LSC Updates - September 28, 2005
VISIT TO PROGRAMS AFFECTED BY HURRICANE KATRINA
By LSC President Helaine M. Barnett - September 23, 2005
I wanted to share with you that [LSC Vice-President] Karen Sarjeant and I have just returned from visiting our programs in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. We felt it important to see and hear firsthand what the needs of the programs are, the issues they and their staff are facing, and to indicate our concern and to provide support.
Although all but one member of the staffs of these programs have now been accounted for, all of the staff from the New Orleans office have had to relocate from their homes, find alternative housing, look for new schools for their children, deal with not having their belongings and manage the uncertainty of displacement. Some New Orleans staff are working out of the Shreveport office of Legal Services of North Louisiana (undamaged by the storm) and one is working out of an office of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Staff in these programs are providing necessary disaster assistance to the greatly expanded client-eligible population as a result of the hurricane while, at the same time, continuing to provide assistance to their ongoing clients.
The staff we met shared important information with us on the developing legal issues that this disaster is generating, such as the immediate and unconscionable increase in unlawful evictions because of the increased housing demand and the ability of landlords to more than double their rents, and the problems that people are having obtaining FEMA assistance. They voiced their appreciation for the memo LSC had sent to all programs regarding guidance on service delivery issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina indicating flexibility in our regulations and reporting requirements.
Staff also shared information about the needs of our programs and the problems they are confronting in the delivery of disaster legal assistance. We are going to follow-up in the areas that are within our direct control and those we believe are a proper role for a national funder in the face of this tragedy. We will keep you posted.
LSC, NLADA, ABA & PROBONO.NET UNVEIL WEBSITE TO HELP HURRICANE VICTIMS
September 26, 2005
Tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents are facing devastating legal problems as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but many people do not know where to get the legal assistance they need. To help address this problem, LSC and three other groups active in the legal aid and public defender communities have launched "Katrina Legal Aid Resource Center," a web-based clearinghouse of legal aid, pro bono and public defender information for persons affected by the hurricane, as well as the lawyers and advocates helping them. Katrina Legal Aid Resource Center, located at www.katrinalegalaid.org, is the result of a partnership between the Legal Services Corporation, American Bar Association (ABA), National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and Pro Bono Net.
"LSC and its partners are working tirelessly to ensure that those impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Rita and the lawyers and advocates who support them have the resources they need to rebuild the many lives that have been shattered by the devastation wrought by Katrina and Rita," said LSC President Helaine M. Barnett. "We intend to increase the number of resources we offer to the Gulf Coast evacuees, but are hopeful that the information presented thus far will provide some relief as the task of rebuilding lives begins."
LSC TO RELEASE REPORT: DOCUMENTING THE JUSTICE GAP IN AMERICA
At its meeting in September 2004, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors asked LSC staff to try to document the extent to which civil legal needs of low-income Americans were not being met, taking into account all the changes in the civil justice system in the last decade, including both LSC-funded services and non-federal resources. As a result, Helaine M. Barnett, President of the Legal Services Corporation, convened a Justice Gap Committee which included individuals from both within and outside LSC with experience in documenting unmet legal needs and conducted a year-long study culminating in the report entitled "Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans." The report will be released by October 3, 2005 and will be available for download on LSC's website: www.lsc.gov.
TEXAS EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOUNDATION RESPONDS TO KATRINA DISASTER WITH $1 MILLION IN EMERGENCY FUNDING FOR LEGAL AID
September 15, 2005
The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation board of directors has voted to grant up to $1 million in emergency funding to Texas legal aid offices in the wake of the Katrina disaster. Legal aid advocates and pro bono attorneys have been working on the front lines and behind the scenes, despite limited resources, assisting Katrina evacuees who have been relocated to Texas.
"Of course it is vitally important to provide Katrina victims with immediate relief in the form of clothing, food and shelter," said Deborah Hankinson, former Supreme Court of Texas justice and a board member of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation. "However, a disaster such as this creates myriad legal issues for residents of the affected areas. Legal aid offices, already strapped for funding, desperately need Texans' help to provide short- and long-term assistance to the evacuees."
Katrina evacuees can visit www.TexasLawHelp.org to find contact information for local legal aid offices.
HEARING ON POVERTY AND COURTS
Heath Haussament, Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) - September 16, 2005
When then-Magistrate Judge Reuben Galvan ruled against Jesus and Onel Lozano in a monetary dispute last year, they didn't know he lacked the authority to do so.
Galvan was not the judge assigned to the case, and Magistrate Oscar Frietze, the judge who was assigned, was available to preside over the scheduled trial on June 22, 2004. The Lozanos, who did not have an attorney, were never asked whether they would agree to Galvan hearing the case. It's not clear why Galvan, who has since resigned, presided over the matter.
Weeks later the Lozanos took their problem to New Mexico Legal Aid, a nonprofit group that helps the poor with civil disputes. Legal Aid attorney Ismael Camacho agreed to represent them and, on Wednesday, Magistrate Susana Chaparro voided Galvan's ruling that the Lozanos owed Serferina Palacios more than $4,100.
Such problems plague the New Mexico court system. That's why the New Mexico Supreme Court has set up a special commission to investigate the barriers that prevent the poor from accessing quality legal aid, and to recommend ways to fix the system.
"All of these people have legal needs and legal problems that aren't being met," said Santa Fe attorney Sarah M. Singleton, co-chair of the commission.
Almost 25 percent of New Mexicans live in poverty, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Studies show they aren't getting the help they need with legal problems, including housing disputes, family law issues and employment. The commission hopes to recommend systemic changes that include legislative action to simplify laws and increase legal aid funding, in addition to asking for more volunteer time and money from private attorneys, Singleton said.
VIOLENCE VICTIMS TO LOSE LAWYERS
Lisa Demer, Anchorage Daily News (AK) - September 22, 2005
Hundreds of Alaska victims of domestic violence will go without lawyers as they battle for protective orders, divorce, child custody and public benefits, according to a poverty law organization.
The Alaska Legal Services Corp. has lost a federal grant that paid for three attorneys, and partial salaries for others, to represent low income, rural victims of domestic violence and child abuse. In a few communities that put in local dollars, including Anchorage and Fairbanks, the help for domestic violence victims will continue, said Andy Harrington, Alaska Legal Services Executive Director.
The money from the Department of Justice's Office of Violence Against Women dries up on Sept. 30. The grants began in 1997 and grew over time, reaching $250,000 for each of the last two years, Harrington said.
The private, nonprofit agency, which provides free representation to low income clients in civil cases, now must turn away people who drastically need help, he said. The agency operates on $3 million a year with a staff of 40, half of them lawyers.
"The cases we are involved in, there is not a right to an appointed attorney. There is just a person trying to figure out how to get a fair result out of the justice system," he said.
To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.adn.com/
The Austin Chronicle (TX) - September 23, 2005
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which provides free legal services to low-income residents, reports that it's opened more than 150 legal cases since Hurricane Katrina evacuees began arriving in Texas three weeks ago. The nonprofit group has hired extra staff to manage a growing caseload, and to make referrals to other attorneys providing pro bono services, as an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 hurricane victims in the state are expected to seek legal counseling over the next few months, according to TRLA Executive Director David Hall. To prepare for this new wave of cases, TRLA, along with Volunteer Legal Services and the Austin Bar Association, co-hosted a training session for Austin attorneys. Topics included FEMA, Louisiana laws on disaster relief, and federal issues concerning public benefits.
To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.austinchronicle.com/
HELP AVAILABLE WITH LEGAL PROBLEMS
Todd Cooper, Omaha World-Herald (NE) - September 18, 2005
Legal Aid of Nebraska has set up computer workstations in four communities to assist low-income Nebraskans with their civil legal problems.
Tim Kelso of Legal Aid said the computers will give people access to information and research about civil legal issues.
The computers are set up at: the law library on the first floor of the Douglas County Courthouse; the Lancaster County District Court clerk's office; the Legal Aid office in Grand Island, Neb.; and the law offices of Urbom & Urbom in Arapahoe, NE.
The computer stations were funded by a grant from the Legal Services Corp. in Washington, D.C.
NEW LAFLA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Erin Park, Daily Journal (CA) - September 19, 2005
Following a months-long nationwide search, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has chosen the head of its counterpart in Hawaii as its new Executive Director.
Beginning in January, Victor Geminiani, 61, of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, will take over for the Foundation's Executive Director, Bruce Iwasaki, who announced in February that he would be returning to private practice.
"He is a guy who is expert in the efficient delivery of legal services to people in poverty," said Jim Hornstein, past board president and transition committee chair.
"He lectures on the subject nationally," Hornstein said. "He has written about it extensively. ... He is one of the deans of the legal services community."
Geminiani has worked at and headed similar organizations across the country for 35 years, but he said that working at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has been a long-sought-after goal.
"I feel tremendously excited and honored," he said. "It's a dream of many, many years."
To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.lafla.org/
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA SCHOOL OF LAW HONORS ITS OUTSTANDING ALUMNI
St. Louis Daily Record (MO) - September 24, 2005
The University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law hosted its annual Law Day, an event honoring its outstanding alumni, faculty and students. The award recipients included Suzanne R. Gladney, Managing Attorney at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, received the Citation of Merit Award. She has worked at the West office of legal aid since graduation from MU School of Law in 1976. Gladney is a frequent speaker on immigration law issues, farm workers and immigrants, and supervises more than 10 community agencies in Missouri and Kansas. She developed and supervised the Migrant Farmworkers Project, a project of LAWMo, to serve migrant farm workers picking fruits, vegetables and other crops in Missouri. She is an active volunteer and board member of many community, cultural and social justice projects in Kansas City, including St. Vincent's Family Center, the Upper Room literacy program, Shalom House, Ronald McDonald House, Altrusa Club of Greater Kansas City, Camps for Kids, Unicorn Theatre, Jackson County Board of Services for the Developmentally Disabled and Kansas City Committee for UNICEF.
YWCA HONORS FOUR WOMEN
Jacquie Paul, The Press-Enterprise - September 22, 2005
They have helped the poor and abused. They have been a voice for those who had none. They have battled racism and tried to serve as role models for others.
The four women honored with the 2005 YWCA Women of Achievement Awards on Wednesday embody the ideals of the organization, officials said. Honorees were chosen from among 35 nominees. The 2005 Women of Achievement [included] Irene Morales, Executive Director of Inland Counties Legal Services Inc. The nonprofit organization provides legal services to the poor and elderly in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Morales, who lives in Riverside, said it is important to empower everyone, not just the rich.
"Justice is a very important theme in my life," Morales said. "I think things should be fair and when they're not, we should work to make them fair."
LEGAL SERVICES AVAILABLE IN WAKE OF KATRINA
Martha Bergmark and Fred Banks, Special to The Clarion-Ledger (MS) - September 24, 2005
When catastrophe strikes, the legal profession stands ready to help. When catastrophe strikes the poor and disabled, lawyers turn into healers.
In the wake of the destruction brought by Hurricane Katrina, the provision of legal representation to those unable to hire lawyers is one of the finest examples of the power of goodness and healing. Countless seniors, children and other indigent or disabled survivors of Katrina's wrath will need a lawyer to see a doctor, secure safe housing and protect their ability to rebuild lives.
It is during times like these the poor, the newly poor and the displaced are especially vulnerable. They are the ones whose dependence on government's responsiveness is greatest and they are the ones who will be devastated, again, if they do not have lawyers to make America's promise of equality before the law come alive.
Without attorneys, the most responsive government in history would be closed to the poor - at a moment in history when the timeliness of government's response can save lives.
Although not obvious to some, legal representation is an essential human and social service we must provide to those desperately in need. It is the way we can ensure that the poorest have access to life's basic necessities - food, shelter, medical care and hope.
As pro bono and legal aid attorneys donate their services to help the poor and disabled, let's remember why they are here. They come to heal lives in the name of democratic values.
Complex eligibility requirements, bureaucratic entanglements and mistaken denials can keep FEMA relief and disability benefits out of the reach of those with lawful entitlements. Medicaid may be a survivor's only source of health care, but complex regulations may stand in the way. Landlord/tenant relations are governed by statutes and contracts dealing with security deposits, personal property and the obligation to pay rent; they are often confusing - and they can also determine if those without income will be left in stifling debt.
These are the things lawyers will be helping with, free of charge, because it is their profession's highest calling. Lawyers are here to provide the help that everyone needs. Because our system of government assures legal protection for all, shattered lives can be healed and democracy can prevail.
Martha Bergmark is president of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a non-profit public interest law firm working with other state and national legal associations to mount comprehensive disaster legal services efforts in the aftermath of Katrina.
Fred Banks, a partner with the Phelps Dunbar law firm in Jackson and chair of the board of the Mississippi Center for Justice, is a former presiding justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court.
To read the article in its entirety, go to: www.clarionledger.com/
Client Success Story
(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.)
"Martha" is a 51 year-old homebound SSI recipient who came to Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project to seek help in filing for bankruptcy. The bulk of her debt was a $4,000 telephone bill. Martha's telephone bill included a host of unknown charges from various long distance carriers' dial-around numbers and collect calls. The bill also included charges for Internet service and a cell phone plan, although Martha had neither. Martha's local carrier had terminated her telephone service and the only other company servicing her area was charging her $54 a month for basic service. This was an especially critical problem because Martha's medical condition required her to have access to a telephone to contact her doctor when necessary.
An attorney with the Northwest Justice Project contacted the carrier, who agreed that items on the bill were inexplicable but refused to amend any charges. The attorney then enlisted the help of the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission. After several rounds of negotiations, the carrier agreed to restore service at $4 per month and enrolled Martha in the Telephone Assistance Program if she agreed to a payment plan for a portion of the bill representing local phone service.