LSC Updates - March 1, 2007

LSC Publishes Income Eligibility Guidelines for 2007

On February 23, 2007, LSC published its income eligibility guidelines for 2007, which establish maximum income levels for individuals eligible for LSC-funded civil legal services. LSC's guidelines are 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on January 24, 2007.

To download LSC's income guidelines for 2007, click here.

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Update on LSC's FY 2007 Appropriation

On February 15, 2007, President Bush signed into law HJ Res 20, an appropriations continuing resolution containing $348.5 million for LSC in FY 2007.

Of the total amount:

  • $330,760,500 will go to basic field programs;
  • $2,104,500 will go to the Technology Initiative Grant program;
  • $12,743,000 will go to Management and Administration; and
  • $2,970,000 will go the Office of Inspector General.

LSC has issued a memo to all LSC-funded programs explaining how the new grants will be divided. New grant awards will be distributed on March 1, 2007.

LSC's FY 2007 appropriation is LSC's first budget increase since FY 2003, and LSC's largest appropriation since FY 1995, when LSC received $400 million.

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LSC Staff Attend National Meeting On Quality

On February 20, 2007, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett and LSC Vice President for Programs and Compliance Karen J. Sarjeant attended a meeting of national legal services leaders to discuss the new or revised tools available to help define and encourage quality in the delivery of civil legal services. The tools are:

  • LSC's Performance Criteria;
  • The American Bar Association (ABA) Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid, adopted by the ABA in August 2006; and
  • The ABA Principles of a State System for the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid, also adopted by the ABA in August 2006.

The meeting highlighted that all three tools share the following guiding principles: responsiveness to low-income communities; achieving results; dignity and respect toward clients; access to justice; high quality and effective legal assistance; and zealous representation of clients' interests. Participants discussed the variety of ways these tools can be used by and with legal services programs and others, and some ideas about how to make the tools even more accessible to practitioners.

Other participants in the meeting included leaders from the American Bar Association, Interest on Lawyers' Trust Account programs, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Center for Legal Aid Education, Management Information Exchange, and several others.

To download LSC's Performance Criteria, click here.

To download the ABA Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid, click here.

To download the ABA Principles of a State System for the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid, click here.

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LSC in the News

Suit, Bill Go After "Gouge"

Marc Perrusquia, The Commercial Appeal (TN) - February 8, 2007

Out of work after an auto accident, Anita Gray needed cash to pay her bills. With nowhere else to turn, she pawned her car to Golden Title Loans, where repayment rates reach 264 percent a year.

Borrowing $1,000, Gray paid Golden Title more than $4,000 over the next 18 months--more than she'd paid to buy her used, 1997 Saturn in the first place.

And still she owed $1,200. The principal never went down despite paying $220 a month--and that didn't include a number of late fees and other penalties.

"They're ripping people off," said the 40-year-old hair stylist who sued Memphis-based Golden Title on Wednesday for alleged gouging.

Gray is one of three plaintiffs named in the Shelby County Circuit Court lawsuit that Memphis Area Legal Services hopes will galvanize support to reform practices among Tennessee's car title pledge lenders.

As a second prong in that strategy, the Memphis and Shelby County Anti-Predatory Lending Coalition has drafted a bill expected to be introduced [February 8, 2007] in the General Assembly. It would trim fees that title pledge lenders can charge.

"It's an industry that really preys on desperate people," said Legal Services attorney Webb Brewer, who likened title pledges to "evergreen loans" that keep rolling over month after month.

"They've got to come up with $220 every month just to keep from losing their car."

Golden Title owner Doug Golden has said his firm operates legally and ethically, but he wouldn't discuss developments Wednesday. "I'm just not going to make any comment on that," he said.

While some consider them predatory lenders, car title lenders say they provide a service to people who otherwise would find it nearly impossible to borrow.

Under state law, car title lenders can charge monthly fees of 2 percent interest and a 20 percent administration fee--22 percent a month--when a borrower pledges the title of an automobile as collateral.

The bill to be filed [February 8, 2007] by state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, and Rep. Larry Turner, D-Memphis, would limit the 20 percent administration fee to the first month.

After that, lenders could charge only the 2 percent interest a month. Also, after three months, a portion of what the borrower pays would be applied to lower the loan principal.

Herron already has filed a bill this session that would limit the number of months that a title pledge loan can be rolled over. He said he hopes the best aspects of the bills survive and become law.

"They're aimed at curing the same injustices," he said. "And too many injustices have been committed."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Legal Aid Requests Court Cease Routine Shackling Of Minor Child

Press Release, Legal Aid of North Carolina - February 5, 2007

With concern that handcuffing children may cause serious psychological and emotional harm, Greensboro attorney Bennett Hollers and Legal Aid of North Carolina attorneys filed a motion [February 5, 2007] to prohibit the practice of routinely shackling minor children while appearing as juvenile defendants in the court room. The motion is part of a juvenile delinquency petition in the Guilford County District Court.

"We suggest that handcuffing only be considered when the Court determines that the child may pose a physical threat to herself, others in the courtroom or is considered a genuine risk of fleeing the courtroom," says Keith Howard, staff attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Howard is one of several Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) attorneys who along with Hollers are advocating for the mental health needs of a 14-year-old girl in Guilford County District Court. The girl's medical records revealed a history of sexual abuse that also included being handcuffed by her abuser. Consequently, whenever she is handcuffed in court, she is reminded of her past sexual abuse.

"Our client has become very emotional and cried in court when she is handcuffed and shackled," notes Howard, "however, no one has stated that she posed a threat or risk of fleeing."

The motion filed [February 5, 2007] in Guilford County District Court includes a listing of NC statutes pertaining to the use of shackles on adult defendants and the rights of juveniles to have all the rights afforded adult offenders. The motion states that the policy and practice of shackling detained children without a judicial order violates the State and Federal Constitutions.

"We also suggest that the practice of indiscriminately handcuffing and shackling children is contrary [to] the legislative intent and rehabilitative purposes of the juvenile justice system," says Lewis Pitts, senior managing attorney for LANC's Advocates for Children's Services project. "Adult criminal defendants are not shackled in court without an individualized determination that they pose a threat to their safety, the safety of others or a risk of fleeing."

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

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Additional $4.8 Million For Civil Legal Aid Approved by Washington State Budget Panel

On February 21, 2007, Washington State's House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government & Audit Review approved the Washington state budget for 2007-2009, which includes an additional $4.8 million for enhancements to the Office of Civil Legal Aid, an independent agency of the judiciary responsible for ensuring that indigent persons have access to the civil justice system.

The budget explains that "funding is provided to increase statewide civil legal aid capacity in order to address civil legal needs identified in the 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study, and implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court's Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding and the 2006 Revised State Plan for Delivery of Civil Legal Aid Services."

The $4.8 million in funding is in addition to another $17.7 million included for the Office of Civil Legal Aid. The Office received $17 million for 2005-2007.

The additional funding was included in the proposed budget submitted to the legislature by Governor Chris Gregoire on December 19, 2006.

The budget will now go to the full House Appropriations Committee to await action, which according to news reports is expected in mid-March.

For more information on Washington State's budget, click here.

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Chief Judge Wants Changes: State High Court Leader Wants Equal Access For All New Mexicans

Scott Sandlin, The Albuquerque Journal (NM) - February 12, 2007

The day he was sworn in to head the state's highest court last month, a colleague awarded Edward L. Chavez a paper crown to signify the reign of a new chief.

Chavez gamely donned it. But if Chavez has run the fast track to the top--he is chief justice at age 49--he is also far from imperious.

Asked about his goals over for the next two years, the chief justice talked about equal access to justice for low-income New Mexicans. That focus, he said, is the collective will of the Supreme Court.

The State Bar studied the civil legal needs of low-income citizens years ago and found it wanting. Last year, the Equal Access to Justice Commission discovered little or no improvement to that bleak picture.

"I told the Legislature we're committed to doing our part to help," Chavez said. "We're trying to increase volunteer services. We're trying to help those who choose to be self-represented. There is so much more we can do to make courts more efficient."

Programs that permit lawyers to file pleadings--and the public to see them--by computer are one goal. Those would let the public find information on topics of interest, such as DWI statistics or employee background checks, he said.

The Supreme Court has appointed a committee looking at devising forms accessible to self-represented litigants on a Web site. It will also look at the possibility of producing a video with user-friendly "hot buttons" to help litigants fill out forms online.

"I think if we could increase volunteer lawyer services in this area... that would go a long way, and at least maximize the potential for the forms to be accurately completed," he said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED

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