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 SUMMER 2010

In this issue:

Civil Legal Aid to the Poor Gets Boost

SENATE BILL 248

Annual Report

Welcome Message:

Summer Greetings!  I serve as Chair of the Delivery of Legal Services Section Council of the Maryland State Bar Association. Our Council is comprised of dedicated attorneys (and one non-attorney) who teach law, run legal services programs, pro bono and volunteer legal services organizations, and who practice law in large and small private firms, government agencies and legal services organizations. This is our second edition of this newsletter.

Our Section is charged in its By-Laws to promote the administration of justice by ensuring that adequate legal services are available for the traditionally underserved including the "indigent" and others of "modest means," "public interest," "civil rights," people with disabilities, "consumer advocacy," etc.  To this end, as more fully described below, we advocated for a modest increase in civil filing fees to make up for the dramatic decrease in IOLTA revenue, which has traditionally been a major source of funding for legal services for people of limited means.  Our Section will receive the "Presidential Award for the Best Section Project for the Public" at the MSBA Annual Meeting in recognition of our efforts to pass Senate Bill 248 which increases the civil filing fee surcharge as a means to fund low income legal services.

You will also find below the annual report of our 2009-2010 activities. Please visit the MSBA website’s Delivery of Legal Services Section page to read the minutes from our last meeting in May. Thank you for your dedication to access to justice for the underserved!

Suzanne Sangree, Chair, Delivery of Legal Services Section Council, 2009-2010

Civil Legal Aid to the Poor Gets Boost: Governor Signs Bill to Increase Surcharges on Civil Court Filing Fees

The Section Council's key legislative effort in the 2010 Maryland General Assembly met with success, when on May 20 Governor Martin O'Malley signed Senate Bill 248 into law. The new law, effective July 1, 2010, increases the surcharges on civil court filing fees to address the funding crisis caused by historically low interest rates on Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA).  Projections indicate that the bill as adopted, which contains a 3-year sunset provision, would generate approximately $6.1 million annually to address the shortfall in IOLTA revenue and help fund civil legal aid to low-income Marylanders.

The filing fee surcharges will be increased $30 in Circuit Court, $8 in District Court and $3 in summary ejectment cases. The legislation also requires the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), which administers the MLSC Fund of IOLTA and filing fee surcharge revenue, to submit detailed revenue and expenditure budgets along with performance measurement data to the legislature "for informational purposes only."   

Recognizing the need to address the IOLTA funding crisis, the Section Council enacted a resolution in January in favor of a reasonable increase in the current filing fee surcharge to help fill the gap in the budgets of many vital legal services organizations. Section Council Chair Suzanne Sangree represented the Section at the MSBA Board of Governors Committee on Laws meeting to advocate for MSBA's support. Also, Section Council member Ed Fee drafted written testimony that was submitted to House and Senate committees considering the legislation. MSBA President Elect Thomas Murphy testified on behalf of the bill at the House Judiciary Committee hearing, and Suzanne Sangree testified at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing.

Of particular note among the many legislators who supported the bills are the lead sponsors, Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Kathleen Dumais. MLSC Executive Director Susan Erlichman noted, "This was a tough session and a hard-fought victory. We were able to accomplish this through the hard work and coordinated efforts of the legal services community – every call, letter, e-mail, oral and written testimony, endorsement, resolution and other support contributed to this success."

MLSC funds 35 legal services organizations in Maryland. From its inception, MLSC has made grants totaling over $138 million to help provide services in more than 1.7 million legal matters for Maryland's families in areas of family, housing, consumer, employment, health care and other civil legal matters. With interest rates dropping to historic lows, IOLTA revenue plummeted from $6.7 million in fiscal 2008 to $2 million projected in fiscal 2010. At the same time clients' requests for services increased and more clients had to be turned away.

Details of the bill's journey through the legislature as well as links to copies of the bill and amendments can be found at: http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/billfile/sb0248.htm.

View Senate Bill 248 (PDF)

2009/2010 MSBA Annual Report on Delivery of Legal Services

The 21-member Section Council launched a newsletter through the MSBA website and provided support for a court filing fee bill in the state legislature to help address the funding crisis for civil legal aid to the poor. With the University of Maryland Clinical Law Program, the Section has updated and will soon publish a Guardianship Handbook for the public. The Section continues to promote participation of legal services attorneys on other relevant section councils and standing committees. The Judicare Family Law Pilot project, which the Council helped launch through the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, completed its second year and is undergoing a formal evaluation by researchers at University of Maryland School of Social Work and Bowie State University. The Section has representatives on the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, the People’s Law Library Content Advisory Committee, and the MSBA Planning Committee’s Access to Justice Subcommittee. Other achievements are the co-sponsorship of the 11th Maryland Partners for Justice Conference, the National Lawyer Referral Conference and the nomination of three winners of MLSC annual awards.

Suzanne Sangree, Chair, Delivery of Legal Services Section Council, 2009-2010

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