Among the programs that the proposed budget from the Trump Administration would eliminate is the Legal Services Corporation.
Established by Congress in 1974, LSC is an independent, non-profit organization that provides funding for legal aid programs that provide representation in civil cases, through 134 legal aid programs in every State and the District of Columbia. As reported in the Daily Record, Maryland Legal Aid is one of the programs that would lose funding. Maryland Legal Aid leaders told the Daily Record the loss of more than $4 million annually or 15 percent of its budget would be “catastrophic,” and it is important to know what services Marylanders receive from its work.
Maryland Legal Aid describes itself on its website as a private non-profit law firm, which provides free legal services for low income persons who could otherwise not afford legal representation in civil cases. The Office of the Public Defender may provide representation to indigent or low-income persons in criminal cases who cannot afford an attorney, but there is no constitutional right to a free attorney in civil cases. While there are many persons who try to act as their own attorneys in civil matters, Maryland courts are frequently bogged down by persons who really need counsel to help navigate the legal system.
The website for Maryland Legal Aid describes the types of civil matters for which it can provide free attorneys for persons who meet their income eligibility requirements. Those cases include consumer rights, elder law, employment cases and family law such as child custody disputes. They also handle government benefits, healthcare, and housing matters.
Maryland Legal Aid has 12 offices and operates three self-help centers in the lower Maryland District Courts. While it reports receiving funding from state and local governments, law firms, foundations and private donations, clearly the federal contribution is a key part of its funding. The Daily Record reported that the American Bar Association and other groups are lobbying to maintain funding for the Legal Services Corporation so that legal programs like Maryland Legal Aid can continue to provide representation to those with the least resources and help them obtain full access to the courts.
Let’s hope that Legal Services Corporation will continue to be funded to continue its vital role in helping the poor obtain civil justice.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.