LSC Updates - November 20, 2009
Washington Post Urges Congress to Fully Fund LSC
The Senate has approved $400 million in fiscal 2010 funding for the Legal Services Corporation, a $10 million increase over current levels. LSC's funding is contained in the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 2847), which passed the chamber on Nov. 5.
In a press release, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett thanked the Senators who supported the increase and highlighted the need for continuing support of civil legal aid. "Millions of low-income Americans are desperately seeking legal assistance during these difficult economic times," she said, "and I hope that the Senate continues to address this critical need going forward."
The bill now heads to a conference committee composed of negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives, who will be responsible for crafting a final version of the bill to submit for President Obama's signature.
In June, the House approved $440 million for LSC, $40 million more than the Senate figure and $5 million more than the amount recommended by the President. The House bill also differs from the Senate version in regards to the lifting of certain restrictions on the activities of LSC grantees.
This week, The Washington Post published an editorial urging Congress to fully fund LSC in the final version of the bill. "Tough economic times have led more poor-and newly poor-people to need legal help," reads the editorial. "The LSC has been grossly underfunded for years, and the amount of money it gets from private and non-federal government sources has been shrinking because of the recession."
"Fully funding" LSC in the final bill will help ensure that legal aid is available to those who need it, says the Post.
The Legal Services Corporation announced on Nov. 10 that it has awarded $3.5 million in technology grants to LSC-funded programs, including more than $400,000 to develop resources, including a national website, for veterans, military personnel, and their families who need help with civil legal problems.
The website will serve as a central location for information and online tools designed to address specific civil legal needs of veterans and military personnel-especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan-and individuals with a military connection, such as family members. The site will also serve as a resource for legal aid lawyers and volunteer attorneys working with these groups.
Four LSC programs received grants to develop resources for the site: Colorado Legal Services, based in Denver; the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Ky.; Pine Tree Legal Assistance, based in Portland, Maine; and Wisconsin Judicare, based in Wausau.
In Kentucky, Congressman John Yarmuth, whose district includes Louisville, joined representatives from the Legal Aid Society and the commissioner of the state's Department of Veterans Affairs to announce the local grant. "Those who fought to protect our rights should never be left without the resources to secure their own," said Congressman Yarmuth.
Jeffrey Been, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, said, "Veterans sacrifice so much for their country, but often come home and face the same challenges many other low-income citizens face, which includes a huge need for legal assistance. This grant will allow us to reach out to veterans and assist with the legal obstacles that prevent some vets from achieving a stable and prosperous transition into civilian life."
The funding was distributed as part of LSC's Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, which supports technology projects aimed at increasing access to justice for low-income Americans. In all, 38 grants were distributed to 25 programs in 19 states this year. The total funding-$3,505,761-includes $330,000 from the State Justice Institute, a federally chartered organization dedicated to improving justice in state courts.
On Nov. 5, the Legal Services Corporation hosted the sixth in its series of conference calls with legal aid programs and national consumer and poverty law organizations to discuss initiatives aimed at addressing the nationwide foreclosure crisis.
Topics of discussion included foreclosure mitigation efforts by the Federal Housing Administration, efforts to help tenants caught up in foreclosure actions, the role of state and regional task forces in addressing foreclosure issues, the Obama Administration's foreclosure initiatives and the work by Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles on a community project to assist homeowners dealing with balloon payments.
Nearly 30 participants joined the call. They included representatives from the Justice Department, the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and more than a dozen civil legal assistance programs.
Registration for the Legal Services Corporation's 2010 Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) Conference is now open. This year's conference will be held in Austin, Tex., from Jan. 12-15, and for the first time, will be held in conjunction with the Management Information Exchange (MIE) National Conference for Legal Services Administrators.
LSC's annual conference serves as the official launch of projects funded through the Corporation's TIG Program, but is recommended for anyone interested in using technology for the delivery of legal services. This year's event will feature "tracks" of sessions designed for legal services administrators, technology experts and lawyers, as well as a track on websites and document assembly. A tentative agenda of sessions is available through the registration link below.
The MIE Conference will begin on Jan. 12 and will include sessions on topics such as financial and budget reports, work and life balance, and a presentation from LSC's Office of Inspector General on preventing fraud.
LSC has launched a news feed on Twitter.com, the popular social networking service where users communicate via "tweets," short messages that can be read online or from a cell phone. LSC's feed-"LSC Tweets"-will connect the civil legal aid community with the latest news and information from LSC and other sources highlighting the work of civil legal aid programs and the importance of ensuring equal access to justice for low-income Americans.
LSC invites all interested parties to follow our feed at twitter.com/lsctweets.
The Walmart Foundation and the Walmart Legal Department announced on Nov. 13 that they were donating $100,000 to the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas, the two LSC-funded legal aid programs in the state. The grant will be distributed by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.
Part of the grant funding will help Legal Aid of Arkansas establish a medical-legal partnership in the northern part of the state, a project that will bring doctors and lawyers together to identify potential legal causes contributing to patients' poor medical health.
"The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission is honored by Walmart's generosity," said Professor Chuck Goldner, chair of the commission. "Walmart has always given back to the community, and it continues this tradition with this generous gift."
The announcement was made at the commission's first-ever Promise of Justice Conference in Little Rock, part of the group's Statewide Promise of Justice Campaign to raise funds and recruit pro bono volunteers to serve legal aid clients. The goal of the conference was to bring together stakeholders from throughout the state to develop solutions to problems that low-income Arkansans face when they try to obtain civil justice.
The event featured a keynote speech from H. Thomas Wells, Jr., immediate past president of the American Bar Association, presentations by state Supreme Court justices and discussion sessions on substantive areas of law.
The Home Depot Foundation has awarded $20,000 to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society to support its Health Law Partnership (HeLP), a medical-legal partnership that connects legal aid lawyers and law students with low-income patients of a local health clinic who have legal problems contributing to poor health. The project is a joint effort of Atlanta Legal Aid, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia State University College of Law.
"We are delighted to receive this award from the Home Depot Foundation," said Steve Gottlieb, executive director of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. "The award provides us with much needed support at a time when that support is most critical. Just as important, the award is a recognition of our place as an anchor non-profit providing critical services to the Atlanta community."
The grant was awarded through the Home Depot Foundation's Building Community Day program, a partnership with the Georgia Center for nonprofits that spotlights Atlanta's most effective nonprofit organizations. This year, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society was one of 20 groups to receive a grant through the program.
Click here for more information. ( 118k)
The creators of LawHelp.org/NY, a statewide legal assistance website aimed at helping low-income New Yorkers understand their rights and locate legal aid groups, announced on Nov. 9 that it was launching a new section dedicated entirely to military veterans and current members of the U.S. armed forces.
According to the announcement, the new section is designed to be a one-stop location for service members and veterans seeking information or legal help, and to be a resource for agencies or other organizations serving those groups. The section contains more than 300 resources on topics such as public benefits, health, housing, insurance, employment and more.
LawHelp.org/NY is a collaborative project of various public interest groups throughout the state, including the LSC-funded Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Legal Services NYC, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and Nassau/Suffolk Law Services. It also receives funding through LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program, which supports technology projects aimed at increasing access to justice for low-income Americans.
Congressman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) appeared at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, N.C., on November 9 to speak at an event highlighting the school's new clinics on wills drafting and juvenile justice and mediation.
Congressman Coble was instrumental in securing funds for the juvenile justice clinic, which allows law students to provide mediation services for parties in juvenile courts as an alternative to criminal prosecution.
"I'm excited about Elon Law," he said at the event. "I appreciate what all of you are doing and achieving here. I encourage you to thank your professors, who are interested in nurturing you and bringing you along in the practice of law."
A lawyer by trade, Congressman Coble earned his Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1962. He has served as an assistant county attorney in North Carolina and as an assistant U.S. attorney, and is a member of the Greensboro and North Carolina bar associations. Coble currently serves on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, which conducts oversight of the Legal Services Corporation.
The new clinics at Elon Law School are the latest additions to the school's two-year-old clinical law program, which has benefited from the participation of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) since its inception. According to George Hausen, executive director of LANC, the school's general clinic is housed entirely in the legal aid group's Greensboro office. LANC staff help design and teach the clinic's curriculum and supervise the students' legal work.
The partnership received some recognition recently, when the Greensboro Bar Association honored 43 Elon Law students with a pro bono award for working with Legal Aid of North Carolina to provide free tax return preparation assistance to elderly and low-income residents during the spring. The students' efforts helped save clients thousands of dollars in preparation fees and receive thousands more in refunds and tax credits.
New York's Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee is featured in a recent article by Michael H. Samuels in the Long Island Business News about the growing justice gap in America.
The article cites the Legal Services Corporation's 2009 Justice Gap Report, which shows that legal aid programs are forced to turn away one eligible client for each one they serve, all because programs lack the funding to provide help to everyone who needs it.
In Long Island, Marissa Luchs Kindler, one of Nassau/Suffolk's 45 attorneys, witnesses the justice gap at work every day. She says she sees an average of 30 to 40 clients a week-some of whom receive only a few minutes of advice or counsel-but could see many more.
"It's a matter of resources," she says. "Logistically, we can only do so much."
Jeffrey Siegel, executive director of the program, compares his program's offices to a hospital emergency room. "We are clearly the last resort," he says. "Just like an emergency room, we need to do triage. Unfortunately, our triage comes to the extent of turning someone away. We have to pick the cases in which we get the best results. We not only want to give these people their day in court, but we want them to prevail and to affect their lives in a meaningful way."
Note: See below to learn how Nassau/Suffolk Law Services made a meaningful difference in the life of one client facing eviction.
The American Bar Association's Center for Continuing Legal Education and Section of Litigation are sponsoring an online training session on Nov. 24 on the effective and efficient use of depositions. Complimentary tuition will be provided to the first 250 legal aid lawyers who apply. The session will address how to effectively prepare for a deposition and will provide solutions to common problems that arise during depositions. Ronald Jay Cohen, a private lawyer in Phoenix, Ariz., will lead the session.
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 Stops Eviction for Client
"Hilda" was facing eviction when she went to the Department of Social Services (DSS) for help paying back rent that had accumulated during a period of unemployment caused by complications with a pregnancy. Now employed, but facing eviction due to the unpaid rent, Hilda submitted an application for the Emergency Assistance to Families program but was immediately denied for failing to provide documentation that proved she was facing an emergency situation.
She sought help from the Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee's Welfare Unit and was connected with attorney Robin Sparks, who immediately contacted the agency and provided supporting documentation for Hilda's application. Armed with a 72-hour eviction notice, Sparks requested a hearing on the case to stay the eviction pending a judge's ruling.
At the hearing, the agency told Hilda to reapply the next day with her eviction notice to receive assistance. Sparks argued that Hilda's job was in jeopardy due to the amount of time she had taken to deal with this problem, and that her case should be resolved immediately, without reapplying to DSS. She also argued that the agency had mishandled Hilda's case.
The Administrative Law Judge ruled in Hilda's favor, finding that the agency was in violation of a requirement to provide assistance in order to prevent an eviction, and that DSS could have verified the impending eviction with the landlord instead of placing the burden on Hilda. The judge ordered the agency to grant Hilda eligibility and provide her the benefits necessary to pay her back rent and stay in her home.
Note: The original version of this story appears in the recent issue of the program's newsletter. Download it here. ( 967k)