LSC Updates - June 28, 2006
On June 27, 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment by Representative David R. Obey (D-WI) to the FY 2007 Science, State, Justice and Commerce (SSJC) appropriations bill, approving $338.8 million for LSC, including:
- $321.9 million for basic field programs;
- $1,239,000 for the Technology Initiative Grant program;
- $12,661,000 for Management and Administration; and,
- $2,970,000 for the Office of Inspector General.
The total figure is $25 million above the $313.8 million recommended by the House Appropriations Committee on June 20, and $12.2 million above LSC's FY 2006 budget. In offering the amendment, Rep. Obey reminded his colleagues that "we stand on this floor every day, and we recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag. In the process of doing that, we pledge to support 'liberty and justice for all.' You simply cannot have justice in this country if you do not have adequate access to its court system." The amendment passed 237 to 185, by roll call vote.
The House is expected to approve the SSJC bill by the end of the week. Senate consideration will occur later this year.
On June 28, 2006, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved the nomination of Jonann C. Chiles to be a member of LSC's Board of Directors. Her nomination will now move to the full Senate for consideration.
President Bush nominated Chiles, an attorney from Little Rock, Arkansas, on March 13, 2006 to replace Ambassador Robert J. Dieter, who became the U.S. Ambassador to Belize last summer.
On June 9, 2006, 151 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), Chairman and Ranking Member of the appropriations subcommittee that funds LSC, urging them "to fund LSC at the highest possible level" or at the very least "restore funding lost by recent-year inflation and rescissions." The letter goes on to summarize LSC's Justice Gap report, which found that 50% of financially eligible people who seek assistance from an LSC-funded program are turned away due to lack of resources. The letter concludes by saying that, "Funds provided by LSC are indispensable to these programs that serve our most vulnerable citizens. Large numbers of Americans do not have access to the legal representation they need. Without at least maintaining funding for this important program, many more will be denied fair representation."
Womble Carlyle Announces Successions Project With Southeast Louisiana Legal Services to Help Katrina Victims
Press Release, New Orleans Legal Assistance - June 23, 2006
Womble Carlyle, one of America's largest law firms, will send 4 to 6 attorneys per week to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services' (SLLS) New Orleans office this summer to help Katrina victims open successions.
In Katrina's aftermath, legal aid for successions is a huge unmet need for many Greater New Orleans low-income homeowners and residents. Without a succession, many will not be able to clear title to their homes. They need clear title to get insurance payments and Road Home recovery funds to rebuild their homes.
Mark Moreau, Co-Director of SLLS, said, "the pro bono help from Womble Carlyle represents an extraordinary commitment by a national law firm to the rebuilding of Greater New Orleans." The project hopes to help an additional 200 families this summer qualify for millions of dollars in Katrina recovery grants to rebuild their homes.
Lawrence Buser, The Commercial Appeal (TN) - June 13, 2006
Like human levees trying to hold back the relentless flow of their clients' daily problems, a persevering group of legal aid and pro bono attorneys have been on call for months at a free walk-in legal clinic for evacuees of hurricane Katrina and Rita.
Dealing with issues ranging from problems with rent and utility bills to applying for government benefits, the weekly clinic's attorneys have some 250 open case files.
"The legal problems run the gamut that anyone in the general population would have," says attorney Linda Warren Seely, director of operations and pro bono services for the Memphis Area Legal Services. "The problems really haven't changed much since we started."
On Monday, the president of the American Bar Association stopped by the clinic--now housed at Calvary Episcopal Church Downtown--to observe and to offer some words of praise and encouragement.
"It's only now that people are starting to see what their legal needs are, and my hunch is that a year from now there'll be more victims from the hurricane who discover they have legal needs," said Michael Greco, a Boston lawyer who heads the 400,000-member ABA.
"You have needs that range from dealing with insurance companies and payments for damaged property. You have the needs of people who are starting to rebuild and dealing with contractors and how to pay for the work. That's why it's so important for the lawyers of America to continue to be there for the victims."
Robin Fitzgerald, The Biloxi Sun Herald (MS) - June 25, 2006
Eviction notices, custody problems and other civil issues abound since Hurricane Katrina, but a donation Friday gives hope of legal help for South Mississippi's indigent and working poor.
A check for $32,200 to the Mississippi Center for Legal Services in Gulfport will help cover administrative costs. The donation is only a portion of money that will come to help the poor with storm-related disputes and other issues in spite of dwindling federal funding.
The check, presented by state Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr., is from the Civil Assistance Legal Fund, created by state lawmakers in 2003. The money came from fees out-of-state lawyers pay to represent clients in Mississippi.
The Gulfport branch of Legal Services is receiving more than 100 calls a month, according to Marcus Pittman the office's manager.
Hurricane victims are a priority, said Sam Buchanan, Legal Services executive director, but the needs exceed the funds and staff available to help.
(To read the article in its entirety, go to: http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/14897544.htm)
H.M. Cauley, The Atlanta Journal Constitution - June 15, 2006
Elsie Williams knew she was paying too much interest on a small loan she took to buy a new couch. But trying to make sense of the intricate loan contract was impossible, and she couldn't afford a personal attorney.
A visit to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society resulted in a four-year battle that eventually settled her problem and gained a $2,000 settlement.
The biggest problem Legal Aid faces is that it can't help more people like Williams, said executive director Steve Gottlieb, who oversees a $7.5 million budget, a staff of 110 and about 2,000 volunteer attorneys. But that's still not enough to handle the almost 22,000 cases a year that come through the door of their offices on Spring Street downtown or others in Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and south Fulton counties.
On Monday, Legal Aid wraps up its most ambitious capital campaign, an attempt to raise $1.3 million to add to funds already provided from various organizations, including the Georgia Bar associations and private donors.
"We don't bring a lot of cases to court; we're not plaintiff's lawyers," explained Gottlieb, who has led the organization since 1980. "We're usually responding when people try to bring our clients, who can't afford lawyers, into court. We act as their advocate. We focus largely on the basic, bread-and-butter issues: family law; protecting people against domestic violence; child support; consumer problems where someone is being taken advantage of."
Press Release, Legal Services of Greater Miami - June 9, 2006
On June 9th, 2006, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. (LSGMI) celebrated 40 years of dedication to Equal Justice at its 40th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon. The luncheon program honored LSGMI's first Executive Director, Howard W. Dixon, acclaimed as a pioneer of Equal Justice Under Law and noted for his outstanding contribution to the delivery and enhancement of free legal services to the poor. The Celebration also included a reunion for LSGMI staff and Board alumni, many of whom are now in prominent positions including Congress and the judiciary.
Special guests at the luncheon included Jo-Anne Wallace, President & CEO, of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA). In her remarks, Ms. Wallace congratulated LSGMI on being a leader in the national legal services community. For example, LSGMI's community economic development program was one of the first in the country, and its unique and innovative projects, such as the Women Prisoner Re-entry Project, set the standard for other legal aid organizations.
Press Release, Minnesota State Bar Association
Two legal aid staff members are being honored for their efforts in providing legal services to the disadvantaged. The 2006 Bernard P. Becker Awards for Legal Services Staff will be presented by the Minnesota State Bar Association at its April 21 Assembly meeting. The Becker Awards are presented each year for work that exemplifies the dedication and commitment to helping poor people that marked the career of the late Bernard Becker, a renowned legal aid attorney, law professor and magistrate judge. Legal Services Staff Award winners each receive $750.
The 2006 Legal Services Staff Awards will be presented to:
Judy King, Volunteer Attorney Coordinator for Central Minnesota Legal Services in Willmar. King has been at Central Minnesota Legal Services for 17 years. In her current position, King coordinates the volunteer attorney program in 11 counties around the Willmar area. According to her nominator: "Judy has made it her mission to look for ways to expand volunteer opportunities for attorneys in western Minnesota who would like to do pro bono."
Judith Sedin, Director of Administration at Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota in Duluth. Sedin has worked at Legal Aid Service since 1991, serving as primary grant writer, fundraiser and administrator for grants and budgets. According to her nominator, Sedin "has found creative ways to stretch dollars, maintain resources, and nurse a sometimes razor thin fund balance" in the face of declining resources.
Christina Kristofic, The Associated Press - June 19, 2006
Donald Marritz knows he's taken cases he probably shouldn't have.
Like the dog-bite case, when a man claimed his neighbor had sicced a dog on him. Or like the pig-custody case, which Marritz jokingly calls the "habeas porcus case," when an unmarried couple split up and fought for custody of a pig. (He doesn't remember who won either case.)
But Marritz, now 61, was young then and fresh out of law school. And, he said recently, "I had no mentor saying you shouldn't be doing this."
He just wanted to use the law to help the people who walked through his office door.
And he still does.
Marritz has been a legal aid attorney with Mid-Penn Legal Services, a group that represents people with low incomes in civil cases, since he moved to Gettysburg 32 years ago. And now he's been called an "inspiring example" for legal aid attorneys across the state by the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network and received its Striving for Excellence Award.
Marritz handles about 200 cases a year. And they're not all dog bites and pig fights.
In the late 1980s, he fought on the side of workers when the state Legislature passed a law disqualifying employees of fruit and vegetable processors from receiving unemployment compensation during the off season.
Marritz also helped a gay man, who had left work because his longtime partner had severe health problems, secure unemployment benefits about five or six years ago.
Marritz knows he might be able to make more money in private practice, but he said he doesn't think he'd have as much freedom to write and explore the law.
"I can go home and look at myself in the mirror about what I do. When I see all the gray, I say, 'Who is that?'" he said with a laugh.
"I help make sure the system works the way it's supposed to. I like our legal system. When it works, it works right."
(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.)
Rachel Rice, Bangor Daily News (ME) - June 23, 2006
It's a bittersweet win for Audrey and Earl Brown after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled earlier this month that the elderly couple is eligible to participate in a local Meals on Wheels program.
The ruling brought to an end the couple's two-year battle with the Department of Health and Human Services over program eligibility.
Since October 2004, DHHS said the Browns could not be provided meals.
Now, however, only Earl Brown, 81, will receive the lunches as Audrey Brown, 79, had to be moved into a nursing home during the course of the litigation.
"It was maddening to find out we were right all along and they didn't get meals the whole time," the couple's Presque Isle attorney, Jeff Ashby of Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc., said Thursday. Pine Tree Legal is a statewide, not for profit organization that provides legal services to low-income clients.
Ashby said that Audrey Brown's transfer to a nursing home was not related to a denial of meals, but that not being allowed to receive meals between October 2004 and June 2006 was a hardship. Ashby said family members used their own resources to provide the Browns with lunches during the 20-month period.
"It's hard to imagine what would have happened if they didn't have family," Ashby said.
With the judgment in hand, Earl Brown began receiving his Meals on Wheels a few weeks ago. Ashby said, though, that in six months, Brown will have to reapply to the program, and that because of a change in the eligibility criteria that took place during the couple's appeal process, a program denial and subsequent litigation are future possibilities.
Still, Ashby said the supreme court decision was an important win for his clients.
"It's good news," he said. "It's a win for now."