Guest Blog: Cindy Coker – Keeping the Promise

Keeping the Promise

Cindy Coker

When I was a kid, we learned and recited in class the Pledge of Allegiance.  The final words,..with liberty and justice for all…carried a powerful message.  And for an 8 year old, justice meant playing fair in games and not picking on kids – or being picked on.

Several years later (and no, we won’t discuss how many!) I was saying similar words again when I took the new lawyers oath.  I will assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens… Wow, what a promise to make!

Recently the Legal Services Corporation released its updated report on the justice gap in America.  For every client that a legal services program is able to help, at least on is turned away.  I’m not sure who picks up the slack in other states, but in South Carolina, it’s the volunteers of the Pro Bono Program.  Since 1986 S.C. lawyers have given hundreds of thousands of hours in pro bono service.  Those hours have involved hand holding clients, appearing in court, helping a woman get out of an abusive relationship, ensuring visitation for a father with his children, helping a family keep their home or doing what could be done to make the inevitable less painful.

The Pro Bono Program also provides opportunities for lawyers to help educate the public through legal clinics, Law School for Non-Lawyers and Ask-A-Lawyer phone banks.

Unfortunately, the need exceeds the supply.  Liberty and justice for all, while the ideal, is not the reality.  But, we have a chance to make a difference.  We have a chance to keep the promise and close that gap.  We just need a little more help!  Can we count on you?

Pro Bono….Keeping the promise!

Report Released: And Justice for All

 The Center for American Progress released a Report entitled And Justice for All: Prioritizing Free Legal Assistance During the Great Recession!

According to the release site:

The Center for American Progress suggests the following in order to help manage this crisis:

  • Congress should increase fiscal year 2010 appropriations for the Legal Services Corporation. They should match the corporation’s request for $485.1 million or at the very least implement the House-passed figure of $440 million. Congress should also lift current restrictions on legal services organizations when it passes appropriations legislation because the restrictions waste resources and hinder the pursuit of justice.
  • Congress should pass H.R. 1728 and S. 718, which are pieces of legislation designed to expand the resources available to legal aid organizations.
  • States must avoid making cuts to legal aid programs while seeking creative solutions that actually increase funding for these vital services.
  • The private bar should continue to expand current efforts that are leading to increased amounts of pro bono service.

In addition to the report information, it reminds us all why public interest attorneys are necessary – to allow people of low-income or those of moderate means to access goods and services that they need to thrive, and in some instances, simply to survive.

-RFW

Neither Sleet nor Snow nor Hurricanes nor Tornadoes . . .

Sleet Snow Hurricane Tornado

Sleet Snow Hurricane Tornado

Remember the Post Office slogan starting with “Neither Sleet nor Snow. . .?” Sure, but did you know that  there is a site for National Disaster Legal Aid that will provide legal services to individuals during and after disasters?

The site is a collaboration of the American Bar Association (ABA), the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), and Pro Bono Net.

In case you missed our earlier post, be sure to add this site to your emergency preparation list.

And, keep in mind that nothing works better in a disaster than preparation.

-RFW

Equal Access Defined: Deep in the Heart ‘O Texas

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Last Friday, 12/12/08, the Austin American Statesman published an Op-Ed by Helaine M. Barnett, the President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). In the Op-Ed, Ms. Barnett eloquently describes the gap in legal justice for those able to pay for legal representation and those unable to pay for it. Here are some excerpts:

The people who come to LSC-funded programs for help are the most vulnerable among us.

Census Bureau data show that nearly 51 million Americans have an income of less than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline (for a family of four, $26,500 a year) and therefore are eligible for civil legal aid from LSC-funded programs.

Those programs lack the funding and staff to provide civil legal assistance to all who seek help.

Across the nation, the outlook is not encouraging. Recessions disproportionately affect the poor, causing a loss of jobs, health care and housing.

Ensuring that the poor are adequately represented in the civil judicial system greatly improves their chances of keeping or securing basic necessities — the keys to stability and self-sufficiency.

Please take a moment to read through Ms. Barnett’s Op-Ed or watch her presentation to the Texas Supreme Court at the December 10, 2008 public hearing on civil legal justice.

-RFW