Monthly Archives: February 2011

U.S. Senate Judiciary creates human rights panel

The Senate Judiciary Committee established a new subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which demonstrates a renewed commitment to ensure the civil and human rights of every person in the United States, said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  Its first chairman is Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Charles Grassley deserve great credit for this important step,” Henderson said. “We especially applaud the appointment of Senator Durbin, who is the ideal choice to be this subcommittee’s first chair.”

Senator Durbin has consistently been a thoughtful voice on constitutional issues and an unwavering champion of civil and human rights, Henderson added.

“As chair of the previous Human Rights and Law Subcommittee, he convened hearings that brought long-overdue attention to a number of pressing human rights issues in the United States, including racial disparities in criminal justice policies, the plight of the undocumented, the indefensible policy of high-achieving students facing deportation from the only country they have ever known, and the need to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Henderson said.

“The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights looks forward to working with the subcommittee, Senator Durbin and Senator Lindsay Graham, the subcommittee’s ranking member, during the 112th Congress,” he added.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit http://www.civilrights.org .

Legal Services president visits Legal Aid

James Sandman, the new president of the federal Legal Services Corp., visited the Baltimore office of Maryland Legal Aid today. He met with Legal Aid staff, members of the judiciary, the private bar and another major funder.

“I’m reminded by hearing you speak of why I’m at LSC,” Sandman said after hearing comments about Legal Aid (an LSC grantee) and budgetary problems facing programs that help the poor, disabled and disadvantaged. “The people I admire most in the legal profession work in legal services, devoting their careers to helping others.”

Sandman said that Legal Aid is nationally known and “sets the standard. The people  sitting at this table are an example of what needs to happen at other legal service providers. It works in other places, but not as smoothly as it does here. It needs to be replicated–and that’s part of my new job.”

Sandman said that his priorities are to increase LSC’s funding, to expand awareness of legal services in Congress and to build better alliances with other groups that serve the same populations as LSC, such as private foundations.

Also at the meeting: Retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma Raker, Maryland District Court Chief Judge Ben Clyburn, Equal Justice Council co-chairs Andrew Jay Graham and Ben Rosenberg, Maryland Legal Services Corp. executive director Susan Erlichman, Legal Aid president Warren Oliveri, and former LSC board member Herbert Garten.

New York courts vow legal aid for foreclosures

New York court officials outlined procedures Tuesday aimed at assuring that all homeowners facing foreclosure were represented by a lawyer, a shift that could give tens of thousands of families a better chance at saving their homes.

Jonathan Lippman, New York’s chief judge, wants all homeowners facing foreclosure in the state to have legal representation.

Criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, but New York will be the first state to try to extend that pledge to foreclosures, which are civil matters. There are about 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York courts. In more than half of them, only the banks have lawyers.

“It’s such an uneven playing field,” Lippman said. “Banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff, on the street. It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest, including the banks.”

A lawyer for every defendant will also serve the courts’ interests, the judge said, by making proceedings more efficient.

To read the entire article, click here.

Veterans more likely to be homeless, study says

Military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans, according to the government’s first in-depth study of homelessness among former servicemembers.

About 16% of homeless adults in a one-night survey in January 2009 were veterans, though vets make up only 10% of the adult population, USA Today reported last week.

More than 75,000 veterans were living on the streets or in a temporary shelter that night. In that year, 136,334 veterans spent at least one night in a homeless shelter — a count that did not include homeless veterans living on the streets.

The urgency of the problem is growing as more people return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study found 11,300 younger veterans, 18 to 30, were in shelters at some point during 2009. Virtually all served in Iraq or Afghanistan, said Mark Johnston, deputy assistant secretary for special needs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“It’s an absolute shame,” he said.

To read the entire article, click here.

LSC chairs comment on proposed budget cuts

By John G. Levi, LSC Board Chairman,
And Frank B. Strickland, Immediate Past Chairman

During the past year, the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Board of Directors has had the opportunity to hear from legal aid programs funded by LSC across this nation on the enormous struggles confronting low-income families. These 136 local nonprofit programs in every state provide civil legal assistance to persons improperly foreclosed upon, victims of domestic violence, veterans dealing with a myriad of legal issues after returning from service abroad, and a host of other civil legal matters confronting low-income Americans.

Nearly 57 million Americans are now eligible for LSC-funded services and the numbers are growing because of hardships created by the nation’s weak economy. LSC-funded programs are making every effort to extend their resources as far as they can possibly go, but because of the enormous need, they have had no choice but to turn away far too many people because of inadequate resources, as documented by previous Justice Gap Reports issued by LSC. Many of these programs have already suffered a significant decline in state and local funding.

At a time when more Americans are eligible for civil legal assistance than ever before in the Corporation’s history, the House Appropriations Committee unfortunately has proposed an extraordinary and immediate cut of $75 million—or 17 percent—from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for LSC.

As Chairman and immediate past Chairman of the Board of an organization charged with being one of the keepers of the flame of equal justice in this country, it is our responsibility to let the country know when that flame is flickering far too low. We do not know how a budget cut of this magnitude allows us to keep faith with the founding values of our great country. Regardless of fiscal pressures, we must never lose sight of our primary responsibility—to support the values of our Constitution and to provide equal access to justice for all Americans.

This is the time to reflect on the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr:  “Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

Proposed $75 million budget cut would devastate legal aid to poor

A congressional proposal to cut $75 million from the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) budget would decimate civil legal aid to low-income
Americans at a time when it is most needed by the tens of millions suffering
economic hardship.

The proposed $75 million funding cut would represent a 17-percent reduction from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request of $435 million for LSC and a 14-percent decline from LSC’s current funding level, $420 million. The proposed cutback was announced today by the House Appropriations Committee as part of its Continuing Resolution to fund federal agencies and programs through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Maryland Legal Aid is an LSC grantee.

“The Constitution calls for establishing justice in its very first line, even before
mentioning the common defense. Our Pledge of Allegiance proclaims our national commitment to ‘justice for all.’ Hard times test our values, and we cannot sacrifice equal access to justice to any year’s fiscal pressures,” LSC President James J. Sandman said.

To read the press release, click here.

Pennsylvania chief justice seeks lawyers’ help with civil legal aid crisis

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille is asking the state’s 70,000 lawyers to volunteer more of their time and money to help address Pennsylvania’s “civil legal aid crisis.”

“Pennsylvania lawyers have a proud tradition of pro bono service,” wrote Castille in a Jan. 7 letter to the state’s 70,000 lawyers, “but now is the time to do more.” He notes that half the qualified people seeking help from a legal aid program are turned away due to a lack of resources and that only 10 percent of the state’s lawyers do pro bono work each year.

Castille urges every Pennsylvania lawyer to take at least one new pro bono case, continue working on an ongoing case or make a donation to a civil legal aid or pro bono program.

“The resources that would be available to those with the inability to access legal services in our Commonwealth if every lawyer stepped forward are staggering,” he wrote.