LSC Updates - November 1, 2006

LSC President Helaine M. Barnett Speaks at Georgia Access to Justice Commission Meeting

On October 31, 2006, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett spoke at a meeting of the Georgia Equal Justice Commission's Committee on Civil Justice, held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The committee's vice-chair is Anne W. Lewis, a partner of LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland at the law firm of Strickland Brockington Lewis. Rita Sheffey, President of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, also serves on the committee. Phyllis Holmen, Executive Director of Georgia Legal Services, and Steven Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, serve on the advisory committee to the commission. Leah Sears, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, delivered the welcoming remarks to the assembled group and attended the entire day's session.

Ms. Barnett, who was introduced by Mr. Strickland, updated the attendees on national developments in the equal justice community, including the findings of LSC's Justice Gap report, the impact of the growing justice gap on America's judicial system and on LSC's FY 2007 appropriation and FY 2008 budget request, LSC's private attorney involvement initiative and Quality Agenda, and LSC's strategic five year plan. Ms. Barnett stressed the importance of leveraging federal resources and the need for partnerships and collaborations to ensure that equal access to justice becomes a reality. Ms. Barnett also suggested a variety of actions that can be taken at the state level to improve access to justice.

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LSC Board Member Sarah Singleton Speaks at Indiana Legal Services 40th Anniversary Celebration

On October 21, 2006, LSC Board Member and Hammond, Indiana, native Sarah M. Singleton spoke at Indiana Legal Services' (ILS) 40th Anniversary celebration.

Ms. Singleton discussed how her upbringing as a Hoosier "is not unrelated to my desire to expand the legal aid system so that it fully responds to the legal needs of poor people." She recalled her economically mixed grade school, and the poor children who were absent when it snowed because they did not have good enough shoes or jackets for the walk to school.

"I doubt if the Northwest Indiana office of ILS is handing out shoes and warm clothing to today's counterparts of my classmates," she said, "but they might be, and I hope they are, helping their parents get benefits so they can be sure their kids have good enough clothes to get to school; they might be helping their families stay in their homes so the kids do not become part of the growing number of homeless children who leave school. Legal aid can give these people a fighting chance."

Ms. Singleton also congratulated the celebrants on 40 years of service to low-income Hoosiers, and updated them on national developments in the legal services community. She discussed the findings of LSC's Justice Gap report, LSC's FY 2007 appropriation and FY 2008 budget request, and LSC's private attorney involvement initiative and Loan Repayment Assistance Program.

"All of you who are here to support ILS know that we must fight to end the injustice of rationing justice," she said. "Thank you for that support."

The event's featured speaker was Morris Dees, Chief Counsel and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The son of Alabama farmers, Dees has won major judgments against the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations. He is also known for promoting tolerance through the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance Project.

For more information on the event, click here.

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LSC Board Meets in Charleston, West Virginia

LSC's Board of Directors met in Charleston, West Virginia on October 27th and 28th. On October 27th, the LSC Board was hosted by Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV). After meeting with LAWV attorneys and staff to start the day and hearing about the issues facing the grantee, the LSC Board visited the HOPE House domestic violence shelter and the Kanawha County Department of Health and Human Resources. LAWV has creative partnerships with both programs which help leverage limited resources and improve the availability of legal aid to victims of domestic violence and low-income clients. At lunch, the Board heard from Irene Berger, a Circuit Judge of Kanawha County who began her legal career as a legal aid lawyer. The LSC Board was impressed by the quality and creativity of LAWV, as well as the strong support the program receives from the West Virginia bar.

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LSC Revises Regulation Prohibiting Discrimination on Basis of Handicap; Defers Action on Client Grievance Procedure Regulation

On October 28, 2006, LSC's Board of Directors adopted the final rule revising LSC's regulation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability (45 CFR Part 1624). Rulemaking procedures for this regulation were initiated in October 2005, because the regulation had not been updated since its adoption in 1979.

The final rule updates the terminology used to refer to persons with disabilities, adds a reference to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and adds language to the enforcement provision setting forth LSC policy regarding investigation of complaints of violation of this regulation. Text of the final rule will be published in the Federal Register shortly, and will take effect 30 days after the date of publication.

Additionally, LSC's Board deferred consideration of the draft final rule revising LSC's regulation on client grievance procedures (45 CFR Part 1621). The comment period for this regulation will be reopened for a period of 45 days after publication of the notice in the Federal Register. The Board will resume consideration of the draft final rule at its meeting in January 2007.

For more information on the revision of these regulations, click here.

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LSC in the News

Close To Accord, City Razes 1 Unit

Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun Company (MD) - October 27, 2006

Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday helped topple the roof of the lone building approved to come down in a vacant Southwest Baltimore apartment complex, a large redevelopment project that has been held up for two years by a legal dispute.

Attorneys from the Legal Aid Bureau waged a successful fight this week to ensure the demolished unit at Swann Avenue and Old Frederick Road in the Uplands Apartments is the only one razed until a final agreement is reached in a long-running federal court suit on behalf of former tenants seeking assurances that the new project will include low-income housing.

But city housing officials and attorneys for Legal Aid have agreed in principle on a deal that would allow enough low-income housing to be built for many residents relocated from Uplands Apartments to return if they so choose. Legal Aid, which represents the former residents in the suit against the city and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, went to a judge Wednesday to halt demolition of the 979-unit complex, arguing the deal needs to be finalized in court.

Lawyers for HUD, Legal Aid and the city participated in a conference call with Chief Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm on Wednesday. Grimm said privacy laws prevent him from discussing what was said during the meeting, but he was under the impression all sides consented to a resolution.

A spokesman for Legal Aid said the city, after yesterday's ceremony, agreed to not demolish any more of the buildings until the case is settled.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Health Benefits Being Revived

Kelly Brewington, The Baltimore Sun (MD) - October 20, 2006

Maryland health officials said yesterday that they will begin reinstating health benefits for thousands of legal immigrant women and children who were dropped from a state health insurance program 16 months ago.

The decision--a week after Maryland's highest court sided with 13 sick immigrant children who were cut from the program--amounts to a major policy reversal by the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. In July 2005, administration officials eliminated $7 million from a Medicaid program covering about 4,000 low-income pregnant women and children who have been in the country legally less than five years.

The battle over immigrant health care benefits entered the courts last fall when the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and Bethesda attorney Douglas M. Bregman filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that the administration's actions were discriminatory.

In its unanimous decision last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge's preliminary injunction blocking the cuts, paving the way for the restoration of the children's benefits. That decision applied only to the plaintiffs, including a boy with a complex blood disease and a girl with West Nile virus.

McCann said yesterday that his agency had begun restoring benefits to the 13 plaintiffs in the case and would start extending the benefit to similarly eligible families. He said families that were cut from the program more than a year ago and still meet the program's requirements should expect to receive letters in about two weeks informing them whether they are still eligible.

"I think the court was clear on what it decided, so we are implementing the changes," he said.

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

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Low-Income Tenants Claim Sexual Harassment By Former Landlord

Press Release, Legal Aid of North Carolina - October 25, 2006

Four former tenants filed a lawsuit against their landlord in Superior Court due to repeated and ongoing sexual harassment that they endured from him during their tenancies at the landlord's facilities in Winston-Salem.

The lawsuit, brought by attorneys with [LSC-funded] Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) and the Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina, alleges that the tenants were groped and propositioned by their landlord during their tenancies, all of which occurred during the period from 2002 to 2005. All four tenants were single, African-American females who lived separately and did not know each other before contacting LANC.

"These tenants were victimized by unwanted sexual touching and other types of harassment and exploitation from their landlord Robbie Watson," said Liza Baron, managing attorney in LANC's Winston-Salem office. "They reported his actions separately to us and did not know each other prior to consulting with us about it. Unfortunately, many tenants are not aware that it is a serious violation of the law for a landlord to proposition them or touch them in a sexual manner. Tenants have legal rights to enforce if this happens to them, and damages to pursue in court. Sexual harassment of women by their landlords is a violation of their rights in the place where women should be most safe: at home."

The tenants' former landlord, Robbie Watson, is a resident of Lexington, NC, according to the lawsuit. He owns approximately 120 rental units in Forsyth County. His tenants are primarily Section 8 tenants, which means that they receive a subsidy from the federal government to help with their rent payments, based on their income.

The tenants are seeking unspecified monetary damages. The lawsuit was filed on October 25.

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

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D.C. Access To Justice Commission Secures $3.2 Million For Civil Legal Services For District Residents

Press Release, District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission - October 5, 2006

Low-income District of Columbia residents and others who face barriers entering and navigating the civil justice system will benefit enormously from $3.2 million in funding that the District government made available for civil legal services in the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2006.

The funding, which will be distributed by the D.C. Bar Foundation, will provide for more legal services in housing-related matters, make legal services available in underserved areas of the District, and create a shared legal interpreter bank so that residents who are not proficient in English can communicate with their lawyer and understand the judicial process.

"By providing this funding, the District government has recognized the vital role of civil legal services in helping vulnerable District residents to solve problems that have a tremendous impact on their daily lives," stated Commission Chair Peter Edelman. "With poverty on the rise in the District, however, much remains to be done. The Commission will continue its collaborative efforts with the District government and organizations throughout the City to ensure that all residents have equal access to justice."

For more information on the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, click here.

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Legal Services for New York City Partners With DLA Piper US to Improve Educational Opportunities for Low-Income Children

On October 10, 2006, the law firm of DLA Piper US ("Piper") launched its "Access to Education" pro bono project, which seeks to improve educational opportunities for low-income children by, among other things, representing public school children in proceedings before schools and the Department of Education. LSNY will work with Piper to identify children in need of representation, and Piper will represent the children at no cost.

Tara Foster, an LSNY attorney, will serve as a part-time coordinator for the project by supporting the combined efforts of the two organizations. LSNY was given $66,000 by Piper to fund this position.

To read DLA Piper's press release announcing the project, click here.

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Legal Aid Kicks Off Final Year Of Funding Campaign

Charles Emerick, Kansas City Daily Record (MO) - October 26, 2006

With one year remaining in its largest campaign ever, Legal Aid of Western Missouri is closing in on its goal. The organization has raised $1,181,934 in two years, putting it within reach of a push to collect $1.5 million in three years. Wednesday marked the first day of the third year.

"We're 80 percent there," Jerry Wolf, Legal Aid's Justice for All Committee co-chairman and partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, said Tuesday during a reception at Diastole on Hospital Hill. "This is what establishes a level playing field. Everybody has a fair share." The campaign supports legal aid's effort to provide free civil legal assistance to low-income people in 40 counties in western Missouri. The three-year campaign is the largest in the organization's history. Christi Campos, Legal Aid's director of development, said it had raised more in its first two years than any other campaign had totaled.

Dick Halliburton, Legal Aid of Western Missouri executive director, said the money would aid the organization in serving approximately 3,800 families the next three years. "It's about serving our clients," Halliburton said.

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

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Legal Aid of Arkansas Attorney Wins Prestigious Award

Press Release, Arkansas Bar Association

The Arkansas Bar Association is proud to recognize the first recipients of the Lawyer Community Legacy Award. Two awards are presented bi-annually by the Association to attorneys and judges who have performed volunteer public services out of a sense of duty, professionalism, and a genuine desire to give back to the community.

Margaret Reger has spent her entire legal career defending equal access to justice. She spends each day fighting for the legal rights of those individuals who cannot afford an attorney. Working as a Legal Services Attorney for the past 28 years, Margaret has worked hard to provide an even playing field for her clients, including victims of domestic violence, individuals with substance abuse problems, and parents who have lost their children to state custody. She has fought to keep the doors of the Legal Services offices open amid funding crises while managing her ever-increasing caseload. As lead counsel and often as the only counsel for the Harrison Office of the Legal Aid of Arkansas, she serves as a role model for other lawyers by teaching them to vigorously defend those in their community in critical need of legal help.

Her relentless pursuit of equal access to justice has not gone unnoticed by those whose lives she has affected in her community and those that she works with on a daily basis. Margaret Reger is a lawyer who tirelessly works to advance the administration of justice in her community of Harrison.

For more information on the on the Arkansas Bar Association's Lawyer Community Legacy Award, click here.

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Legal Aid Goes A Bit Upscale [Editorial]

Frank Mickadeit, The Orange County Register (CA) - October 26, 2006

It seems so wrong, so un-capitalistic that a poor person could just hop on one of our shiny-clean OCTA buses for a dollar or two, be deposited mere steps away from his destination, enter a freshly painted and carpeted office, take a comfortable seat at a modern computer station, spend a few minutes typing and, at no charge, print out a perfectly acceptable legal document that could result in any number of judicial actions, from a small-claims judgment to the garnishing of wages.

All this and much, much more is now easily available with the opening of the new Orange County offices of the Legal Aid Society at 2101 N. Tustin Ave. in Santa Ana. Or, if you prefer, Bus Route 71 to stop No. 6733 and cross the street to the low-slung white building between Dairy Queen and Jiffy Lube.

My idea of a Legal Aid office: A sweaty, dirty-window storefront where law students and grizzled do-gooders perch on milk crates - runs in their hose and ties askew - and pound out eviction challenges on rattling Smith Coronas. I'd never been to Legal Aid's old office in Santa Ana, but they describe it as a cramped space not completely unlike that of my imagination.

Tuesday afternoon, they cut the ribbon on the new 18,000-square-foot Tustin Avenue office. Moments later, I strolled into a room so pristine the vacuum cleaner tracks still show up on the carpet. I bellied-up to one of the aforementioned computer kiosks to run a little drill.

The screen offered many options, such as: Small Claims, Paternity Petition, Divorce, Domestic Violence and Answer to Eviction. "Divorce and Domestic Violence are our most popular!" a young, enthusiastic paralegal informed me. And who said the law can't be fun?

Taking the bait, I clicked on the Domestic Violence box. Up popped a screen that told me a temporary restraining order is the first step in the process; that TROs are heard daily in court at 1:30 p.m.; and that the person I want protection from (oh, how about Buck Johns?) had to be notified by 9:30 a.m. It gave a definition of abuse, some examples, and then asked me, "Do you believe you have been abused?" I clicked on "Yes." It asked me my relationship to the abuser: Were we married? Lived together? Lived apart?

You get the idea - a computer questionnaire written at a sixth-grade level that when completed would yield a formal request for a TRO I could file in court. A paralegal and an attorney were nearby to answer questions and review the pleading.

This computer program existed before Tuesday, but, as Legal Aid executive director Bob Cohen says, "no one could find" the Garden Grove satellite office where it was located. And that's only a fraction of what Legal Aid will be able to more of and do better at its new, consolidated headquarters, he says. Video conferencing, hot-line (800-834-5001) services, accommodating student volunteers, one-on-one meetings with lawyers - everything will be easier for clients and staff. Legal Aid paid $3.2 million for the building - a former Ethan Allen showroom - choosing the location because of its central-county location, parking lot and proximity to a bus stop.

"We were splitting at the seams," consumer health-care attorney Nancy Rimsha told me. "It was bedlam."

Generally, to qualify for Legal Aid, a person can earn no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person, 125 percent is $12,250 a year; for a family of four, it is $25,000. Some types of cases, though, have a 200 percent threshold, and people over 60 needn't meet any income requirement. Call the hot line for details.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Preventing Rip-Offs, Foreclosure In Home Repairs [Editorial]

Kathryn Walker and Gregg Lombardi, The Kansas City Star (MO) - October 17, 2006

Imagine you are 74 years old and want some repairs on your porch.

A friendly contractor offers to make the repair and set up the financing to pay for it.

Six months later, the contractor, who was paid in full from the loan he set up, has done no work, and the lender has foreclosed on your home.

That's what happened to one Legal Aid of Western Missouri client. We'll call her Ms. Smith, a retiree, living in the home that she had owned for 30 years with her disabled son.

We see far too many cases like Ms. Smith's. Our senior citizens, many with significant equity in their homes, are among the most vulnerable targets for predatory lenders.

When seniors lose their homes to foreclosure, the results can be devastating.

Often they end up having to live in subsidized housing or in nursing homes--at tremendous expense to the state.

Westside Housing Organization, a member of the national NeighborWorks network, and Legal Aid of Western Missouri are teaming up to launch the Good Hammer Campaign, an initiative designed to stop predatory lending before it happens.

Here's how it works: A home inspector with Westside helps homeowners prioritize home repairs and connects them with reputable, qualified contractors and lenders.

Contractors are paid nothing until they have completed their work and it has passed inspection. They also guarantee the work for a year.

UMB Bank and Central Bank are making fixed-rate loans available to participants for as little as 5 percent over 10 years.

The Good Hammer Campaign gives neighborhoods extra muscle by putting more safeguards in place to stem the rise of predatory lending.

The timing couldn't be better.

Last year, Jackson County reported a staggering 1,200 foreclosures.

Luckily, Ms. Smith did not become one of those statistics. She and her son remained in their home with help from Legal Aid.

With greater education and stronger protections for homeowners, we can keep homeowners in their homes and drive out predatory lenders by rewarding contractors and lenders who do good work.

Kathryn Walker is the executive director of Westside Housing Organization. She lives in Shawnee. Gregg Lombardi is the deputy executive director of Legal Aid of Western Missouri. He lives in Kansas City.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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