Monthly Archives: June 2012

MLSC, MSBA releases “Honor Roll” of top banks

The Maryland State Bar Assoc. and Maryland Legal Services Corp. recognize “Honor Roll” financial institutions that pay premium interest rates on Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, which help fund civil legal services for low-income Marylanders.

  • American Bank – Montgomery & Prince George’s counties & Washington, DC
  • Baltimore County Savings Bank – Baltimore City, Baltimore, Harford & Howard counties
  • BankAnnapolis – Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties
  • Carrollton Bank – Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore & Harford counties
  • Congressional Bank – Montgomery County, Washington, DC & N. Virginia
  • First Shore Federal – Wicomico & Worcester counties
  • Hamilton Federal Bank – Anne Arundel and Baltimore c0unties
  • HSBC Bank USA, N.A. – Montgomery County
  • MainStreet Bank – N. Virginia
  • Midstate Federal Savings & Loan – Baltimore County
  • Premier Bank, Inc. – Montgomery County & Washington, DC
  • Sandy Spring Bank – Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery & Prince George’s counties
  • Severn Savings Bank – Anne Arundel County
  • Standard Bank – Allegany County
  • TD Bank – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford & Prince George’s counties

For a complete list of all financial institutions approved to accept IOLTA deposits, visit www.mlsc.org.

NPR: Legal help for the poor in ‘state of crisis’

From National Public Radio:  Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that people accused of a crime deserve the right to a defense lawyer, no matter whether they can afford to pay for one. But there’s no such guarantee when it comes to civil disputes — like evictions and child custody cases — even though they have a huge impact on people’s lives.

For decades, federal and state governments have pitched in to help. But money pressures mean the system for funding legal aid programs for the poor is headed toward a crisis.

A Legal ER

On a recent morning, one block from city hall in downtown Baltimore, a few dozen people crowd into a waiting room. The light is dim and the mood is downcast, except for a toddler in a pink stroller singing her ABCs.

This isn’t a hospital. But it is a kind of emergency room, for people who need help, right away, with all kinds of legal problems.

One of them is Baltimore cab driver Rodney Taylor, who says he’s “here at Legal Aid today to receive some help because I’m trying to get custody of my son.” Another is Jasalle Coates, “here because I’ve been given the runaround about my property.” And then there’s a middle-aged lady in fashionable black glasses who didn’t want to give her name, to protect her brother in a nursing home from possible retaliation.

“I need to see what his rights are,” she says, “because he was not given medication, he was not fed, he was soaking wet, he had black eyes. His head was busted. And I feel that was abuse.”

At Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau, the doors are open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Some days,” says Joe Rohr, a veteran lawyer at Legal Aid, “we actually have to close early because of the volume.”

He has just come back from the courthouse, where he tried to help a woman who’s pregnant and blind keep her gas and electricity service.

“The problem is, we have far more clients coming in than we have available staff to fully represent everyone,” Rohr says.

To read and listen to the story, click here.

San Francisco launches “Right to Civil Counsel” pilot program

A city ordinance signed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has authorized a one-year Right to Civil Counsel pilot program to expand the right to free counsel for the city’s civil cases.

The pilot program is the first step towards realizing the city’s “firm commitment to creating a local judicial system that provides representation to all residents involved in civil proceedings,” and will be focused on “proceedings that could deny [residents] basic human needs, such as child custody, shelter, sustenance, safety or health, regardless of their income or ability to pay.”

The program will fund one staff person to coordinate among the city, the Superior Court, non-profit organizations, and others involved in the pilot. It will be independently evaluated upon completion, and if the evaluation finds it successful, the city will consider expanding it.

According to an article from The California Lawyer, this pilot is the first instance of a local government taking steps to offer a right to civil counsel; in other states efforts are driven mostly by private bars, legal service organizations, and court-created justice commissions.

For example, in 2009 the Philadelphia Bar started civil Gideon pilot projects in mortgage foreclosure and child custody cases. In 2007 the Boston Bar conducted a similar project with regard to eviction cases.

“By not providing counsel, cities and states end up paying the costs down the road,” says John Pollock, coordinator for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, “in extended foster care or more police enforcement or homeless shelters. The San Francisco ordinance is very innovative and noteworthy. It’s a milestone.”

MD Volunteer Lawyers Service no longer free

Anyone applying for (free) legal help at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service will have to pay a $25 fee, starting today, the Daily Record reported

The nonprofit, which connects those in need of legal services with volunteer attorneys, announced the application fee in an email last week. But it noted that the fee could be waived for applicants at or below the poverty level.

Those who are referred to the group by Maryland Legal Aid Bureau Inc. also do not have to pay the fee.

“Maryland Legal Aid’s Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. called MVLS’ decision to charge clients an application fee ‘unfortunate,’” the article said. “‘Those who are least equipped to pay are getting charged,’ he added.”

New York state legal aid funds doubled to $25 million

ALBANY, N.Y., June 6 (Reuters) – Nonprofit groups that provide free civil legal services to low-income people in New York have received twice the state funding they were awarded last year, state court administrators said.

At the request of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, state lawmakers this year doubled to $25 million total funding for the programs, court administrators announced on Tuesday. The programs have lost millions of dollars in federal and local funding over the last few years.

The Legal Aid Society of New York and Legal Services NYC each received $3.1 million, the largest of the 62 grants awarded statewide, up from about $1.5 million last year.

Raun Rasmussen, the executive director of Legal Services NYC, said the group will lose more than $7.5 million in federal funding by 2014 and that the New York City council has cut funding in half since 2008.

“Add all those reductions together, and the picture is pretty bleak for legal service providers around the state,” he said, “which is why this state money is really a lifesaver for our clients.”

About 80 percent of low-income civil litigants in New York do not have legal representation, according to the state’s Office of Court Administration. Lippman has called the situation a “crisis” and has pushed for additional funding that would cover “the basic necessities of life” — employment, housing, family issues and government benefits — for all New Yorkers.

“The courts are the emergency rooms of our society. The most intractable social problems find their way to our doors in great and increasing numbers,” Lippman said in a speech on May 1. “And more and more of the people who come into our courts each day are forced to do so without a lawyer.”

Six groups received more than $1 million this year, including the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, the New York Legal Assistance Group and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.

Last year, court administrators awarded $12.5 million in grants to 56 groups. According to Lippman’s Task Force on Civil Legal Services, those grants were used to help more than 50,000 families, including over 16,000 with housing issues and almost 17,000 in cases related to subsistence income (wages, disability and government benefits). More than 12,000 clients sought legal assistance for family matters, including custody and domestic violence, and about 5,000 needed help securing access to healthcare and education.

The New York City Bar Association’s Justice Center, whose grant doubled to $288,000 this year, uses the money for programs that aid veterans, homeless people and poor people facing foreclosure, among others. The group also operates a telephone hotline that connects people with attorneys and paralegals who answer simple legal questions.

Lynn Kelly, the executive director of the center, said the new money would allow the group to hire additional staff for the hotline, which was able to answer less than 60 percent of the nearly 18,000 calls it received over the last year. The money may also allow the group to expand a program that helps low-income people file for bankruptcy.

“We try not to re-create what the legal service community already does well,” Kelly said. Instead, “we try to fill in the gaps in service delivery.”

The relentless push to bleed Legal Services dry

From Remapping Debate, a short history of the Legal Services Corp., which funds legal aid programs across the country (including Maryland Legal Aid):

Ask people about the things that make America a “country of laws,” and one answer you will likely get is that everyone is entitled to be represented by a lawyer of his or her choice. But that promise has little meaning to more and more families at or near the poverty level. They’re among the millions of Americans for whom having a lawyer is a luxury beyond reach. Such families cannot afford a lawyer to defend them in an eviction proceeding, to fight a wrongful denial of veteran’s benefits, or to help get a restraining order to protect against an abusive spouse.

While the right of an indigent defendant to have counsel appointed for criminal cases is constitutionally-protected, there is no such right for lower-income people who need to bring or defend civil cases, leaving them with limited access to the justice system. Congress, however, created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 1974 with the intention of providing high quality civil legal aid to poor and working class Americans — those in households at or below 125 percent of the poverty level (currently $27,938 for a family of four). And independent observers, including bar associations, sheriffs’ offices, and State Supreme Court justices, widely acknowledge that LSC-funded lawyers perform vital work for their clients.

“These are basic legal services for low income people to have a place to live, feed their kids, deal with an abusive spouse, deal with their education so their kids would have more of an opportunity,” explained Esther Lardent, president and chief executive officer of the Pro Bono Institute, a supporter of the LSC. “We’re not only helping those individuals but society overall — there’s a cost if you don’t help people’s situations improve.”

Despite its achievements, conservatives have consistently targeted the LSC, attempting to strip it of resources, and, at times, to abolish it. This pressure began in earnest in 1981, just months after Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. Until that year, the LSC’s budget had grown consistently. Reagan was unsuccessful in his attempt to shutter the LSC entirely, but he succeeded in cutting its budget by 25 percent. In the following decade, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Congress hit the program with even greater constraints. The LSC has been hamstrung by major budget cuts and service restrictions under both Democratic and Republican presidents ever since.

The push against the LSC continues. Just last month, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2013 House Appropriations Bill that would have ended all funding for the LSC. (The amendment failed, but garnered 122 votes.)

When asked about whether their constituents have been or would be hurt by cuts to the LSC, the LSC’s opponents in Washington don’t squarely answer the question. Instead, they claim the services LSC-funded programs provide are unneeded, and condemn the LSC as just another “advancement of Big Government,” as Representative Scott stated on the House floor.

In the face of such arguments, the LSC’s proponents have prevented its elimination. But they have done little to replenish, let alone expand, its resources. Similarly, the LSC’s advocates outside of government have been unable or unwilling to raise broader public awareness of the importance of the program and secure robust funding to deliver quality legal representation to the millions of Americans in genuine need.

To read the entire article, click here.