA Launches Website to Promote National Pro Bono Celebration

The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is sponsoring the first National Pro Bono Celebration from Oct. 25-31, 2009. The celebration is a coordinated nationwide effort to showcase the meaningful difference that pro bono lawyers can make to their country and its justice system, their communities and the clients they serve. The celebration's organizers also seek to use the event as a recruiting tool for new volunteer attorneys to meet the ever-growing legal 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 work of their programs.

For information about the celebration, and resources to help in planning an event, visit the new National Celebration of Pro Bono website at

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North Carolina, Philadelphia Bar Associations Win Harrison Tweed Award

American Bar Association – June 11, 2009

The North Carolina Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association will each receive a 2009 Harrison Tweed Award for achievement in preserving and increasing access to legal services for the poor.

The North Carolina Bar Association is being recognized for its innovative "4ALL" campaign to increase access to legal services for the poor through a four-prong approach: educate, legislate, donate and participate. The Philadelphia Bar Association is being honored for its role in creating, supporting and sustaining the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Project, which has saved hundreds of low-income homeowners from the loss of their homes.

The award, given annually by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, will be presented during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago on Friday, July 31, at a joint luncheon of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, National Association of Bar Executives and National Conference of Bar Foundations.

Click here for more information.

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MIE Sponsoring Conferences for Directors and Fundraisers

The Management Information Exchange is sponsoring two conferences for legal aid professionals in Chicago in late July. The first, MIE's National Directors Conference, will be held on July 21 and 22 and will focus on how legal aid programs can maximize their impact during difficult economic times. Workshop topics will include: creative ideas for reducing costs and increasing revenue, communicating honestly and optimistically with staff, Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, and an employment law perspective on layoffs, furloughs, early retirement and COBRA.

The second conference, MIE's 2009 National Fundraising Conference, will be held on July 23 and 24 and will focus on best practices for effective communication and resource development. Participants will be able to sign up for a personal 30-minute consultation with a fundraising expert in the legal aid community. Workshop topics will include capitalizing on web-based communications and fundraising, cultivating major donors who have been affected by the recession, taking advantage of new federal funding opportunities, and developing the "dynamic duo" of executive director and development director.

Click here for more information.

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Success Story from the Georgia Legal Services Program

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.

Nursing Home Medicaid Policy Declared Illegal

Press Release, Georgia Legal Services Program – June 11, 2009

Because of a lawsuit decided last month by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melvin Westmoreland, now nursing home residents will be able to remain in their nursing home facilities, even if they owe past bills because of delays in the application process. Many times people who need nursing home care apply for Medicaid to help pay for the care, but they are not told about the complicated rules. By the time they are able to figure out the process and get qualified for Medicaid, months have passed and they owe past due bills to the nursing home.

Ms. Dorothy Weldon and Ms. Ina Price are nursing home residents and clients of the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) who were being threatened with discharge from their nursing homes. The Georgia Medicaid agency would not allow these nursing home residents to pay their past nursing home bills with their income. As a result, they were about to be discharged.

A team of Georgia Legal Services Program attorneys represented Ms. Weldon and Ms. Price. Judge Mel Westmoreland agreed with the GLSP attorneys that federal law required that the Georgia Medicaid agency allow the women to pay their past due bills with their current income and remain in their nursing facilities. Judge Westmoreland declared the state Medicaid policy violated federal law.

Ms. Weldon's son, Joseph Weldon, contacted Georgia Legal Services for legal assistance when his mother received a notice that she was being discharged from the nursing home. "My mother needs the medical care that she receives at her facility. I don't know where she'd go if they made her leave." GLSP Gainesville attorney Patrick Cates represented Ms. Weldon in her discharge case. Says attorney Cates, "The nursing home agreed to dismiss the discharge case until after the Medicaid case was decided by the court. Otherwise, Ms. Weldon would have been at risk of losing her care."

Click here for more information about the Georgia Legal Services Program.

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