LSC UPDATES | FEB 2021

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES DISCUSS COVID-19'S IMPACT

Participants joined LSC virtually to discuss access-to-justice challenges amid COVID-19.
LSC hosted a virtual forum on February 4 examining the ongoing challenges the pandemic presents for courts and for people in need of legal help. Speakers included the new leadership of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus, co-chairs Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8) and vice chair Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-6).
 
State supreme court justices from four states discussed innovations the judicial system has introduced to meet the pandemic’s challenges. Speakers noted the difficulties for courts in responding to the growing number of civil cases. The speakers included Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Supreme Court of California; Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, Supreme Court of Texas and president of the Conference of Chief Justices; Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, Supreme Court of Michigan; and Justice Kristina Pickering, Supreme Court of Nevada.
 
“We are inventing the airplane while we’re flying it,” said Justice Pickering, who went on to describe the challenges she has witnessed in Nevada that reflect issues faced by courts across the country.
 
“We’ve seen more change in the last ten months than we’ve seen in a hundred years,” noted Chief Justice McCormack, explaining that Innovations that may have taken months to be piloted previously have been introduced and dispersed in a matter of weeks.

Throughout the forum, speakers’ stories highlighted efforts to use the virtual environment as a chance to expand access to justice in new ways. A recurring theme was that while the pandemic has fostered innovations within the legal system, challenges surrounding access to justice continue to grow and the work is not done yet.
 
The second panel looked at COVID-19’s impact on legal aid organizations and their clients and focused on legal aid service innovations. The speakers included Jim Cook, executive director of Idaho Legal Aid; Colleen Cotter, executive director of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services; and Maria Thomas Jones, chief executive officer of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.

The final session examined in detail the court innovations brought about by the pandemic. LSC Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk moderated a discussion between Rita H. Blandino, director of the D.C. Court’s Domestic Violence Division, and Paul Tuttle, assistant clerk for the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Other speakers at the forum included LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and LSC President Ronald S. Flagg, as well as Brad Lewis, director of the Nevada Supreme Court Access to Justice and Daniel W. Hamilton, dean and Richard J. Morgan Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law.
 
Watch videos from the forum
Read Law360's write-up

LSC REQUESTS ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO ADDRESS SURGE IN DEMAND FOR LEGAL AID

(L-R) Reps. Tom Emmer (MN-6), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1).

LSC is requesting that supplemental funding of $350-500 million be included in the COVID-19 relief package under consideration to address the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic. This funding would help LSC’s grantees to assist individuals facing urgent legal issues brought on by the pandemic.    

“COVID-19 continues to increase enormously the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans and legal aid can be a game-changer in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the continuing need for emergency federal funding for legal aid.”

The new leadership of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus expressed support for legal services organizations and LSC’s request during a recent virtual forum (described above). 

Rep. Tom Emmer: “As you have fought for those most affected by this pandemic, your government should assist your efforts. Legal aid funding should be an important piece of our recovery plan."

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: “When taking into consideration the funding cuts and practical day-to-day challenges of working remotely that legal aid organizations everywhere are facing, it's imperative that LSC receive additional funding to allow for their continuation of aid to our low-income constituents.”   

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon: “We want to try to grow the legal aid caucus so that we have a broader reach. Many members of Congress say, ‘Oh yes, we always support legal services,’ but they don't understand how—relative to the ’70s—the funding for legal services has not kept pace. I want to work on educating them about that.”  

The caucus leadership previously had sent a letter of support for LSC’s funding request to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. LSC-funded organizations “are on the frontlines in assisting people during the pandemic,” the letter stated. “With a significant investment, LSC grantees can continue their stellar work serving clients remotely and enhance their efforts to improve their organizational infrastructure to better serve clients.”

Read the support letter

LEGAL AID DISASTER RESOURCE CENTER LAUNCHED

The Legal Aid Disaster Resource Center (LADRC.org), a national website helping legal aid and other service organizations more effectively meet the civil legal needs of disaster survivors, officially launched this month.

The website’s goal is to provide trainings on best practices and resources for pro bono and legal aid attorneys and the communities they serve. It will also encourage relationship building to improve disaster preparedness and response. It was designed for use by attorneys, volunteers and disaster survivors. 

LSC's Disaster Task Force worked for more than a year studying how legal aid organizations can better help low-income disaster survivors recover. A key task force recommendation was for the legal services community “to create an online ‘one-stop’ resource for disaster training materials and expertise.”

For the past several months, LSC and its partners have been busy designing and building LADRC.org. The website is the product of a collaboration among several partners, including Latham & Watkins LLP, Bent Ear Solution LLC, Lone Star Legal Aid, Reingold Inc. and experts from the fields of law and emergency management. 

Visit LADRC.org
Learn about LSC's Disaster Task Force

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