On Wednesday, December 19, 2007, the U.S. Congress passed and the President is expected to sign H.R. 2764, the "omnibus" appropriations act which provides funding for the majority of the Federal government for FY 2008. The act includes $350.5 million for the Legal Services Corporation. While this figure represents a slight increase over LSC's FY 2007 budget of $348.6 million, it is a significant decrease from what the House and Senate recommended for LSC earlier this year. The House approved $377 million for LSC in June, and the Senate approved $390 million in October.
The unexpected cut was a part of the $22 billion in discretionary spending that Congressional appropriators pared down to avoid a veto by President Bush, who threatened to reject any bill that exceeded the spending limits in his budget. In fact, LSC fared better than most other non-Cabinet agencies in the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies portion of the bill. Only the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the International Trade Commission received greater increases over 2007 levels than LSC.
The breakdown of the $350 million appropriation includes $332.4 million for Basic Field Grants, $2.1 million for Technology Initiatives, $500 thousand for Loan Repayment Assistance, $12.5 million for Management and Administration, and $3 million for the Office of the Inspector General. Overall, the funding represents a one-half of one percent increase over FY 2007. LSC has been operating at FY 2007 levels under a series of Continuing Resolutions (CR) since FY 2008 officially began on October 1.
"On behalf of LSC, the programs we fund, and the clients they serve, I am greatly disappointed that we will not receive the budget increase that we had expected all year," said LSC President Helaine M. Barnett. "Over 95 percent of that increase would have gone directly to 137 programs providing crucial civil legal assistance to low-income Americans facing domestic violence, eviction, predatory lenders, and other serious legal problems. I know that these cuts were difficult decisions for our supporters in the Congress because they understand the need. We look forward to working with them in the year ahead to get back on the road to closing the justice gap in America."
For more information on the FY 2008 spending package, click here.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett delivered the luncheon address at South Carolina's first-ever statewide legal aid training conference, held in Myrtle Beach from December 11-13.
The conference, hosted by South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS), featured training sessions on critical issues facing the state's legal aid lawyers today, including saving homes for clients caught in the subprime mortgage foreclosure crisis, fighting predatory lenders, serving clients with limited English proficiency, and securing and protecting crucial public benefits for senior citizens. Kamala Srinivasagam and Janet LaBella from LSC's Office of Program Performance led a training session on LSC's revised Case Service Reporting handbook, which instructs staff of LSC-funded programs how to count and report cases to LSC.
Barnett congratulated the leadership and staff of SCLS for their dedication to providing high-quality civil legal services to low-income South Carolinians. She noted their commitment to the organization during its often-arduous journey from its creation in 2002 as a centralized, statewide provider of legal services that is active in the state justice community.
"The road this organization has embarked on is a difficult one that has already been strewn with many challenges," said Barnett. "But as an organization, you have persevered and are moving forward. It is your clients who stand to gain the most from your constant dedication to quality and excellence."
Andrea E. Loney, Executive Director of SCLS since 2003, garnered special recognition for stepping up to the leadership position.
"You have become both a healer and a team builder to bring about change here. You have demonstrated the kind of leadership necessary for this difficult job, and we congratulate you," said Barnett.
For more information on South Carolina Legal Services, click here.
LSC's online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs has been renamed the "LSC Resource Information," but will still be referred to as the "LRI."
The web site has been redesigned to mirror the four major performance areas of LSC's Performance Criteria, in order to make the site easier to use. While the LRI has a new face and a new name, it has the same mission. It is still the most comprehensive source of information on effective service delivery models and innovative and successful projects of LSC-funded programs. LSC wants your input on the redesign, and encourages programs to share their projects with LSC so other programs can replicate your success. Updates are posted monthly, so make sure your program is featured!
To visit the new LSC Resource Information, click here.
At press time, only 16 openings remain for LSC's Eighth Annual Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) Conference, to be held in Austin, Texas, from January 31 through February 2, 2008, so sign up today!
The annual TIG Conference serves as the official launch of projects for the current round of TIG recipients. As always, current year grant recipients are required to attend, and do so at no charge. The conference is also open to the public, and everyone is encouraged to attend.
This year's conference will feature three different tracks:
LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program funds innovative projects that promote increased access to justice and high-quality legal services through the use of technology.
To download the conference agenda, click here.
To register for the TIG conference, click here.
The Boards of Directors of four more LSC-funded programs have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 64 the total number of programs who have adopted such resolutions. The four programs are:
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."
For a complete list of LSC-funded programs who have adopted pro bono resolutions, click here.
In the spirit of the holiday season, LSC Updates would like to thank all the people at LSC and around the country who consistently help to make this publication as timely and informative as we strive for it to be. Whether by contributing news stories or providing their time and expertise (often at a moment's notice), these people can always be relied on for any sort of assistance, and we thank them for it.
On November 30, the Pennsylvania Bar Association's House of Delegates approved two resolutions in support of increased access to justice.
The first resolution dedicates the Pennsylvania Bar to call upon the state legislature to restore funding to the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network to past levels when adjusted for inflation and to reflect the increased number of people living in poverty. The resolution also calls on the U.S. Congress to restore funding for LSC.
The second resolution urges the state of Pennsylvania to provide legal representation as a matter of right to low-income people in cases where basic human needs, including shelter, sustenance, safety, health, or child custody, are at stake.
In other Pennsylvania news, Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor-Elect A. Michael Pratt has challenged all of the city's law firms to increase their donations to legal services programs by 10%, and to commit to that level for the next three years. Several law firms in the area have already committed to the 10% increase and others have committed to more.
For more information on A. Michael Pratt's challenge to Philadelphia law firms, click here.
For more information on the PA Bar Association resolutions, click here.
On December 3, Maryland's Court of Appeals unanimously approved a new rule that could double the amount of Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) funding provided to legal services programs.
The rule, which takes effect April 1, requires banks to pay interest rates on IOLTA accounts similar to rates paid on accounts of comparable size.
Susan Erlichman, Executive Director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), which distributes IOLTA and other state funds to legal services organizations, told Maryland's Daily Record that IOLTA revenue could reach $12 million under the new rule.
"It's been a long road, and we're very pleased," said Erlichman. "We will be able to greatly enhance our ability to meet the civil needs of Maryland's poor.
State IOLTA programs collect interest earned on accounts used by lawyers to hold their clients' funds in trust, and distribute the money as grants to legal services organizations. The interest earned on any individual account is negligible, but when pooled together on a statewide level, can garner millions of dollars for legal aid programs.
To read, "Top court adopts IOLTA comparability rule," in the Daily Record, click here.
The American Bar Association Section of Litigation has announced another round of Justice Assistance Fund grants, which help legal services programs launch private bar fundraising campaigns.
Grant recipients can get up to $10,000 in matching funds to launch a fundraising campaign, assist a preexisting campaign, create or provide assistance to state or regional forums that facilitate the exchange of information and fundraising resources, or participate in other activities that increase the support of the private bar for legal services.
Recipients must involve members of the Section of Litigation in the development of their campaign, and must provide a progress and final report on its outcome.
The deadline to apply is February 1, 2008.
To download the grant application, click here.
For more information on the Justice Assistance Fund grant program, click here.
Kentucky's Access to Justice Foundation has released a new report on the legal needs of the state's senior citizens. The report analyzes data from surveys distributed to nearly 3,000 seniors and findings from an online survey of legal services providers. This information was supplemented by conversations with the state's long-term care ombudsman program, which is responsible for investigating complaints from seniors residing in long-term care facilities.
Some major findings of the report include:
To download the full report, click here.
Vicky Taylor, The Chambersburg Public Opinion (PA) – December 18, 2007
A child is snatched by a non-custodial parent. A homeowner falls prey to a predatory lender demanding outrageous fees. A patient needs specialized health care but is on welfare and benefits have been denied.
If a person has resources, an attorney can be hired to help individuals find legal solutions to such problems. If they are living in poverty or are low income, their options are limited, their lives have been turned upside down and they feel they have nowhere to turn.
That's where organizations that provide free legal services step up to the plate.
Carrie Bowmaster of MidPenn Legal Services calls her organization's waiting room at 230 Lincoln Way East the emergency room of the legal profession. The cases she handles nearly always involve a critical need requiring immediate care.
"So many people are in the poverty level," she said. "They are people who are barely meeting their daily needs and they simply wouldn't have an attorney without a legal services organization."
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
John Harrington, The Helena Independent Record (MT) – December 16, 2007
Most Montanans haven't yet earned all the money they'll owe income taxes on for 2007, but the Montana Legal Services Association is already ramping up its efforts to promote a number of free income tax filing services available.
In partnership with the state's credit unions, the Department of Revenue and other organizations, MLSA is promoting www.MontanaFreeFile.org, a Web site clearinghouse of sorts, offering information on various filing opportunities available.
"The W-2s start coming out in January," said Kelly Hart, economic advocacy coordinator for MLSA. "So we'd like folks to know about their free file options before their W-2s show up so they'll know where to go."
Montanans are already fairly tuned into free electronic filing.
Last year, 1,391 Montanans filed using I-CAN, a program developed in Orange County, Calif., through which citizens can file both state and federal returns for free if they earn less than $50,000 and don't own their home.
"We're number one in the nation in the number of filers using I-CAN per capita," Hart said.
Those Montanans received some $1.6 million in refunds. Nearly half that amount was in the form of the earned income tax credit.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
(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 Fall 2007 issue of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland's (LASCLEV) Poetic Justice newsletter features a story of how two pro bono attorneys helped LASCLEV clients save their home from foreclosure. Here is their story.
From left to right: pro bono attorneys Tamara L. Karel (standing) and Jayne E. Juvan helped Mr. and Mrs. Wolf, clients of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, save their home from foreclosure.
Despite making their mortgage payment for more than 30 years, Mr. and Mrs. Wolf received notice that their home was being foreclosed. The news came as Ms. Wolf was battling breast cancer, and Mr. Wolfe was experiencing serious medical conditions himself. The Wolf family knew something was not right prior to the foreclosure notice: they kept receiving bills for an account they believed was paid in full. Mr. Wolf had a feeling that a serious billing mistake had been made, and found the original promissory note from 1975 which confirmed the note's maturity date. The Wolf family not only fulfilled the obligations of the note and was no longer beholden to pay, but also they continued to pay even after their final payment date. Ms. Wolf, already shouldering the burden of being sick with breast cancer, now shouldered the burden of finding money to keep what she believed was rightfully theirs. She said, "I felt very uneasy and nervous. I felt we were going to lose our home." Mr. and Mrs. Wolf called Legal Aid.
The couple met with pro bono attorneys Jayne Juvan and Tamara Karel, both of Benesch Friedlander Coplan and Arnoff LLP, and Craig Moore, formally with Benesch, who took the case pro bono through Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program. Juvan, Karel and Moore learned of an accounting error on the Wolf's mortgage. Due to an oversight, the error went unnoticed. The Wolfs worked closely with the attorneys who filed the foreclosure action, and obtained the correction. Because they had strong and high quality legal representation in their corner who discovered the error, the Wolf family was able to keep their home.
The Wolf case is one that Juvan and Karel hold near and dear to their hearts. Both speak of the positive and empowering impact it had on them as people and as attorneys. "The elation that I felt when Jayne and I settled is a memory that I will never forget," says Tamara Karel.
Echoing similar sentiments, Juvan said, "I strongly believe that if I reflect back on my life that years from now, this case will be a case I always remember because of its profound impact on me." Since ending the case, Ms. Wolf is now cancer free and is doing what she loves most, teaching. In speaking about Juvan, Karel and Moore's work on the case, Ms. Wolf says, "I felt elated. I had felt like the world was on my shoulders. When I got that call [we settled the case], I felt like a new woman. It helped give me confidence and helped me to fight breast cancer."
To read the Fall 2007 issue of LASCLEV's Poetic Justice newsletter, click here.