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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.”•

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  • 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. Should be beat this rap, I would not recommend lion hunting in Zimbabwe to celebrate.

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  4. All these sites putting up all the crap they do making Brent Look like A Monster like he's not a good person . First off th fight actually started not because of Brent but because of one of his friends then when the fight popped off his friend ran like a coward which left Brent to fend for himself .It IS NOT a crime to defend yourself 3 of them and 1 of him . just so happened he was a better fighter. I'm Brent s wife so I know him personally and up close . He's a very caring kind loving man . He's not abusive in any way . He is a loving father and really shouldn't be where he is not for self defense . Now because of one of his stupid friends trying to show off and turning out to be nothing but a coward and leaving Brent to be jumped by 3 men not only is Brent suffering but Me his wife , his kids abd step kidshis mom and brother his family is left to live without him abd suffering in more ways then one . that man was and still is my smile ....he's the one real thing I've ever had in my life .....f@#@ You Lafayette court system . Learn to do your jobs right he maybe should have gotten that year for misdemeanor battery but that s it . not one person can stand to me and tell me if u we're in a fight facing 3 men and u just by yourself u wouldn't fight back that you wouldn't do everything u could to walk away to ur family ur kids That's what Brent is guilty of trying to defend himself against 3 men he wanted to go home tohisfamily worse then they did he just happened to be a better fighter and he got the best of th others . what would you do ? Stand there lay there and be stomped and beaten or would u give it everything u got and fight back ? I'd of done the same only I'm so smallid of probably shot or stabbed or picked up something to use as a weapon . if it was me or them I'd do everything I could to make sure I was going to live that I would make it hone to see my kids and husband . I Love You Brent Anthony Forever & Always .....Soul 1 baby

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