NLADA Opposes Nominee for Legal Services Corp. Board

Last December, one day after President Obama signed a budget bill which included an 8% increase in funding for the Legal Services Corporation for FY 2010, the White House announced nominations of three attorneys for LSC board positions.  Two days ago, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), an umbrella organization for civil legal services and public defense programs throughout the country, joined a coalition of public interest organizations in opposing one of the three nominees: Sharon Browne, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Some Background on LSC: The Legal Services Corporation was established by Congress in 1974 as an independently functioning, federally-funded, nonprofit corporation.  Its mission: “To promote equal access to justice in our Nation and to provide high quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons.”  There are 137 LSC grantee organizations – which themselves operate as independent nonprofit entities and also receive some of their funding from non-LSC sources – providing legal services to low-income individuals and families throughout the country.  LSC’s annual appropriation was recently bumped from $390 million to $420 million, $394.4 million of which will be distributed to LSC’s grantee organizations.

LSC Board Nominations: by statute (42 USC 2996c), LSC’s board of directors consists of eleven individuals, no more than six of whom may be from the same political party.  Board members are appointed by the president, subject to the consent of the Senate. President Obama’s nomination announcement raised some eyebrows because it includes politically conservative attorneys, including Ms. Browne.  But the nomination of individuals with even starkly differing ideologies than the president is not unusual in and of itself, because of the LSC board’s bipartisanship requirement.

As for this week’s events, NLADA joined a letter of opposition, written under the letterhead of the liberal Alliance for Justice, which argues that:

Ms. Browne should not be placed in a position to help determine the future of legal services for poor Americans. She and the Pacific Legal Foundation (“PLF”), her employer, have engaged in litigation aimed at defunding those very services and legal efforts opposing the principle of equal justice—the core of LSC’s mission.

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