Today, an editorial in the New York Times urges Sen. Barbara Mikulski to lift “egregious” restrictions that Congress placed on grantees of the Legal Services Corp., including Maryland Legal Aid, more than a decade ago. The House recently passed a bill increasing LSC’s funding–but only struck one of three restrictions that President Obama asked to be lifted.
“The matter now moves to a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland,” the editorial says. “By making sure that the Senate version of the bill lifts all three restrictions, per President Obama’s request, Senator Mikulski and her colleagues can usefully support the cause of equal justice.”
To read the editorial, click here.
A survey in today’s Daily Record on local law firms that are hiring–newsworthy in the current financial meltdown–included Maryland Legal Aid, which has several openings.
But since the state’s largest provider of free civil legal help to low-income people, the elderly, and abused and neglected children can’t afford to pay high salaries, we’re looking for entry-level lawyers, explained executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr.
And while other firms have instigated hiring freezes, Legal Aid can’t: “We absolutely cannot afford to have the clients and the applicants we see without services, so we are doing everything we can to avoid a diminution in services,” Joseph said.
In addition, Legal Aid is seeing signs that public interest law is regaining its cache, last seen in the ’60s and ’70s.
“The sense is, we are getting a larger percentage of what I call top-notch graduates seeking work here,” Joseph said.
Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr.
An article in today’s Baltimore Business Journal outlines the financial crisis facing civil legal service providers in Maryland caused by the collapse of Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA), which generates funding from money held on behalf of clients. Maryland’s IOLTA rate has plummeted 51 percent, from $6.7 million to $3.3 million. Thirty-eight nonprofits, including Maryland Legal Aid, rely on the funding to provide free legal services to low-income Marylanders and the elderly. Legal Aid, serving more than 50,000 people a year, is the largest provider in Maryland.
“Right now, we’re holding on. But by the time we hit Jan. 1, 2010, the strings will tighten,” said Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. He’s banking on two uncertain factors to see Legal Aid through the difficult times: a pending cy pres award (left over funds from a class-action lawsuit to be awarded to charitable organizations) and the efforts of the Access to Justice Commission, created by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.
Nearly 50 people—40 of them with criminal records—attended a workshop earlier this week to help ex-offenders overcome barriers to employment . With politically charged rap pulsing in the background, they heard a presentation by Legal Aid lawyer Peter Sabonis and United Workers organizer Todd Cherkis.
“I explained the presentation by saying, ‘Lawyers talk about arguments, organizers talk about power,’” Sabonis said. “’Tonight we are going to talk about both, and try to come up with a strategy to change things.’”
The group was relaxed, engaging, energetic. “The presentations were not typical, but involved questions for discussion: ‘What question do you see on employer applications about criminal histories? How do you answer it? Why do employers discriminate against those with criminal records? Whose interests does it serve?’” Sabonis said “United Worker members were in the audience and able to share stories about their successful campaign at Camden Yards to increase wages, better working conditions, and overcome discrimination based on criminal histories.”
The group will meet again in two weeks.
Supervising attorney Janine Scott
Maryland Legal Aid supervising attorney Janine Scott is profiled in today’s Daily Record about her new book, Legal Aid Wealth: Surviving and Thriving on the Salary of a Public Interest Attorney. Scott tells how she lives a full life on a public interest lawyer’s income, including eating dinner out with friends, setting up a retirement fund, traveling, and even buying a house.
“Scott said she has achieved her goals by meticulously charting every bit of money that comes in and goes out,” wrote reporter Caryn Tamber. “She waits for sales on clothing and discount deals on travel, and she would not dream of buying snacks from a vending machine when she could get them in bulk from Target or Wal-Mart for so much less. Before she receives a tax refund or stimulus check, she knows exactly where the money will go.”
To read the article, click here. For more on Scott’s book, click here.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has extended the expiration time of student bus tickets from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. so that more students can participate in after-school activities. The extension is the result of efforts by Maryland Legal Aid’s Youth Achieving Potential Project, a coalition of student activists, the Baltimore Algebra Project and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
“We were successful in persuading Paul Wiedefeld, the director of the MTA, to extend the time as a pilot project for the months of April and May,” said Michelle Kurta, a Maryland Legal Aid paralegal who works in the project. “Last week the Mr. Wiedefeld announced that the extension has been successful and that he will expand the pilot into policy for the 2009-10 school year. This is a wonderful student-led victory and was a great experience for the young advocates in YAPP’s Youth Council.” For more information, call Kurta at 443/451-2812.
United Workers and Maryland Legal Aid are beginning a series of workshops for ex-offenders facing barriers to employment. “We know that the human rights of ex-offenders are being violated,” said Legal Aid Acting Chief Counsel Peter Sabonis. “We know that employers are breaking the law when they discriminate against them. At the workshops we will share strategies and ideas for gaining full-employment and securing our human rights.” The first workshop is scheduled for Monday, June 8 at Maryland Legal Aid, 500 E. Lexington St. (on bus routes 10, 23, 15, 20, 1, 2, 36, 8, 19, 35, 5, 6), from 5-7 pm (food provided). Call 410-230-1998 for more details.