Legal Services Programs Are Going Broke

EDISON – A lawyer-supported fund that pays for legal aid for poor clients is nearly broke and threatens the future of New Jersey’s Legal Services programs, officials said last week.

According to Melville D. Miller, Jr., president of Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ), revenue from the Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts fund is projected to fall 75 percent for fiscal year 2010. The fund generated $12.4 million this year and $40 million in fiscal 2008, but only $3 million in revenue is projected for fiscal 2010.

“Legal Services programs face a financial cliff as of June 30, 2009,” Miller said, “when all reserves are drained and other one-time strategies are exhausted.  We will need to retain all existing state funding and receive additional help.  If additional state funds are not forthcoming, Legal Services programs across the state will have office closings and staff layoffs.”

Some cuts have already been made; 50 open positions statewide have not been filled.

Miller said that the number of clients helped by Legal Services programs has been increasing. Nearly 63,000 clients were served last year.

Miller said, “Access to New Jersey’s civil justice system for its most disadvantaged is at a crisis point, plain and simple.  It is essential that Legal Services receive additional resources, to avert the thousands of tragedies that will occur if clients cannot get legal assistance.  A society’s humaneness and justice may be measured in how it treats its least fortunate.”

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