LSC Updates - March 19, 2010
Six presidential nominees were confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 19 to serve on the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
The six nominees were Sharon L. Browne, Robert J. Grey, Jr., Charles N.W. Keckler, John G. Levi, Victor B. Maddox and Martha L. Minow. President Obama announced their nominations last year and the nominations were approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.).
LSC Board Member David Hall was installed as the fifth president of the University of the Virgin Islands on March 6 at an inauguration ceremony on St. Thomas.
"There are those who do not expect the University of the Virgin Islands to be a leader in educational innovation and excellence," said Hall in his remarks. "But I am here to declare that there is more to this University than the world might think, and our calling to greatness is within our reach."
The event included remarks from students and colleagues, a poetry reading and a musical tribute. In attendance were representatives from all levels of the Islands' government; faculty, staff, students and alumni from the university, and Hall's family, friends and former colleagues. LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland also attended.
Hall, formerly a professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and the law school's first African-American dean, was selected for the position by the university's Board of Trustees in March 2009 and took office in August. He has served on LSC's Board of Directors since 2003.
Tax-filing season is in full swing and a free website, developed with funding from the Legal Services Corporation, permits low-income workers to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The free electronic filing system, called I-CAN! E-File, was created by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County with funding provided by the Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program at LSC. It launched in 2003.
With slightly more than a month to go before the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns, EITC refunds and tax credits processed by I-CAN! E-File had topped the $100 million mark as of March 1. During last year's tax-filing season, the Legal Aid Society reported returning about $102 million in tax refunds, EITC and other credits to low-income workers in 45 states.
LSC's Office of Inspector General (OIG) joined the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and its OIG to announce on March 11 that the former head of the LSC grantee in American Samoa had plead guilty to stealing more than $30,000 in federal funds from the organization.
David Wagner, the former acting executive director of the now-defunct U'una'i Legal Services Corporation, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to stealing $31,292 in LSC and DOJ grant funds from the legal aid group between November 2005 and December 2006. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and payment of $31,292 in restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for July 12, 2010.
"Today's event represents a joint effort by the [DOJ's] Criminal Division, the LSC OIG and the DOJ OIG in protecting funds that serve the legal needs of the poor," Jeffrey Schanz, LSC Inspector General, said in the announcement.
LSC President Victor M. Fortuno said, "Instances like this are regrettable but serve as valuable reminders of the need for LSC and our grantees to ensure that all public funds are not misused for any individual's personal gain."
The Legal Services Corporation and the Center for Legal Aid Education will co-sponsor a one-day training session, "Board Development: The Legal Aid Context," on May 12, prior to the start of the Equal Justice Conference in Phoenix.
The training session, designed for Board members and executive directors of legal aid programs, is based on the ABA Standards and the LSC Performance Criteria. It will provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the full range of governing body roles, responsibilities and best practices specifically in the context of civil legal aid practice. Case studies exploring the role of a Board of Directors in oversight, planning, fiscal management and resource development will be a component of the training.
"This is a great opportunity for LSC programs to provide their boards with an exciting training experience," Karen J. Sarjeant, the LSC vice president for programs and compliance, said.
The training session will reflect the mission and values of civil legal assistance, the clients and communities served. Participants will leave the training with concrete tools and plans for strengthening board practice in their local LSC program.
Tuition for the session will be $75 for LSC programs. Space is limited to 30 participants. To register, visit https://www.acteva.com/go/legalaidregistration.
Persons who advertise themselves as a "notario" or "Notario Publico" may be misrepresenting their qualifications or fraudulently offering immigration and legal services.
In an effort to help protect Latinos and others from fraud, the Federal Trade Commission is urging LSC programs to direct complaints concerning Notarios Publico to the FTC. The Commission has learned that some consumer victims contact legal aid providers instead of the government, hoping to correct the problems caused in their legal proceedings by fraudulent Notarios Publico.
The FTC enters complaints into a secure online database that is used by civil and criminal law enforcement authorities worldwide. Submitting complaints can help the FTC detect patterns of wrongdoing and lead to investigations and prosecutions.
Consumers may file complaints in English or in Spanish online at www.ftc.gov/complaint or by telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP. If the consumer faces cultural or other barriers in filing the complaint directly with the FTC, legal services providers may file on their client's behalf and as the point of contact.
The FTC is especially interested in receiving complaints about someone advertising as a "Notario Publico." Because the FTC welcomes complaints on any consumer issue, to enable it to quickly identify notario complaints, persons filing a complaint should use the phrase "Notario Publico." Please give the name and location of the Notario Publico, explain how the services are advertised, and identify what type of services are provided.
The Maryland legislature is considering a proposal to increase certain civil court filing fees to create revenue for civil legal aid programs throughout the state.
The fee increases range from $10 for cases in the state's small claims court to $45 in courts handling commercial cases involving large sums. The increases could raise as much as $10 million a year for legal aid programs.
The Maryland Legal Services Corporation, which distributes state funds to legal aid groups, is expecting funds from its core source of revenue-Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts-to drop to $2 million in 2010, down from $6.7 million in 2008.
"We're having these incredible declines at a time when more people are losing their jobs, losing their homes and needing legal assistance," said Susan M. Erlichman, executive director of the Corporation.
The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post have both published editorials in support of the fee increases.
"Lawmakers should act to keep the gap in justice between haves and have-nots from growing even wider by passing this eminently sensible measure," said the Sun. "These relatively small increases could...make a world of difference to struggling families throughout the state," said the Post.
Both chambers of Maryland's legislature have passed versions of the bill as of March 18. For the bill to get to the governor's desk, a conference committee must meet to reconcile differences in the bills before submitting a final version to their respective chambers for a final approval.
Legal Services of North Florida has received a $100,000 grant for its Legal Assistance to Military Families Project, which provides free legal help to military personnel and their families impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The grant comes from The Florida BrAIve Fund, which was established by three Florida community foundations to address the urgent needs of military personnel and their families impacted by deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.
The project will provide legal aid for the full range of civil legal cases.
"There can be personal family issues: divorces, child custody cases," says Brian Norback, senior attorney with the legal services group. "Or say a service member gets sued by his credit card company, or faces foreclosure because while he was deployed he fell behind on his bills. We can intervene with the lender on his behalf and help the service member save his house."
South Carolina Legal Services has been nominated for a 2010 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for its support of employees serving in the National Guard or Reserve.
The award was established in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Defense's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve agency and has since been given to 130 companies, including Home Depot, Microsoft and Sears.
South Carolina Legal Services is one of 35 employers in the state and one of hundreds throughout the country to be nominated for the 2010 award. Nominations must come from a Guard or Reserve member employed by the organization, or from a family member.
The Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Legal Services Association's Older & Wiser program has been chosen by the American College of Trial Lawyers as the winner of its 2010 Emil Gumpert Award.
The award, which includes a $50,000 prize, recognizes programs whose principal purpose is to maintain and improve the administration of justice. The award has been given annually since 2005 to groups including the LSC-funded Dakota Plains Legal Services of South Dakota and Legal Aid University of Boston.
The Older & Wiser program, with the support and participation of state legislators, provides legal information and resources to senior citizens and their caregivers throughout Pennsylvania. Funding from the award will be used to expand the program to serve as a model for replication in other states and localities.
The Federal Trade Commission is hosting a free webinar on April 14 entitled, "The Hallmarks of Consumer Fraud Targeting Senior Victims: A Primer on How to Identify, Deter, and Defend Against Consumer Fraud."
The webinar will be hosted by an FTC attorney and will focus on consumer fraud issues impacting senior citizens, such as telemarketing fraud, identity theft, money wire scams, and deceptive health product claims.
The event is sponsored by the National Consumer Law Center and the U.S. Administration on Aging.
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.
Legal Aid Gets Loan Modification for Couple Facing Foreclosure
Mr. and Mrs. V were long-time homeowners nearing the end of their mortgage when they applied for a home equity loan to help one of their children with college tuition and other expenses. As part of the loan, they agreed to purchase a "payment protection plan" for an additional $72 a month, which they thought would protect them in case of disability or job loss.
After four years of timely payments, Mr. V developed a debilitating illness that kept him from working and forced his wife to quit her job in order to care for him. Despite having paid more than $3,200 for their "protection plan" and despite Mr. V qualifying as disabled under the terms of the plan, the loan company denied coverage to the couple and filed foreclosure proceedings in court.
The V's went to Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas for help. The legal aid program not only worked to have two foreclosure petitions dismissed, but they convinced the lender to provide the V's with some of the protection plan's benefits and referred the couple to a law school clinic that helped them successfully apply for Social Security benefits.
Despite the fact that the V's had not made payments for more than a year, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas found a sympathetic loan counselor who helped convince the lender to renegotiate the couple's loan so they could keep their house and afford to begin making the monthly payments again-a successful outcome for all parties.