NYCLA Submits Amicus BriefsOn Funding For Low-Income Legal Services

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 01:00

The New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA) recently submitted two amicusbriefs 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."

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."

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), 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.