Bill would increase funds for pro bono districts

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Two Indiana lawmakers have introduced a bill that may offer hope to financially strapped pro bono districts.

Sens. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, and Brent Steele, R-Bedford, authored Senate Bill 235, which would funnel $1 from each civil filing fee to the Indiana Bar Foundation to augment funding for the state’s 12 pro bono districts. The districts are funded by interest on lawyer trust accounts, and with interest rates currently below one percent, pro bono plan administrators have been searching for new funding sources.

If the bill passes, it could result in about $500,000 in annual support for pro bono providers. That’s roughly twice the amount of the $253,865 in total IOLTA funds awarded for 2012.

Finding funds

Charles Dunlap, the IBF executive director, said Steele approached him with the idea for SB235.

“It’s not often that you have a senator take an interest in something and contact you,” Dunlap said. But Steele is a lawyer who has volunteered his time for pro bono work over the years, and he’s seen the economy put a strain on providers.

“Until interest rates come back up in this county, we’re going have to add some fuel to the fire – some funding – and this is the only thing I could think of,” Steele said.

pro bono Sens. Ron Grooms (left) and Brent Steele co-authored a bill to augment IOLTA funding. (IL Photo/ Eric Learned)

Dunlap said he and Steele discussed how much money would be needed to prop up the districts. Arriving at a figure of $500,000, Steele then approached the Legislative Services Agency and asked for staff to come up with a funding model.

“We worked backward and tried to get LSA to estimate the number of civil filings a year – if we’d had enough civil filings, it could’ve been 10 cents per filing,” Steele said. “We didn’t raise any more money than what we needed.”

Grooms appreciated the opportunity to carry the legislation by Steele, who signed-on as co-author on Jan. 9.

“To be able to have an opportunity to introduce this I thought was a good decision to make, to show the residents of the state of Indiana that we do care about your ability to seek legal service and that we care about providing legal service to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” Grooms said.

Diane Walker, plan administrator for Pro Bono District H, based in Bloomington, said Steele and his siblings – Byron Steele and Darlene Steele McSoley – are known for their pro bono volunteerism, often logging the most pro bono hours in Lawrence County.

“We’ve been giving awards since 2007, and every year one of them wins it,” Walker said.

Grooms, who is a pharmacist, said that the desire to give back is not unique to the legal community. He said that independent, locally owned pharmacies often find ways to help people of modest means.

“You ask them how many prescriptions they give away per year, and you would be amazed,” Grooms said. “You have an obligation to your community to not let some child get sick because of some $5 or $10 prescription.”

Success in other states

In Pennsylvania, similar legislation has resulted in a significant increase in funding for legal services. The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board released a report in 2009 announcing results of the Access to Justice Act. Enacted in 2002, the legislation changed state statute to establish a $2 surcharge on filings in state courts. In 2006 and 2011, the legislature extended the act, which now has a sunset date of Dec. 21, 2014.

Between 2004 and 2008, the AJA produced $36.5 million in funding for the Pennsylvania’s IOLTA-supported pro bono providers. In that timeframe, more than 138,000 people directly benefited from that funding.

Many other states have earmarked filing fees for civil legal aid programs, according to the American Bar Association.

SB 235 initially did not have a sunset date for the new funding model, but Grooms said he plans to amend the bill to include one.

Indiana has not done as much as some other states to support legal aid, Dunlap said, and the proposed legislation was a welcome departure from that tradition.

Steele said that sharing authorship of the bill with Grooms is a natural fit.

“That’s what I think makes the citizen legislature what it is. You get a lawyer and a pharmacist working together – go figure that,” Steele said. “It is a matter of personal relationships and professional responsibility that we each have. He’s a professional in his line of work, and me in mine, but you’re all trying to get the same end product.”•


  • good
    when i started practicing law I thought it was bad that they took the interest off these accounts but with experience I have come to believe that IBF supporting pro bono districts is not only totally important to the public good but also practically speaking a big headache relief for other lawyers that there is any kind of help out there for the indigent. I totally support it now -- and I think this new bills is a very very good one-- and I encourage voluntary gifts for IBF from us all as well.

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  1. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."