Public interest organizations, law firms and corporate legal departments are stepping up their efforts in response to the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Another positive development occurred on January 20, 2006, when the Supreme Court of Louisiana issued a Supplemental Emergency Pro Bono Civil Legal Assistance Rule to permit non-admitted lawyers to render temporary pro bono general civil legal services to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. View the Order here. Read about the pro bono initiatives of Appleseed, ConocoPhillips, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, Equal Justice Works, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty below.
Appleseed, ConocoPhillips and Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP
Appleseed's New Fellowships in the New Year
January 6, 2006 - The devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has created an unprecedented demand for legal services in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. To meet this need, Appleseed, with support from ConocoPhillips and Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, has created two new fellowships to address the complicated and urgent issues created by the back-to-back hurricanes.
Mayer Brown awarded Texas Appleseed funding for a legal fellow who will work with the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation to assist evacuees and address policy issues in Texas, which expects to see its legal services caseload more than double this year. Similarly, ConocoPhillips recently stepped up to fund a legal fellow based at Louisiana Appleseed, who will work to increase pro bono assistance to residents and to continue to engage in the issues around the state's reconstruction. These fellows will develop the expertise to serve as advocates on key issues and to engage lawyers from local and national law firms to lend their assistance.
"We are thrilled to provide this fellowship opportunity," said Charles Kelley, a partner in Mayer Brown's Houston office and member of the firm's Pro Bono Committee. "The position leverages help from the private bar to deal with the legal issues brought about by the 250,000 evacuees who moved to Texas after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
"Today, many Louisiana communities are challenged to meet the legal needs of displaced low-income people who will reside there for the foreseeable future," said Steve Gates, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for ConocoPhillips. "We feel it is critical to secure pro bono assistance from the region's largest law firms to help those affected by these devastating natural disasters."
"We are tremendously grateful for this support from ConocoPhillips and Mayer Brown," said Linda Singer, Executive Director of Appleseed. "But, the need is immense and we encourage the support from other law firms and corporations to fund ongoing legal services and advocacy and or to lend their lawyers to the effort."
If you or your company is interested in learning more, please contact Annette LoVoi, 512.804.1633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Appleseed and its work, please visit: www.appleseeds.net.
Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita physically devastated the Gulf Coast region and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of families and individuals in some of the poorest communities in the nation. In the aftermath, there is an unprecedented need for legal assistance, exacerbated by the fact that the Gulf Coast region has the lowest level of funding for legal aid programs in the country.
Equal Justice Works has obtained a $1 million matching grant from the JEHT Foundation to sponsor public interest attorneys to work in the Gulf Coast region for up to two years, providing direct legal services to Gulf Coast residents in need and generating pro bono opportunities for lawyers and law students.
To date, Equal Justice Works has raised more than $520,000, which will be matched dollar for dollar by the JEHT Foundation. Equal Justice Works thanks the following donors for their contributions to fund the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative:
Association of Corporate Counsel
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Latham & Watkins LLP
Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo P.C.
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
Thanks to the generosity of ALM, public service advertisements recognizing the contributions from law firms and corporations have appeared in various ALM publications the past several weeks. The public service advertisements will continue over the next several months.
With these and additional funds, Equal Justice Works will place nine Katrina Legal Fellows at host organizations in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. After reviewing 28 applications from prospective host organizations, Equal Justice Works has narrowed the finalists to 12 sites and expects to select the nine projects within the next week. Host organizations propose to:
• Promote short- and long-term stabilization and community rebuilding efforts;
• Provide direct legal representation on issues such as housing, consumer fraud and FEMA and other government benefits;
• Encourage the use of varied strategies to address the legal needs of hurricane victims;
• Identify significant legal issues to refer to pro bono attorneys and law students; and
• Encourage collaboration among the affected legal communities, disaster relief legal aid providers and the Katrina Legal Fellows.
To fill the nine slots for Katrina Legal Fellows, Equal Justice Works is looking for experienced lawyers who will be able to hit the ground running to start addressing the urgent needs. Within two weeks following the announcement of the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative, 80 lawyers (half of whom are licensed in Mississippi or Louisiana) expressed interest in applying for the program.
In addition to raising money from law firms, corporations and other sources to fund the Katrina Legal Fellows, Equal Justice Works has applied to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) for 10 additional AmeriCorps attorneys to work in the Gulf Coast as part of the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative. These additional attorneys, if approved, will serve at host organizations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The new members will recruit hundreds of law students and pro bono lawyers to provide vital disaster-related legal services to hurricane victims, including:
• Coordinating a statewide legal emergency hotline in Louisiana;
• Assisting hurricane evacuees in FEMA camps and other temporary housing facilities across Alabama to overcome legal barriers to securing permanent housing; and
• Educating community members in Mississippi on new Internal Revenue Service tax rules benefiting those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The proposal to CNCS also requests funding for 65 new slots in the Equal Justice Works 2006 Summer Corps program for law students to do disaster relief work in the Gulf Coast. Any first- or second-year law student who obtains a summer internship at a nonprofit organization providing legal assistance to hurricane victims in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas is eligible for the Katrina Summer Corps. We expect an answer to our CNCS grant request by the end of January.
Beyond meeting immediate, hurricane-related legal needs, the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative will foster the development of long-term pro bono and legal aid infrastructures.
How You Can Help
The Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative urgently needs $480,000 in additional funding to fully implement the service plan!
• $75,000 payable over two years (matched by the JEHT Foundation) makes possible the work of one experienced attorney for two years.
• Pro bono opportunities will be available for law firms and corporate legal departments contributing funds to the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative.
• Gifts of any amount in support of the Equal Justice Works Katrina Initiative will be matched by the JEHT Foundation and are greatly appreciated.
For more information on how you can help, please contact:
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been very active in addressing systemic issues in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The matter below offers an exciting pro bono opportunity to work for the Center.
Pro Bono Case Summary
Date: January 10, 2006
Client: National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
Type of Case: Research and Possible Litigation
Preferred Attorney Specialty Area: Federal court litigation
Upcoming Deadlines / Case Schedule: Nothing immediate, but we need help quickly.
Primary Contact at Agency: Rebecca K. Troth, Rtroth@nlchp.org, 202-638-2535, ext. 210.
Potential Defendants / Other Conflicts: FEMA; HUD
Background Information / Context: We have been working with legal organizations in the areas affected by the hurricanes, and have learned about a number of issues that are preventing people from getting assistance from FEMA and HUD. Disaster assistance is provided under the Stafford Act, and FEMA has authority under the Act to delegate certain responsibilities to other agencies. In the context of Katrina and Rita, FEMA has announced that it will provide housing assistance to most individuals affected by the hurricanes. Those individuals who either lived in HUD-assisted housing or were homeless before the hurricanes, however, are not eligible for FEMA assistance, but rather, must seek assistance from HUD. HUD has named its program the Katrina Housing Disaster Assistance Program, or KDHAP. HUD is administering KDHAP through public housing authorities around the nation, as well as through the local continuums of care, which are the coalitions of homeless organizations that provide services to homeless people under HUD homeless programs.
We would like an analysis of what the Stafford Act and its regulations require with regard to housing assistance, and what claims poor and homeless people who are not getting assistance might be able to assert. The specific issues that would be helpful to address include (1) whether FEMA has any obligations to continue assistance to people currently living in hotels if they cannot find alternative housing; and (2) whether FEMA's appeal procedures comply with due process, given that FEMA does not publish the criteria under which it assesses claims, the appeal is only on paper, and that FEMA has 90 days to respond to an appeal (and often takes longer). We think the appeals process is going to be a long-term issue that will be extremely important to lots of people.
We also want to explore HUD issues because as far as we can tell, as a practical matter, HUD is doing nothing to help the pre-Katrina homeless people, and the public housing authorities are not doing much for the people who lived in HUD-assisted housing. There may be a claim that HUD, as FEMA's agent under the Stafford Act, is violating the Stafford Act prohibition on economic discrimination.
Specific Request: NLCHP would like a firm to research the requirements of the Stafford Act, the due process implications of the appeals process, and the implementation of HUD’s KDHAP program. If the research reveals that poor and/or homeless people may have cognizable claims against FEMA and/or HUD, we would want the firm to pursue those claims. We need a firm that would be willing to devote significant resources to these issues fairly quickly, because (as far as we know) thousands of people are not getting the assistance they need to recover after the hurricanes.
We are working with the Lawyers’ Committee and its firm, Schulte Roth & Zabel, in New York, on the litigation against FEMA that was filed in New Orleans. That litigation has not focused (at least so far) on the appeals process, or on what HUD is supposed to be doing. Whether we would want to include new claims in that lawsuit or file a separate suit is something we would need to consider. If we want to file against HUD, we would probably bring a separate action.