LSC Updates - November 30, 2005
At the invitation of the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), LSC President Helaine M. Barnett delivered the keynote speech on November 22, 2005, at the 6th annual luncheon celebration of the Campaign for Legal Aid of SMRLS. The event was attended by approximately 350 lawyers, judges, bar leaders and other members of the Minnesota access to justice community. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of SMRLS and the importance of legal aid services to the justice system, as well as to celebrate SMRLS' annual fundraising campaign. The luncheon program also honored Glenn Dorfman, head of the Minnesota Association of Realtors, with the 21st Century Leadership Award for his help in achieving a $4 increase in real estate filing fees to generate increased state revenue for Minnesota's legal services programs. In addition, SMRLS attorneys Ken Gilchrist, Larry Nichol and Robert Youngerman were recognized for 25 years of service to the organization.
President Barnett's luncheon remarks reviewed national developments from LSC's viewpoint, acknowledged the valuable work of the Minnesota Legal Services Planning Commission, and highlighted some of the unique contributions of SMRLS to the goal of achieving equal access to justice for low-income persons in Minnesota. She also spoke of the importance of partnerships and collaborations within and outside the legal services community in the efforts to achieve equal access to justice.
As part of her visit to Minnesota, President Barnett also attended a reception Monday evening with members of the SMRLS Board, the judiciary and other bar leaders. On Tuesday morning, she visited the SMRLS program office and met with the program staff. President Barnett remarked that, "I am extraordinarily impressed by the leadership of Bruce Beneke, the longstanding Executive Director of SMRLS, the significant accomplishments of the program, their extensive community outreach and the successful results they have achieved for their clients."
On November 22nd, President Bush signed the Science, State, Justice, Commerce, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006, which funds LSC. The bill provides $330.8 million for LSC in fiscal year 2006, the same amount appropriated to LSC in FY 2005. However, the bill contains a .28% across-the-board rescission that reduces LSC's budget to $329.8 million. Future government-wide rescissions could reduce LSC's FY 2006 budget even further.
Attorneys from Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services HELP project represented four Somali families in a housing discrimination complaint against their management company. The apartment complex is located in Owatonna, Minnesota, a rural community in the southern part of the state with a growing Somali population. An investigation into the practices of the company revealed selective enforcement of rules. It was also found that Somali families were being assessed fines for minor rules violations. A complaint was filed with the Minnesota State Department of Human Rights. The Department determined that there was probable cause that Somali families were being treated less favorably.
A mediated settlement resulted in broad relief for all the Somali families at the complex. Relief included: replacement of the apartment manager, diversity training for the companies' staff, implementation of a system for translation and interpretation for Somali tenants, revised residency rules, clarification of what constitutes a lease violation, suspension of the fines and charges policies, an opportunity for tenants to give input in the adoption of apartment rules, prompt completion of needed repairs, dissemination of tenants' rights to privacy statute, revision of complex rules so that they do not just apply to children, promise to refrain from towing legally parked vehicles, and a promise to refrain from charging for repairs when they are due to ordinary wear and tear. The settlement agreement was approved by the Commissioner on November 18, 2005.
Legal help is just a few clicks away now that The South Carolina Centers for Equal Justice has developed a new Web site, complete with handy tips and an abundance of resources from throughout the state.
Located at http://www.LawHelp.org/SC, the Web site was recently launched to give people the opportunity to explore their legal options through an Internet guide.
"This new Web site is a referral gateway that provides links to over 600 agencies, courts, legal services providers, South Carolina Bar programs and guides to other resources," said Andrea Loney, SCCEJ Executive Director.
Included on the Web site is information about legal rights and legal responsibilities, copies of legal forms and court information, referrals to legal service organizations and pro bono programs that are designed to provide free and low-cost legal assistance and contact information for local telephone hotlines, social services and community organizations.
The Web site is a project of The SCCEJ, funded by the Legal Services Corporation, powered by ProBono.Net and supported in part by Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.
The public thinks there are two American systems of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor, the chief justice of Florida's Supreme Court said last week during Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's Equal Justice Reception. Barbara Pariente then challenged the room to go out and prove that perception wrong.
Pariente conceded that her admonition amounted to "preaching to the choir." The crowd assembled at The River Club Tuesday evening included some of Jacksonville's most giving attorneys both in terms of money and pro bono hours. The annual Equal Justice Reception honors the attorneys and firms that do the most to further JALA's mission of providing legal services to the poor.
But despite those contributions, the gap is widening between the level of legal service provided to America's wealthiest citizens and what the rest of the country can afford, said Pariente. "It's not just low-income people any more that can't afford meaningful access to the courts," said Pariente. "It's middle-income people as well. We have got to do more."
That means more lawyers following the Supreme Court's recommendation of a $350 annual contribution to groups like JALA, said Pariente. Right now, fewer than one in five attorneys meet that standard.
"We call $350 the 'buyout amount,'" said Pariente. "Really, is there any attorney at a reasonably-sized firm where $350 amounts to more than one hour of billing?"
Pariente also wants attorneys who work pro bono hours to focus more of their energy on helping the poor. Organizations like JALA are severely understaffed, she said. For every 6,861 low-income Florida citizens, there's one Legal Aid attorney, she said.
Pariente noted that, while charitable giving is at an all-time high nationwide, less of that money is directed toward the poor. That's a trend she sees in Florida's legal community as well. Although any kind of giving should be recognized, contributions to the poor are needed most, she said.
"Providing pro bono services to a hospital or a museum is not the same as providing services to an organization that serves the poor," she said.
Several Hidalgo County migrant workers are suing a Minnesota wreath company, claiming the employer did not provide the jobs and travel reimbursements it had promised them.
Seventeen local farm workers in October filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota against Mickman Brothers Inc., a Ham Lake, Minn.-based nursery and landscaping company.
The original complaint says the company, in fall 2003, violated the workers' rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. This federal mandate, passed in 1983, sets protections for migrant workers and employers, including safe housing and disclosures about wages and duties.
The lawsuit also claims the company breached the workers' contract and the Minnesota law pertaining to false statements as an inducement to employment, according to court documents.
"Basically, the clients don't know what happened," said Linley Boone, one of two lawyers with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid in Weslaco representing the workers. Rodolfo Sanchez of Legal Aid and Minneapolis-based lawyer Bruce Nestor also represent the workers. The plaintiffs first visited with Legal Aid in early 2004.
"They think there was some mix-up in the hiring, some sort of discrimination going on," Boone said. "I guess without further investigation, we're not exactly sure why (the workers) were recruited to go there."
At an Anchorage Board of Realtors luncheon here today, a coalition of 31 private and public organizations, including [Alaska Legal Services Corporation,] the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, AARP Alaska, Anchorage Neighborhood Housing Services, Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services and Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE), launched a major statewide public education campaign aimed at preventing predatory lending practices in Alaska.
The coalition has established a toll free consumer help line that will be staffed by trained professionals who can offer free assistance to individuals seeking information about purchasing a home, refinancing, consolidating debt, taking out a home-equity loan, and mortgage foreclosure prevention. Individuals can also be referred to appropriate legal or financial experts.
The coalition urges consumers to call the Don't Borrow Trouble® Alaska help line -- at 888-925-2521 -- that will be staffed by trained professionals who can offer free assistance to individuals seeking information about purchasing a home, refinancing, consolidating debt, taking out a home-equity loan, and for mortgage foreclosure prevention. Individuals can also be referred to appropriate legal or financial experts.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has approved a new standard to evaluate the reasonableness of the yield on lawyer trust accounts, commonly referred to as IOLTA accounts, today announced Judge Philip S. Carchman, acting administrative director of the courts. Financial institutions have until January 31, 2006, to meet the new standard.
In New Jersey, the income earned by IOLTA accounts is used to provide funding for Legal Services of New Jersey, which delivers civil legal aid to low-income people; the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, which sponsors law-related education programs; and discretionary grants awarded by IOLTA trustees to organizations providing legal assistance and information. Under the new "best customer" standard, banks must provide for IOLTA accounts the highest yield available among certain accounts as provided to their best customers with similarly-sized accounts. Alternatively, banks may offer either 1) 60 percent of the Federal Funds Target Rate paid on an interest-bearing checking account, or 2) a yield specified by IOLTA and agreed to by the financial institution. Attorneys must deposit their trust monies with banks that choose to meet these IOLTA requirements as approved by the Court.
The "best customer" standard ensures that the return to IOLTA on trust account balances will be both "reasonable" and "comparable" to the rates paid to other depositors with similar accounts at the particular financial institution.
SUCCESS STORY FROM THE LAFAYETTE PARISH BAR ASSOCIATION
(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.)
LEGAL AID REBUILDS LIVES
Kayla Gagnet, The Daily Advertiser (LA) - November 29, 2005
Jonathan Barker, 18, just got out of jail. He's staying at the Salvation Army, and he's trying to get his life rolling again, starting with a job.
"I needed another legal document so I can work at some place that requires two forms of ID," Barker said.
However, with no money and no access to legal help, Barker couldn't get identification easily. At the Acadiana Outreach Center on Monday, he met with Christian Lewis, an attorney with Lafayette Volunteer Lawyers. Lewis notarized a copy of Barker's state-issued identification card and his jail card.
Getting identification - from photo IDs to Social Security cards and birth certificates - is a logistical challenge for the homeless and poor. With a new class of homeless created by the hurricanes, the need for proper ID to get aid, jobs and services is growing. Lafayette Volunteer Lawyers, an arm of the Lafayette Parish Bar Association, has a new program aimed at helping them get basic legal services.
The program, called Homeless Experience Legal Protection, has lawyers volunteer their time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
They can take people's names in order to request copies of their birth card - a smaller copy of a birth certificate - from Lafayette's vital records office. For people born out of state, the lawyers and bar association staff send letters to request the certificates.
Joseph Scott, 34, rode out Hurricane Katrina from central lockup in New Orleans. He said he spent four days in a cell before he was evacuated to Hunt Correctional Center and then to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
By the time he was freed from prison last week, he had little to his name but a photo ID.
"I was on the streets. I didn't have nothing," Scott said.
The program helped him get a copy of his birth certificate. Scott now is working with the staff at the Acadiana Outreach Center to fill out job applications.
Susan Holliday, executive director of the Lafayette Parish Bar Association, said although the program doesn't offer specific legal advice, she can refer people to lawyers who do pro bono work.
One man wanted to know if his mother's will entitled him to part of her estate. Another woman wanted a divorce, but she wasn't sure how to locate her husband in Missouri. Holliday said both are relatively simple requests that volunteers can fulfill.
Monday was Lewis' first day to volunteer for the program. He said he felt a higher calling to help the homeless.
"I profess to be a Christian, and I'm supposed to help the poor," Lewis said. "This seemed like a chance to help some people who needed help."