Sharon L. Browne, a member of the LSC Board of Directors, testified November 15 at a hearing on California’s civil justice crisis. LSC provides grants to 11 nonprofit legal aid programs in California, and Ms. Browne provided the perspective of a national funder at the hearing, discussing LSC funding and other challenges.
The hearing was the first of four co-sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Commission on Access to Justice, and the State Bar of California. The hearings were held to demonstrate the fundamental role of both the courts and legal assistance in society and explore the devastating effects, especially for low-income Californians, of chronic underfunding and recent budget cuts.
“Our challenge is large,” Ms. Browne testified. “Requests for assistance have been increasing. The poverty population is growing, and funding is decreasing.”
She added, “Equal access to justice is essential in our democracy, and we all agree that the rule of law is in jeopardy when the protections of the law are not available to increasingly large numbers of low-income citizens—especially children, the elderly and victims of domestic violence.”
The hearing was held at the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Justice Vance Raye, Presiding Justice, California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, joined Ms. Browne as “foundational panelists” to launch the hearings.
The presiding panelists were Justice Ronald Robie of the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District; Kevin Baker, Deputy Chief Counsel, Assembly Judiciary Committee; James Brosnahan, Senior Partner, Morrison & Foerster LLP; Associate Dean Julie Davies of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Dean Kevin Johnson of the UC Davis School of Law; Saskia Kim, Chief Counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee; Joe Stephenshaw, consultant, Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee; John Streeter, President of the State Bar of California, and Allan Zaremberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Chamber of Commerce.
On December 9, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pledged strong support for increasing LSC’s funding. His remarks were part of a speech honoring the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s centennial anniversary.
“Department [of Justice] leaders continue to work hand-in-hand with the Legal Services Corporation – and many of NLADA’s other key partners – in order to protect funding for programs that expand access to the justice system,“ he said. “In spite of the clear need for these services, unfortunately, we recently had to endure the largest cut in LSC funding in the last 15 years. But let me assure you: the Justice Department will keep working to preserve and increase LSC funding. And we will continue to seek out the most effective and efficient ways to provide critical assistance to the millions of Americans living near or below the poverty line who need our help.”
He continued, “This work is, and will remain, a top priority – not just for me, or my colleagues at the Justice Department – but for every lawyer and leader who has the privilege of serving this Administration – including the one who works in the Oval Office.”
LSC President James J. Sandman and members of the Office of Program Performance staff participated with legal aid program board members, directors and other staff members in the NLADA Centennial Conference, December 9-11 in Washington, DC. LSC’s participation included workshops on pro bono, organizational sustainability, effective board service, responding to disaster, using data effectively, expanding reentry legal services, and technology. In addition to Mr. Sandman, other LSC staff presenting at the conference were: David Bonebrake, John Eidleman, Bristow Hardin, Althea Hayward, Cheryl Nolan, Glenn Rawdon, Jane Ribadeneyra, Tamara Swinson, and Evora Thomas.
At the LSC Update session, Jim Sandman reflected on lessons learned during his first year as LSC president, thanked directors for their participation in the Corporation’s current strategic planning process, and fielded questions on a range of topics including the impact of the census on funding allocations and the LSC Board’s Fiscal Oversight Task Force.
In a session titled Next Steps in Growing Pro Bono, Mr. Sandman described LSC’s new Pro Bono Task Force, made up of 55 members from the judiciary, law schools, bar associations, legal services programs, corporations, and law firms. The Task Force has five working groups, which are meeting regularly to identify best practices for enhancing pro bono services in rural and urban areas and through technology, to examine the obstacles that hamper or discourage pro bono services, and to formulate “big ideas” for pro bono services in the context of legal aid programs.
In response to a question about the potential impact of the Task Force’s work on programs, Mr. Sandman said “I think we can facilitate the sharing of information, the generation of new ideas, work with programs to create partnerships with others, and align and match up resources that can help programs increase the volume of pro bono work.”
LSC will offer a webinar on how grantees can use Census Bureau data sets to estimate possible changes in their LSC funding levels based on the shifts in the geographic distribution of the nation’s poverty population since the 2000 decennial census.
The webinar will run from 12:30-2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 24. Information on how to participate will be published in the next issue of LSC Updates and sent via email to executive directors.
The webinar will discuss how to locate potentially relevant census data sets and use them to identify shifts in the poverty population in different states and service areas. With this information, programs can begin preparing for funding changes. Actual census-based funding changes cannot be determined until legislation is enacted that revamps how census data are used to allocate LSC funding.
At the NLADA Centennial Conference, LSC, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and Management Information Exchange offered a series of presentations at a session titled Innovations in Civil Legal Services. The book by the same name features 20 innovations ranging from a documentary on the Atlanta Legal Aid Society that aired on PBS, to smartphone legal aid apps, to new approaches to intake, and many more.
Mark Shriver, head of Save the Children's U.S. programs, authored a “Fond Farewell” for his father as part of Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue. Mr. Shriver was the first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and, in that role, he oversaw the creation of the Legal Services Program, which was the forerunner of the Legal Services Corporation.
“Legal aid to the poor seeks emergency assistance” (Puerto Rico Legal Services)
Puerto Rico Daily Sun – Dec 17, 2011
“Legal Aid says cuts make layoffs ‘inevitable’” (Legal Aid of West Virginia)
The Charleston Gazette – Dec 20, 2011
“Budget ax forcing agency to close Mansfield legal aid office” (Legal Aid of Western Ohio)
Mansfield News Journal - Dec 13, 2011
“Legal Aid of East Tennessee forced to close Cleveland office”
Program press release, Dec 5, 2011
“Prairie State Shaves Hours, Staff” (Prairie State Legal Services)
Chicago Sun-Times - Dec 1, 2011
Legal Aid plans office at Erlanger hospital for patients
Chattanooga Times Free Press – Dec 20, 2011
Legal Aid of East Tennessee, and Erlanger Health System, form partnership to address legal needs that affect patients' health.
Texas Lawyers Assist American Veterans
The Texas Lawbook – Dec 19, 2011
Pro bono attorneys help veterans throughout Texas.
Maryland Legal Aid helps out during hard times
Washington Post – Dec 10, 2011
As Maryland Legal Aid celebrates its centennial, program attorneys reflect on current challenges.
Last resort: Legal Services of North Florida
Florida Trend – Dec 9, 2011
The need for help navigating the BP Oil Spill claims process still high among low-income workers.
Maryland Legal Aid Staff Attorneys Hong Park and Justin Zelikovitz represented a low-income couple who were sued by their former landlord for more than $10,000 for abandoning an apartment mid-lease, and for damage to the unit. In the course of their investigation, the lawyers uncovered an extensive fraud by the landlord involving forged invoices from contractors. Since 2003, the landlord had filed nearly 500 cases against tenants and obtained judgments of nearly $2 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. Because of the forged invoices and false statements revealed in discovery, Park and Zelikovitz filed a motion for sanctions. At the same time, the state's attorney and attorney general launched an investigation. A favorable settlement was negotiated for the couple that included damages and an attorney fee award.