Annual Meeting

Legal Services Corp. budget slashed by sequester in the face of unprecedented need, says chair

Legal Services Corporation board chair John G. Levi today told the ABA House of Delegates, near the conclusion of the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco, that abysmally low funding in recent years for representing the needy has gotten much worse because of Congress’ budget sequestration.

In the wake of a lingering recession, a record high of 20 percent of Americans now qualify for the LSC’s services. But fewer and fewer of them are likely to receive help, because the LSC has had to cut more than 1,000 positions over the past three years. And more funding cuts are coming for the funding of various states.

Levi offered several examples to starkly illustrate the problem: He says that the federal level in 2012, not counting prisoner petitions, there were more than 170,000 pro se filings in the bankruptcy and appellate courts; in New York in 2011, 2.3 million persons appeared in court without counsel; more than 160,000 represented themselves in Texas family law matters; and that in the Cook County Circuit Court (Chicago), there are now 245,000 pro se litigants, “more than the rest of the entire docket.”

The LSC was created as one of the last acts of the Nixon Administration in 1974.

“As the LSC prepares to mark its 40th anniversary–in Biblical terms a generation–is that what equal justice should look like?” Levi said, adding that while “no person should be above the law, no person should be below it.”

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