Legal Aid Ensures Access to Justice

When a veteran is facing the improper denial of benefits, legal aid lawyers are there to help. When a victim of domestic violence needs protection, legal aid lawyers are there to obtain court orders. When a family is facing an illegal eviction or poor housing conditions, legal aid lawyers are there to protect.  

In 1974, Congress established the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) based on “a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances.” President Richard M. Nixon signed the law creating LSC. LSC is a national nonprofit that provides grants, support and oversight to more than 130 nonprofit legal aid organizations with more than 800 offices across the country, including Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., and West Tennessee Legal Services Inc.

LSC is the single largest source of funding for civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the country. However, its funding is still inadequate. Given the fundamental importance of legal aid organizations to our state and our communities, LSC deserves our support.

Earlier this year, a budget was initially proposed that denied all federal funding for LSC. Such action would have decimated our legal aid offices in Tennessee. For example, Legal Aid of East Tennessee gets about half of its funding from LSC. During 2018, Legal Aid of East Tennessee helped almost 10,000 people. Its services this past year have impacted more than 3,500 children, 275 veterans, and close to 1,500 victims of domestic violence. Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands also relies heavily on LSC funding for its 32 lawyers in eight offices to represent thousands of clients in 48 counties. Approximately 40 percent of the funding for Memphis Area Legal Services comes from LSC.

Fortunately, thanks to bipartisan support in Washington, Congress increased LSC funding from $385 million in FY17 to $410 million in FY18. The increased funding allowed our legal aid organizations to help more people across the state. The Tennessee Bar Association likes to think it played a small role in securing this increased funding for LSC. This past spring, a delegation of lawyers from Tennessee, as well as lawyers from every state in the country, went to Capitol Hill to visit with their respective elected members of Congress and discuss the importance of funding LSC as part of the annual Law Day events in Washington, D.C. Our message of how legal aid organizations impact our communities in so many positive ways was well received by representatives on both sides of the aisle. We were able to demonstrate some of the tangible results that LSC funding provides their constituents.

2018 was not the first time that LSC faced an existential threat. In the early 1980s, an attempt to abolish LSC was thwarted by a bipartisan coalition of Democratic and Republican legislators. Several other attempts to defund LSC throughout the decades have been unsuccessful. Access to justice is simply a basic principle of the Constitution and should be protected by the federal government. Proper funding for LSC is crucial to protect the rights of all Americans and, indeed, the citizens of Tennessee. After all, the Tennessee Supreme Court has made access to justice its number one strategic priority.

I am cognizant of some of the controversies and criticisms that LSC has faced throughout its history. But for the most part, those concerns are a thing of the past. Congress has put in place restrictions on how LSC can spend its money. These restrictions are designed to keep politics out of access to justice initiatives and keep legal aid organizations focused on solving legal problems for individuals.

While we are grateful for the increase in funding for LSC this past year, it is still not enough to address the imbalance in the scales of justice with which low income individuals must contend. We must continue to work with our elected officials in an effort to direct more resources to LSC. It is vital for access to justice, and it is the right thing to do.

The Tennessee Bar Association is delighted to have current LSC board member and former ABA President Robert J. Grey Jr. as the keynote speaker at our annual Public Service Luncheon later this month in Nashville. Hope to see you there.



Pannu’s Pairings – Chablis

Chablis, located in the northwest corner of Burgundy, France, is Chardonnay country. Producers in Chablis rarely use oak barrels in the winemaking process, resulting in a distinctive Chardonnay with citrus and flower aromas and dry, light-bodied flavors of citrus and minerality. Chablis was once covered by the sea during prehistoric times so the soil is full of fossilized oyster shells and other marine life.

This provides the minerality and briny oceanic flavors in Chablis that I enjoy so much.

Chablis wine is ranked hierarchically by French regulators. At the bottom of the pyramid is Petit Chablis followed by straight Chablis. Next is premier cru (about 40 named vineyard plots) and at the top of the pyramid is grand cru (7 named vineyard plots). Grand cru Chablis is an exception in this region in that it will likely see some time with oak.

My two favorite producers in Chablis are Vincent Dauvissat and François Raveneau. Look for premier cru plots named La Forest and Chapelot and for grand cru look for the Blanchot plot.

Food Pairings: The high acidity in Chablis will pair well with light creamy sauces. The oceanic characteristics of Chablis make it a natural pairing with oysters, clams, scallops, shrimp, and crab. Lighter white-fleshed fish and chicken are also good matches. Chablis should be served chilled but not icy (about 54-57 F).



JASON M. PANNU is a shareholder in the Nashville office of Lewis Thomason. You can reach him at JPannu@LewisThomason.com. Follow Jason on Twitter @jasonpannu and Instagram @jasonpannu.

 

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