Monthly Archives: August 2012

Legal Aid mourns Woody Preston

Wilbur D. “Woody” Preston Jr., a founder of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston and the Maryland Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council, died Monday at age 90, the Daily Record reported today.

From the article:

While his legal specialty at the firm was complex commercial litigation, Preston also undertook with vigor the cause of providing legal help for the indigent through the Legal Aid Bureau.

Preston was instrumental in securing not only a headquarters for Legal Aid, but also in raising awareness of the organization in the legal community. Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., executive director of Maryland Legal Aid, said fundraising for the bureau in 1996 was around $5,000.

Founded in 1997 with Preston as its first chairman, the Equal Justice Council now generates more than $750,000 a year from various foundations, law firms and individuals.

“I think lawyers coming up behind him, chronologically, would see from his example that you could be an excellent attorney with a profitable firm and still give back in a serious way to the legal community and the community in which you live and work,” said Andrew J. Graham, who now co-chairs the council.

Decatur H. Miller, partner emeritus at DLA Piper LLP, also worked with Preston for years on the Equal Justice Council.

“He was a true believer in the need for legal services for poor people,” said. “He didn’t just pay lip service to that notion either, he put a lot of work into it.”

Miller got his start with the EJC after speaking with Preston about fundraising for the organization. He said he doubted anyone but someone with Preston’s reputation could have achieved the response he got from the legal community.

“He went around to the leading law firms and raised a lot of money, mainly because people respected him so much,” Miller said. “It was an amazing soft sell that everyone, including me, responded to.”

Joseph, of Maryland Legal Aid, met Preston when he took over as executive director of the organization in 1996. New to the area, Joseph said he leaned on Preston to help him get in touch with the legal community.

“When I think of Woody, I think of his caring and his commitment and his ability to move people with a dose of humor …,” Joseph said. “He was the kind of guy who worked and played well with others.”

Joseph recalled one incident, early in his tenure, when he had a big speech to give to potential donors. He said that he and Preston were very anxious to make a good impression.

“I have an accent and I tend to talk too fast at times,” Joseph said. “And, Woody really wanted this talk to go well so we worked out a hand signal he would flash me if I started to talk too fast. It was pretty funny actually, and we laughed about it later for sure.”

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Maryland Legal Aid spearheads human rights effort for farmworkers

Reena Shah

Maryland Legal Aid, in conjunction with four other legal services organizations representing the experiences of 14 states, submitted a letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights–the first time that legal aid organizations across the U.S. had come together to submit this type of communication to any Special Procedure of the United Nations.

“The purpose of the letter was to highlight the nationwide practice of denying–or not providing meaningful access to–migrant labor camps that employ and house farmworkers,” said Reena Shah, director of Legal Aid’s Human Rights Project. “The letter argued that for migrant farmworkers, the growers’ ability to deny or seriously impede legal services and other community providers from doing outreach on migrant labor camps ostensibly meant that they would not be able to access justice or other services essential to their health, welfare and dignity, thus resulting in grave violations of their human rights.”

The letter condemned the failure of the U.S. government to mandate such access as a violation of its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination–both treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified–and urged the rapporteur to include this issue in her report as a means to apply pressure on the U.S. to take reasonable steps to come in compliance with its treaty obligations.

Legal Aid spearheaded this collaborative effort, Shah added: “Lauren Bartlett, director of the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at American University, called it a ‘history-in-the-making document.'”

In April,  Legal Aid was selected as a project partner in the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project to explore ways to integrate human rights arguments and international law into the everyday cases.

Courts flooded with poorer Americans representing themselves

The Associated Press reports that “a crush” of people are representing themselves in the nation’s civil courts because they can’t afford a lawyer–and that the American Bar Assoc. is urging lawyers to offer free legal services to those who can’t afford a lawyer.

“The increase in self-represented parties stems from a recession that has left fewer people able to afford lawyers and created new waves of foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases, judges and lawyers say. Judges say self-represented people are slowing down court dockets because they typically don’t know what legal points to argue or what motions to file,” the article said.

“There’s a crisis in this country,” said John Levi, board chairman of Washington, D.C.-based Legal Services Corp., the nation’s largest funder of civil legal aid for the poor. “Courthouses are being filled with people just showing up, trying to figure out what their rights are. If you’re a low-income person and you have a legal need, it is not easy to get it addressed.”

To read the article, click here.

Funding cuts expected to result in nearly 750 fewer staff positions at LSC-funded programs

According to a recent survey conducted by the Legal Services Corporation, local legal aid programs expect to reduce staffing by nearly 750 employees in 2012–including 350 attorneys– because of funding cuts. This represents a reduction of 8 percent of full-time-equivalent positions from the end of 2011.

Nationwide, programs receiving grants from LSC reported significant reductions in funding, staffing, and operations.  Eighty-seven percent of the respondents report that their total (LSC and non-LSC) funding in 2012 will decrease significantly from 2011.  Eighty-two percent of the programs with reserves expect to use those funds in 2012 to continue operations.  One hundred thirty-three of the 134 LSC grantees responded to the survey.

So far, LSC-funded Maryland Legal Aid has not reduced staff or closed any offices.  But that could change if the next General Assembly doesn’t extend or make permanent court filing fee surcharge increases that expire in 2013, said Legal Aid Executive Director Wilhelm Joseph. The surcharge increases, enacted nearly two years ago, supports civil legal programs that help low-income Marylanders across the state.

To read the LSC press release, click here.

The foreclosure crisis hits seniors hard

Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR-FM explored a new AARP report that says the number of older Americans seriously delinquent on loans jumped more than 450 percent in the last five years.

Some 3.5 million older homeowners are underwater on their mortgages.  Older African Americans and Hispanics are the hardest hit. A show earlier this week looked at how the mortgage crisis has effected the country’s senior citizens and left millions of them fiscally vulnerable in retirement.

Dan’s guests were Vicki King Taitano, director of the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project at Maryland Legal, and Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director for the AARP Public Policy Institute. To hear the show, click here.