Public Interest Law News Bulletin – February 25, 2011

This week, there are multiple stories highlighting reaction to a potential $70 million cut in LSC funding, which we covered in a blog post earlier this week.  Here’s what’s in the Bulletin:

  • A loss of local funding here and a loss of local funding there could add up to a big subtraction for the Louisiana-based Capital Area Legal Services Corporation;
  • Putting current threats to legal services funding in context: it’s bad, but it’s not new;
  • KC gets in the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) game;
  • Legal Aid of East Tennessee labors against a spike in instances, and severity, of domestic violence;
  • Pine Tree Legal Assistance makes the legal forest easier to navigate for veterans and their families;
  • Show me a solution to the Missouri indigent defense crisis!  Or at least show me cautious optimism!;
  • The American Bar Association won’t stand for LSC funding cuts;
  • And neither will the Colorado Bar Association;
  • A little bit of funding for a Tennessee MLP;
  • Law & Order: Los Angeles, guest-starring volunteer prosecutors;
  • Kudos for a foreclosure-right-to-counsel initiative in New York State;
  • Profiling an incoming Skadden Fellow who will tackle juvenile justice issues in Detroit.

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  • 2.23.11 – in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation executive director Lonnie Powers authors a piece that looks at current threats to civil legal services funding in the context of the longer-term funding vicissitudes that the provider community has experienced.  Powers, who writes in his individual capacity and not on behalf of MLAC, notes that funding threats are traditionally either ideologically driven – in part by those who believe “…that low-income people do not deserve access to attorneys or in any event they do not deserve the same access as wealthy people” – or driven by the prevailing economic winds.  As to the latter, Powers highlights the dilemma that while “legal aid funding is tied to the economy [particularly regarding IOLTA funds] and therefore cycles with the economic health of the states and the nation, the demand for services is countercyclical.”  So, precisely at a time when providers are struggling to avoid layoffs and program constrictions, the numbers of eligible clients are swelling.  Powers also notes how severe an impact a current proposed LSC budget cut could have: “[T]he $70 million reduction in LSC funding voted by the House would, according to LSC, conservatively result in: a layoff of at least 370 staff attorneys in local programs, [and] closure of may rural offices…”
  • 2.23.11 – a press release announces a new medical-legal partnership among Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City and Legal Aid of Western Missouri.  “Saint Luke’s Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) is modeled after similar programs that have succeeded in improving the health of indigent patients around the country since 1993. The partnerships integrate lawyers as a vital component of the health care team, to help patients deal with legal problems that directly or indirectly harm their health. The concept has earned the backing of groups such as the American Hospital Association, American Bar Association, American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.”  The partnership “is based on a model known as I-HELP. I stands for income and insurance issues; H is for housing issues; E is for ensuring patient safety in domestic situations; L is for legal status; and P is for power of attorney and guardianship.”  As the PSLawNet Blog has noted before, there’s a lot of momentum these days in support of medical-legal partnerships.  There’s yet another story about MLP funding below…
  • 2.22.11 – from Maine’s Portland Press Herald: “A website designed to be the nation’s leading resource for the legal needs and rights of military families,Statesidelegal.org, is up and running thanks to the work of Maine’s largest legal aid provider.  Portland-based Pine Tree Legal Assistance was the lead agency in the creation of the site … [which] serves as an online hub for legal information — including videos, self-help tools and other resources — specifically for military personnel, veterans and their families.”
  • 2.22.11 – the ABA Journal on the ABA’s reaction to the House’s passage of a spending bill last weekend that would cut the Legal Services Corporation budget by $70 million: “ABA President Stephen N. Zack released a statement on Sunday opposing the budget reduction. “The promise of American justice and fairness cannot be an empty one,” Zack said. “But that’s what will happen if funding for legal help to poor and working class families is slashed as proposed. These cuts would hurt people in every region, from Kansas to Kentucky, Texas to Virginia, Ohio to Florida.  Earlier this month, the policymaking ABA House of Delegates voted to oppose any funding cuts to the LSC.”
  • 2.21.11 – also stemming from the proposed LSC cuts, the Colorado Bar Association comes to the aid of LSC-funded Colorado Legal Services.  Colorado Law Week features a statement from the bar association, noting in part that “[t]he $70 million cut, which will have to be absorbed entirely in the next eight months, will have a devastating impact on all of LSC’s grantees, including Colorado Legal Services, our statewide legal aid program. More importantly, it would have a devastating impact on the low-income Coloradans who are served by Colorado Legal Services—LSC anticipates it will have to reduce its grants to 136 local legal aid nonprofit programs, including Colorado Legal Services, by an average of 18 percent.”
  • 2.20.11 – volunteer lawyers prosecuting cases in LA.  From the Los Angeles Daily News: Faced with drastic budget cuts that have forced the early retirement of dozens of prosecutors, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has turned to training law school graduates or entry-level attorneys who volunteer to try criminal cases for free…. The volunteers, all of whom have passed the bar, go through a month of training and then prosecute cases for five months. They have helped fill in a gap left by the loss of about 70 prosecutors who took early retirement packages after an 18 percent cut to the office’s budget in 2009 as the city struggled to make ends meet.”

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