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LSC Updates - December 13, 2006

New Appropriations Chairmen Announce Spending Plan for FY 2007

LSC is currently operating at FY 2006 funding levels through February 15, 2007, according to the new continuing appropriations resolution approved by Congress and signed by President Bush on December 9, 2006. The Science, State, Justice and Commerce spending bill containing LSC's FY 2007 appropriation has been passed by the House but awaits action in the Senate.

LSC may have to operate at FY 2006 funding levels through FY 2007 based on statements by the incoming Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

On December 11, 2006, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) announced they would not attempt to pass the 11 FY 2007 spending bills not passed by the 109th Congress, which adjourned over the weekend. Instead, they would fund the majority of Federal programs at FY 2006 levels until FY 2007 ends on September 30.

Source: David Rogers, "Democrats Seek to Freeze Most Federal Spending," The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2006. Click here to read the article. REGISTRATION REQUIRED

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Register for LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Conference Today!

LSC is holding its 7th Annual Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) Conference in Austin, Texas on January 17-19, 2007.

The annual TIG Conference serves as the official launch of projects for the current round of TIG recipients. This year's Conference will feature three different tracks:

  1. The Management and Technology Track for technology staff of LSC-funded programs;
  2. The Website Track for content coordinators of statewide legal assistance websites; and
  3. The Technology Track for Lawyers, which is new this year and will provide information on technologies and products aimed at making the work of legal advocates easier and more efficient.

Attendees are invited to attend any session and can move freely between the three tracks to create a custom agenda. As always, current year grant awardees are required to attend, and do so at no charge. The Conference is also open to the public and everyone is encouraged to attend.

The discounted Conference rate for hotel rooms is $100.00 per night and that rate expires on December 15, 2006--so make your reservations now!

Click here to register.

Click here to view the complete Conference agenda.

Click here for more Conference information.

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Legal Aid Chair, GOP Activist Keeps The Faith

Meredith Hobbs, The Daily Report (GA) - December 4, 2006

Frank B. Strickland is a big supporter of both the Republican Party and government-funded legal aid to the poor--two avocations he does not find contradictory.

Strickland is the board chairman of Legal Services Corp., the federal entity that is the primary funder of the nation's legal aid organizations. He also is a lifelong activist in the Republican Party, which has twice tried to eliminate the LSC by cutting its funding.

"I'm not an ideologue," he told me over a bagel and cream cheese at Goldberg's Deli in Colony Square, across the street from Strickland Brockington Lewis, the business and politics law firm that he founded with Peggy Brockington and Anne Lewis in 2001.

Strickland has spent his entire 40-year legal career in small firms, much of the time with his own name on the door, except for a year at Holland & Knight. He said he'd never had much interest in working for a big firm. "They're probably a little bit too regimented for me," he commented.

His extensive Republican credentials include service as the Georgia Republican Party's general counsel and then redistricting counsel in challenges to Democrat-drawn election district maps. He is the founder of the Georgia branch of the Republican National Lawyers Association and the chairman of the Atlanta branch of the Federalist Society.

"My political beliefs are aligned with Republican philosophy almost all the time. Arguably, this is an exception to that," he said of his similarly extensive service with government-funded legal aid organizations.

His legal aid commitment dates back more than 20 years--half of his legal career--to a joint effort by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Atlanta Bar Association in 1985 to represent 1,100 Cuban exiles being held indefinitely at the federal penitentiary here. Strickland, the Atlanta Bar president at the time, formed an unlikely alliance with Steven Gottlieb, the head of Atlanta Legal Aid, which had filed a class action habeas corpus suit challenging the Cubans' imprisonment. They'd been charged with committing crimes in the United States but had received no hearings.

After the government agreed to hold individual administrative hearings for the imprisoned Marielitos, Strickland recruited 400 lawyers from the Atlanta Bar to represent 800 Cubans and took on two cases himself.

Strickland calls the Marielito effort a milestone in his life. I asked him why that experience turned him into such a strong advocate for legal services for the poor.

"It certainly made an impression on me when we went to the prison. For some reason, it did not dawn on me that there would be a language barrier...I tried to imagine myself in similar circumstances, in a country where I did not speak the language and had been detained in a maximum-security prison. I would think that would be a pretty helpless feeling.

"I think you can draw an analogy between those circumstances and those of a poor person who is feeling helpless for any number of reasons--whether because of a domestic violence situation, something to do with housing or the loss of public benefits--and not knowing what to do about it or how to get anybody to help," he said.

He spent 11 years on the boards of, first, Atlanta Legal Aid and then Georgia Legal Services Program before joining the LSC's 11-member board in April 2003 as one of eight new Bush appointees. His fellow board members elected him chair.

Strickland said that private donations and pro bono efforts are critical to helping the nation's poor receive legal services but that they can't replace federal money. "Even with federal dollars there's a huge unmet legal need," he said. "The number of poor people seeking legal services is so overwhelming that the need simply cannot be met with pro bono work."

Strickland wants to increase LSC's budget, but it's not easy. "Each year has been a tough year. When you get past interest on the national debt, defense and other mandatory expenditures, the amount available for discretionary spending has been shrinking for all agencies." He said there's been an across-the-board federal budget cut in two of the four budget years he's been at the LSC.

The LSC's 2007 budget appropriation has been stalled along with the rest of the federal budget in the wake of Congress' post-election shakeup, but the $358.5 million approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July--although it's an almost $30 million increase from 2006 (in part to cover Katrina expenses)--is well short of the $412 million that the LSC requested and the $400 million that it received in 1995, before its budget was slashed by Congress.

Strickland, who estimated that he's made 20 visits to members of Congress to advocate for the LSC, thinks a Democratic Congress could mean more money and support. "The budgets for all agencies are under pressure. But theoretically it should be a little easier than in previous years," he said. But he does not believe that only Democrats support the notion of using taxpayer dollars to provide civil legal services to the nation's poor. "The popular notion is that the detractors are Republican and the supporters are Democrats. I don't think that holds water," he said, pointing out that the LSC has achieved budget increases under a Republican-controlled Congress.

"The LSC has supporters and detractors. Fortunately we have more supporters than detractors," Strickland said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED

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Legal Aid of North Carolina Launches Pro Bono Website

Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) has partnered with the state's Bar Association and Bar Foundation to launch a new website, www.ProBono.net/NC, which makes it easier for lawyers to provide pro bono representation to low-income North Carolinians.

"We developed the pro bono site to provide resources and make it easier for attorneys to volunteer their time and expertise to the representation of low-income and economically disadvantaged clients in North Carolina," said Janet Ward Black, a Greensboro attorney and president-elect of the NC Bar Association. "The majority of the over-one million families eligible for legal services in our state are working families living in the shadow of prosperity, and they often need legal help to preserve basic necessities. Volunteer lawyers from private practice are essential to help meet the tremendous need."

The website is the newest member in a national network of similar websites partially funded by LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program. Currently, LSC-funded programs from at least 22 states are developing statewide websites utilizing a platform developed by ProBono.net, a New York organization that assists nonprofit legal groups.

To read LANC's press release announcing the launch of the website, click here.

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LSC in the News

Katrina Survivors Prevail Over FEMA

Press Release, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid - November 29, 2006

A federal district judge has ruled in favor of hurricane evacuees represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Public Citizen Litigation Group. Evacuees sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in federal district court in the District of Columbia for failing to adequately explain to hurricane evacuees why their housing benefits were being terminated.

Federal district judge Richard J. Leon, in a 19-page opinion, ordered all relief sought by the hurricane evacuees. He ordered that "FEMA immediately restore Section 403 short-term housing assistance benefits to all evacuees who, as of August 31, 2006, had been found ineligible for Section 408 benefits until such time as they have received the more detailed explanation and have had the requisite amount of time to pursue an administrative appeal thereof, and it is further ordered that FEMA pay to each of these evacuees the short-term assistance benefits they would have otherwise received from September 1, 2006 through November 30, 2006."

"It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights," Judge Leon wrote, in the opinion.

The suit, filed on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) August 29th, asserted that FEMA systematically fails to explain why benefits have been denied and what evacuees can do to fix any problems with their applications for continued housing assistance. Instead, FEMA sends form letters to evacuees that only contained a cryptic computer code or phrase that refers to a reason for each termination of benefits.

"This opinion is a thorough denunciation of FEMA's actions in this case," said TRLA attorney Jerry Wesevich. "It is a complete vindication of all legal claims made on behalf of Katrina evacuees."

The suit alleged that the reasons for termination remain vague even after the computer codes have been deciphered, and that for a half-century, the Supreme Court has consistently required agencies to clearly explain their reasons for denial of benefits in time to allow affected individuals to appeal the agency's decision.

"11,000 families and the Constitution will be better off today because of the court's ruling," said TRLA attorney Robert Doggett.

Note: On December 9, 2006, The Houston Chronicle reported on FEMA's appeal in this case, which was denied by Judge Leon. Click here to read the article.

To read the press release in its entirety, click here.

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Suit: Immigrants Were Wrongly Denied Stipends

Michael Vitez, The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) - December 5, 2006

A lawsuit was filed in federal court in Philadelphia yesterday on behalf of elderly and disabled immigrants who were granted asylum in America but have lost their Supplemental Security Income benefits.

A plaintiff in the suit, filed by Community Legal Services and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society among others, is Shmul Kaplan, 80, of Levittown, who was granted asylum in 1997 to escape religious persecution in Russia. Two years ago, the federal government cut off his $590-a-month SSI.

Kaplan, who was profiled last month by The Inquirer, had one leg severed and another crushed in a train accident years ago.

He is among about 6,000 elderly and disabled immigrants who had been promised a stipend, according to Jonathan Stein, a lawyer with Community Legal Services. Stein said that, according to Social Security projections, 46,000 more people like Kaplan could lose their SSI payments by 2012 unless the problem is remedied.

When granted asylum, Kaplan and others were told they would receive SSI payments for seven years, giving them time to become American citizens, when they can routinely receive the benefits.

But with bureaucratic delays in receiving green cards, it became impossible for them to become citizens within seven years.

The lawsuit asks the federal government to reinstate their SSI payments and continue them until the elderly and disabled immigrants obtain citizenship, Stein said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Senior Complex Chief Hit By Suit

Art Campos, The Sacramento Bee (CA) - December 7, 2006

Three disabled women are alleging that the manager of their senior housing facilities is mistreating them and other tenants.

The allegations are contained in a civil lawsuit filed Nov. 15 in Placer Superior Court against Mark Sheppard and Project Go Inc., a company that develops affordable housing for senior citizens.

It's the second time in four years that Sheppard has been sued over his actions at a senior housing complex.

In 2002, a dozen tenants of Project Go housing complained that Sheppard illegally imposed new rules for rent and had changed lease agreements.

A settlement calling for Project Go to honor the existing leases was later reached between those tenants and the company, said Herb Whitaker, managing attorney for Legal Services of Northern California's Auburn office.

Whitaker is representing the three women in the latest lawsuit, which asks for an injunction against Sheppard.

The three women said in the lawsuit that many of their fellow apartment residents "live in constant fear of harassment or of losing their homes."

They seek injunctive relief to stop Sheppard from "abusing, cursing, threatening, intimidating, deceiving and harassing tenants without just cause and in violation of numerous laws and contracts."

Whitaker, the plaintiffs' attorney, said all of Project Go's apartment complexes are funded in part by the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program and are governed by that program's rules and regulations and by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

In 2004, new federal and state rules were amended to mandate that residents of the complexes could not be evicted unless the landlord could establish good cause for such an action, Whitaker said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Ramsey County Bar Foundation Presents $24k Check To Legal Aid

The Minnesota Lawyer - December 4, 2006

The Ramsey County Bar Foundation (RCBF) recently presented a check for $24,024.02 to Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS). The check was presented at the Campaign for Legal Aid Luncheon held on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

The check reflected one-half of the proceeds raised at the Ramsey County Bar Association's Bench & Bar Benefit held on Oct. 14, 2006, and is the largest amount awarded to SMRLS in the benefit's 31-year history. Benefit proceeds totaled more than $48,000.

Nearly 200 attorneys, judges and their guests attended the benefit, which included a live and silent auction. Attorneys Steve Kirsch, Paul Peterson and Terry Duggins served as the night's auctioneers.

SMRLS uses the grant from the RCBF to help defray the cost of its volunteer attorney programs, a source of legal help for low-income individuals. The grant highlights the longstanding partnership between the RCBA and SMRLS.

To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED

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Maryland-Based Legal Aid Bureau Adopts Disadvantaged Families For The Holidays

Cynthia DiPasquale, The Daily Record (MD) - December 8, 2006

Staffers at the Legal Aid Bureau Inc. are used to spending long hours working for the most impoverished, disadvantaged and sympathetic children. But at the holidays, they spend a little of their paychecks as well.

Starting about five years ago, they began selecting some clients from their child custody unit to receive gifts and food for a holiday meal.

"People in the unit became unwilling to just sit by with something they noticed during the holidays," said staff attorney Mark Stave. "They noticed many children were living in group homes or with some relative, and those people or organizations didn't have the wherewithal to make a Christmas for these kids."

Staff members have "adopted" children for the season, as have friends or family of Legal Aid Bureau employees. They are either purchasing gifts the children asked for or are donating money for food.

To read the article in its entirety, click here. REGISTRATION REQUIRED

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Success Story from the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio

(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.)

Ann's partner, Joe, threatened to kill her by brandishing guns and knives, so her eldest child called 911. Joe was charged with aggravated assault and jailed. At the time, Ann was about to be evicted for being behind on rent because of debt and wage garnishment. She was worried about finding a place to go into hiding with her children before Joe was released. One of Legal Aid Society's Victim's Advocates found a shelter for her and her children.

In just a week, an attorney and advocate worked with Ann to decide the legal action that would be in her family's best interest. They helped her address landlord expenses, a civil-protection order, divorce and custody issues. A safety plan was developed to ensure that she and her children would be able to act quickly in case of another emergency. The family was also offered counseling to help them deal emotionally with these issues. Internet access to arrange bus transportation for her children and consumer-credit counseling helped Ann take charge of her children's safety and family finances. With the guidance of an advocate, Ann is looking for a permanent home and uses the Benefit Bank Internet program to manage her money.

A holistic approach has ensured that Ann's family is stabilized. Legal Aid believes in providing holistic service to clients in order to help them with other issues in addition to the problem at hand. This is often done in collaboration with other agencies that support the same low-income client base. This particular case involved collaboration with Franklin County Children's Services, where Legal Aid places attorneys and victim's advocates in four locations.

Ann is among the thousands of people who benefit from United Way-funded programs, thanks to generous donors. Together, we are doing what works and what matters.

Source: "The Legal Aid Society," The Columbus Dispatch, December 7, 2006.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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