On bleeding Legal Services dry
June 10, 2012 — I’ve just read your article on funding for the Legal Services Corp., which my boss forwarded to me. I’ve practiced law for 37 years, as of July, and 27 of those have been for two different LSC-funded legal aid programs. It was gratifying to see such a calm analysis.
I don’t know much about Rep. Scott’s farmer constituent who got sued, but I do know that LSC-funded programs file many lawsuits each year. You’ve probably found the LSC statistics on total actions filed by their grantees each year. If we assume for the sake of argument that Rep. Scott’s farmer constituent was unfairly sued, the salient question is whether one such error is a reasonable basis on which to kill an entire program that provides vastly more useful and proper services to needy people. It’s like arguing for banning the Republican Party nationally because one of their senators solicited sex in a men’s room, or one of their CEO donors was caught acting illegally. (I’m not really ready to assume that Rep. Scott’s farmer constituent was improperly sued; experience teaches that it’s more likely that Rep. Scott was just carrying water for a wealthy and influential member of his party.)
There is a wide range of local legal aid program models. It’s because of a Republican push toward competitive grants and local autonomy. I’m aware of programs in my own state (Michigan) that I’d not be proud to work for and that, in my view, do not have a proper focus on client service. But we all know that every human endeavor reveals a wide range of qualities.
It would be hard to defend the LSC and its grantees if there were a clear pattern of widespread abuse. But there isn’t. I like to think that my program is more typical of the kind of work done by legal aid lawyers generally than the sort exemplified by the occasional error in judgment. So thank you for your article and its analysis.
— Chris Campbell, Traverse City, Mich.