LSC Updates - October 1, 2010
Four presidential nominees were confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 29 to serve on LSC's Board of Directors.
The four nominees were Harry Korrell III, the Rev. Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, Julie A. Reiskin and Gloria Valencia-Weber. The nominations were previously approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.).
President Obama announced the nominations of Julie Reiskin and Gloria Valencia-Weber in 2009 and the nominations of Harry Korrell and Fr. Pius Pietrzyk this year. Upon taking the oath of office, they will join seven Board members nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate.
During a busy day on Capitol Hill, when Congress was rushing to finish work before adjourning to prepare for the November elections, Congressman Jos E. Serrano traveled to LSC headquarters to deliver the keynote speech at the Corporation's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
"You are one of my favorite agencies," Serrano said, adding, "The Legal Services Corporation, probably more than any other agency, is the one who continues to say that the guy or gal at the bottom has the same shot as the guy on top. That's the work you do, that's the work that I'm so proud of and that's why I'm here today."
Congressman Serrano sits on the House Appropriations Committee and chairs its Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. He is also a long-time member and former ranking Democrat of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, which is responsible for funding LSC.
As a member of that subcommittee, Serrano has been a staunch supporter of increased funding for LSC, sponsoring amendments to increase funding and speaking often on the House floor in support of LSC.
"I have strongly supported increased funding because I know how important access to legal services is to communities like mine in the Bronx," said Serrano during his Sept. 29 remarks at LSC. He represents the 16th congressional district of New York-the poorest district in the United States.
"There is absolutely no question of the importance of our legal services programs to Hispanics," he said. "Last year, Legal Services NYC, the local LSC grantee in my hometown, served a clientele that was more than 40 percent Hispanic. Nationally, legal services programs served almost 184,000 Hispanics in 2009, some 20 percent of the total number of cases handled. These efforts are of course worthy of recognition."
Congressman Serrano also noted that 20 percent of the workforce at LSC grantees is Hispanic. "This is an amazing statistic," he said. "I believe that a diverse workforce allows for greater productivity by employees and greater sensitivity to the clients."
"Lastly, I want to really continue to thank you for the work that you do. Every time you give representation to a person who otherwise can't have it, you are a patriot because you are strengthening our constitutional system."
The celebration also included a staff recognition of LSC President Victor M. Fortuno, the Corporation's first Hispanic president.
Thirty-one states saw increases in poverty and no state saw a decline in poverty from 2008 to 2009, according to the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey released on September 28.
The survey is based on data collected during 2009 and provides a snapshot of the nation's socioeconomic, housing and demographic characteristics, according to the Census Bureau's press release.
A five-page brief ( 286k) on poverty included with the survey notes that nearly 20 percent of all Americans live below 125 percent of the federal poverty level and are therefore eligible for help from LSC-funded legal aid programs.
The brief also provides state-level poverty data, which shows that 22 states and the District of Columbia had poverty rates higher than the national average in 2009.
Domestic violence is a serious and pervasive problem across the country, and we ask that you join the Legal Services Corporation in observing National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Legal aid lawyers who work in the 136 nonprofit programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation in all 50 states are on the front lines in our nation's effort to protect victims of domestic violence and restore them to lives of safety and security.
Domestic violence occurs more often in households facing economic distress, and many families are facing financial strain in these difficult economic times. Nearly 35 percent of all cases handled by LSC-funded programs across the country involve family law issues, including domestic violence. At the local level, legal aid programs are partners in efforts to provide comprehensive, coordinated services to assist victims in attaining long-term self-sufficiency and independence from abuse.
LSC Chairman John G. Levi, Board Member Laurie Mikva and President Victor M. Fortuno attended the meeting of the Midwest Project Directors on September 24.
Levi, Mikva and Fortuno participated in a discussion session with attendees on topics including LSC's revised accounting guide, LSC grantees' ability to collect attorneys' fees and the Corporation's Technology Initiative Grants program. They also discussed board governance issues, technology and legal services delivery in rural areas and state funding for legal aid.
The Midwest Project Directors is a group of executive directors and other leaders from legal aid programs throughout the Midwest.
Legal aid programs in Illinois and throughout the country will benefit from a $3.62 million cy pres award of unclaimed funds from the 2008 settlement of a class-action case involving an insurance company.
Half of the funds will be shared among groups in Illinois, including the three LSC grantees in the state-the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation in East St. Louis, the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and Prairie State Legal Services in Rockford.
"This cy pres award could not come at a better time for the Legal Assistance Foundation and its clients," said Diana White, executive director of the Chicago program. "The last two years have been hard on everyone-especially poor and elderly people and families that were just getting by until the recession hit. LAF, like many other non-profits, has endured cutbacks, attrition, and layoffs. It is painful to have to shrink just when the need for legal aid is increasing."
The other half of the funds will be awarded in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $82,000 to 111 LSC grantees operating in a state or jurisdiction where settlement funds from the class-action case were unclaimed.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a rule establishing a Pro Bono Emeritus Attorney Program, a project to allow retired attorneys to provide free legal services through approved legal assistance organizations.
The new rule, which takes effect January 1, 2011, lays out qualifications for participation, a certification process for lawyers and organizations seeking to participate and the responsibilities of attorneys who are certified.
"The pro bono emeritus rule offers retired attorneys the unique opportunity to share their legal expertise with Tennesseans in need," said Chief Justice Cornelia Clark. "We hope that this rule change encourages retired attorneys to step up and answer the call to provide pro bono services for the growing number of Tennesseans who cannot afford legal representation."
The rule was proposed by the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission and supported by the Tennessee Bar Association.
Legal Action of Wisconsin has petitioned the state supreme court to adopt a rule that would provide court-appointed attorneys to poor litigants in civil cases when their basic human needs are at stake.
"We quite some time ago came to the conclusion that when you try to help people represent themselves, it's just not that effective," said John Ebbott, executive director of Legal Action, who was quoted in an article in the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "Nothing short of a lawyer in significant cases will suffice if we're talking about equal justice under the law."
Under the proposed rule, civil litigants living below 200 percent of the poverty level would receive a court-appointed attorney at public expense when the help of a lawyer would be necessary to protect the litigant's right to basic human needs, including shelter, clothing, medical care and child custody.
The petition was signed by about 1,300 people, including about 300 lawyers and a handful of judges, according to the Journal Sentinel.
The board of directors of the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) has selected Nikole Nelson, supervising attorney of the program's Anchorage office, as the organization's new executive director.
Nelson replaces Andy Harrington, who led the program since 2001 and is now working in the Consumer Protection Unit of the Alaska Department of Law. She has been with Alaska Legal Services since 1998 and has led the Anchorage office for the last six years.
"We are very excited about Nikole's new role on behalf of our clients and look forward to continuing a proud tradition of providing high-quality legal services to Alaskans in need," said ALSC President Vance Sanders in a press release.
Said Nelson, "I am very honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization. ALSC has a committed group of great lawyers and staff, tremendous support from the private bar, and almost universal respect from the state and federal bench. My hope is to grow an already strong program and make meaningful access to justice a reality for low-income Alaskans across our great state."
Nelson has a degree from Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon, and a BA in English Literature from the University of Utah. Before moving to Alaska, she worked as a staff attorney for Oregon Legal Services.
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 Clients Tell Their Stories at New York Hearings
"If I had not had their help, I would have been in a very grave situation. I would still be assaulted by my husband."
Those are the words of a client of Legal Services NYC, the LSC-funded legal aid program that serves New York City. She was one of five legal aid clients who told their stories at a September 28 hearing convened by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on the issue of expanding access to civil legal services in the state.
As reported in The New York Times, the Legal Services NYC client testified about how legal aid helped her retain a Section 8 housing voucher that allowed her to move away from her abusive husband.
A client of the Legal Aid Society of New York told her story of coming to America from India for work, only to be forced into domestic servitude by a Long Island family who told her she would be arrested if she complained. Thanks to legal aid, she received money owed to her by the family and got other help as well.