Monthly Archives: April 2011

Law Day 2011

A statement from John G. Levi, board chairman of the Legal Services Corporation (a major funder of Maryland Legal Aid):

President Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrated our nation’s commitment to the rule of law in his inaugural 1958 proclamation designating May 1 as Law Day, calling on Americans to “vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under law which our forefathers bequeathed to us.”

Sixteen years later, near the end of the Nixon Administration, Congress passed the Legal Services Corporation Act declaring that “there is a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our Nation” and “to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel.”

Today, LSC is the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal assistance, and is at the center of access to justice efforts across our country. Through extraordinary public-private partnerships, LSC-funded programs help the elderly, victims of domestic violence, veterans, disabled individuals and others confronting serious civil legal matters.

Much work remains to be done if our nation is to fulfill its promise of equal justice for all Americans. Local legal aid offices are swamped with requests for assistance. State and local courts—especially housing and family courts—are overwhelmed with low-income unrepresented individuals. LSC-funded programs need increased federal and state funding in order to keep our national promise.

As we observe Law Day, we must heed President Eisenhower’s call to never lose sight of our primary responsibility—to uphold our nation’s core values. Our generation has its own responsibility to the next generation to renew and strengthen those values given to it by preceding generations. We can never take our founding values of “liberty, justice and equality under law” for granted.

Free legal clinic in Bel Air

The first Pro Bono Day legal clinic will be held Saturday, May 14, at Legal Aid’s Northeastern Maryland office, 103 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air.

Lawyers will be on hand to offer free, one-on-one legal help in civil legal matters such as divorce, child support, and custody; housing and landlord/tenant issues; government benefits, wills and advance directives, consumer debt and bankruptcy, foreclosure prevention, and veterans issues.

The free event is hosted by the Harford County Pro Bono Committee, Maryland Legal Aid, and the Harford County Bar Foundation.

“Harford County residents have not escaped the devastating impact of today’s economic climate, particularly low-income citizens,” said Gwendolyn S. Tate, Esq., director of legal services at SARC in Bel Air and the Harford County Pro Bono Committee chair.

“The county’s legal services providers have noted an increase in demand to services in all areas of the law,” Tate continued. “Unfortunately, however, funding cuts to providers and high demand for these services have spread these resources thin.”

That’s why the Harford County Pro Bono Committee, consisting of judges, attorneys, other professionals, and local legal services agencies including SARC, Legal Aid, and the Bar Foundation, teamed up to host the clinic, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event is modeled after successful pro bono events in Baltimore, which helped more than 200 people each day.

Registration is not required. Attendees need to bring any relevant documents and/or court paperwork. A group presentation by APG Federal Credit Union on credit issues, including how to read your credit report, will be taking place concurrently with individual sessions.

More volunteer lawyers are needed for the free clinic. “This event cannot be a success without their assistance,” Tate said.

Interested attorneys can call to Jeanette Cole at 410-836-8202, Cindi Lewis at 410-836-0123, or Gwendolyn Tate at 410-836-8431.

Citizenship Day

Lawyers will be on hand this Saturday to assist in completing naturalization applications at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville. The clinic is sponsored by the American Immigration Lawyers Assoc., the New Americans Citizenship Project, and other groups that help immigrants. The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is being held at Casa de Maryland’s Multicultural Center, 8151 15th Ave. in Hyattsville. The suggested donation is $20. For more information, call Juan Carlos Navarette  (240) 491-5765 or Benjamin Brokaw (240) 491-5774.

Congress to cut $15.8 million for legal aid

The fiscal year 2011 budget for the federal  Legal Services Corporation  would be cut by $15.8 million, reducing funds for civil legal assistance to low-income Americans, according to legislation announced today. LSC is a funder of Maryland Legal Aid.

LSC received $420 million in funding for FY 2010, and the funding bill for 2011 would provide $404.2 million, a reduction of 3.8 percent. The legislation, the result of a negotiated agreement between the Congress and the White House to avoid a government shutdown, is scheduled for votes in the House and Senate this week.

“Every dollar provided for civil legal assistance helps low-income individuals gain access to our justice system. We are grateful that funding cuts will not be as deep as initially proposed, and we look forward to working with the Congress on Fiscal Year 2012 funding to provide even greater access to justice for the growing number of low-income Americans in need of civil legal assistance,” LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi said.

Human rights symposium to celebrate 100 years of Legal Aid

From today’s “Of Service” column in The Daily Record:

In 1911, the Legal Aid Bureau was founded in Baltimore by the Federated Charities as part of a trend to form societies to help immigrants and the poor with their legal problems.

Fast-forward a century, and Legal Aid is inventing itself again — this time, by focusing its mission to find legal solutions for poor, elderly and disadvantaged people through a human rights lens.

To kick off a year of celebration of Legal Aid’s century of service, the University of Baltimore School of Law and the University of Maryland School of Law are sponsoring a symposium, “Advancing Human Rights and Justice for All,” April 28 at Westminster Hall on the UM Law campus. . . .

How, exactly, do human rights principles apply to practicing lawyers?

“The challenge is to get by the human rights rhetoric to something tangible,” said UM law professor Michael Millemann, a Legal Aid alum and symposium moderator. “I started thinking about it and talked to some of the folks here who teach international law.”

His solution is to organize human rights principles in three ways; first, by looking to see what provisions of international treaties are enforceable and mandatory as U.S. law.

“For example, kidnapping kids,” Millemann said. “An unhappy husband grabs the kids and flies to a foreign country. In family law, you’ve got international rules derived from treaties that are enforceable in, say, Baltimore City Circuit Court.”

Second: In interpreting statutes, judges sometimes use legal rules and practices used in other countries to interpret ambiguous provisions of U.S. and state constitutions.

“An example is international rules and principles that courts use to interpret the cruel-and-unusual punishment clause in the Eighth Amendment,” he said. “In deciding that it’s unconstitutional to execute juveniles and the mentally retarded, the Supreme Court cited rules and practices around the world that prohibit such executions. You’ve got very general provisions about cruel-and-unusual punishment. Why not look abroad to interpret them?”

The third category is to look at the use of international rules and principles as “best practices.”

“Laws in other countries can be better models for decision-makers, Congress, state assemblies, even a court,” Millemann said. “They can say, ‘Here’s a better way.’”

Initially, the law professor was skeptical about incorporating human rights principles into legal services work.

“What was missing was an established set of categories, so we had to construct them — a tangible, real-world component,” Millemann said. “Now I see the symposium as an important and useful conference for legal services people and law faculty. Human rights is a terrific theme. I fully embrace it.”

To read the entire column, click here.

Awardees named for Equal Justice Council recognition breakfast

The Equal Justice Council, the fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid, announced this year’s awardees to be honored at its annual recognition breakfast at Camden Yards on May 25. The guest speaker is the Hon. A C Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee.

Paul D. Bekman of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins and Scott A. Livingston of Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver will be given Champions of Justice awards. The Equal Justice Associates’ Leadership award goes to Lisa Hall Johnson of Dickstein Shapiro and the Pacesetter awards will be given to Ober Kaler and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston. This year’s Trailblazers are DLA Piper, Miles & Stockbridge and Venable.

The event is Wednesday, May 25 at 7:45 a.m. in the Camden Yards Banquet Room, 6th floor. Free parking is provided on Stadium Lot C. While the event is free, reservations are required by May 11. Call 410/951-7759 or email agilmore@mdlab.org.

Legal Services Corp. board announces pro bono task force

The Legal Services Corporation board of directors is launching a Pro Bono Task Force to develop additional resources to help low-income Americans facing foreclosure, domestic violence and other serious civil legal problems.
The new Task Force was announced yesterday during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on LSC’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request.

The Task Force will be chaired by LSC Board members Martha Minow, dean of the Harvard Law School, and Harry J.F. Korrell III, a partner in the Seattle office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

“Pro bono and volunteer services are critical to the efforts by LSC-funded programs to meet the civil legal needs of low-income Americans,” LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi said. “The Task Force will explore how LSC-funded programs can better coordinate, use and deploy pro bono. It also will look at what more can be done, on a national level by LSC and the Board, to encourage and expand pro bono.”

“We want to put a spotlight on the importance of additional pro bono and private attorney involvement in LSC programs, and we are grateful that in this effort we have the interest and support of Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia and others on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Levi said.

LSC is a funder of Maryland Legal Aid. For more information, click here.