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LSC Updates - April 30, 2008

LSC Board Meets in Oklahoma City

On April 25-26, LSC's Board of Directors convened in Oklahoma City, Okla., for its second of four meetings in 2008. The visit included presentations by the state's two LSC-funded programs, a reception hosted by the law firm of Hartzog Conger Cason & Neville, a pro bono awards ceremony, meetings of all five Board committees, and a meeting of the full Board.

Colline Meek, Executive Director of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS), discussed the unique challenges inherent in providing legal services to Native Americans in the state's 39 tribes, many of which speak their own language and operate under different systems of tribal law. OILS is one of only a few stand-alone organizations nationally that serve the civil legal needs of low-income Native Americans exclusively. Gary Taylor, Executive Director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO), gave an overview of his program's efforts to provide legal services in the high-poverty state, where only one legal aid lawyer is available for every 11,000 residents. LASO delivers services throughout the state from its headquarters in Oklahoma City, and its 18 field offices. He discussed the program's statewide HIV-AIDS, farmworker, and community education and pro se units, in addition to local projects focused on domestic violence and homelessness, and LASO's medical-legal partnership with the University of Oklahoma's College of Medicine.

At a luncheon during the meeting's first day, Oklahoma Bar Association President Bill Conger spoke about his commitment, and the commitment of the entire bar, to working with legal aid programs to ensure equal access to justice. He told those assembled that it is the responsibility of bar members to donate their time to clients of legal aid programs, and to help raise funds for the organizations.

At a reception later that night, LSC presented five pro bono awards to attorneys who have made extraordinary commitments to providing free legal representation to clients of LSC's grantees.

Charles E. Chapin began providing pro bono work to the clients of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services as an unpaid student intern while attending Oklahoma City University's School of Law. He has maintained his involvement with the program throughout his career, participating in several pro bono efforts, including the Care Advocacy Project, which represents Native American children in tribal court proceedings.

Drew and Linda Edmondson have provided leadership and a hands-on approach to fundraising for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. They have lent their considerable influence and professional and personal respect to the Campaign for Justice, the program's annual fundraising drive. Drew currently serves as Oklahoma's Attorney General. His wife Linda is a medical social worker.

Catheryn Koss volunteered in the Senior Division of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma while in law school. She has continued to dedicate countless pro bono hours to providing assistance for senior citizens, even making home visits to execute end of life documents.

Craig Rainey, Assistant General Counsel of the Williams Companies, was instrumental in securing support from the law firm of Hall Estill to form the Williams Companies-Hall Estill Volunteer Project, a partnership that provides legal assistance to the clients of the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma.

C. Michael Zacharias, former Tulsa County Judge, began serving as a part-time volunteer with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma immediately after retiring from the bench last year. He has represented numerous clients and makes his considerable expertise available to other attorneys, who consult with him regularly on their cases.

Left to right: C. Michael Zacharias, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, Charles E. Chapin, Craig Rainey (back row), Catheryn Koss, Drew Edmondson, LSC Board Member David Hall (back row), Linda Edmondson.
Left to right: C. Michael Zacharias, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett, Charles E. Chapin, Craig Rainey (back row), Catheryn Koss, Drew Edmondson, LSC Board Member David Hall (back row), Linda Edmondson.

The Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee heard presentations from LSC staff on implementing LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono, and the development of a set of technology criteria for LSC-funded programs. Representatives from Native American Indian Legal Services briefed the committee on issues relating to funding and service delivery for Native American programs.

The Operations and Regulations Committee continued its discussion on whether to initiate a rulemaking to give LSC additional tools for sanctioning non-compliant grantees. Following comments from LSC staff, LSC's Office of Inspector General, and members of the public, the Board decided to initiate a rulemaking that will include a regulatory workshop designed to solicit additional feedback.

The Finance Committee heard presentations from LSC staff on the Corporation's consolidated operating budget for FY 2008, its financial reports for the first six months of FY 2008, and the appropriations process for FY 2009.

The Performance Reviews Committee discussed procedures and protocols for conducting the annual performance review of LSC's Inspector General.

The newly-formed Audit Committee discussed the process used by LSC's Inspector General to select and retain the Corporation's external auditor, examined how the work of the Office of Inspector General will complement the work of the Audit Committee, and heard comments from LSC's Independent Public Accountant regarding its perspective on the Audit Committee's mission.

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Lawyers Urge Congress to Support Legal Aid

On April 15-17, hundreds of lawyers from throughout the country converged on Washington, D.C., to convince Congress to help make equal justice a reality by supporting increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation.

The American Bar Association (ABA) hosts the annual event to give the nation's attorneys an opportunity to educate the legislative branch on the important issues affecting America's legal system and administration of justice. Securing adequate funding for LSC has always been one of the ABA's top legislative priorities.

This year, the National Conference of Bar Presidents-representing bar associations from all 50 states and two U.S. territories-signed a letter to key Congressional appropriators requesting that LSC receive no less than $400 million for FY 2009, a $50 million increase over current funding levels.  [See correction below]. Senators Kennedy, D-Mass., and Smith, R-Ore., are circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter again this year in support of the same amount.

At a reception on the night of the 16th, the ABA hosted an awards ceremony to honor Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Congressmen Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., for their commitment to improving the justice system, including their support for LSC. All five consistently vote to defend LSC's budget on the floors of their respective chambers, and are reliable allies in the struggle for equal access to justice.

Correction: This year, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, the National Association of Bar Executives, and the presidents of bar associations from 50 states and two U.S. territories signed a letter to key Congressional appropriators requesting that LSC receive no less than $400 million for FY 2009, a $50 million increase over current funding levels.

Click here to download the letter from the National Conference of Bar Presidents, et al. (PDF icon 72k)

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ICAN! E-File Returns $33 Million to Taxpayers

Approximately 25,000 people used I-CAN! E-File to prepare and submit their 2007 tax returns this year, collectively earning $33 million in refunds and other credits.

I-CAN! E-File is a web-based tax preparation program developed by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) with funding from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program. The web site, www.icanefile.org, allows taxpayers to electronically prepare their federal, and in some cases state, returns and submit them online-all for free. The program was developed in part to help low-income working families collect their Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) without being charged excessive fees.

This year, taxpayers using I-CAN! E-File earned $11.5 million in EITCs alone, thanks in part to the promotional efforts of California First Lady Maria Shriver, LASOC, Central California Legal Services, and other legal aid organizations throughout the country. It is estimated that billions of dollars in EITC go unclaimed every year by eligible taxpayers who fail to apply for them.

In March, LSC announced a new resource to help even more people earn their EITC. Thanks to an additional TIG grant to LASOC, low-income taxpayers across the nation can now call a toll-free hotline, 1-888-4-EITC-4-U, to access a list of local agencies that provide free tax assistance.

For more information, visit www.icanefile.org.

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Three More LSC-Funded Programs Adopt Pro Bono Resolutions

The Boards of Directors of three 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 87 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions. The three programs are:

  • California Rural Legal Assistance
  • Legal Services Alabama
  • Legal Services of Eastern Michigan

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.

Click here for the list of LSC-funded programs that have adopted pro bono resolutions.

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Field News

Hawaii Supreme Court to Create Access to Justice Commission

On May 1, Hawaii's Supreme Court plans to create an Access to Justice Commission to substantially increase access to justice in civil legal matters for low- and moderate-income Hawaiians.

The Commission plans to achieve this goal in part by creating a strategic statewide plan for the delivery of legal services, increasing and stabilizing public and private funding sources, increasing pro bono contributions from private attorneys, encouraging support for pro se litigants, educating government leaders and the public about the barriers faced by poor people seeking justice, and developing initiatives to enhance recruitment and retention of legal aid lawyers. Members of the Commission will include judges, bar leaders, legal aid lawyers, law school representatives, members from the different branches of the state government, and members of the public.

The plan to establish the Commission comes in the wake of a November 2007 report by the Access to Justice Hui (group), which found that the civil legal needs of 80 percent of low- to moderate-income Hawaiians are unmet. Earlier this month, Honolulu's Star Bulletin ran a four-part series on access to justice in Hawaii.

Click here for the proposed rule to establish the Access to Justice Commission. (PDF icon 32k)

Click here for the Star Bulletin's four-part series on Access to Justice.

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Mississippi Access to Justice Commission Holds Hearings

On April 18, the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission held the first in a series of hearings on the critical need for increased civil legal aid to the state's low-income residents. U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor, D-Miss., hosted the event, which was moderated by Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess. H. Dickinson.

"Thousands of our citizens are denied the basic right of equal access to the courts because they are poor and cannot afford an attorney," said Dickinson. "The Supreme Court cannot, and will not, sit by in tacit acquiescence. We ordered these hearings so we can begin to understand the true scope and nature of the problem, and then move to solve it."

Legal Aid of Western Missouri Hosts "Justice for All" Luncheon

On April 3, Legal Aid of Western Missouri held its 10th Annual Justice for All Luncheon to thank supporters of the program's ongoing three-year campaign to raise $1.75 million. Nearly 700 members of the bar, judges and other distinguished guests gathered to hear keynote speaker Rafer Johnson. Johnson won the gold medal for the decathlon in the 1960 Olympic Games, posting a new world record. On June 5, 1968, Johnson was in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when his good friend Robert Kennedy was shot. The audience was enthralled as Johnson spoke, for the first time publicly, of feeling the heat of the gun as he wrestled it away from Sirhan Sirhan. Special guest Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius reflected on the 40th anniversary of the passing of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and the legacy they left behind. The event was co-sponsored by the law firms of Hubbard & Kurtz; Shook, Hardy & Bacon; and Davis, Bethune & Jones.

Click here for more information about LAWMO's Justice for All Campaign.

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New MIE Journal Highlights Access to Justice

The Spring 2008 issue of the Management Information Exchange Journal features a special series of articles on state access to justice commissions and initiatives.

Sarah M. Singleton, LSC Board Member and former President of the New Mexico State Bar, writes about how her state's access to justice commission worked hand-in-hand with the bar to secure substantial state funding for civil legal services. Toby J. Rothschild, General Counsel of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, discusses how Access to Justice Commissions have led the way in promoting legal services and the needs of low-income Americans throughout the country. Jonathan Asher, Sam Buchanan, and Nan Heald-Executive Directors of Colorado Legal Services, Mississippi Center for Legal Services, and Maine's Pine Tree Legal Assistance, respectively-share their perspectives on the access to justice commissions in their states in an interview with MIE's Patricia Pap.

Click here for more information on the Management Information Exchange.

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What's New on LSC Resource Information

The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.

Southern Arizona Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program

Southern Arizona Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program matches pro bono attorneys with low-income clients in need of civil legal assistance. The program also offers pro se assistance workshops and community education clinics, in English and Spanish, to help clients represent themselves in court, and to provide them with valuable information on their legal rights and responsibilities. Southern Arizona Legal Aid estimates that the program provided more than 20,000 hours of legal services in 2007, valued at more than $4 million.

Click here for more information on the program.

Click here to visit the LSC Resource Information.

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Success Story from Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida

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.

Home Saved from Foreclosure

Audrey Parente, Daytona Beach News-Journal (FL) – April 29, 2008

Ola Mae Cook took two part-time jobs and sold her furniture last spring while trying to keep her house from foreclosure.

Now she thanks God and Debbie Hallisky, staff lawyer for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, for saving her home from what Hallisky labeled predatory lenders.

Cook, now 64, had a zero-interest government loan with payments of $167 a month. Widowed and disabled, she had fixed Social Security disability income and a small pension.

She and her husband had owned their house since the early 1980s but applied for a Volusia County Rehabilitation mortgage loan in 1989 for $80,000 to upgrade.

"We applied together for it through the county, but he died, so I reapplied," she said. She got the zero-interest loan and work was done. The low payments were manageable. Her payments improved her equity and as real estate values in the market went up, her equity grew. She also had a small, affordable car loan.

About a year ago, after her late husband's pension ran out, Cook worried it might be difficult to make ends meet.

"There was a little card came in the mail. It offered refinancing that sounded like it could solve all my problems and I thought it would help me," Cook said.

Cook was sold an adjustable rate mortgage at 12.756 percent for $89,000, which included paying off her car, with settlement costs of $12,478 and a prepayment penalty of $10,676. Her monthly mortgage payment grew to more than $1,038, which was more than her total monthly income, Hallisky said.

"I didn't know the payments would go up to more than $1,000," Cook said. "I worked as a foster grandparent at a school and during the Christmas holidays I worked a five-week program as a bell ringer for a little over $1,600. I put it all toward the payments."

Finally the payments were too much and she came up short. Badgering and threatening calls and notices of delinquency started coming.

"I said I was making every effort to keep up, and they said to 'give this up,' " she said. Foreclosure proceedings began.

Being a religious person, Cook sought guidance from Bishop T.L. Jackson, pastor of New Destiny Church in DeLand.

From his years of experience, Jackson knew of legal assistance "to families with economic hardship," and referred her to Community Legal Services.

When Cook walked into Hallisky's office, "she was two days away from final judgment. She had packed up and started selling her furniture," Hallisky said.

"I had no time but to act and file an objection and motion for discovery," she said.

"After negotiation, the mortgage and title companies have reached a settlement in this matter, to allow Ms. Cook a reverse mortgage with money in her pocket," said Larry Glinzman, spokesman for Community Legal Services. "Ms. Cook has returned to her home and has received monies to repurchase furniture she sold in anticipation of being told she would have to move."

But the issue doesn't end there.

Hallisky has filed suit against the mortgage broker, complaining of deceptive practices.

Click here for the full story.

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