LSC Updates - November 6, 2008
LSC's Board of Directors met in Salt Lake City from Oct. 31 through Nov. 1, for the group's fourth meeting of 2008.
The meeting began with a visit to Utah Legal Services, LSC's statewide grantee, which serves a low-income population of nearly 400,000 with 20 lawyers located in five offices throughout the largely rural state. Anne Milne, executive director of the program, welcomed the Board members and introduced them to her senior staff, who presented on various aspects of the program's work, including its important partnerships with other legal services providers, pro bono recruitment efforts, and extensive work in the areas of family and housing law. The Board also participated in an exercise designed to show the difficulties legal aid programs face in setting case priorities, and heard from three clients who had received critical legal assistance from the program.
During a luncheon on the meeting's first day, the group heard remarks from Christine Durham, Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, who spoke about the overwhelming need for civil legal services in her state and throughout the country, and argued that states and state courts are uniquely situated to advance the issue of a right to counsel in civil cases. Also at the luncheon, the Board's Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee, chaired by Professor David Hall of Boston, continued its tradition of honoring exceptional pro bono work on behalf of legal aid clients. Private attorneys James Baker and C. Richard Henriksen, the law firms of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Dorsey & Whitney, Holland & Hart, and the Southern Utah Bar Association each received awards for their dedication to providing volunteer representation to clients of Utah Legal Services.
When the full Board convened for business on Nov. 1, Chairman Frank B. Strickland of Atlanta opened the meeting by announcing that the Board had asked LSC President Helaine M. Barnett to continue serving through 2009, and she had accepted the appointment. "We're just delighted that she's going to be available and look forward to her continued leadership of the Corporation next year," said Strickland. Barnett then presented the Board with an update on her recent activities and the status of several LSC initiatives, including efforts to address the nationwide foreclosure crisis and the progress made with national partners to address the needs of low-income victims of natural disasters. Jeffrey E. Schanz, LSC's Inspector General, reported on developments in his office. David Hall reported that the Provisions Committee had heard reports from LSC staff on progress toward helping grantees meet the technological capacities expected of legal aid offices, efforts to increase partnerships with law schools, plans for LSC to develop a national pro bono honor roll, the future of LSC's Loan Repayment Assistance Program, and Native American funding issues.
Michael D. McKay of Seattle, chairman of the Finance Committee, reported on LSC's final financial report for FY 2008, and offered a resolution for the Board to approve LSC's temporary operating budget for FY 2009, which the committee had received from LSC management. The Board approved the resolution. McKay also offered a resolution for the Board to approve the FY 2010 budget request of $495.5 million that had been offered by LSC management and approved by the committee at its October meeting in Washington, D.C. During discussion of the resolution, members proposed an alternate figure of $485.1 million, which the Board adopted. Of the total, $460 million would go to Basic Field Grants, $3.4 million would fund Technology Initiative Grants, $1 million would support the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, $17.2 million would provide for management and grants oversight, and $3.5 million would go to the Office of Inspector General.
The Governance and Performance Evaluation Committee, chaired by Lillian BeVier of Charlottesville, Va., reported on its review of self-assessment forms for the entire Board and individual members, and offered a proposed evaluation schedule for conducting a self-assessment. Both the forms and the schedule were adopted by the full Board. In response to the Inspector General's suggestion that officials other than the IG's Legal Counsel and LSC's General Counsel function as ethics officers for the Office of Inspector General and the Corporation, respectively, the committee recommended that the Board appoint different officials to serve as ethics officers. The Board delegated responsibility to the Board Chair for selecting the new officers in consultation with LSC management and the Inspector General. Lastly, the committee reported on presentations by LSC staff regarding the transition to a new Board under a new Presidential administration.
The Operations and Regulations Committee, chaired by Tom Meites of Chicago, reported on three rulemaking issues. The committee recommended that the full Board adopt revisions to LSC's Freedom of Information Act regulations to implement changes in the law made by the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The revisions require making two minor technical amendments, and designating the Office of Inspector General as a separate component for receiving requests for OIG records. The Board adopted the revisions. The committee also recommended that the Board publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to give LSC additional enforcement mechanisms, or alternative sanctions, to use against non-compliant grantees, but the Board voted not to publish the notice. Finally, the committee reported that it had asked LSC staff to draft, for the committee's consideration, a rulemaking notice that would expand the income eligibility criteria for victims of natural disasters.
The Legal Services Corporation has awarded an emergency grant of $80,894 to Acadiana Legal Service Corporation to provide civil legal assistance to Louisiana hurricane victims, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett announced on November 4. Acadiana, with headquarters in Lafayette, La., will use the grant to cover personnel costs from an increased caseload caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
"Legal assistance is a critical part of the recovery process for natural disasters, and LSC-funded programs are called upon to provide crucial legal assistance to low-income families and individuals in desperate need," Barnett said.
Joseph R. Oelkers III, executive director of Acadiana, said, "I am overjoyed that LSC has found the resources to make this grant. I am very grateful on behalf of the people who were affected by the hurricanes and who have begun and will continue to experience legal problems."
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett will be the keynote speaker at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County's 50th anniversary celebration in Anaheim, Calif., on November 6. During the event, LASOC will pay tribute to LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program, which has provided the organization with funding and support for its efforts to better serve clients through the use of technology. Members of Orange County's legal community who have made important contributions to LASOC throughout its history will also receive awards. Thomas A. Fuentes, a member of LSC's Board of Directors and Orange County native, will attend the event as an honored guest.
The American Bar Association's Judicial Division recently published the latest issue of its Judges' Journal, the second in a two-part series on access to justice. This issue features LSC President Helaine M. Barnett's article, "Bridging the Justice Gap," on the important role of the judiciary in increasing the availability of civil legal services for low-income Americans. "When judges make access to justice a priority," says Barnett, "legislators, lawyers, corporate leaders, and others often redouble their commitment to help meet the civil legal needs of the poor and strive to make justice available to all, rather than to just those who can afford to pay for it." The issue also features articles by John T. Broderick, Jr., chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Peter B. Edelman, chairman of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, and Deborah G. Hankinson, former Texas Supreme Court justice and current chairperson of the ABA's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.
Equal Justice Works of Washington, which works with law students to promote public interest legal careers, has announced that the U.S. Department of Education has released the final regulations for the loan repayment assistance provisions of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which became law in September 2007. The bill would help civil legal aid lawyers by completely forgiving their debt on certain student loans after 10 years of service, and would lower monthly loan payments for all holders of federally guaranteed student loans. Equal Justice Works noted in their announcement that the Department of Education received more than 1,700 comments regarding the bill, most of them addressing the public service loan forgiveness program. A majority of those comments were from law schools, law students, legal aid centers, clinics and associations, public interest attorneys and public defenders.
The Fayette County Bar Association of Kentucky and the Board of Directors of Maryland's Legal Aid Bureau have each adopted resolutions aimed at increasing private attorney involvement with LSC's grantees. To date, 97 of 136 LSC-funded programs have adopted such resolutions, while one other bar association-the Memphis bar of Tennessee-has also committed to encouraging its members to partner with legal aid programs.
LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."
LSC recently honored five employees for reaching historic milestones or making extraordinary contributions to the Corporation. Yvonne Robertson and Timothy Wilson, both from the Office of Financial and Administrative Services, were recognized for 30 years of service to LSC, while General Counsel Victor M. Fortuno and Alberto Lopez-Silvero from the Office of Compliance and Enforcement were recognized for 25 years of service. Lopez-Silvero and Tracye Busbee from the Office of Human resources also received Above and Beyond Awards from LSC President Helaine M. Barnett for their extraordinary contributions to LSC. Busbee was specifically recognized for her assistance in helping LSC select and transition to a new retirement plan provider, and for managing the team responsible for revising LSC's emergency response plan. Lopez-Silvero was recognized for his willingness to go above and beyond in sharing his technical expertise with grantees on how to improve their fiscal systems.
By Britney Jackson, Communications Director of Lone Star Legal Aid
It came ashore after churning in the Gulf for days, unraveling destruction none of us could have ever imagined. In the span of 10 violent hours, on the night of Friday, September 12th, Hurricane Ike flattened most of the Texas Gulf Coast, submerging thousands of homes, prompting rooftop rescues for those who either braved the storm or were stranded by unexpectedly fast-rising storm surges. Millions of residents in tiny towns dotting the coastline, as well as major cities like Houston, Galveston and Beaumont were left pondering the same question-what do we do now?
On day one, Lone Star Legal Aid mobilized bilingual two-person legal teams to work onsite at local shelters and provide free legal advice relating to FEMA and other government benefits, lost or destroyed documents, evacuee relocation housing, school enrollment questions and other common disaster recovery legal matters. After more than a month, LSLA staff continues working day and night to provide legal aid relief in all 29 counties declared disaster areas by the federal government. All of these counties are in the LSLA service area. So far, our team has traveled thousands of miles across the state, advising and helping Texans wherever possible through mobile offices staffed by Lone Star Legal Aid disaster experts at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) and through the Hurricane Hotline, as well as with local community organizations, churches and shelters for the many thousands persevering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Click here for the full article. ( 161k)
Courier Post Online (NJ) – October 15, 2008
The Camden County Bar Association (CCBA) has recently partnered with South Jersey Legal Services, Inc. (SJLS) to establish a pro bono Children's Advocacy Project. The project's mission is to help meet the most pressing legal needs of impoverished children in Camden County. The Children's Advocacy Project matches volunteer attorneys with children needing advocacy in one of three areas: Children's Supplemental Security Income, Education, and Access to Health Care, and is destined to bring about hope and change through legal advocacy which would otherwise not exist for these children. It has the potential not only to impact on the life of a child, but to impact positively the communities of Camden County by equalizing the scales of justice.
Thirteen LSC-funded programs in nine states-California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee-received a total of $2.9 million in grants to fight housing discrimination, according to an Oct. 17 announcement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant amounts range from $81,000 to $275,000 but most are above $200,000. The bulk of the grants distributed by HUD were to help groups investigate alleged housing discrimination and enforce the federal Fair Housing Act and similar state and local laws. One of the grant recipients, Pine Tree Legal Assistance of Maine, made news in 2005 when it released a report finding that nearly half of the state's landlords failed to comply with fair housing laws. "Our local partners are critical not only in enforcing the law but in reinforcing the message-housing discrimination is illegal and HUD will take action to eliminate it," said Kim Hendrick, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
Legal Services of North Florida had a lot to celebrate when donors, board members and staff gathered at the headquarters of the Tallahassee-based legal aid group on Oct. 29. They came together to mark the 30th anniversary of both the organization and its executive director, Kristine E. Knab, who started as a staff attorney in 1978 and has led the program since 1994. During the ceremony, the program's Board of Directors honored Knab's decades of service by naming the main office's lobby after her. It turned out there was even more to celebrate, when the president of the local United Way chapter announced that his group would donate the last $20,000 to Legal Services of North Florida's $2 million endowment for the future of legal services. "We don't generally make contributions to capital campaigns," said the local United Way president. "It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time." Said Knab, "It's exciting...to know that this agency will be in good shape for the future...to be able to continue to help people."
The Lafayette-based Acadiana Legal Service Corporation celebrated its 30th anniversary on Oct. 25 at an event that also provided an opportunity to recognize the program's executive director, Joseph R. Oelkers III, for his three decades of service to the organization. Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero, Jr., delivered the keynote address at the event. Over thirty years, Acadiana has grown from serving low-income Louisianans in six parishes to sixteen, with a 45-person staff operating out of a handful of offices. Oelkers has led the organization since 1978, during which time he has also led, or served as a member of, various organizations dedicated to increasing access to justice throughout the state. He was the president of the Lafayette Parish Bar Association from 2004-2005, chairman of the Louisiana State Bar Access to Justice Committee for 12 years, member of the state bar foundation's board of directors, and member of the state supreme court's task force on legal services.
The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.
South Carolina Legal Services' Disaster Recovery Plan
South Carolina Legal Services has developed a disaster recovery plan covering its twelve offices located throughout the state, three of which are in coastal areas at high-risk for hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. The plan's objectives include safeguarding the lives of staff and clients who might be present in the program's offices during a disaster, speedily resuming services to clients following a disaster, and minimizing damage to the program's offices and other property. The plan is continually under review.
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 Calls on "Problem Solver" to Reclaim Client's Belongings
Legal aid lawyers know that "partnership" is a watchword of their profession. So long as the resources available to legal aid programs fail to meet the overwhelming demand for their services, they will need to rely on the services and expertise of other organizations and individuals-law firms, bar associations, pro bono attorneys-to help meet the needs of their clients. When Michelle Wetzel, an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, was approached by a client whose entire earthly belongings were poised to disappear in the hands of an unscrupulous moving company, she knew that time was of the essence and enlisted the help of an unusual partner to ensure the speedy recovery of her client's property. That partner was Jon Yates of the Chicago Tribune, a journalistic superhero to the distressed who goes by the name of "Problem Solver." Read how Yates helped solve Wetzel's client's problem in the Oct. 16 installment of Yates' bi-weekly column, "What's Your Problem?"
The contract Glenda Gardner signed with Baker Moving seemed crystal clear.
The California-based company would pick up her belongings in Houston and transport them to Chicago for $1,580.
The woman who gave her the quote over the telephone could not have been nicer, Gardner said. And the moving crew showed up at her Houston house right on time July 18.
Gardner, on a tight budget and moving to Chicago to help her sick brother, said she paid Baker Moving a $474 deposit and then gave the driver $870 when he picked up her stuff. She was supposed to pay the remaining $236 upon delivery.
But the move took an ugly turn.
While she waited for her belongings to arrive in Chicago, Baker Moving called her and said she owed more than the contract called for. For her furniture to be delivered, she would have to pay an additional $1,200.
Gardner protested, pointing out that the contract guaranteed the moving company could not charge more than 10 percent over the original estimate. A Baker Moving representative said she had exceeded her space limit by 70 cubic feet, and the only way she could get her belongings was to pay the extra money.
Gardner refused, saying the company was wrong. Besides, she didn't have the money. A single mother on disability, Gardner had chosen Baker Moving because it was all she could afford.
Days later, she said, the driver called. Gardner said he told her he was outside of Chicago with her stuff, but he would not deliver it unless she paid him $600. In cash. Again, Gardner refused.
After more failed negotiations, the driver called and told her she had missed her last opportunity. He was leaving.
Frantic, Gardner called Baker Moving repeatedly, leaving voice-mail messages she said were never returned. On Aug. 8, she wrote the company a certified letter. The moving company refused receipt.
Weeks passed. Gardner bought new clothes for herself and her teenage daughter. She borrowed money from family members to buy new sheets, towels and pillows.
The last time she spoke to the company was in late August, when a representative promised to call the next day with a resolution.
Gardner said she never heard from the woman again.
In September, Gardner contacted a lawyer at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. The lawyer then e-mailed What's Your Problem?
Note: Thanks to Wetzel's quick thinking and creative referral--and Yates's heroic problem solving abilities--Gardner was able to retrieve all her possessions without paying any additional charges.