Monthly Archives: November 2009

Report calls on attorneys to fill legal services gap

A judicial advisory commission has called for higher attorney dues and increased court filing fees to fund civil legal services, The Daily Record reported yesterday.

“The year-old Maryland Access to Justice Commission, [chaired by retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S.  Raker], did not state in its interim report by how much annual state bar fees should be increased,” the article said. “But the panel noted that, at $140 per year, the current dues Maryland lawyers pay is lower than the national average of $231.”

Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph, who serves on the commission, said, “access to justice on the civil side should be a community obligation. However, as we move to that point in time when it occurs, and hopefully it will, we have to address this justice gap in America. We have to go to every single conceivable source.”

To read the article, click here.

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Public defender synergy saves lives

Maryland Legal Aid’s assistant director of advocacy for income security Peter Sabonis wrote a column in The Daily Record last week about the proposed dismantling of the public defender’s “Neighborhood Defender” office in northwest Baltimore. “It’s ironic and dispiriting to think that publicly funded criminal defense work made more efficient and effective by the positive relationships developed by defenders on the ground could be eliminated because of poisonous relationships at the top,” Sabonis wrote. “It’s also something we cannot afford.” To read the column, click here.

Many on Eastern Shore without legal representation, interpreters

An article in the Easton Star-Democrat about a recent public hearing sponsored by the Maryland Justice Commission included comments by Upper Shore office staff attorney Rachel Wolpert. Both Wolpert and chief attorney Bill Leahy testified at the commission’s listening session held at the Wye River campus of Chesapeake College. “[Wolpert] said many low-income people do not have access to representation,” the article said. “Wolpert also said the area has an incredible need for interpreters.”

Post urges Congress to increase legal aid funding

An editorial in this morning’s Washington Post urges conferees reconciling House and Senate bills to increase funding to the Legal Services Corp. (which funds Maryland Legal Aid) and end Congressional restrictions that tie the hands of civil legal programs that help the poor. “Tough economic times have led more poor–and newly poor–people to need legal help,” the editorial says. “The LSC has been grossly underfunded for years, and the amount of money it gets from private and non-federal government sources has been shrinking because of the recession. Fully funding the LSC and giving it as much flexibility as possible will help to ensure that the needy get help.”

To read the entire editorial, click here.

Delays in processing public benefits applications “unconscionable”

petersabonis2An article in the Baltimore City Paper, “Net Loss,” describes serious delays in processing public benefit applications by the Department of Social Services. The article quotes Legal Aid assistant director of advocacy for income security Peter Sabonis about the ongoing situation. “Baltimore  County is just a mess,” Sabonis said. “It’s unconscionable, it’s illogical. It seems to smack of a period where we didn’t want people to get assistance, when the attitude was that these folks are just living off the system.  Obviously, we’re not in that period now. People need the assistance. People from all walks of life, all classes.” To read the article, click here.

Senate approves $400 million for legal services, removes restrictions

Last night, the Senate, by a vote of 71-28, passed the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) bill (HR 2847), which provides $400 million for the Legal Services Corp. and removal of federal restrictions on state, local and private funds held by LSC grantees (including Maryland Legal Aid), excepting abortion-related and prisoner representation cases. The Senate funding level of $400 million is $40 million less than that provided by the House of Representatives in its bill passed earlier in the summer (and $10 million more than current funding).  The House bill did not remove the restriction on non-LSC funds, but did remove the restriction banning LSC recipients from seeking attorneys’ fees. The Senate bill did not remove the attorneys’ fees restriction, but such fees could be sought in cases brought using non-LSC sources of funding if the Senate version is enacted into law.  Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who chaired a hearing last year on closing the justice gap, spoke on the Senate floor in support of the increase.

Legal Aid consumer expert feted by Women’s Law Center

Carwell  award 09

Last night, Maryland Legal Aid Housing/Consumer Law Unit senior attorney Louise Carwell (left) was presented with the Access to Justice Award by Women’s Law Center president Alex Strubing Paradise. The award recognizes Carwell’s nearly 25 years of helping vulnerable individuals in myriad consumer cases, including predatory lending and foreclosure. Other award recipients were Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Glendora Hughes, general counsel of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations .

“Louise is a recognized expert in foreclosure prevention and was involved in helping victims of predatory lending and individuals facing foreclosure years before the seriousness of the problem was recognized by others,” said Cheryl Hystad, Legal Aid’s director of advocacy. “She is one of a very small number of people who focused on foreclosure problems prior to 2007 and who worked in the trenches helping individuals and families keep their homes.”