LSC UPDATES | JUNE 2020

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS JOIN LEGAL COMMUNITY FOR COVID-19 VIRTUAL BRIEFINGS

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and Representative Joe Kennedy III (MA-4) took part in the first of LSC's virtual briefings on COVID-19. 

The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges for the entire legal system and for access to justice. Members of Congress, legal aid leaders and other experts joined LSC for two virtual briefings on the role of legal aid in helping families and individuals affected by COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 Health Crisis, Civil Legal Needs and State Courts 

LSC's April 20 briefing focused broadly on the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on low-income Americans’ legal needs.

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, Representative Joe Kennedy III (MA-4) and Representative Fred Upton (MI-6) delivered remarks on the challenges their constituents are facing. They were joined by ABA President Judy Perry Martinez who shared updates on the ABA’s COVID-19 Task Force. LSC Chair John Levi spoke about the emerging civil legal aid crisis that LSC and its grantees are bracing for and explained how under-funded civil legal aid organizations are already struggling to meet their client’s needs. 

The briefing featured two panels. First, executive directors of legal aid organizations in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New York and Washington state took part in a moderated conversation about The COVID-19 Health Crisis’ Effect on Legal Services Organizations and Their Clients. The panelists included Ashley Lowe, Chief Executive Officer, Lakeshore Legal Aid; Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director, Legal Services NYC; César Torres, Executive Director, Northwest Justice Project; Laura Tuggle, Executive Director, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation; and Monica Vigues-Pitan, Executive Director, Legal Services Miami.

Following that discussion, four state supreme court chief justices participated in a panel on The COVID-19 Health Crisis’ Effect on State Courts and Access to Justice. The panelists were Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins, Supreme Court of Tennessee; Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, Supreme Court of California; Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court of Texas and President of the Conference of Chief Justices; and Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, Michigan Supreme Court. 

Merck CEO Ken Frazier, co-chair of LSC’s Leaders Council, delivered closing remarks, thanking the speakers for sharing their perspectives. 

"They are shining a light on the alarming fact that COVID-19 is not just a public health crisis, not just
an economic crisis, but a serious crisis for our justice system," Frazier said. 

Watch the briefing
Domestic Violence and Civil Legal Services During the Coronavirus Pandemic
On May 11, LSC held a second briefing exploring how legal services providers are helping domestic violence survivors in the face of COVID-19. Representatives Susan Brooks (IN-5), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Gwen Moore (WI-4) and David Price (NC-4) joined Supreme Court of North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to deliver remarks. 

The briefing began with an update from LSC Board Chair John Levi who explained that the sharp increase in domestic violence is one of the many challenges that our grantees are facing during this pandemic. Rep. Dingell praised the work of legal aid attorneys in helping individuals and families affected by domestic violence: “You all play a critical role and that is helping so many who think they don’t have options.”
 
The briefing also featured a panel discussion with LSC grantees from California, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin and a magistrate judge moderated by LSC President Ron Flagg. The speakers included Kate Aldrich, Staff Attorney, Legal Action of Wisconsin; Chief Judge Wanda L. Dallas, Magistrate Court of Clayton County, Georgia; Julianna Lee, Supporting Families Supervising Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles; TeAndra Miller, Project Director/Managing Attorney, Statewide Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Project, Legal Aid of North Carolina; and Sarah M. White, Director, Clayton Family Advocacy Office, Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

Lee described the pandemic as the perfect storm for surges in domestic violence: many people are stuck at home with their abusers during a time of heightened stress and uncertainty, but leaving during a pandemic also presents risks and finding a safe place to shelter is a challenge.  
 
Her words echoed Rep. Moore, who noted: “Safer at home is an oxymoron to some extent. You are not safer at home when domestic violence is present.”

Following the panel, LSC Leaders Council Co-Chair Harriet Miers, a Partner with Locke Lord LLP and former White House Counsel, provided closing remarks.
Watch the briefing

LSC AWARDS COVID-19 RELIEF GRANTS

In April, LSC awarded the $50 million it received in the CARES Act to legal services providers who are helping low-income clients facing job loss, evictions, domestic violence and other problems stemming from the pandemic. 

LSC awarded $2.4 million for Telework Capacity Grants to 126 of its grantees. This funding will support new equipment, services and related expenses needed for legal services organizations to improve or expand telework capabilities to better serve low-income populations. LSC is also providing technical assistance to many grantees to enhance their ability to work and provide services remotely.

LSC awarded more than $47 million to its grantees to address the critical civil legal needs confronting many low-income families. In order to allocate these funds to the areas of the country most affected by COVID-19, LSC used unemployment insurance data in conjunction with the poverty-population data to distribute funds to all 132 grantees. 

“We are grateful that Congress has recognized that COVID-19 is dramatically increasing the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low income Americans and that legal aid can make a meaningful difference in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the need for additional emergency federal funding for legal aid.”

LSC's request for $50 million in additional COVID-19 relief funding was included in the HEROES Act which passed the House on May 15.

See grant distribution chart

LSC LAUNCHES WEBPAGE ON COVID-19 CHALLENGES

LSC has launched a webpage covering the coronavirus pandemic's impact on civil legal services providers. The website provides answers to commonly asked questions by LSC grantees and other resources relating to the pandemic. It also offers a COVID-19 news round-up that is updated daily and searchable. 
View the webpage

LSC DISASTER TASK FORCE HOLDS EVENT IN NEW ORLEANS TO MARK RELEASE OF REPORT

(L-R): Justice John L. Weimer, Louisiana Supreme Court; Judge Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of New York; LSC Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk, O.P.; Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Texas Supreme Court; Judge Dana M. Douglas, Eastern District of Louisiana Court Magistrate.
LSC’s Disaster Task Force gathered at the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans on March 4 to mark the release of its report. Task Force members were joined by American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez and judicial leaders to discuss steps to ensure that disaster survivors receive the legal assistance they need. 
 
The event began with opening remarks from LSC Board Member Frank Neuner who discussed the ways access to justice can be affected by natural disasters. Robert Malionek, a partner at Latham & Watkins, also spoke. Latham serves as pro bono counsel to the Task Force and provided financial support.

Martinez thanked Task Force members and attendees for their efforts. “Our work is far from done, we will continue this important work with each one of you to heal and restore the lives of communities impacted by natural disasters with bold and thoughtful leadership,” she said.
 
Judicial leaders from Louisiana, New York and Texas took part in a panel discussion, “Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning and the Courts.” Having a COOP plan in place helps ensure that courts can perform essential functions even when normal operations are affected by a disaster or emergency.
 
“A major lesson learned from 9/11 or any storm, hurricane or natural event is collaboration,” explained former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, now of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP. “We learned we all have to have seats at the table.” 
 
Lastly, Dean Madeleine Landrieu, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, delivered closing remarks on the significance of the Task Force’s work.
Watch videos from the event
Read the report

NEWS FROM THE FIELD

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