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

 

LSC Updates - May 3, 2006

LSC Board Committee for the Provision of Legal Services Holds Panel Discussion on Private Attorney Involvement

On April 28, the LSC Board's Committee for the Provision of Legal Services held a panel discussion on private attorney involvement in LSC-funded programs. The Committee continued the discussion begun at the January 2006 meeting at which a panel of primarily large law firm attorneys shared their thoughts on ways in which LSC-funded programs could increase private attorney involvement. At the April meeting, the focus was on small firm and solo practitioners. The Committee heard presentations from the Executive Director of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Daniel K. Glazier, and two attorneys who participated with LSEM in both the Judicare and pro bono projects, in urban and rural parts of the service area. The panelists shared their thoughts on what programs can do to encourage more participation by the private attorneys. The LSC Board has stated its continuing interest in exploring ways in which it can encourage greater private attorney involvement.

A transcript of the discussion will soon be available in the Board Meeting Transcripts section of LSC's homepage.

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LSC to Update Regulation Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Disability

At its April 28-29 meeting held in St. Louis, Missouri, LSC's Board of Directors agreed to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to update CFR part 1624, a regulation which prohibits LSC-funded programs from engaging in discrimination on the basis of disability. This regulation was initially adopted by LSC in 1979, and has not been updated since then. The proposed changes to the regulation include:

  1. Updating the terminology used to refer to persons with disabilities,
  2. Adding a reference to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,
  3. Adding language to the enforcement provision setting forth LSC policy regarding investigation of complaints of violation of this regulation, and
  4. Adding references to the new technologies available to assist persons with disabilities access legal services, or work for a legal services program.

Comments on this NPRM are due no later than 45 days after its publication in the Federal Register, which is expected shortly.

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Lillian R. BeVier, Vice Chairman of LSC's Board of Directors, Wins University of Virginia Alumni Association Teaching Award

Press Release, University of Virginia - April 26, 2006

Lillian BeVier received the University of Virginia Alumni Association's Distinguished Professor Award April 21, given annually to a faculty member who is a superior instructor, shows unusual concern to students, and has made significant contributions to the life of the University.

BeVier, who in 1973 was the first woman to join the law faculty, is also the first female law professor to win the award.

"Other law professors, including female faculty, have won other University teaching awards, but this one recognizes those who have reached the very pinnacle of teaching," said law professor Anne Coughlin. "Lillian BeVier is in a league with the finest professors who've ever set foot in a law school classroom."

An expert in constitutional law, intellectual property, real property, and torts, BeVier is known for her outstanding use of the Socratic method and for her commitment to engaging with students outside of the classroom.

For more information, click here.

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LSC in the News

Mississippi Governor Approves $5 Civil Filing Fee to Benefit Legal Services Programs

On April 21, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour signed into law House Bill 961, which levies a $5 fee on all filings for civil cases. The money generated by the new fee will go directly to the Mississippi Civil Legal Assistance Fund, which collects money from a variety of sources and distributes it to civil legal services programs in the state.

This new revenue stream will help replenish Mississippi's legal services programs, which are still recovering from recent losses in federal funding while struggling to meet the increased demand for their services following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According to Ben T. Cole, Executive Director of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, the new money will "provide a degree of stability in funding to the legal services programs so that we can budget for additional staff and have a realistic expectation that the money will be there from one year to the next."

Upon learning of the bill's passage, Sam Buchanan, Executive Director of the Mississippi Center for Legal Services wished to thank "the Mississippi Legislature, Governor Barbour and others for supporting passage of the filing fee add-on. The additional revenue will help to alleviate the high demand for legal services by providing additional manpower and resources to better meet the needs of the more than half million poor persons in the state."

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Legal Services Funding Restored in New York State Budget

On April 26, the New York state legislature overrode Governor George E. Pataki's veto of $4.6 million dollars for civil legal services programs. The veto, which would have entirely eliminated state funding for legal services, was just one of more than 200 cuts to the state budget made by Pataki, who described the spending plan as "unaffordable." According to an article in the New York Times, Pataki intends to ignore some of the legislature's overrides, although legal services funding was not mentioned as one of them. In a press release issued after the funding was restored, New York State Bar Association President Vincent A. Buzard said, "The loss of funding for civil legal services would have effectively cut off access to the state court system for New York's most vulnerable populations--including the poor, elderly and victims of domestic violence--and may have helped bring about a massive shutdown of civil legal services providers across the state."

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

To read the press release from the New York State Bar Association, click here.

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Web Site Offers Idahoans Help In Filling Out Simple Court Forms

Melissa McGrath, The Idaho Statesman - April 28, 2006

Becky McKenney, a court advocate manager with the Women's and Children's Alliance in Boise, often helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault navigate the legal system. She explains court procedures and recommends ways they can find a lawyer.

She also helps them fill out court forms so they can file for a divorce or a domestic violence protection order without the help of a lawyer.

"If they've decided to leave a relationship, the sooner they get into the process the better," McKenney said.

That is why McKenney is grateful the Idaho court system is making it as easy for clients to fill out certain court forms as it is to file their income taxes using TurboTax.

With the help of Idaho Legal Aid Services, the court has designed a new Web site that people can use to fill out several of the most commonly used court forms, such as requests for legal name changes, protection orders and filings for divorce when the couple has no children.

The Web site [was launched Monday, May 1] in celebration of Law Day, which was established in the 1950s to create awareness of America's legal heritage and the role of law.

"The Web site will guide people through this process so they don't fill out a form and weeks later find out they did what they weren't supposed to do," said 4th District Judge Michael Dennard, who oversees the state's court assistance project. The project helps Idahoans access legal services and other resources related to family law cases and other less complicated civil court matters that many people tend to do without the help of an attorney.

In the past, people could pick up these court forms at court assistance offices throughout the state or download some of the forms from the court assistance Web site. But most people filled out those forms by hand without the help of a legal expert to explain the technical terms, which has created several problems, Dennard said.

The site was created after Idaho Legal Aid Services received a $154,000 grant from [the Technology Initiative Grant program of the] Legal Services Corp., a national non-profit organization that Congress established to provide grants to local legal programs.

"We couldn't do this without Legal Aid because of the access to the fabulous free resources, and they couldn't do it without us because (the online forms) are our court-approved forms," Dennard said. He called the team a "unique partnership."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Rights Groups Will Test Fair Housing Practices

George Hunter, The Detroit News (MI) - April 16, 2006

Two civil rights agencies say they are joining forces to ensure minorities, senior citizens and other groups are given equal access to housing opportunities in Macomb County.

The Macomb Ministerial Alliance and the [LSC grantee] Legal Aid and Defender Fair Housing Center soon will begin training people to pose as potential renters, to see whether landlords are discouraging some groups from renting apartments.

The program is funded by a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Legal Services Corp. and the United Way as part of an initiative to end housing discrimination in Metro Detroit.

People of all races and ages are being recruited for the program, said Ministerial Alliance spokesman Gregory Murray.

"This is a big problem, not only for minorities, but for seniors and people of low income," Murray said.

"What we will do is send two people of different ethnicities to inquire about the availability of an apartment, condo or other rental unit.

"If a black person, or an elderly person, is turned down, and another person is not, and both people had the same kind of qualifications, then we'll know there's likely discrimination going on," Murray said.

If a landlord is found to be discriminatory, federal sanctions could be levied by HUD, said Michelle Johnson, director for the Legal Aid and Defender Fair Housing Center, which covers Macomb and Oakland counties.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Lawyers for Needy Form Partnership

C. Benjamin Ford, The Gazette (MD) - April 19, 2006

The Maryland Public Defender's Office and the Legal Aid Bureau have formed a pilot program to make it easier for low-income residents to get a lawyer.

The Public Defender's Office represents people in criminal cases who cannot afford a lawyer; the Legal Aid Bureau provides attorneys for civil cases.

In the past, the two agencies seldom worked together. Under the pilot program, if a public defender learns that a criminal defendant also faces eviction or a child custody issue, the client will be referred to the Legal Aid Bureau.

While it may seem a small step, the county's chief public defender and Legal Aid Bureau attorneys praised the pilot program.

"We're very excited about this collaboration," said Paul B. DeWolfe Jr., the county's public defender.

The two groups began meeting about six months ago, he said, and the Public Defender's Office has already referred a handful of cases to Legal Aid.

"We hope to address their criminal charges and any of the social or other legal issues that are in their way of rebuilding their lives," DeWolfe said. "What we found is when a client comes to our office with a criminal charge...often the criminal charge might be the least of their problems. They might have to deal with addiction, they might be homeless, or they might face losing custody of their children."

In many cases, housing managers will move to evict a tenant charged with a crime. Helping a criminal defendant's family avoid an eviction can keep innocent children from being made homeless, said Lisa Schifferle, supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau.

"There's no reason for those children to be caught in the ripple effect," she said. "People recognize the need for criminal lawyers, but the civil side can be just as devastating."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Early Gifts Put Legal Aid Group Near Campaign Goal

Paul Hampel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) - May 1, 2006

Metro East area attorney Bruce Cook and several other trial lawyers have given a big boost to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation's fundraising campaign for a new headquarters.

The foundation launches the public phase of its capital campaign today. But thanks to early donations, such as a check from Cook for $625,000, the group already has realized 85 percent, or $1.8 million, of its $2.1 million goal.

"We've been through some hard times financially in the last few years," Lois Wood, the foundation's executive director, said. "But these generous gifts will help to stabilize our program for years to come."

Land of Lincoln helps the poor and the elderly throughout Southern Illinois.

The primary focus of its campaign is the renovation of a brick, two-story building at 8787 State Street in East St. Louis to serve as a new headquarters.

Cook's gift paid for the purchase of the building, which will be named the Dorothy O. Cook Community Law Center in honor of the lawyer's mother, who died in 1995.

Renovation of the building is expected to be complete by September.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Burns Announces $32,000 to Missoula Tax Clinic

Press Release, Office of Senator Conrad Burns - April 18, 2006

U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) today announced that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) awarded $32,000 to the Montana Legal Services Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC), based in Missoula. This LITC is a qualifying organization that represents low income taxpayers involved in tax disputes with the IRS. It also provides education on tax rights and responsibilities to taxpayers that are non-English speaking or lacking proficiency in English.

The Montana Legal Services LITC will use these funds to provide free legal assistance by helping taxpayers understand their rights and responsibilities as a taxpayer, including negotiations and settlements of tax debt, injured spouse claims, earned income tax credit appeals, audits and examinations, liens and levies, and innocent spouse relief requests. This federal funding will directly help the Missoula-based LITC update their facilities in Missoula and maintain a steady transfer of information to and from the state and federal IRS offices.

Senator Burns said, "Our tax code is far too complicated and most Montanans cannot afford expensive professional help at tax time, especially if there is a dispute with the IRS. I am pleased to support federal assistance to give hard-working Montanans the help they need to make sure they are paying their fair share in federal and state taxes."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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State Bar Group Seeking Creative Legal Aid Funding

The North Country Gazette (NY) - April 20, 2006

To help close the "justice gap" in New York, the New York State Bar Association is pursuing a creative way to secure more money to help fund legal services to the poor.

Under a legal doctrine known as cy pres comme possible, which means "coming as near as possible," unclaimed funds from class action settlements can be dispensed to groups that were not parties to the litigation. Traditionally, such funds have been used for their "next best use"--to benefit groups related to the purpose of the litigation. In recent years, however, the approach has been expanded.

According to a report issued by the state bar's Special Committee on Funding for Civil Legal Services, to help close the justice gap courts across the country have begun to make cy pres awards to programs that provide legal services to the poor. Since these programs help protect the rights of those who are unrepresented, as is often the case with class action plaintiffs, they are seen as meeting the next best use standard.

Association President A. Vincent Buzard of Rochester said, "Our cy pres plan represents the development of an exciting program that will help fund critical legal services to poor and disadvantaged New Yorkers, without raising taxes or reducing support for other important programs." However, he cautioned, "Cy pres is not intended to, and cannot, supplant the need for a permanent state funding mechanism."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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13,000 Texans Turn to TexasLawHelp.org Each Month for Free Legal Information

Business Wire - April 21, 2006

April 2006 marks the one-year anniversary of an aggressive effort to energize and promote a Web site which features free legal information for low-income Texans--www.TexasLawHelp.org. As a result of a statewide outreach campaign and the addition of scores of new legal resources, monthly visits to TexasLawHelp.org have doubled in the last year, with more than 13,000 Texans visiting the site each month to find help for their civil legal problems. More than 57,000 new visitors have logged on to the site since last April.

TexasLawHelp.org is the only free, comprehensive online resource for low-income Texas residents looking for civil legal information and assistance. Unlike the criminal justice system, low-income individuals with civil legal problems are not automatically afforded legal counsel. TexasLawHelp.org was designed specifically to help people in this situation by making reliable information about common civil legal matters readily available through the Internet. Topics include family law, public benefits, consumer issues, wills and testaments, and healthcare.

Last year, the Partnership for Legal Access--composed of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, the Travis County Law Library and the Texas Legal Services Center--received a grant from the Texas Education Agency to expand TexasLawHelp.org's resource database and raise public awareness of the site throughout Texas. Through the infusion of staff and funds enabled by the grant, TexasLawHelp.org's outreach effort has become a model for LawHelp.org web sites nationwide.

Note: TexasLawHelp.org was launched with a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation.

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

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[Kentucky's] Legal Aid Society Keeps Justice Accessible [Editorial]

Julian Bibb, The Tennessean.com - May 1, 2006

Every May 1, individuals, schools, communities and organizations across the United States observe Law Day. Officially declared by President Eisenhower in 1958, Law Day was created to oppose the former Soviet Union's annual May Day, best remembered for grand parades of nuclear weapons and other symbols of military might.

Concerned that so much attention was being given to war-making instead of peacekeeping, members of the American Bar Association established a day to reaffirm loyalty to the United States, appreciate the civil liberties that are guaranteed under law and develop a greater respect for the laws that are vital to maintaining the liberty, justice and equality we enjoy as Americans.

Each year, the Nashville Bar Association observes Law Day with a luncheon where attorneys and judges celebrate the good works being done by some outstanding members of the legal profession. Members of the Young Lawyers Division of the Nashville Bar Association, known as the Wild Eagles, visit classrooms and help our children understand how the legal system works and what makes up the American tradition of the rule of law.

But Law Day is not about celebrating lawyers. It is about remembering how important it is that everyone be able to find justice within our legal system and how fortunate we are to live in a nation governed by law.

The founders of Law Day were concerned that law was becoming accessible only to the wealthy, businesses and well-connected citizens. They believed celebrating a law-based holiday would emphasize that access to justice should be available to all people, not just lawyers, executives and politicians.

Fifty years later, that concern remains. We are fortunate in our community that two groups are working to overcome this problem - the Legal Aid Society [for Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands] and the Nashville Pro Bono Program. Serving people in 48 counties throughout Middle Tennessee, Legal Aid provides free legal services to the underserved. The Nashville Pro Bono Program organizes volunteer lawyers from every major law firm in Nashville to take on cases for those who cannot afford a lawyer.

Last year lawyers with Legal Aid and the Nashville Pro Bono Program opened more than 7,500 cases. Thousands of people who had civil legal problems and nowhere else to turn were able to get help. Whether it's dealing with income, housing, finances, health care or family safety, Legal Aid and the Nashville Pro Bono Program offers access to justice to our most vulnerable citizens. Legal Aid publishes more than 40 instructional self-help booklets in English and Spanish, outlining the regulations and laws associated with common legal issues in simple, straightforward language. Their work embodies the spirit of Law Day.

Last year, Legal Aid received more than 26,500 requests for assistance, a need it cannot possibly meet at present. And the potential need is much greater. In the counties served by Legal Aid, more than 380,000 people meet the income requirements to receive free legal assistance. Despite these challenges, the goal of equal justice under the law moves closer each year thanks to generous support from many people in Middle Tennessee.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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LSC Resource Library Update

Sponsors: Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Project: Torture Survivors Project
Date: April 19, 2006

The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles launched the Torture Survivors Project (TSP) to deliver legal services to immigrants who were tortured in their home country. After the client is granted asylum, the TSP assists clients in obtaining work permits, obtaining public benefits, adjusting the client's legal status to permanent residents, and assisting clients through the naturalization process.

To learn more about this project, click here.

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