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Follow-Up on LSC Story: The LSC Response

In response to my recent post of August 17, 2006, on an AP Story, "Legal Service Corporation's (LSC) expenditures," one reader pointed me to LSC's Detailed Response. My post inaccurately stated that LSC did not respond (a conclusion that I based on a quote from the AP Story that:  "Barnett [President of LSC] declined to be interviewed. Strickland [head of the Board] did not return several phone messages seeking comment."). When I wrote my post on August 17, I also visited the LSC Web site (and in fact, my original post links to the LSC site), but at that time, the homepage  did not include the link to the press release. In any event, I stand corrected, and below, I'll discuss the LSC response. I also invite you to read the many comments in defense of LSC and critical of my original post.

The LSC press release offers a very detailed response to many of the extravagences identified in the AP report. LSC's defense regarding the cost of office space (which is apparently below cost for the D.C. area) and special transportation charges (necessitated, for example, by meetings scheduled at odd times) made sense.   

But I'm not sure I agree with the other explanations. For example, regarding the Board meetings, which cost $20,000 to $55,000, LSC explained that:

The LSC Board of Directors meets four times each year, once in Washington and the other three times in locations around the country where they can visit legal services programs. The Board views as significant the added value of visiting LSC programs in different parts of the country to review program operations, hear from clients, meet with bar leaders to encourage pro bono efforts and meet with members of the judiciary in support of access to justice. LSC obtains proposals from three hotels in the area recommended by the local program being visited. LSC seeks to obtain government rates for hotel services and is generally successful.

For starters, I would still be interested in hearing how many people turn out for these meetings -- and whether they could be held in the local LSC office rather than at the higher-priced hotel. When private law firms go into the field to visit a client, I don't think they pay $55,000 for the trip. Here, LSC is essentially visiting clients -- and even though the trips are undoubtedly worthwhile, I wonder whether that's a cost that could be reduced. (In addition, it's not clear from the LSC response whether it rents hotel space in D.C. The AP article says that it does; the LSC response above is vague. I'm not sure how LSC could justify paying even $20,000 for hotel meetings in D.C. when the D.C. Bar makes its meeting rooms available for a few hundred dollars, plus LSC has meeting space).

The LSC explanation makes crystal clear that LSC officials are not engaged in any type of underhanded or illegal conduct; all of their expenses are permissible by law. To draw a contrary implication from the AP article or my post would be erroneous. But the LSC press release does not address comments from lawyers like Marie Parran or Richard Taylor, who work at the clinics that LSC funds. Both commented that money spent by LSC should go to the poor rather than administrative costs. I certainly understand that many of the Republican politicians who criticize LSC have a bone to pick with many of LSC's causes and will look for any excuse to tarnish LSC's reputation. But when legal aid attorneys question LSC expenses, that's a criticism that rings true and one that LSC still has not, to my mind, adequately explained.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 23, 2006 at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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