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Legal Services Corp. May Defend the Poor, But It Can't Defend Its Rich Lifestyle

The Legal Services Corp. (LSC), according to its Web site, funds 138 legal aid programs with 700 offices around the country. But LSC reports that, because of lack of funding, for every client that it serves, another one is turned away. 

So what's a good LSC executive to do?  Finding ways to cut funding or lure more private sector attorneys to perform pro bono sound sensible, but that's not the approach that LSC has adopted. Instead, they decided to eat, drink and be merry,  as reported in this AP news item, "Legal Aid Has Expensive Taste" (Aug. 15, 2006).

While poor clients go without lawyers and legal aid attorneys toil in bare offices with secondhand furniture, here's how LSC executives live, according to recently discovered documents:

Executives of Legal Services have given themselves with federal money from $14 "Death by Chocolate" desserts to $400 chauffeured rides to locations within cab distance of their offices. ... The government-funded corporation boasts a spacious headquarters in Washington's swank Georgetown district with views of the Potomac River and a rent significantly higher than other tenants in the same building. And board members wrote themselves a policy that doubled the amount they could claim for meals compared with their staff.

There's more:

The headquarters has multiple conference rooms and kitchen/pantry areas. Yet, the corporation's 11-member board of directors holds its meetings at hotels around the country, including Washington, at costs ranging from $20,145 to $55,125, the latter in San Juan, P.R.

The decision not to use the headquarters conference room was explained in an October 2004 memo from board chairman Strickland. He said board members, who work outside the corporation, preferred the Melrose Hotel in the same upscale neighborhood as the headquarters.

The board members sought "convenience to their rooms" and did not want to "feel confined" to headquarters for two entire days, he said. In addition, he said he was worried that the headquarters lacked privacy because "all meeting rooms at LSC have glass walls."

Bills from the Melrose, with all costs per person, included: a $59 three-entree buffet, an $18 breakfast featuring scrambled eggs with chives, a $17 breakfast including Belgian waffles, a $28 deli buffet, a $13 "high tea" service, a $12 "bagel break," a $12 "Crazy for Cookies" assortment and $14 "Death By Chocolate" desserts.

For the cost of a $50,000 LSC board meeting, a legal aid group could have hired one, maybe two attorneys who might have served several hundred clients over the course of a year. I wonder how many people were wrongfully evicted or ripped off by a sleazy contractor or mortagage lender so that LSC lawyers could dine on a breakfast buffet. At a time when even large law firms are cutting back on extravagances because of client complaints about budgets, LSC's conduct is shameless. Let's see what the ABA or the state bar grievance committees have to say about this.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 17, 2006 at 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

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