Posts Tagged funding

Federal Judiciary Bracing for Budget Constraints Even as Caseloads Increase

By: Steve Grumm

From the National Law Journal:

The policy-making arm of the federal judiciary on March 13 discussed steps to reduce costs as workload increases and congressional budget cuts loom.

The federal judiciary’s budget this year was funded at the same level as last fiscal year even as case filings increased, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said.

The administrative office reported today that total civil and criminal filings in federal district courts rose 2 percent to more than 367,600. The office reported an 11 percent increase in intellectual property cases and a 15 percent increase in consumer credit filings.

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Want a Shot at Boosting Your State’s Economy? Invest in Civil Legal Aid.

According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, legal aid boosted the state’s economy by $53 million in 2011 through federal benefits won and state costs saved.

Those numbers sparked legislators’ interest in Massachusetts and have led to a recent proposal to increase MA’s Legal Assistance Corporation’s funding. Here’s more from The Boston Globe:

Civil legal aid has always been underfunded. But over the past three years, the work of these attorneys has hung by a slender thread. State appropriations have shrunk, and private donations have dwindled. The result? Legal aid programs have lost a third of their staff in the last three years. For every five people who come to legal aid attorneys for help navigating the court system, three are turned away, says Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest funding source for legal civil aid in the state.

“They’re on their own,’’ Powers says. “They lump it or go to court by themselves.’’

Lumping it costs not just those who find themselves alone in the maze of our legal system, but all of us. The asthma sufferer whose medication is no longer covered by Medicare ends up in the far more expensive emergency room. A family unfairly evicted ends up in pricier temporary housing. A worker unjustly denied jobless benefits lands on welfare. A study by Powers’s outfit estimates that legal aid boosted the state’s economy by $53 million last year through federal benefits won and state costs saved.

Read the rest here.

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Senate Passes Legal Services Corp. Appropriation – $396 Million (2% Cut from Current Level)

From a National Legal Aid & Defender Association email:

Yesterday the Senate approved by a vote of 69 to 30 a package of three appropriations bills, including the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriation bill for FY 2012.   The measure includes an appropriation for the Legal Services Corporation of $396.1 million for next year.  This amounts to a 2 percent cut from the current level of $404.2 million.   The entire 2 percent comes from basic field funding.  Both LSC management and the Office of Inspector General are funded at the same levels as FY 2011.

The House Appropriations Committee has previously allocated $300 million for FY 2012, a cut of $104.2 million (27.5 percent) from FY 2011 levels.  It appears likely that negotiations between the House and Senate on the three appropriations bills passed by the Senate will proceed without any final House floor action on the CJS appropriations bills.  The bill also includes funding packages for the Agriculture Department and Transportation – HUD.

The Senate bill was passed under budget level authority agreed to by the House and Senate during the debt ceiling debate last August.  The House bill passed the committee under significantly lower overall budget authority included in the House budget resolution authored by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI).   If House-Senate negotiators stick with the overall $1.043 trillion spending ceiling previously agreed upon in August, the process could proceed relatively smoothly toward a reconciliation of the two bills.   Negotiations could begin as early as today.  However, a number of House members have indicated their opposition to the overall spending ceiling adopted in August, and such opposition could slow down negotiations on the Senate package that includes LSC funding.   

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HuffPost Asks if D.C. Public Interest Lawyers Could Prevent Domestic Tragedies

by Kristen Pavón

Huffington Post’s Matthew Fraidin suggests that part of the D.C. Council’s $89 million surplus go to funding more legal aid.

With Alecia Wheeler’s story as a tragic reminder, Fraidin recognized the tremendous “bang legal services lawyers provide for every buck” and how public interest lawyers could help save lives.

In domestic violence cases, the litigants’ testimony often is the primary source of information for the judge. Without a lawyer asking questions sequentially and with the goal of eliciting answers which amount to a legally-cognizable complaint, a story may emerge incompletely and disjointedly. Facts which may be of great importance to the complainant may be of limited significance under the law, or the judge may misperceive their true meaning. . . .

And many litigants are not aware of the importance of marshaling additional corroborating evidence, such as witness testimony, telephone records, police reports, hospital records, and 911 telephone recordings. For a woman fleeing or hiding from a batterer, especially if she is trying to care for children at the same time, building an air-tight case on her own is simply unrealistic.

That is where a lawyer comes in. The District of Columbia is fortunate to have a strong community of committed anti-domestic violence advocates and legal services lawyers. We get that stellar service on the cheap: salaries for legal services lawyers start at about $40,000. And those resources are complemented by top-flight student law clinics, as well as pro bono lawyers affiliated with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program.

But nearly 4,500 people, mostly women, seek stay-away orders each year in the District of Columbia. Using the Access to Justice Commission’s estimate that 98% of litigants are unrepresented, that is too many chances for even the most careful judges to get it wrong.

As Council members weigh the many funding priorities competing for a piece of the $89 million pie, they should recognize the bang legal services lawyers provide for every buck. Studies show that legal aid more than pays for itself. Even more to the point, domestic violence lawyers make women safer by using legal avenues, such as child support actions, that reduce a victim’s financial dependence on a batterer and eliminate one obstacle to ending a dangerous relationship.

Read the rest of the article here.

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