Taxpayers Fund Cronyism, High Living at Louisiana Legal Services Grantee

James A. Wayne Sr., executive director of Capital Area Legal Services Corporation (CALSC), must have a taste for irony. He’s reportedly making a list of employees to lay off by year’s end. Yet wasteful and possibly illegal spending by his Baton Rouge-based organization could pay for the annual salary and benefits of a few staffers. That’s a logical conclusion anyway in light of a report (see pdf) released September 27 by Legal Services Corporation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) identifying more than $300,000 over several years in undocumented and/or ineligible costs at CALSC. Wayne, though vowing to work with the OIG to better document expenses, has disputed the findings. The accompanying summary broadcast put together by the WBRZ-TV Channel 2 local news team in Baton Rouge suggests he doesn’t have an easy case.

The Capital Aid Legal Services Corporation has received extensive public funding. During calendar year 2009, the nonprofit … Read More ➡

New Evidence Shows Fraud, Inefficiency Among Legal Services Grantees

LSC logoMisuse of Legal Services Corporation funds is nothing new. The most publicized cases typically involve lawsuits by affiliated nonprofit legal groups that run contrary to the LSC charter. Recent months, however, have witnessed a different kind of problem: use of public money for private pleasure. New reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the LSC Office of Inspector General, plus a lengthy summary article by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, highlight acts of theft or excessive spending at recipient organizations of LSC funds and a lack of internal controls by top LSC officials. As the Legal Services Corp. budget is currently $420 million, taxpayers have every reason to be concerned.

Chartered as a nonprofit corporation by Congress in 1974, LSC provides funds to nonprofit legal organizations in states and communities across the nation enabling them to pursue civil cases on behalf of low-income persons. From its … Read More ➡

Office Employee of Pittsburgh-Area Legal Aid Group Pleads Guilty

Cheri Logue had a lot of unpaid credit card and other bills. To pay them off, she stole from the law firm at which she worked. Logue, a secretary-bookkeeper for Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services Inc. (SPLS), pleaded guilty in Pittsburgh federal court on Tuesday, April 27 to embezzling slightly over $188,000 over about three years from the federally-funded law group based in Washington, Pa. She faces sentencing on August 27. A member of the SPLS board of directors, Chris Blackwell, said that she has paid back all of the money, a fact that might keep her out of prison.

Logue, 41, a resident of Claysville, Pa. (west of Pittsburgh near the West Virginia border), was employed at the Legal Services Corp.-affiliated anti-poverty law clinic during October 2001-June 2008. Prosecutors had charged that over the last three years of this period, she wrote 86 checks to herself totaling about $90,000 and … Read More ➡

Boehm Predicts Resurgence of Legal Services Abuses if Reforms Are Gutted

Boehm testifying photoAt a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm was the lone witness opposed to reauthorization of the taxpayer-funded Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The April 27 hearing was chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who favors the reauthorization bill that increases the LSC budget to $750 million and strips out important reforms instituted in 1996.

Boehm warned that the reauthorization would mean a new round of problems for the scandal-plagued program. LSC funds a network of lawyers in dozens of communities to provide civil (not criminal) day-to-day legal help to poor people. Many LSC-funded lawyers spend their time on left-wing political and social causes, instead of helping the poor. Click here to download a 14-page pdf of Boehm’s testimony.

Because of controversy, LSC has not been reauthorized since 1977. A series of reforms were instituted in 1996 as appropriations riders to combat the politicization of the program.  The proposed … Read More ➡

Legal Services IG Criticizes Italian Marble at Anti-Poverty Office

Italian marbleLegal Services Corporation (LSC) hasn’t been known as of late for skimping on luxuries. And one expense in particular, an elevated three-story slab of white stone in Ft. Worth, Texas, might be a catalyst for instituting overdue cost controls at the nonprofit legal network whose annual budget is set to rise to more than $400 million from the current $390 million. On Monday, August 10, the LSC Office of the Inspector General released the results of its audit of the purchase of a slab of imported Italian stone costing $188,582 adorning the building occupied by an LSC grantee, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. The addition, part of a renovation project, has received continuous attention since its revelation two weeks ago. The original reported cost was $150,000, a figure representing the amount paid for out of funds on hand.

Architecturally, the slab is impressive, suggestive of a church, which in … Read More ➡

Federal Audits Reveal Further Legal Services Abuses

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IowaWhen it comes to oversight of federal programs, President Obama and key Democratic allies appear mired in self-contradiction. On one hand, they demand more accountability from the programs. On the other, they advocate increasing budgets for agencies with documented weak internal controls. Legal Services Corporation (LSC) may be the most glaring example of this syndrome.The White House Fiscal 2010 budget calls for a hike in LSC spending from $390 million to $435 million. That’s actually a taxpayer bargain compared to the $750 million a year that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is seeking for the corporation under his proposed Civil Access to Justice Act (S. 718). If lawmakers really want to do the public a good turn, they would focus on how LSC spends its existing money. Recent audits of the corporation by Legal Services Corporation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveal an organization … Read More ➡

House Subcommittee Begins Unraveling Restrictions on Legal Services Activism

Mollohan photoA key congressional appropriations committee recently took the first step in removing restrictions on the ability of legal aid programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to use taxpayer dollars to engage in politically-motivated litigation. On June 4, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, chaired by Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), voted to lift the restriction on the ability of LSC-funded programs to collect attorneys’ fees.

This restriction was part of a series of provisions Congress enacted 13 years ago in an attempt to end the practice of legal services lawyers using taxpayer money to file lawsuits advancing liberal political causes. In addition to the prohibition on collecting attorneys’ fees, the restrictions included bans on filing class action lawsuits, challenges to welfare reform, representation of undocumented aliens, and abortion advocacy.The prohibition on collecting attorneys’ fees, a routine practice for private sector lawyers, is necessary … Read More ➡

Congressional Efforts to End Restrictions on Legal Services Activism Will Foster Drug Crime in Public Housing

projects photoCongressional Democrats have made clear that they intend to remove restrictions on the ability of legal services lawyers, funded by the Legal Services Corporation, to engage in controversial political advocacy. On March 26, Senator Tom Harkin introduced a bill that ends such restrictions. Likewise, at an April 1 hearing of a House appropriations subcommittee, several Democratic congressmen called for lifting restrictions on ideologically-motivated lawsuits.

One of the results of abolishing these reforms, enacted by congress in 1996, will be more drug crime in public housing. Currently, legal services lawyers are prohibited from representing individuals being evicted from public housing for drug use. For years, legal services lawyers perversely contributed to rampant crime in troubled public housing projects by systematically thwarting efforts by authorities to kick out tenants who engaged in illegal drug activity.

Removing the restriction on drug-related eviction cases will most certainly unleash an avalanche of litigation. Even … Read More ➡

Congress Moves to End Restrictions on Legal Services Activism

HarkinThe Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress may soon gain another valuable ally in their effort to radically expand government. On March 26, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation that ends the restrictions on the ability of legal services organizations, funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), to file ideologically-motivated lawsuits. In addition, Harkin’s bill, “The Civil Access to Justice Act of 2009,” nearly doubles the LSC budget from $390 million to $750 million. If Harkin’s bill is enacted, thousands of legal services lawyers will unleash a barrage of lawsuits in the nation’s federal and state courts to advance a liberal political agenda.

The Harkin bill, while distressing news, does not come as a surprise. Liberal groups started lobbying Congress at the beginning of the year on LSC’s behalf. On January 6, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights sent a letter to members of Congress calling for the abolition of … Read More ➡

Chicago Legal Aid Group Tries to Halt Deportation of Pakistani Militant

In March 2008, the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAFC), which is funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), tried to stop U.S. immigration authorities from deporting a Pakistani man for covering up his involvement with a dangerous terrorist organization.

The case began in August 1994 when Mohammad Azam Hussain, then 26, entered the U.S. from his native Pakistan and five years later became a lawful permanent resident. In 2003, he applied to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. During his years of residence in the Chicago area, Hussain worked in a variety of jobs such as cab driver and restaurant worker.

On September 30, 2004, Hussain was arrested for failing to disclose on his application for U.S. citizenship his membership in a Pakistani terrorist organization and lying to U.S. government officials regarding such membership. On October 7, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan denied Hussain’s request to be released … Read More ➡