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|NEW YORK COUNTY
14 Vesey Street, New York, NY 10007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Anita Aboulafia (212) 267-6646, ext. 225, firstname.lastname@example.org
NYCLA SUBMITS TWO AMICUS BRIEFS CHALLENGING THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED ON FEDERALLY FUNDED LEGAL SERVICES PROGRAMS
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 7, 2005 – The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) submitted two amicus briefs today challenging the constitutionality of restrictions Congress imposed on federally funded legal services programs that provide services to low-income people. Joining NYCLA in one of the briefs, which was filed by Holland & Knight LLP, are more than a dozen other bar associations throughout the United States and Gifford Miller, Speaker of the Council of City of New York. The second brief was prepared for NYCLA by Carolyn A. Kubitschek of Lansner & Kubitschek and Eugene B. Nathanson, a solo practitioner.
The Holland & Knight brief responds to the decision of the U. S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, in Dobbins v. LSC, which held that the Legal Services Corporation’s program integrity requirements disallowing the use of non-federal funds to provide services was “unduly burdensome.” Guided by the principles of providing equal and adequate access to the justice system for low-income people, the brief states, “We know that the legal services needs of the poor, unlike those of the more affluent, often concern legal matters in the areas of family safety, economic security, food, shelter, education, governmental benefits, health care and other basic needs.” It concludes, “The District Court’s decision to invalidate the LSC program integrity regulations as applied to the plaintiffs protects the First Amendment, honors Congressional intent, permits states and private funding sources to allocate resources where they are needed most, and reduces the financial strain that legal service organizations constantly face.”
Program Integrity Regulation
In 1996, Congress cut funding for legal services organizations and restricted the type of advocacy in which federally funded legal services organizations could engage; for example, service providers were no longer permitted to notify prospective clients of their legal rights and then offer to represent them. In addition, certain categories of aliens, including many lawfully admitted aliens, were no longer eligible to receive assistance from legal services organizations. To implement these new restrictions, the LSC enacted the “program integrity regulation,” which has prevented legal services organizations that receive federal funds from using their state, local and private funds for federally restricted activities unless they create financially and physically independent affiliates. This latter requirement has, according to the brief, “exacerbate[d] the problems caused by inadequate funding by forcing legal services organizations to waste money on separate facilities, separate personnel, and separate computer systems.”
The other brief appeals from a portion of the District Court’s decision, which upheld three specific restrictions imposed by Congress in the 1996 law prohibiting legal services programs that receive federal funds from: “obtaining attorneys’ fees under any fee-shifting statute; participating in class action lawsuits; and engaging in outreach to represent clients.” Responding to these restrictions, the brief states that “the restrictions on class action litigation and attorneys’ fees for legal services lawyers violate the Constitution and public policy, and are unreasonable, and that the ban on outreach also violates the Constitution.”
The second brief also cites an article from the Fordham Law Review (2001), “Access to Justice,” which maintains that “over the past two decades, national spending on legal aid has been cut by a third….” The brief refers to NYCLA’s original Mission Statement, adopted at its founding in 1908, stating its commitment to making legal representation available to those who cannot afford it. As a result, one of NYCLA’s primary objectives was “arranging for the provision by its members of free legal services for indigent, low income and other persons in need.” As stated in the brief, in addition to encouraging pro bono work, NYCLA has actively sought to secure adequate compensation for attorneys who provide legal representation for poor people, and its current mission statement broadly promotes ‘ensuring access to justice for all.’”
According to Ann B. Lesk, NYCLA Board Secretary, “These briefs are consistent with NYCLA’s longstanding commitment to equal access to justice for all.”
Joining NYCLA on the Holland & Knight brief are the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, New York State Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, New York State Defenders Association, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York (LeGaL), Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, Connecticut Bar Association, Connecticut Bar Foundation, Florida Bar Foundation, Philadelphia Bar Association, Philadelphia Bar Foundation, Vermont Bar Association, Virginia State Bar, Dominican Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.