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17 Bar Associations File Friend of the Court Brief in Support of Civil Legal Services for the Poor

July 7, 2005

For Immediate Release
Thursday, July 7, 2005

Contact Information:
Rebekah Diller, 212 992–8635

17 Bar Associations File Friend of the Court Brief in Support of Civil Legal Services for the Poor

New York, NY Today, the Connecticut, New York, Vermont, and Virginia state bar associations joined 13 others in filing a friend of the court brief in a federal appeals court to support expanded legal representation for the poor in civil cases.

In the brief, written by attorneys from the law firm Holland & Knight, the group of bar associations and foundations argue that federal restrictions on how legal services organizations can spend private money violate the First Amendment to the Constitution and run contrary to the nations founding principle of equal justice for all. The brief urges the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to uphold a preliminary injunction barring the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) from enforcing its physical separation requirement on three New York City legal services organizations.

New York State Bar Association President A. Vincent Buzard of Rochester (Harris Beach PLLC) said, We are proud to join with other concerned groups in supporting the plaintiffs in this critical case. Advocating for adequate governmental funding for civil legal services has long been a core mission of the Association. Unduly burdensome restrictions on the use of non-federal funds undermine the purpose for which the Legal Services Corporation was established providing equal access to the system of justice.

Civil legal services lawyers help low-income Americans challenge unlawful evictions, protect themselves against domestic violence, and obtain health care, food, shelter, and other public benefits to which they are entitled. In providing these services, the bars write, legal services lawyers preserve and enforce fundamental constitutional and statutory rights and also help alter the conditions that lead to poverty. They warn that the success of our effort [to improve access to legal representation and to the justice system for the most vulnerable members of our society] depends in large part on the ability of legal services organizations to use all sources of funding efficiently.

Legal services lawyers receive grants from the federally-funded Legal Services Corporation, but Congress restricts LSC grantees from representing clients in class actions, representing many classes of legal immigrants and all people in prison, representing clients before legislatures, and collecting attorneys fees in winning cases. A private money restriction also prohibits grantees from performing these restricted activities with private, state and local funding. According to an LSC regulation, LSC-funded organizations can use private funding to represent clients in restricted categories of cases only if they first establish a physically separate facility with separate staff.

In 2001, three legal services providers from New York City challenged LSCs restrictions in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. In December 2004, that court agreed with the plaintiffs that the physical separation requirement violates the First Amendment to the Constitution and issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting LSC from enforcing its physical separation requirement against the plaintiffs. LSC and the federal government appealed, and the plaintiffs, represented by The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Kaye Scholer LLP, cross-appealed from certain aspects of the ruling.

Also joining in the friend of the court brief are the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York; the Connecticut Bar Foundation; the Dominican Bar Foundation; the Florida Bar Foundation; the Hispanic National Bar Association; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York; Gifford Miller, Speaker of the Council of the City of New York; the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association; the New York County Lawyers Association; the New York State Defenders Association; the Philadelphia Bar Association; the Philadelphia Bar Foundation; and the Womens Bar Association of the State of New York.

Over 130 non-profits and foundations, 18 legal aid organizations, and the National Association of IOLTA Programs filed separate friend of the court briefs supporting the plaintiffs in Brooklyn Legal Service Corp. v. Legal Services Corporation.