Eleven of the D.C. Bar’s 21 sections have issued a public statement to the D.C. Council, calling on it to block Mayor Adrian Fenty’s proposed budget cuts to legal services for the poor. Fenty’s cuts would reduce the program’s budget from $2.86 million in fiscal year 2010 to $1.8 million for fiscal year 2011.
This year’s reduction would be a further cut from the $3.6 million budget the Access to Justice Program had in 2009. It provides legal services for indigent D.C. residents, as well as a community legal interpreter bank, and a loan repayment program for lawyers serving people living in poverty.
Fenty proposed similar cuts last year, but the council ended up restoring some of the money that would have been cut.
The effort to block the budget cuts this year was led by the Litigation Section, which, with 3,400 members, is the bar’s largest. The Litigation Section circulated the statement to all 21 of the bar’s sections. Each section had a week to vote on whether to sign on.
David Fauvre, an Arnold & Porter associate and co-chair of the Litigation Section, said reducing the program’s budget by $1 million this year would likely result in 20 fewer lawyers funded by the program at civil legal service providers. “When you take it over the course of the year, you’re talking about thousands of people who won’t be represented as a result,” Fauvre said.
Fauvre said the cuts “couldn’t come at a worse time” for District residents. Because of the economic downturn, Fauvre said, funds to pay for legal services for low-income residents are down while demand for legal services is “way up.”
“What the council should consider is that it saves the city money in the long term, and maintaining the legal services budget is an investment that will pay for itself,” Fauvre said.
Fauvre said that he is “impressed” by the number of sections that joined the statement. A similar statement last year garnered the support of just two sections. Fauvre said that this year’s statement may have the largest number of supporting sections in bar history.
The full statement issued by the D.C. Bar sections is available here.