Remarks by LSC Board Chair John G. Levi | LSC Board Meeting | January 2017

Atlanta, Georgia
January 27, 2017

Good morning and welcome.  I am John Levi, the 10th Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation.

We are happy to be here in Atlanta, home of two of our strongest grantees — Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Georgia Legal Services Program — and home of our predecessor LSC Board Chair, Frank Strickland.

And as we were scheduling this meeting a year and a half ago, we had predicted that Atlanta’s Falcons would be the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl LI.  How wonderful that we were right.

At the same time, as we join you in celebrating Atlanta’s Super Bowl appearance, we also recognize that this past weekend, tragedy struck Georgia with a series of deadly tornadoes.  As you work to pick up the pieces from this disaster, I know (and as we heard yesterday) Georgia Legal Services is doing everything it can to be of help.

And I want to thank our host (who will also speak with us shortly), Dean Steven Kaminshine of the Georgia State University College of Law for the use of this impressive facility.

We are also honored to have with us this morning Congressman Hank Johnson, who you will be hearing from in just a few minutes.

Our program features three panel discussions.

In the first, distinguished jurists from the Southeast will explore the importance of access to justice to the judiciary in a discussion moderated by LSC’s outstanding Vice Chair and Dean of the Harvard Law School, Martha Minow.

Then a panel of experts in legal technology looks at ways tech can enhance the delivery of civil legal aid services.  LSC Program Counsel and tech guru Glenn Rawdon will moderate.

Finally, General Counsel from some of Atlanta’s leading companies will discuss the role of corporate counsel in expanding access to justice in a panel moderated by Home Depot’s terrific General Counsel — and LSC Leaders Council member — Teresa Wynn Roseborough.

We gather today at a time of transition in our country, but while we have a new Administration, we do not have a new focus.

Our mission to expand access to justice remains as clear and urgent as ever because it embodies a core American value that should and must be impervious to partisan swings.

LSC has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress since it was created during the Nixon administration, and we expect that support to continue.

As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia so eloquently put it at LSC’s 40th anniversary just a few years ago:

“The American ideal is not for some justice, it is as the Pledge of Allegiance says, ‘Liberty and justice for all,’ or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, ‘equal justice.’  I’ve always thought that’s somewhat redundant.  Can there be justice if it is not equal?  Can there be a just society when some do not have justice?  Equality, equal treatment is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.”

LSC currently provides funding to 134 independent non-profit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.

These legal aid programs are great public-private partnerships, obtaining, on average, more than half of their support from non-federal sources.

In addition to providing basic field funding to these legal aid providers, LSC is helping our grantees in the delivery of civil legal aid through several initiatives.

Most recently, this summer, we launched our Rural Summer Legal Corps with Equal Justice Works, with 30 law students working at 28 LSC grantees in rural areas.

We have had glowing reports about the success of this program and have already secured enough private funding to ensure that it will continue for at least four more summers.

LSC also awarded grants to 11 legal aid organizations across the country last year to support replicable innovations in pro bono services for low-income clients, the third year this now four- million-dollar Pro Bono Innovation Fund initiative has been in existence.

In a competitive process, Atlanta Legal Aid Society was awarded a $421,000 grant to centralize and coordinate web-based resources for its numerous pro bono efforts and provide a model for all legal service organizations.

Last year, Georgia Legal Services Program received a nearly $200,000 grant to create a pro bono learning lab for recent graduates.  We hear that it has been very successful.

LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants also continue, as they have for 17 years, to lead the way in using technology to expand access to justice and the goal of LSC’s influential 20 Tech Summit report — to provide “some form of effective assistance to 100 percent of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.” — has been adopted as a goal by the Conference of Chief Justices.

In 2015, Georgia Legal Services received a $52,000 TIG grant to implement a new online intake system.

With support from the Hewlett and Kresge Foundations, LSC is producing a new national report documenting the state of the “justice gap,” a phrase coined by Frank Strickland’s LSC Board — the difference between the need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need.

We expect to unveil that new report at our next meeting in April in Washington.

Throughout our tenure, the LSC Board has tried to raise public awareness of the crisis in civil legal aid at events like the one you are attending today.

We formally kicked off this national dialogue at a Forum we co-hosted at the White House in April of 2012.

We have held similar Forums at every LSC Board meeting around the country since and have returned annually to the White House four times as we continue to call attention to the crisis.

 These Forums have included leaders from business, government, philanthropy as well as the greater legal community.

This broader focus also continues with another LSC initiative — the LSC Leaders Council.

Comprised of leaders in the fields of law, business, academia, sports and other disciplines, the Leaders Council will also help raise awareness of LSC and its grantees’ essential work.

Former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers and Merck CEO Ken Frazier are co-chairs, and members include former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Dick Thornburgh; public figures such as University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh, and author John Grisham; and business leaders including Viacom Vice Chair Shari Redstone and Microsoft President Brad Smith.

In addition to Frank Strickland and Teresa Wynn Roseborough, two other Atlantans are on the Council:  former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young  and baseball great Hank Aaron, who at a Leaders Council event last June here in Atlanta said:  “Each year millions of low-income Americans are denied equal access to justice because they cannot afford a lawyer.  We need to change that.”

He’s right — we do have to change that, but despite all of the efforts I just outlined, we still lag in a category crucial to bringing about that change — funding.

LSC funding from our Congress continues at a near all-time low in inflation adjusted dollars — in actual dollars $385 million, which is still below the $400 million actually appropriated in the mid 90’s, and less than half of what in today’s dollars would be the $880 million appropriated just two years after LSC’s founding in the 1970s, when far fewer Americans were eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance.

To put this into perspective, funding for LSC — combined with all other sources of funding for civil legal aid — is far less than what Americans will be doing in a couple of weeks — buying Valentine’s Day candy.

And, unlike our nation’s commitment to justice, the right to eat candy in February does not find a place in the first line of the Constitution or the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Forty years ago, another transition took place and it is one I remember well.

It was, in fact, 40 years ago last week that my father, Edward Levi, ended his service as the nation’s Attorney General at the end of the Ford Administration.

One week later, actually 40 years ago yesterday, he was succeeded as Attorney General in the Carter Administration, by none other than Atlanta’s own beloved citizen, long-time partner at King and Spaulding and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Griffin Bell.

These two men worked closely to ensure a smooth transition, with Attorney General Bell keeping my father’s principal aide on his staff for many months to help pave the way for the new administration and to help implement significant initiatives that were in process.

These two AGs shared an appreciation for the importance of accessibility to justice and the fair, impartial and nonpartisan administration of justice.

As Attorney General Griffin Bell observed:  “There can be no equal justice under the law unless all people have access to justice.  It does not matter how fair laws are if access to their enforcement is denied or unavailable.”

As we move forward in this time of change, we need to redouble our efforts to expand access to our justice system so we may more fully realize our nation’s commitment to equal justice for all.

Thank you very much.

* * * * * *

It is now my pleasure to introduce Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia's 4th congressional district.

The Congressman is no stranger to LSC — having attended our Access to Justice Forums at the White House.

Representative Johnson, who has served in Congress since 2007, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and is a ranking member of the subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law.

The Congressman has introduced legislation that protects consumers and citizens’ civil liberties, including the Arbitration Fairness Act and the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.  He has also supported digital inclusion, advocating for broadband access for low-income and minority communities.

Before his election to Congress in 2006, Representative Johnson practiced criminal defense law in Decatur, Georgia for 27 years and served 12 years as a magistrate judge and 5 as the commissioner for Dekalb  (DE-CAB) County.

Representative Johnson graduated from Clark Atlanta University and received his law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston.

Representative Hank Johnson.