Access to Legal Aid

Justice Dept. office to make legal aid more accessible is quietly closed, By Katie Benner, February 1, 2018, New York Times: “The Justice Department has effectively shuttered an Obama-era office dedicated to making legal aid accessible to all citizens, according to two people familiar with the situation. The division, the Office for Access to Justice, began as an initiative in 2010 under former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to increase and improve legal resources for indigent litigants in civil, criminal and tribal courts. Though the head of the office reports directly to the associate attorney general, it never gained much visibility within the Justice Department because it did not oversee a large staff of prosecutors…”

Public Defense System

Public defenders fight back against budget cuts, growing caseloads, By Teresa Wiltz, November 21, 2017, Stateline: “Public defenders have complained for decades they’ve got too many cases and not enough money — or time — to do their clients justice. Now, more public defense advocates are suing states for more funding. Overwhelmed public defenders also are increasingly trying other tactics: refusing to take on new cases, raising money through crowdfunding, even trying to assign a case to a sitting governor…”

Legal Counsel for Eviction

How free legal help can prevent evictions, By Teresa Wiltz, October 27, 2017, Stateline: “In much of the country, more and more renters are devoting larger and larger portions of their income to rent. For low-income families, this can push them further into poverty and put them at risk for being evicted — and becoming homeless. Evictions destabilize families, forcing them into poorer neighborhoods with higher crime rates. And evictions cost cities money: After a family is evicted, a city can end up losing thousands of dollars in property taxes and unpaid utility bills, and may have to bear increased costs from homeless shelters and hospitals…”

Housing and Eviction

  • ‘Here for the eviction’: More renters forced from homes as affordable-housing crisis deepens, By Alden Woods, July 16, 2017, Arizona Republic: “Ken Sumner stepped through the debris of another unexpected move. He weaved around the two men backing a truck through their friend’s barren yard, past a speaker system and stacks of framed photographs, moving toward the front door for his fifth eviction of the day. The evicted man waited alone…”
  • Councilman proposes legal aid for tenants in Baltimore facing evictions, By Doug Donovan, July 17, 2017, Baltimore Sun: “A Baltimore city councilman introduced legislation Monday aimed at establishing a fund that would help low-income tenants facing eviction and other housing problems to hire attorneys, an effort that cities across the nation are exploring or have implemented…”

Legal Services Corporation

Draft of first Trump budget would cut legal aid for millions of poor Americans, By Tom McCarthy, February 21, 2017, The Guardian: “Cuts in Donald Trump’s first draft budget to funding for legal aid for millions of Americans could strip much-needed protections from victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, families facing foreclosure and veterans in need, justice equality advocates warned Tuesday…”

Public Defenders and Legal Aid

  • Some public defender offices turning away clients, East Baton Rouge ‘treading water’ during budget crisis, By Bryn Stole, February 16, 2016, Baton Rouge Advocate: “Public defenders in East Baton Rouge Parish are, for the time being, weathering the deepening funding crisis better than some other district offices elsewhere in Louisiana. Unlike public defenders in other parishes such as Lafayette, Vermilion, Acadia and Orleans, Mike Mitchell, the chief public defender in East Baton Rouge, said his office hasn’t yet been forced to turn away clients…”
  • $1 hike in court fees aimed at boosting Legal Aid, By Zack Pluhacek, February 17, 2016, Lincoln Journal Star: “A bill to raise state court fees by $1 would provide much-needed funding for Legal Aid of Nebraska, supporters said Wednesday. State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who sponsored the legislative measure (LB1098), says it would raise an extra $355,000 a year for the nonprofit law firm that provides free legal help to low-income people in non-criminal cases. Seven in 10 low-income Nebraskans deal with a significant legal issue each year, Morfeld said…”


Public Defender System – Missouri

Missouri could face legal challenge for shortfalls in public defender system, By Dave Helling, July 19, 2015, Kansas City Star: “Anthony Cardarella represents dozens of clients accused of crimes who are considered too poor to pay for the legal help the U.S. Constitution guarantees them. The public defender is busy, so busy he’s reminded of the classic ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in which a conveyor belt of candy passes far too quickly for the comic to keep pace. ‘It’s a lot like that,’ he said. Cardarella’s heavy workload isn’t unique. Each of Missouri’s public defenders will average more than 200 cases this year, everything from murders and serious felonies to juvenile cases and probation violations. That’s about four cases a week…”

Legal Aid Funding

Major law firms give little to legal aid, study finds, By Elizabeth Olson, June 29, 2015, New York Times: “While major law firms are enjoying record revenues — more than $100 billion last year — they are donating only a tenth of 1 percent of their proceeds for legal aid to low-income people, according to a new analysis released by The American Lawyer. Such institutional giving now accounts for only 7 percent of total legal aid funding, which comes from federal, state and private sources, the publication said…”

Driver’s License Suspensions

  • Driver’s license suspensions push poor deeper into poverty, report says, By Lee Romney, April 8, 2015, Los Angeles Times: “Traffic-court fines layered with escalating fees and penalties have led to driver’s license suspensions for 4.2 million Californians — or one in six drivers — pushing many low-income people deeper into poverty, a report released Wednesday by a coalition of legal aid groups found. The report calls for, among other things, an end to license suspensions for unpaid tickets and a reduction in fees and penalties that raise a $100 fine to $490 — or $815 if the initial deadline to pay is missed…”
  • Economic disparity is seen in California driver’s license suspensions, By Timothy Williams, April 8, 2015, New York Times: “Drivers in California who are unable to pay traffic fines for minor infractions are frequently having their licenses suspended by traffic courts — a policy that has had a disproportionate impact on poor and working-class people, according to a study released Wednesday. In an Alameda County traffic court case, for example, a $25 ticket given to a motorist who had failed to update the home address on her driver’s license within the state law’s allotted 10 days led a traffic court judge to suspend her license when she was unable to pay the fine…”

Medical-Legal Partnerships

Need a doctor? This anti-poverty program will get you a lawyer, too, By Seth Freed Wessler and Kat Aaron, December 13, 2014, NBC News: “When Tony Cox, 53, woke up in the hospital after suffering a heart attack when he fell off a ladder during a roofing job, he figured he’d hit bottom. ‘All I could think about was getting better and getting back to my family,’ he says. But that day in the hospital was not his lowest point. Over a year later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the modest two-bedroom house Cox shares with his wife Donna and their now 16-year-old son bearing a notice that their home was in foreclosure. Out of work from the injury, Cox had fallen behind on mortgage payments. ‘We were getting ready to be homeless, to move in with family,’ Donna says. ‘We would have been separated.’ The couple tried to catch up, to renegotiate their mortgage, but could not make the payments—not until they sought help from a legal services attorney, who brought the foreclosure case to court and compelled the bank to renegotiate the terms of their loan. Over the coming years, the person who saved Cox from the worst consequence of his heart attack was not a doctor but a lawyer…”

Legal Aid in Civil Cases

A push for legal aid in civil cases finds its advocates, By Erik Eckholm and Ian Lovett, November 21, 2014, New York Times: “Lorenza and German Artiga raised six children in a rent-controlled bungalow here, their only home since they moved from El Salvador 29 years ago. So they were stunned this past summer when their landlord served them with eviction papers, claiming that their 12-year-old granddaughter Carolyn, whose mother was killed in a car crash in 2007, was an illegal occupant. Up against a seasoned lawyer and bewildering paperwork, the couple, who speak little English and could never afford a lawyer, would very likely have been forced out of their home and the landlord could have raised the rent for new tenants…”

Legal Aid – Massachusetts

With funding low, many legal cases going undefended, By Megan Woolhouse, October 15, 2014, Boston Globe: “Massachusetts legal aid organizations turned away nearly two-thirds of people qualifying for civil legal assistance over the last year due to a lack of funding, leaving thousands of low-income residents without representation in cases from domestic violence to foreclosure, according to the findings of a statewide task force to be released Wednesday. More than 30,000 low-income clients were denied legal services in 2013, meaning many were unable to pursue cases or were left to represent themselves in court, where they often lost their cases, according to the 37-page report…”

Legal Assistance – New Jersey

As poverty rises, legal assistance dwindles for N.J.’s poor, By Salvador Rizzo, December 8, 2013, Star-Ledger: “They often live in the shadows: the battered women in need of restraining orders to keep their abusers at bay, the low-income families evicted from their apartments or turned away from emergency housing, the immigrant children seeking asylum as they flee the drug violence in their home countries. And they can’t afford to get their day in court. Every year, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey’s poorest residents run into legal problems that threaten to derail their lives, but only one in six will get a lawyer to fight for them, according to Legal Services of New Jersey, a network of nonprofit organizations that provides free legal assistance for the poor in civil cases such as fighting evictions or securing restraining orders…”

Public Criminal Defense System – Michigan

Indigent defense: Michigan looks to overhaul system for low-income criminal defense, By Jonathan Oosting, June 14, 2013, “Michigan lawmakers on Thursday took a major step towards overhauling the state’s public criminal defense system, which critics say has been broken for years and failed to protect some residents who cannot afford their own attorney. The Senate and House on Thursday approved identical bills, setting the stage for them to be finalized and sent to the governor as early as next week, to create the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The 16-member body would be tasked with researching, developing and enforcing minimum standards for constitutionally-guaranteed legal representation in jurisdictions around the state…”

Public Defender Caseloads – Missouri

Rule will cap public defender caseload, By Scott Moyers, September 19, 2012, Southeast Missourian: “A new rule set to begin Oct. 1 will permit the state’s public defender system to defer certain criminal cases in a move that proponents say should give the state’s low-income defendants quality legal representation that has been lacking during a decade of swelling caseloads and dwindling resources. But a number of skeptics, including Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, believe the rule’s new formula ‘greatly exaggerates’ the time that is being estimated for the defender caseloads and also suggest that the change is really a thinly veiled attempt to pressure the state for more dollars. But a July 31 Missouri Supreme Court ruling says the Missouri Public Defender Commission, which oversees the state’s 150 public defenders, has the authority to set maximum caseloads if the defender’s office asserts that the caseload capacity was exceeded…”

Civil Legal Assistance – New Jersey

Report: Greater number of Hudson County’s poor not receiving representation in civil cases, By Daniel Reyes, June 19, 2012, Jersey Journal: “An increasing number of the poor in Hudson County and across the state are finding themselves without legal assistance in civil cases, according to a recent report. The Civil Legal Assistance Gap, an annual report compiled by the Legal Services of New Jersey, says that cuts in funding combined with an increase in poverty has led to a higher percentage of people going without legal representation in civil cases…”

Public Defender System – Michigan

Michigan Finally Eyeing Changes To Lawyers For Poor, By Carrie Johnson, June 14, 2012, NPR: “Lawyers on all sides agree the system enshrined nearly 50 years ago that gives all defendants the right to a lawyer is not working. The Justice Department calls it a crisis — such a big problem that it’s been doling out grants to improve how its adversaries perform in criminal cases. Consider Michigan: Five times since the 1980s, independent groups have called on Michigan to change the way it pays lawyers for the poor. Each time, state officials have done nothing. And a 2008 study by a legal nonprofit association said the state’s indigent defense system had reached a “constitutional crisis.” But a lawsuit and a growing number of exonerations may be starting to change that. . .”