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Carl Rauscher
Director of Communications and Media Relations
202.295.1615
rauscherc@lsc.gov

 

LSC Updates - March 31, 2005

PANEL TO STUDY WAYS TO IMPROVE LEGAL HELP FOR POOR
Henri E. Cauvin, The Washington Post (DC) - March 10, 2005

After more than a year of planning, the D.C. Court of Appeals recently established the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission to address a lack of access to legal services among low-income residents. "There ought to be a place that they can go to get advice, to get representation, to get help with the problems they're facing," says Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who will chair the 17-member panel. Edelman, an advocate for the poor throughout his career, notes that while the need for such services has increased over the past two decades, federal resources have decreased. "The bottom line is there's less money in the system than there was 20 years ago," he says," and it never got anywhere near being adequate in the first place." The commission was formed as a response to a 2003 study by the D.C. Bar Foundation that found onl y one in 10 low-income District residents had access to the justice system. On the commission are four judges, as well as representatives from legal services agencies such as the Legal Aid Society, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center.

LAWYERS LOBBY FOR $4.5 MILLION HIKE IN LEGAL AID FUNDING; ADVOCATES CITE GROWING CASELOADS
Janette Neuwahl, The Boston Globe (MA) - March 9, 2005

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is requesting a $4.5 million increase in state funding for its general support fund, which, when added to its current funding of $3.3 million, would result in a total budget of $7.8 million. More than 350 attorneys visited the State House as part of the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Association's sixth annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, in which they encouraged lawmakers to support the funding increase. The additional money, they explained, would be used to assist more low-income clients, including the elderly and domestic violence victims. "Currently, we turn away more than half of all clients in Massachusetts," says Pattye Comfort, director of the Equal Justice Coalition and organizer of the event. Governor Mitt Romney says he wants to keep state legal aid funding static at $3.3 million.

FUNDING NOW RESTORED: GOVERNOR ADMITS MISTAKE
Brennan Center Legal Services E-lert - March 4, 2005

Following a press release issued by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation questioning Governor Rod Blagojevich's proposal to eliminate all state funding for civil legal services programs, funding was restored after the Governor and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) conceded that they had made a "mistake." Noting "the importance of legal aid to the poor," Tom Green, IDHS spokesman, assured legal aid agencies "we are going to find the money to fund it."

LEGAL COMMUNITY TO ASK LEGISLATURE TO HELP LOW-INCOME MAINERS
Associated Press - March 22, 2005

Maine's legal community and social services groups have teamed up to request more state funding for legal aid organizations. "No one should be denied justice for lack of money," said Meris Bickford, president of the Maine Bar Foundation. Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Joshua Tardy, R-Newport, approximately $1 million in additional funding would be provided to legal services agencies from a $400,000 annual appropriation and the doubling of the $5 surcharge on civil fines. "Without the assistance of a legal aid provider, many low-income and needy elderly in Maine do not have access to our court system, justice, and the fair treatment that we in Maine pride ourselves on," Tardy said. The need for increased funding in Maine has grown in recent years, according to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, an LSC grantee that provides civil legal assistance to low income residents.

CASE PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON LIVING WILLS
Krista J. Karch, Observer-Dispatch (NY) - March 22, 2005

At 72, Bob Young doesn't have a living will. He wanted to have one drafted over 20 years ago but ran into some roadblocks. After a recent surgery and seeing the unfolding story of Terri Schiavo in Florida, he decided it was time to revisit the issue, but didn't know quite know how to do it. According to Paul Lupia, director of advocacy at the Legal Aid Society of Mid New York, most attorneys can assist clients in drafting a living will and health-care proxy. "No matter what your age, no matter what your health, everyone should have a health-care proxy and a living will," Lupia says. Low-income people may receive assistance from legal aid organizations, he notes, and for those that don't qualify, enlisting a private attorney to help is not usually very expensive.

Program News

 

NEW ORLEANS LEGAL AID AGENCY HONORS ALUMNI
Staff, The Times-Picayune (LA) - March 10, 2005

Wearing red rose corsages, retired and active judges affiliated with the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corp. (NOLAC) were honored for their public service at a reception on Feb. 24. Forty former board members, staff members, and attorneys with the organization went on to become judges, two serving on the Louisiana Supreme Court (Justices Revius Ortique and Bernette Johnson). Many other NOLAC alums have served in a variety of roles on the state and federal bench. "It is a very unusual record of accomplishment, that so many people from such a small law firm go on to be judges," says Executive Director Mark Moreau. "I think we've had a lot of distinguished staff and board members over the years."

BUDGET CUTS CAUSE LAYOFFS AT LEGAL AID GROUP
Bill Myers, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (IL) - February 25, 2005

The Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation has announced that federal budget cuts to legal services programs will force it to lay off at least 10 staff members by the end of the year. "We'll do everything we can to raise as much funding as possible so that the layoffs will be as few as possible, but I don't see any way that we'll be able to entirely avoid it," says Executive Director Lois J. Wood. The program has been dealt a $540,000 cut as a result of reduced federal funding, according to Wood. Poverty population shifts recorded by the most recent census resulted in a $2.5 million reduction in LSC funding for Illinois starting in FY 2003, says Robert A. Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation. In addition, officials are not expecting help from the state, which is dealing with its own budget problems. The legal aid leaders plan to spend the upcoming months shoring up other funding sources before determining the extent of the c uts, says Wood. Currently, Land of Lincoln employs 70 full-time and 17 part-time staffers, including 35 full-time lawyers and 11 part-time lawyers. The layoff would be the second major layoff Land of Lincoln has sustained since 2002 when 10 positions were eliminated. The group provides legal assistance to low-income residents and closes approximately 13,000 cases each year.

AN ELEVATOR NAMED MARTY - NO REALLY
Nicholas Confessore, The New York Times (NY) - March 8, 2005

The Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation recently unveiled a new elevator at its Williamsburg office, also known as "Brooklyn A." The elevator was christened "Marty," named after Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president. Markowitz helped guarantee an unsolicited $70,000 grant from the city's capital budget, which helped cover the cost of the new elevator. It replaces a 70-year-old elevator - as old as the building itself - that regularly got stuck between floors. Its maintenance required two operators working in shifts during business hours, an expense that drained a program with only 20 lawyers. "I am thrilled to be able to support this important organization and, I must add, I am glad that in some small way I can finally be four stories tall," Markowitz says.

HISPANIC GROUP LAUNCHES TAX HELP FOR THE NEEDY
The Washington Post (DC) - March 3, 2005

A partnership between Legal Services of Northern Virginia and the Hispanic Committee of Virginia has resulted in a service for low-income taxpayers in which information and assistance is made available to those with limited English proficiency. The service will also make preparing tax returns easier for clients by referring them, when appropriate, to the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Awards/Notes

 

ILLINOIS LEGAL AID WEBSITE GETS OVERHAUL
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (IL) - March 7, 2005

Illinois Legal Aid Online has introduced a redesigned website for low-income residents who need legal advice. The site, www.IllinoisLegalAid.org, includes information concerning legal rights and referrals to legal services programs and other advocates throughout Illinois. The website, created by a statewide coalition of legal services agencies and funded in part by LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program, was redesigned to be more user-friendly for pro se litigants and other individuals in need of legal information and assistance.

PANEL DISCUSSION WILL FOCUS ON PROVIDING ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR THE POOR

A panel discussion asking the question "Is permanent public funding of civil legal services achievable in New York?" will be held on March 31 at the Association of the Bar of New York City's headquarters. The program will be moderated by Michael Powell, New York Bureau Chief of the Washington Post, and will feature panelists that include two current New York State Supreme Court justices, the Hon. James Yates and the Hon. James McGuire; Lillian Moy, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York; David Gruenberg, former counsel of the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee; and Michael Cooper, senior counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell. 

Opinions

 

FUND LEGAL AID: ALL NEED ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Letter to the Editor, Des Moines Register (IA) - March 3, 2005

"Dwight James is on point with his Feb. 4 Iowa View, "Budget Constraints Limit Justice." Low-income Iowans, including victims of domestic violence, senior citizens, children, and persons with disabilities are having greater difficulty accessing the court system. This difficulty is the result of reduced access to legal aid.

"Low-income Iowans with a criminal law problem are required to be provided a court-appointed attorney to assist them. Low-income Iowans faced with a civil law problem have no comparable right. They must rely on help from legal aid, a volunteer attorney, or represent themselves without the benefit of a trained advocate.

"Iowa Legal Aid is the resource many low-income Iowans go to for help in accessing the legal system. Regrettably, it is harder today to get that help because funding provided to Iowa Legal Aid is more than 20 percent less than it was just three years ago. Lost federal and state funding has resulted in 22 vacant attorney positions in Iowa Legal Aid's 10 regional offices that serve low-income Iowans in all 99 counties.

"Perhaps the best example of the ramifications of these funding losses is illustrated by the case of a client named Mary. Mary came to Iowa Legal Aid as a result of domestic violence. Iowa Legal Aid had the resources to help her get a protection and custody order. In addition, her legal aid attorney helped her get her son returned when he was taken by her abusive boyfriend. Today, Mary has a career and is no longer low-income.

"If Mary came to one of the Iowa Legal Aid's offices today, she would be able to get assistance with the protection order, but would most certainly no longer get the additional help beyond the immediate emergency, including a final disposition of custody and support for her son. Without addressing her underlying problem, she would unlikely be able to move on with her life.

"James is correct that the courts need adequate funding. Yet without funding for legal aid, the court system is unreachable for thousands of Iowa residents who have nowhere else to turn. Without access to our system of justice, our society is at risk of breaking down."

Dennis Groenenboom is the executive director of Iowa Legal Aid.

Program Resources

 

LSC Resource Library Update
Sponsor: Montana Legal Services Association
Project: Intake Procedures
Date: February 25, 2005

Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) recently developed an intake procedures manual designed to be used as a reference to increase uniformity among case handlers in the intake process. The guide addresses definitions and general information concerning intake procedures, as well as eligibility, conflicts of interest, client information, grievances, referrals, community education materials, and compliance requirements and checklists. The manual was created to assist MLSA in its use of the PRIME Case Management System. For more information on this and other projects, please visit http://www.lri.lsc.gov/rs.htm.

Client Success Story

SUCCESS STORY FROM THE MARYLAND LEGAL AID BUREAU

(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.)

The "Moores," a young couple who were in financial distress, were contemplating bankruptcy. They turned to a cousin for help. As it turned out, their cousin only worsened the situation.

"The problem was the clients were behind in their mortgage and really should have filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy," says Louise Carwell, senior attorney with the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau in Baltimore. "Family members sometimes mean well, but..."

When they contacted the Legal Aid Bureau, the Moores were confronted with a motion that would have allowed the mortgage company to foreclose, which would have resulted in the loss of their house. They were referred to Carwell, who upon reviewing the petition, developed a realistic Chapter 13 plan and filed a motion to convert the proceeding from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to a Chapter 13. The court subsequently approved the motion.

Thanks to the assistance of Carwell and the Legal Aid Bureau, the Moores retained their house and are on the road to financial security by making regular payments to their creditors.