LSC Updates - November 7, 2007

Congress Passes New Continuing Appropriations Resolution

LSC to be Funded at '07 Levels Through December 14

LSC will continue to be funded at FY 2007 levels through December 14 under a new continuing appropriations resolution (CR) approved by Congress on November 6 as part of the FY 2008 Defense appropriations bill. President Bush will have to approve the bill before the new CR becomes law.

LSC has been operating at '07 levels since the '08 fiscal year began on October 1. LSC's FY 2008 appropriation is contained in the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which has not been finalized by Congress. The Senate has approved a total of $390 million and the House has approved $377 million. The houses have yet to meet in conference to resolve differences in the two bills and send a final version to President Bush for his signature.

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LSC Board Meets in Portland, Maine

Pine Tree Legal Assistance Celebrates 40th Anniversary

LSC's Board of Directors met in Portland, Maine, on October 26-27. The meeting was held in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary celebration of Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA), the LSC-funded program serving the entire state. Other highlights included an awards ceremony and meetings of all four Board committees.

The meeting began with a visit to PTLA headquarters, where LSC Board members heard moving stories from clients whose lives had been significantly improved by receiving legal assistance. Board members participated in a demonstration of PTLA's videoconferencing system, which connects the program's headquarters to its field offices, and is an example of the program's dedication to the use of technology to help improve the quality of service to their clients. The Board also heard presentations on PTLA's work to fight housing discrimination and keep people in safe, affordable, and habitable housing, and their special children's advocacy project.

PTLA Executive Director Nan Heald, left, stands with LSC Board Member Herbert S. Garten. PTLA Executive Director Nan Heald, left, stands with LSC Board Member Herbert S. Garten.

That evening, LSC Board members attended a reception to celebrate Pine Tree's fortieth anniversary, which included remarks by LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett.

Nan Heald, PTLA Executive Director, spoke to the Bangor Daily News about Pine Tree's history and her career with PTLA, which began as a staff attorney in 1985. "Our core mission is as important today as it was in 1967, it's just that the cases are different. Forty years ago, we weren't thinking about domestic violence and housing discrimination, which make up more than half our caseload today."

Reflecting on her work, Heald said, "It's tremendously satisfying what we do for clients. It changes every day. It's intellectually challenging, and the people I work with are fabulous role models. It's a tremendous thing to be working in a place where you admire and respect the people you work with. It makes you want to live up to their standards."

Left to Right: David J. Canarie, LSC Board Member David Hall, Peter B. Bickerman, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, Dina A. Jellison. Left to Right: David J. Canarie, LSC Board Member David Hall, Peter B. Bickerman, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, Dina A. Jellison.

David Hall, Chairman of the LSC Board's Committee on the Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services presented five pro bono awards to local attorneys who had made extraordinary pro bono contributions to Pine Tree's clients. The awardees are:

  • Sarah M. LeClaire
  • William B. Devoe
  • Peter B. Bickerman
  • David J. Canarie
  • Dina A. Jellison

LSC and the American Bar Association also honored the Honorable Howard H. Dana, Jr., with a Champion of Justice Award for his career-long dedication to the cause of equal access to justice. The award was presented by LSC Board Member Herb Garten and Deborah Hankinson, Chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. Dana recently stepped down from Maine's Supreme Judicial Court after serving 14 years as an Associate Justice. Dana served two stints on LSC's Board of Directors, once in 1981 and again in 1990. Dana has previously received the American Bar Association's Pro Bono Publico Award, the Maine State Bar Association's Public Service Award, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association's Arthur Von Briesen Award in recognition of his dedication to equal access to justice.

Left to Right: Deborah Hankinson, the Honorable Howard H. Dana, Jr., LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, and Herbert S. Garten.
Left to Right: Deborah Hankinson, the Honorable Howard H. Dana, Jr., LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, and LSC Board Member Herbert S. Garten.

Susan and Hugh Calkins were honored with the 2007 Downing Fund Award, distributed by the Downing Fund Board of Trustees to current and former PTLA staff who have made significant contributions to the program. Susan, who formerly served as Executive Director of PTLA, recently retired from Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, which she joined in 1990. Hugh recently retired as Director of Research and Development of PTLA, leaving the program after almost 40 years of service. The award was presented by Diana Scully, Chair of the Downing Fund Board of Trustees and widow of former PTLA lawyer Tom Downing, in whose memory the fund was established.

The Honorable Kermit V. Lipez, Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, addressed the Board during lunch on the meeting's first day. He discussed his work as the head of Maine's Justice Action Group (JAG), a committee of judges, bar association leaders, legislators, law professors, and legal aid lawyers that provides leadership and coordination to Maine's equal justice community. JAG recently released a report, Justice for All, which lays out a comprehensive statewide strategy for closing Maine's justice gap. Elements of the strategy include securing an increase in state funding for legal aid programs, mandating participation in the state's IOLTA program, and pursuing a right to counsel in certain civil cases.

In Board committee action, the Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee continued its discussion on recruitment and retention issues at legal aid programs. They heard three panel discussions on the subject, focusing on a fellowship program funded by local law firms, a medical legal partnership in Maine, and PTLA's retention incentive leave program which rewards staff with weeks of paid vacation after certain periods of employment.

The Operations and Regulations Committee deferred its decision on whether to initiate rulemaking on the adoption of additional enforcement mechanisms, referred to as lesser sanctions, to ensure LSC-funded programs comply with federal laws and LSC regulations. The committee will take up the issue again when the Board meets in January.

The Finance Committee met to discuss LSC's temporary operating budget, issuance of basic field grants pending adoption of LSC's FY 2008 appropriation, LSC's FY 2009 budget mark, and whether to invite broader participation in the development of LSC's budget requests to Congress.

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LSC Announces All Executive Director Meeting

LSC will host the second All Executive Director Meeting on June 10-11, 2008, in Washington, D.C.

The event will bring together leaders from all 137 LSC-funded programs to discuss issues of importance to the entire civil legal services community, to share ideas and discuss best practices, and formulate plans for future collaborations. The first All Executive Director Meeting coincided with LSC's thirtieth anniversary celebration in 2004.

LSC will establish a planning committee of LSC staff and Executive Directors to develop an agenda for the meeting.

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Case Service Report Trainings Still Available

There are several Case Service Report (CSR) trainings remaining before the new CSR Handbook goes into effect on January 1, 2008. The trainings are to acquaint staff of LSC-funded programs with the revised guidelines for counting and reporting cases to LSC. All programs are encouraged to take advantage of one of these in-person events. Staff from LSC's Office of Compliance and Enforcement have already hosted a number of these trainings, which have provided a unique opportunity for program staff to ask questions about the revised guidelines and share experiences with staff from other programs.

For the schedule of the remaining training events, and for instructions on how to register, click here.

To download the revised Case Service Report Handbook, click here.

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Senate Approves LSC-Funded Services to Temporary Forestry Workers

The U.S. Senate has approved a measure that would allow LSC-funded programs to represent non-citizen guest workers employed in the forestry industry.

The new measure would allow LSC-funded programs to provide legal assistance only in matters directly relating to the conditions of employment for these workers, including issues of salary, living conditions, and transportation. LSC-funded programs are currently prohibited from providing any representation to these workers.

The measure was adopted as an amendment to the FY 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) spending bill, which includes funding for LSC. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., sponsored the amendment, which will have to be approved in conference before it can be sent to President Bush for final signature.

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Seven More LSC-Funded Programs Adopt Pro Bono Resolutions

The Boards of Directors of seven more LSC-funded programs have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 51 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions. The seven programs are:

  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida
  • Legal Aid of Nebraska
  • Kentucky's Legal Aid Society
  • Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Mid-Missouri Legal Services Corporation
  • Pine Tree Legal Assistance (Maine)

Maine's three non-LSC funded legal aid programs--Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Equal Justice Project and the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project--have also adopted pro bono resolutions, making Maine the first state where all legal services providers have resolved to increase the participation of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients.

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."

For a complete list of programs who have adopted pro bono resolutions, click here.

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LSC in the News

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Partners with ABA on Standards for Representation in Civil Protection Order Cases

The American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Domestic Violence has released the first ever standards for legal representation in civil protection order cases.

The new standards focus on the intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in regards to civil protection orders, and address how culture, language, immigration status, age and/or disability may affect representation of clients.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorneys Laura Martinez, Ramona Natera, and Kevin Dietz--all domestic violence experts--partnered with the ABA and other organizations to help develop the standards.

"Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is proud to have partnered with the American Bar Association for this project. These standards are an important tool in providing quality legal services to victims of domestic violence and in helping them rebuild their lives and the lives of their families," said Dietz.

Staff from many other LSC-funded also programs contributed to the development of these standards.

To read the ABA's press release, click here.

To download the standards, click here.

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"Phony" Legal Aid Org. Sued on Behalf of Two LSC-Funded Programs

The San Francisco-based law firm of Morrison & Foerster has filed suit in Contra Costa County, Calif., against the Legal Center for Legal Aid, an organization alleged to have posed as a legitimate legal aid organization in order to prey on the poor and elderly in legal crises.

The LSC-funded Bay Area Legal Services and Legal Services of Northern California are plaintiffs in the suit, along with four individuals who sought assistance from the Legal Center, only to be charged steep fees for legal assistance that was never provided. One of the plaintiffs was evicted from his home after approaching the Legal Center for help. The suit accuses the Legal Center with false advertising, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, acts against senior citizens or disabled persons, and financial abuse of elder or dependent adults.

Toby Rothschild, General Counsel of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which has successfully shut down fake legal aid organizations in the past, told the Los Angeles Times that this problem is "very common" and is increasing.

"If you look in the phone book under legal aid, you will see a whole bunch of listings, and only one of them is us," he said.

To read Morrison & Foerster's statement on the suit, click here.

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Colorado Access to Justice Commission Holds Statewide Hearings on Justice Gap

The Colorado Access to Justice Commission has been holding hearings throughout the state to gauge the unmet need for civil legal services amongst low-income residents, and to identify opportunities for improvement.

Jonathan D. Asher, Executive Director of the LSC-funded Colorado Legal Services and member of the Commission, told the Summit Daily News, "Although we help a large number of low-income individuals and families facing legal problems, there are many more whom we cannot help despite their critical legal needs."

Fred Baumann, Chair of the Commission's Resource Committee, told the Summit Daily News, "Colorado is substantially below the national average in funding for legal services for poor people. We would need another $2.5 million just to bring our state up to average. That's a serious problem."

The Commission is an independent entity supported by the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Bar Association, and the Statewide Legal Services group. Its members include private attorneys, members of the judiciary, legal aid attorneys and others.

For more information on Colorado's Access to Justice Commission, click here.

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North Carolina IOLTA Program Now Mandatory

North Carolina is the latest to join a host of states in mandating participation in its Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program, which collects interest earned from accounts used by lawyers to hold their client's funds and distributes it as grants to legal aid organizations.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered the state bar to implement a mandatory IOLTA program for all lawyers in the state by January 1, 2008. Lawyers would need to comply with the program no later than June 30, 2008. The order stipulates that all active members of the North Carolina State Bar who maintain trust accounts must establish them as interest-bearing IOLTA accounts, and must certify their compliance when paying their bar dues.

According to the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, the state's IOLTA program generated $4.5 million in 2006, when 75% of all eligible attorneys participated.

"Because we don't know how many accounts are out there that we don't have participating, we can't say for sure how much additional interest will be generated through universal participation," Evelyn Pursley, Executive Director of NC IOLTA told the Lawyers Weekly, "But we've certainly seen that every state that has moved to mandatory has seen significant increases."

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California: Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance Launches Domestic Violence, Guardianship Projects

Press Release – October 24, 2007

The Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance Inc. in association with First 5 Kern is proud to announce the formation of the Domestic Violence Reduction Project and the Guardianship Caregiver Project.

Young children, especially those who are subjected to abuse and neglect, will be given a chance to grow up in a nurturing and stable home environment thanks to a recent grant awarded to Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance by First 5 Kern. GBLA was awarded $870,303 to expand legal services in the areas of domestic violence and guardianship. Both programs will make a world of difference in the lives of children who live in detrimental and uncertain conditions. Attorneys and paralegals from both programs will provide the full range of legal assistance and representation while Case Managers assist the children and family with obtaining other vital services such as health care and mental health screenings.

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

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Southeastern Pennsylvania Legal Aid Head Awarded for Making a Difference

Harvey Strauss, right, receives the Difference Makers Award from Robert A. Zupkus, Chair Elect of the ABA GP|Solo Division. Picture courtesy General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division of the American Bar Association. Harvey Strauss, right, receives the Difference Makers Award from Robert A. Zupkus, Chair Elect of the ABA GP|Solo Division. Picture courtesy General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division of the American Bar Association.

Harvey F. Strauss, co-Executive Director of Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania (LASP), has been honored by the American Bar Association's (ABA) General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division (GP|Solo) with its prestigious Difference Makers Award, which is given to recognize individual attorneys who have made an outstanding commitment to legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.

The award was given in recognition of Strauss's thirty years of service to southeastern Pennsylvania's most vulnerable individuals and families, first as Director of the Montgomery County Legal Aid Society, then as co-Executive Director of LASP since 2001.

"This award is evidence of the support Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania receives from our four local Bar Associations and their Boards of Directors, staffs and members. With their considerable financial and pro bono support our program is able to assist many more clients each year who would have no where else to turn for critically needed civil legal assistance. I accept this award in recognition of that support."

Strauss received the award during the GP|Solo Difference Makers Award ceremony, held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn., on October 5.

For more information, click here.

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Texas: Lone Star Legal Aid's Former Board Chair Appointed to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Press Release, Lone Star Legal Aid – October 25, 2007

Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, former Lone Star Legal Aid Board Chair, was recently confirmed to the Us Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, former Lone Star Legal Aid Board Chair, was recently confirmed to the Us Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, the first Board Chair of Houston-based Lone Star Legal Aid, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on October 4 to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Elrod acted as a director of Lone Star Legal Aid and one of its predecessors for several years leading up to her 2002 appointment as a District Court Judge for Harris County, Texas.

Lone Star Legal Aid leaders credit Elrod, a native of Port Arthur, Texas, for her dedication to the agency's client population. In particular, Paul Furrh, Chief Executive Officer, notes that Judge Walker Elrod "has great appreciation and understanding of the issues affecting rural East Texas and its residents."

"Judge Walker Elrod brought freshness to our Board of Directors. Combining her corporate legal background with a genuine concern for low-income clients, she quickly went to work on board committees and earned the respect of both the staff and her fellow board members, said Dwayne Bilton, Chief Operating Officer of Lone Star Legal Aid. "Judge Walker Elrod brought to the district court bench the same scholarly, hard-working, yet caring philosophy that made her successful in her legal career. I am convinced that she will be a tremendous and worthy addition to the federal court system."

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Opinion: Congress Gives Legal Aid Funding A Shot in the Arm

Letter to the Editor, Fulton County Daily Report (GA) - October 25, 2007

On behalf of the State Bar of Georgia, I would like to commend the U.S. Senate's action last week to approve a 12 percent budget increase for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC), the nation's single largest source of funding for civil legal aid for the poor. That level of increase will mean a $1 million financial shot in the arm for the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) and Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

The State Bar's Young Lawyers Division is recognized as the moving force behind GLSP from its inception in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The State Bar continues to support GLSP, which provides access to justice and opportunities out of poverty for Georgians with low incomes. Its lawyers and paralegals provide the services that help meet our professional responsibility to uphold the constitutional promise of justice for all.

Today, GLSP and other LSC-funded programs across the nation address priority needs such as representing low-income Americans facing home foreclosure and victims of domestic violence. I can think of no better way of reflecting the values of our state and nation than helping prevent struggling families from losing their homes and helping women and children escape violently abusive situations. Legal aid also provides representation for low-income people with consumer, health care, education and employment issues.

The Senate's action, by a 75-19 vote of bipartisan approval, followed approval of an 8 percent budget increase for LSC by the U.S. House of Representatives by a similarly strong 281-142 vote. Hopefully, the conference committee will keep the increase at or near 12 percent, and President Bush will sign the measure into law. Even with a 12 percent increase, legal aid funding would total $390 million, which is still less than the $400 million budgeted in 1995.

Once again, I commend Congress for recognizing the need to restore this critical funding. I also thank the Georgia Legal Services Program and Atlanta Legal Aid, as well as countless other Georgia lawyers who provide pro bono legal services, which, in the finest tradition of our justice system, help protect the rights and liberties of all Americans.

Gerald M. Edenfield, President, State Bar of Georgia

To view the article at its original source, click here.

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Success Story from Legal Aid of North Carolina

(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 Helps Save Home for Foster-Child

Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) has forced a child-welfare agency to use a teenager's Social Security benefits to pay the mortgage on a house he inherited, instead of using the money in its own budget.

"The ruling saves the foster child's house from a threatened foreclosure that may have rendered him homeless when he turns 18 years old," said Lewis Pitts, the LANC attorney who represented the foster child, known as "John G." "Obviously, it is in the best interest of the child that the property not be foreclosed and that the asset be preserved for the child's future."

John G has been in the legal custody of Guilford County Department of Social Services (DSS) since 2004. As his guardian, DSS became payee of John G's Social Security Benefits of $538 per month. Although DSS was bound by law to use the funds in the child's best interest, DSS refused to pay the $220 monthly mortgage payment on a Habitat House held in trust for the child. Instead, DSS opted to retain the money to help pay its costs of providing care for the child.

A judge ordered the agency to begin paying the mortgage but the agency appealed, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction in the case. An appeals court disagreed, ordering the agency to begin making mortgage payments on the house.

"These children have many needs, including clothing, educational supplies, and recreational, for which the funds should be used. DSS needs to raise public awareness about their budgetary nightmares, not create nightmares and deprivation by pocketing the children's money."

"Because this ruling is so clear and so strong, advocates for foster children all around the state should be able to get District Judges to halt DSS use of the funds that are not in the child's best interest," Pitts concluded. "Now we should all work to ensure adequate legislative funding for all services for children and take away the incentive for DSS to misuse the funds rightfully belonging to the children."

To read LANC's press release on the case, click here.

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