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Restructuring revises coverage area for some pro bono offices

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In 2011, the Indiana Pro Bono Commission formed a redistricting committee to research whether the state pro bono districts should be reconfigured to mirror Indiana’s 26 judicial districts. The group recommended that instead, the districts should be realigned in a way that would better meet the needs of poor people in Indiana.

As of Jan. 1, Indiana has 12 pro bono districts, down from 14, which are now denoted by a letter rather than a number. Some district boundaries shifted – particularly those closest to Richmond and Terre Haute, whose districts were absorbed by surrounding offices. Some districts saw no change in the boundaries. But all saw a sharp decrease in funding from the year before, marking the third straight year of declining funds.

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For a look at the new pro bono districts, click here.

According to the United States Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, 15.3 percent of Indiana’s population was living in poverty in 2010, up from 14.4 percent in 2009 and 12.9 percent in 2008. But during that same time, funding for pro bono services has been steadily dropping, and no one can predict when that downward trend may change.

Doing more with less

The boundaries of Pro Bono District C (formerly District 3) – the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana – have not changed, but its budget has. It received only $35,000 this year in funds from interest on lawyer trust accounts. That’s about 20 percent less than the $179,184 spent on personnel costs alone in 2009.

Terry McCaffrey, District C plan administrator, said that the district had to eliminate two jobs in 2010 to make up for budgetary reductions but that he did not expect further layoffs this year. He said a few other local grants will help supplement its budget and, so far, no programs or services have been cut. But McCaffrey said fundraising is going to be essential going forward.

“This is going to be a first-time effort for us, going to door-to-door asking attorneys for donations, but we’re optimistic,” he said.

In Bloomington, District H (formerly District 10) absorbed Clay, Putnam, Hendricks and Morgan counties in the statewide restructuring. Last year – before the addition of those four counties – one full-time and one part-time attorney served 683 people, plan administrator Diane Walker said.

In 2009, when the district still had an office manager, $82,141.06 was allocated to personnel costs. Total funding for 2012 is $79,000.

“We’re going to try to keep it our normal operation, but we’re going to have to do a lot more fundraising, grant-writing and appeals letters,” Walker said. “We’re going to be doing the same that other nonprofits do, which is fundraising and getting by on a prayer.”

Pro Bono District J (formerly District 12) – the Legal Volunteers of Southeast Indiana – wrote in its 2009 annual report and combined 2011 grant application: “Pro bono districts are being encouraged to seek other funding sources or to engage in fund-raising. While this is a pragmatic decision for some districts, it will be especially difficult to accomplish in District 12, where the plan administrator is part-time and the demands of intake, referral, record-keeping, and maintaining the business health of the program already demand more than part-time efforts.”

A group effort

In Evansville, the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana (District K) works in conjunction with two other pro bono providers to serve the people of Vanderburgh County.

“The technical word is collaborate, but we say we play well together,” said Beverly Corn, District K plan administrator.

Legal Aid Society of Evansville and Indiana Legal Services’ Evansville office predate District K (formerly District 13). Corn said those two offices already had a thorough, effective process for handling intake, so when her district opened, she saw no need to “reinvent the wheel” regarding intake.

LAS and ILS-Evansville combined have the administrative staff to handle intake for all three pro bono providers, Corn said. And almost every Friday since 2004, Corn has attended a group meeting at the invitation of ILS, where attorneys review cases and decide which would be best handled by a particular office.

Corn’s district now includes Sullivan and Vigo counties, and Vigo is a two-hour drive from Evansville. She said her district has sent letters of introduction to every member of the Sullivan and Vigo county bar associations to try to make new connections in those counties.

“I think the biggest challenge is going to be distance, and the second challenge is going to be, how do we handle referrals for those two counties, because from what I recall, they are served by the Lafayette office of ILS,” Corn said.

Corn said District K does not have the resources to handle its own intake for the additional counties, and she hopes to create some type of collaborative relationship with the ILS-Lafayette office akin to the current partnership with ILS-Evansville.

“Obviously, everybody got cut a little bit more this year, and that’s OK, we’re going to make it work, but I will not be able to travel back and forth to those northernmost counties on a regular basis due to budgetary concerns,” she said.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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