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June 26, 2009

STATE BAR PRESIDENT GETNICK CALLS FOR U. S. SENATE APPROVAL OF $440 MILLION FOR CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FOR THE INDIGENT

Noting that the demand for civil legal aid is greater than ever, New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) called for the United States Senate's swift approval of legislation that appropriates $440 million to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Established by Congress, LSC is the single largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation.

In a letter sent yesterday to Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Getnick wrote, "Today, 51 million Americans (including 18 million children) qualify for federally funded legal assistance. Many of these individuals have significant legal needs and may suddenly be poor because of the recession, unemployment, foreclosure or eviction, natural disaster, the break-up of their family or uninsured medical care."

He added, "With the economy worsening and the number of low-income families growing, the need for this funding is even more critical.  The Legal Services Corporation has been providing quality legal services to millions of low-income Americans for more than 30 years and they must continue to be able to do so in the future.  The $440 million is an important step toward meeting the civil legal service needs of our most vulnerable citizens.  I urge the Senate to follow their colleagues in the House and approve this funding without delay."
 
Getnick also asked the Senate to consider lifting several burdensome restrictions on organizations that receive funding from LSC.  Those restrictions include the inability of legal service organizations to receive attorneys' fees under fee-shifting statutes, restrictions on the prosecution of class action lawsuits and the inability of LSC grantees to use non-federal funds.

Each year since 1996, Congress has restricted how LSC grantees may spend both LSC funds and their non-federal dollars through an Administrative Provision attached to the annual appropriation.  As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars from state and local governments, private donors, and other non-LSC sources are restricted under the same terms as the LSC funds. 

"The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution states that the first enumerated function of government is to 'establish justice,'" noted Getnick.  "These restrictions on providers of legal services for the indigent result in burdens that contradict fundamental American principles and the promise of equal justice under the law.  Easing them would assist in providing low-income clients with the full range of legal tools currently available to the clients of private attorneys," he concluded.  

To view a copy of President Getnick's letter, please visit http://www.nysba.org/GetnickLSCLetter.

The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.

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