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LSC Updates - April 4, 2008

LSC Testifies Before Congress on Need for Funding Increase

LSC Chairman Frank B. Strickland, left, stands with Subcommittee Chairman Alan B. Mollohan and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett following a hearing on LSC's FY 2009 budget request.
LSC Chairman Frank B. Strickland, left, stands with Subcommittee Chairman Alan B. Mollohan and LSC President Helaine M. Barnett following a hearing on LSC's FY 2009 budget request.

On April 2, leaders from the Legal Services Corporation testified before a House panel on the critical need for increased funding to provide crucial legal assistance to the millions of low-income Americans forced to confront serious civil legal problems without the help of an attorney.

LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland and President Helaine M. Barnett appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to present the case for LSC's FY 2009 budget request for $471 million, an increase of $121 million over current funding levels. The subcommittee is led by Chairman Alan B. Mollohan, D-W. Va., and Ranking Member Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

"The LSC Board and I urge you to restore adequate funding for the provision of civil legal aid to the most vulnerable among us," said Barnett. "In this effort, the federal government must lead the way consistent with its role in fulfilling the promise of our Constitution, the promise inscribed on the Supreme Court Building: equal justice under law."

"Clearly there is much work to be done to improve access to justice," said Chairman Mollohan to Strickland and Barnett, "and this committee appreciates your efforts to do so." Rep. Frelinghuysen commended LSC for its work, and commented on the valuable services provided by legal aid programs in New Jersey.

Click here for the full press release.

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National Equal Justice Library Celebrates Homecoming

On March 25, the National Equal Justice Library celebrated the second anniversary of its arrival at the Georgetown University School of Law, and the acceptance of papers from the late Gary Bellow-pioneering legal aid lawyer and Harvard Law School Professor.

The library, which houses historical materials chronicling America's journey towards equal access to justice, moved to Georgetown in 2006 when space issues forced it from American University's Washington College of Law, its home since 1997.

The celebration featured a symposium entitled, "Gideon and Katrina: Legal Aid and Defender Programs at a Crossroads," which was organized by Alan Houseman, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. LSC President Helaine M. Barnett opened the symposium with remarks on civil legal aid and its future from the perspective of LSC. Norman Lefstein, Professor at the Indiana University School of Law, followed Barnett with remarks on the future of the criminal justice system. Other panelists included leaders and representatives from other national legal aid advocacy organizations, legal services programs, state public defender offices, and law schools. Their presentations focused on expanding the right to counsel in civil and criminal cases, lessons learned from the legal aid response to Hurricane Katrina, and reflections on poverty law advocacy and access to justice.

Gary Bellow's papers were presented to the library by his wife Jeanne Charn, a lecturer and former clinical director at Harvard Law School. Bellow dedicated his entire career to public interest law, first as a legal aid lawyer with California Rural Legal Assistance and the Legal Aid Agency of the District of Columbia, and then as head of Harvard Law School's clinical program. Bellow is considered to be one of the founders of modern clinical legal education. He died in 2000 at the age of 64.

Click here for more information about the National Equal Justice Library.

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Law Firm Seeks Pro Bono Partner

In response to a request from a large national law firm, LSC is circulating a notice that Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal is seeking a full-time partner to run the firm's nationwide pro bono efforts from any one of its offices in Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Mo., San Francisco, or Washington, D.C.

Click here for the full job description. (PDF icon 104k)

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Legal Aid Society of Orange County Adopts Pro Bono Resolution

On March 5, the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Calif., adopted a resolution aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 82 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions.

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

Louisiana's "Road Home" Legal Aid Program Out of Money

Louisiana's Road Home program, which helps victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita return to the state and rebuild their homes, can no longer afford to fund the program's legal aid component, which provides assistance to participants with particularly complicated applications.

The LSC-funded Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Capital Area Legal Services, and Acadiana Legal Services are three of the five organizations providing legal aid as contractors with the program. Hundreds of applicants have been put on waiting lists while the legal aid programs await new funding. They estimate receiving 150 new cases a month.

"Everyone knows there's a big need for legal aid, or these low- to moderate-income people with title issues aren't going to be able to get their Road Home money," said Mark Moreau, co-director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.

"But our partners are dropping out because there's no money left. We'll have to stop within the next two to three weeks, and once that happens, starting up again will be very difficult."

Click here to read, "State can't pay legal aid bill for Road Home applicants," from the Times-Picayune.

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Legal Aid Newest Component to Ohio's Foreclosure Prevention Effort

Press Release, Office of Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, et al. – April 1, 2008

In an extraordinary multi-agency effort, state leaders today announced the latest component of Ohio's "Save the Dream" foreclosure assistance program: a new initiative that connects qualified homeowners with legal aid lawyers and nearly 1,100 attorneys statewide who have volunteered to provide legal services free of charge.

Under the new component announced [April 1], homeowners facing foreclosure can call the hotline to see if they meet the income and other eligibility requirements to be connected with a pro bono or legal aid attorney. Qualified homeowners will be connected with a local legal aid program to be matched with an attorney.

"Ohio's legal aid and partner volunteer lawyers have joined in an unprecedented effort to provide much needed legal assistance to homeowners," said Robert M. Clyde, Executive Director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, which provides funding for Ohio's legal aid delivery system. "This collaboration, which we believe is the first of its kind focused on foreclosure, will address a critical need of Ohio's low income citizens."

Note All six LSC-funded programs in Ohio-Community Legal Aid Services, Legal Aid of Western Ohio, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, and Ohio State Legal Services-will be providing legal services as part of the new effort.

Click here for the full press release.

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LAFLA Helps Secure Millions in Slumlord Settlement

Thanks in part to efforts of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), a property management company has agreed to pay $10 million in fines and restitution to tenants it illegally tried to force from rent-controlled units.

The settlement was announced on March 4 by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who sued Landmark Equity Management in 2006 for violating the city's rent control ordinances. According to California's Daily Journal, Delgadillo's suit accused Landmark of allowing its properties to fall into disrepair, shutting off utilities, illegally increasing rents, and refusing to accept rent payments, all to force tenants from rent-controlled units to make way for higher-paying renters.

"The new type of slum cases are about getting people out of rent control," said Tai Glenn, Director of LAFLA's Housing Unit. "Landlords actively put the building into disrepair and make conditions so bad that people leave and they can raise the rent."

LAFLA, which was familiar with Landmark from previous suits it had filed against the company on behalf of tenants, provided guidance and assistance to the city throughout the life of its case.

Click here for more information. (PDF icon 25k)

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Maryland IOLTA Might Break Even, Despite New Rules

Danny Jacobs, The Daily Record (MD) – March 30, 2008

The Maryland Legal Services Corp. last fall estimated its revenue from interest on lawyer trust accounts (IOLTA) would double to $13 million once a new "comparability" rule came into effect, essentially tying the rate to a percentage of the federal funds target rate.

Back then, though, the federal funds rate was 5.25 percent. On [April 1], when the new comparability rule comes into effect, the rate will be three percentage points lower, and the organization now hopes to simply break even.

"I think what we had projected could be totally eradicated in the short term," MLSC Executive Director Susan M. Erlichman said.

But Erlichman still believes the change will be better in the long term.

"The comparability rule is about fairness," she said. "It doesn't change IOLTA into a stable source of funding."

Click here for the full article.

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New Hampshire: State Courts Launch Self-Help Site

Andrew Wolfe, Nashua Telegraph (NH) – March 19, 2008

The state court system launched a new Web site recently to guide people trying to find legal aid or navigate the courts on their own.

The site, www.courts.state.nh.us/access, also serves as homepage for the state's Access to Justice Commission, and includes links to legal service agencies, a self-help center and various information on the state courts.

"We hope this website will be a tool that citizens will use when they need to find low cost legal help to resolve a problem," said Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan, who co-chairs the 42-member Commission with U.S. District Court Chief Justice Steven J. McAuliffe.

"We can be proud of the effort that has been made in our state to serve the legal needs of the poor, through programs supported by the New Hampshire Bar, the Bar Foundation, the Campaign for Legal Services and others," Justice Duggan said.

Click here for the full article.

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U.N. Committee Concerned with America's Lack of Right to Civil Counsel

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed concern about the "disproportionate impact that the lack of a generally recognized right to counsel in civil proceedings has on indigent persons belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities."

The Committee included this observation in its response to the United States' report to the U.N.'s International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, held in Geneva, Switzerland, from February 18 to March 7, 2008.

The Committee's report contains a recommendation that the U.S. "allocate sufficient resources to ensure legal representation of indigent persons belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities in civil proceedings, with particular regard to those proceedings where basic human needs-such as housing, health care, or child custody-are at stake."

Click here to download the committee's report. See page 6, number 22. (PDF icon 82k)

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Expedited Google Grant Applications for NTEN Members

The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has partnered with Google Grants, a charitable arm of the popular internet search engine company, to provide qualifying NTEN members an expedited review of applications for free use of Google's AdWords service.

The service allows organizations to create customized ads that appear to Google users searching for specific terms. LSC's AdWords campaign, for example, connects users searching for terms like "free legal aid" to a page on LSC's web site with a map of the U.S. containing links to legal assistance web sites in every state and territory.

NTEN membership is available to non-profits of all sizes. Annual dues range from $60 to $150, depending on the size of an organization's budget.

NTEN's mission is to help nonprofit organizations skillfully and confidently use technology to meet community needs and fulfill their missions.

Click here for more information.

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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.

Chicago Bar Foundation's Investing in Justice Campaign

The Chicago Bar Foundation's (CBF) Investing in Justice Campaign, launched in March 2007, raises funds to increase the salaries of the city's overworked and underpaid legal aid attorneys, improving their ability to remain employed in the public service organizations they are dedicated to. A study conducted by the CBF and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice revealed that new legal aid attorneys earn, on average, less than $40,000 a year despite being saddled with crushing educational debt loads. The campaign raised nearly $1 million in its inaugural three weeks last year, an amount estimated to raise attorney salaries by eight to ten percent.

Click here for more information on the project.

Click here to visit the LSC Resource Information.

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Success Story from South Jersey 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 Reunites Mother and Daughter

"Fatima," a young mother, came to South Jersey Legal Services (SJLS) for help undoing a Kinship Legal Guardianship "agreement" that she neither understood nor agreed to at the time it was enacted by the court.

It all started when Fatima was sixteen and gave birth to her daughter while living in foster care. Two years later, Fatima's in-laws successfully applied for custody of her and her daughter. Her relief at escaping foster care soon evaporated, after unrelenting personal conflicts with her mother-in-law forced her to leave after only a few months. DYFS demanded her daughter stay with the older couple.

Fatima made repeated attempts to visit her daughter throughout the following year, but her in-laws' obstructionism made it virtually impossible. She then received a notice from DYFS informing her of an upcoming "Kinship Legal Guardianship" proceeding, but provided no information about what the proceeding actually entailed, or what was at stake.

During the proceeding, Fatima did not understand what was happening, did not have an attorney, and was not informed by the judge of her right to one.

When Fatima appealed to SJLS for help, her attorneys quickly realized what had happened, and filed a motion to vacate the guardianship "agreement" on the grounds that Fatima clearly did not realize what she was agreeing to. A judge granted a hearing on the matter, but DYFS was successful in repeatedly postponing it. When the hearing was finally held, DYFS' own psychologist determined after two evaluations that Fatima should be granted full custody of her daughter, the same argument that Fatima had been making since the beginning.

Finally, a full year after SJLS filed the motion to vacate, a consent agreement was drafted that gradually increased the number of times Fatima was allowed to visit her daughter, and that ultimately granted her full custody.

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