Monthly Archives: January 2011

HUD secretary highlights energy efficiency at Baltimore affordable housing

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan visited Poppleton Phase II Apartments Friday to highlight how the development is promoting energy efficient innovation and creating jobs in Baltimore, supporting President Barack Obama‘s goal of helping America “Win the Future.”

Secretary Donovan, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake toured and held a press conference at the 86-unit apartment complex that received $1.56 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s Assisted Housing Green Retrofit Program. The Green Retrofit Program is providing funding for the installation of high-efficiency heat pumps for heating and cooling, new high-efficiency windows, a EnergyStar cool roof with added insulation, low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets, and EnergyStar gas water heaters, refrigerators and bathroom exhaust fans for dozens of low and moderate income families.  The project was jointly developed by the Poppleton Cooperative, a client of Maryland Legal Aid.

When the project is complete at the end of this year, 180 jobs will have been created for Baltimore-area residents directly from the project’s funding. Additionally, many more clean-energy jobs will be created through the University of Maryland’s BioPark, a new $300 million biotech campus that is situated near the Poppleton Phase II Apartments.

“The Poppleton Phase II Apartments is a reminder of the targeted investments that President Obama spoke about during his State of the Union speech this week,” said Secretary Donovan. “This development represents the type of innovation we need, by bringing clean energy investments to the homes of many low-and-moderate income Americans who will be able to save hundreds of dollars on their utility bills for many years to come I am delighted to have visited the development today to see an example of how communities across America are renewing their commitment to securing prosperity for ourselves and future generations of Americans.”

Federal appeals court refuses to toss Md. foster care plan

A federal appeals court has refused to throw out an agreement to improve Baltimore’s foster care system. Last week, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s decisions in the 27-year-old case.

Baltimore foster children, at that time represented by Maryland Legal Aid, filed a class-action lawsuit in 1984 alleging abuse and neglect. A consent decree spelling out an improvement plan was entered in 1988 and modified in 2009 to address ongoing problems. (Due to Congressional restrictions banning class-action lawsuits by federally funded legal services programs, Legal Aid dropped out of the case.)

The Maryland attorney general’s office claimed a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case eliminated the legal bases for the consent decrees, but U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz and the appeals court disagreed.

 

Mitchell Mirviss, a lawyer with the Baltimore law firm Venable LLP who represents the children pro bono, described the appeals court ruling as “a watershed decision” he hopes will focus resources required by federal law on foster children.

Private bar contributions to Legal Aid break record

With Maryland Legal Aid’s 100th birthday right around the corner, the Equal Justice Council concluded a record-breaking 2010 annual giving campaign.

“We’re looking to build on that for Legal Aid’s centennial in 2011,” said EJC co-chair Benjamin Rosenberg. The E JC, the fundraising arm of Legal Aid, consists of private attorneys who personally contacted law firms in Maryland to enlist their support.

The outstanding individuals and firms who were part of the campaign will be honored at the 14th Annual EJC Recognition Breakfast on May 25.

Legal Aid, a private nonprofit law firm, is the largest provider of free civil legal help to low-income Marylanders, the elderly, and abused and neglected children, with 13 offices around the state.

On the passing of Sargent Shriver

A statement by John G. Levi, Chairman, Legal Services Corp. Board of Directors:

Sargent Shriver will be remembered as an extraordinary American, a giant who led the “war on poverty” and fought for equal justice for all Americans. His passion for equal justice and opportunity helped define our nation and shaped the lives of generations of Americans.

Sargent Shriver was the first Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and instrumental in the founding of the federal Legal Services Program—the forerunner of today’s Legal Services Corporation. Mr. Shriver was the first Director of the Peace Corps, helped create Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, the Job Corps, the Community Action Program, and served as president and chairman of the Special Olympics. He also founded the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago.

Speaking at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in 1965, Sargent Shriver said, “The extension of legal services to the poor is only a means of a more universal end—one we both share—the establishment of the rule of law.” He added, “It is that ordered quest for dignity, for justice, and for opportunity which is the central concern of society today.”

That “ordered quest” remains alive today. Sargent Shriver’s legacy also lives on at the Legal Services Corporation. We join all Americans in mourning his death and celebrating his remarkable life.

New grants to fund pro se clinics in Frederick, Carroll counties

Legal Aid’s Midwestern Maryland office (Frederick) received a six-month grant for $8,650 from the Bar Association of Frederick County’s Justice for All Fund (administered by the Community Foundation of Frederick County). The money will reestablish a pro se (self-help) bankruptcy clinic, and develop and conduct pro se unemployment clinics. The first pro se unemployment benefits clinics will be in Frederick and Carroll County. Two pro se bankruptcy clinics are scheduled for January 25 in the morning and in the afternoon.

Legal aid groups across the U.S. brace for another strained year with shrinking IOLTA revenue and funding shortfalls

The National Law Journal reports:  “State and local funding cuts vary across the country, but sharp declines in IOLTA money during the past three years have hit every state, said Betty Balli Torres, director of the National Association of IOLTA Programs, an organization of state administrators. . . . ‘Basically, what we’ve seen nationally is a 75% decrease in public interest funding through IOLTA,’ Torres said. ‘We’re talking about a huge drop in a matter of three years. It’s playing out that way state by state by state.’ IOLTA generated $380 million nationally for legal aid groups in 2008, but that fell to $124 million in 2010, Torres said. Interest rates were at 5.25% in September 2007 and have since fallen to 0.25% or even lower, she said.

“‘First and foremost, interest rates are in a bad position. I can’t think of a time when IOLTA revenue and interest rates were this low,’ said Lora Livingston, a district judge in Texas and the chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on IOLTA. ‘Until interest rates go up, there’s not a whole lot we can do right now.’

“And no one is predicting a quick rise in those rates. Interest rates are not expected to rise until the first quarter of 2012, meaning they will likely stay low throughout 2011. . . . Federal money is another key component for legal aid organizations, and one of the few bright spots in the financial picture. The Legal Services Corp. funnels federal money to 136 legal aid programs across the country and has seen its appropriation increase in recent years. It received $390 million from the federal government in 2009 and $420 million in 2010. However, that increase has not been enough to offset cuts in IOLTA money and state and local support, said John Constance, the corporation’s director of government relations and public affairs.”

For more: Karen Sloan, “Perfect storm hits legal aid,” National Law Journal, January 3, 2011

Glen Burnie Self-Help Center Turns One

In the 12 months since opening to the public last Dec. 1, the staff members of the Glen Burnie District Court Self-Help Center have assisted 4,320 self-represented litigants with their cases in the District Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County. The center is staffed and operated by Maryland Legal Aid.

Additionally, the Self-Help Center has collaborated with the University of Maryland’s School of Law Consumer Protection Clinic to refer 51 litigants to the clinic for representation. Currently, the Consumer Protection Clinic is focusing on defendants in debt-buyer cases in the District Court of Maryland.  These referrals have helped many self-represented litigants avoid judgments in cases where a chain of assignment or proof of an underlying debt could not be shown.

“On a daily basis, the Self-Help Center staff assists self-represented litigants with understanding court procedures, filing pleadings, providing basic legal advice in civil cases, as well as providing referrals to legal services, government agencies and mediation,” said Sarah Frush, the center’s supervising attorney.