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Lisa Goldberg, Executive Director of Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, met with Senator Rick Scott’s staff in Washington D.C.

On April 8, 2024, Lisa Goldberg, Executive Director of Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA), met with Senator Rick Scott’s staff in Washington D.C. during the 50th Anniversary of Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Ms. Goldberg, along with two other Executive Directors from Florida, and Senator Scott’s staff discussed the importance of access to justice for low income constituents grappling with issues like fair housing, domestic violence, and human trafficking.

CCLA leadership and attorneys from every corner of the nation joined together to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of LSC supporting civil legal aid across the United States.

“As Broward County tackles the challenges of rising inflation, soaring costs of living and an affordable housing crisis, the importance of civil legal aid cannot be overstated.  Legal advocacy serves as a lifeline for individuals in our community struggling to secure housing, healthcare, and income, while protecting the rights of women seeking refuge from domestic violence and human trafficking.   Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida serves to close the justice gap for individuals who cannot afford legal counsel for legal issues that threaten their safety and well-being.”

-Lisa Goldberg, Executive Director

The largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans, LSC was established by Congress in 1974.  To mark its historic 50th anniversary, LSC has embarked on an outreach campaign- “Protecting the Promise” of equal justice. Currently, LSC provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.

LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report found that low-income Americans received no, or insufficient, legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Attorney General Merrick Garland, and best-selling author and lawyer John Grisham joined leaders from organizations funded by LSC and other advocates for access to justice at a forum and gala celebrating LSC’s 50th Anniversary.

The Chief Justice addressed the 550 attendees from diverse industries, legal, business, government, technology, and more. He spoke of the significance of the 14th Amendment which grants equal protection under the law.

“For more than a century and a half, we as Americans have been challenged to give meaning and effect to the aspiration of equality under law. The road has been uneven and we have not always agreed on what constitutes equality under law, but two things are clear,” said Roberts. “Equality under law remains a goal rather than a complete accomplishment, and equality under law requires lawyers. That is of course where the Legal Services Corporation comes in.” 

“Many of those in need of help do not know any lawyers, and certainly a sizable segment of our society cannot afford a lawyer, anyway,” he continued. “LSC grantees help fill that void, assisting their clients as they navigate the sometimes complex procedural and substantive requirements of our justice system.” 

Attorney General, Merrick Garland was introduced by the Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, Rachel Rossi, who emphasized the urgency of improving access to justice.

“We gather at a time when protecting the rule of law is as urgent as it has ever been. Public faith in the rule of law depends in no small part on public faith that our system will ensure equal justice under law—and that faith in turn depends on there being equal access to justice,” said Garland.

“Too many Americans still cannot afford legal services, and for too many Americans, not being able to afford a lawyer means the difference between providing for their families or losing their jobs, having a roof over their head or losing their home, putting food on the table or going hungry.”

Each year, LSC distributes federal funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices. These organizations, including Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, provide civil legal services in every U.S. state and territory. However, resources are inadequate to meet most legal needs experienced by low-income Americans. LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap report captured the severity of this justice gap. LSC-funded legal aid programs must turn away half of eligible requests for legal assistance because of a lack of sufficient resources.   

American Bar Association President Mary Smith pointed to this data as evidence that, “for large swaths of our population, the system simply is not working. For decades, the American Bar Association has advocated for legal services funding as the embodiment of the federal government’s role in securing the core American value of equal justice under law,” Smith continued.

In 2021, for the first time, housing cases became the biggest area of client services for LSC-funded legal aid providers—a trend that has continued. LSC’s Emerging Leaders Council Co-Chair, Ransom Wydner, took the gala stage to share his personal story of a childhood impacted by evictions and persistent housing insecurity. He was two years old when his family was first evicted for nonpayment.  

“My parents should have paid the rent or worked with our landlord to avoid eviction, and they didn’t. But there were four kids under that roof,” said Wydner. “My siblings and I had nothing to do with our parents’ choices, but now we were all homeless…Families without good options end up in bad situations, and it can feel impossible to get out.”  

“From now on when you hear the word eviction, I hope the first thing you think about is a little kid, because that’s who’s impacted by evictions more than anyone else: children under five years old,” continued Wydner.

In a Tuesday afternoon session, John Grisham sat down for a conversation about his early career as a lawyer in Mississippi and how it influenced his current advocacy and philanthropy.  In his first year practicing law, he was approached by people living in a nearby trailer park who were being wrongfully evicted and had no money to pay an attorney. Having few other clients to speak of, Grisham took the case pro bono, and easily got the evictions thrown out. He knows that without representation, the outcome would likely have been very different.  

 “When they realized that these poor people had a lawyer, everything changed,” said Grisham. “Low-income people get run over all the time, unless they show up with a lawyer—and I realized the power of a law license at that moment.”  

Former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appeared at an event for the executive directors and board chairs of LSC-funded legal aid organizations. Clinton, who served as chair of LSC’s board from 1978 until 1981, was interviewed by former LSC Board Chair Douglas Eakeley. Clinton gave insight into her inspiring history in legal aid, including creating the first ever legal aid program in Arkansas. She spoke fondly of her time at LSC saying that the work was “exciting, purposeful and impactful,” and that she was honored to be a part of a bipartisan movement full of people “passionate about providing legal access.”

LSC Board Chair, John Levi, stressed the importance of directing resources to legal aid in order to close the persistent and growing justice gap that exists for low-income Americans.

“I have no doubt that LSC’s founders would be so very proud of the work of our grantees, and the extraordinary network we have built across the country, but I think at the same time they would also be dismayed at the lack of appropriate funding,” said Levi.

“Funding equal access to justice is not an act of charity—rather, it is an investment in the stability of the American democracy and the rule of law.” 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

For more information about Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA), please explore our website.
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