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Cynthia Coffman, attorneys general ask Congress to preserve federal legal aid funding

Author: Ernest Luning - May 26, 2017 - Updated: May 27, 2017

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks about her tenure in office at an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks about her tenure in office at an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, and her Democratic counterpart in Massachusetts this week organized 30 of their fellow attorneys general urging Congress to reject a Trump administration budget proposal that would  eliminate federal spending on civil legal services for rural and low-income Americans.

“For more than 40 years, under Republican and Democratic administrations, the Legal Services Corporation has helped our residents to access justice,” the bipartisan group of attorneys general wrote in a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations committees. “LSC funding helps veterans and military families secure important benefits, it supports survivors of domestic violence seeking safety, and it assists families facing foreclosure and victims of natural disasters.”

Coffman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey argue that federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation is crucial, particularly as states face budget crunches.

The public, nonprofit corporation — established in 1974 by Congress, its share of the federal budget this year amounts to $385 million — pays for a good share of 133 civil legal-aid programs throughout the country, which rely on attorneys to provide pro bono work to represent qualifying clients.

“The legal services provided by LSC are critical for low-income and vulnerable citizens in Colorado and for millions of people across the country,” Coffman said in a statement. “As a bipartisan group of attorneys general, we have joined together to speak up for those people who need access to these services in order to protect their rights.”

Jonathan D. Asher, executive director of Colorado Legal Services, says his organization counts on LSC for about 40 percent of its annual funding.

“The elimination of LSC funding would be devastating, and would seriously jeopardize our ability to help provide low-income Coloradans with the civil legal services they need to ensure the health, safety and stability of themselves and their families,” he said in a statement.

The federal corporation “ensures ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ by enabling access to the justice system for vulnerable Americans,” the American Bar Association said in an online reaction to the Trump budget proposal, adding, LSC “provides the backbone for America’s civil legal aid and pro bono system.”

Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, vice chair of the Legal Services Corporation, thanked Coffman and her fellow attorneys general for what she termed their “strong, bipartisan statement of support.”

“Our state attorneys general know that all Americans, rich and poor, should be treated equally under the law,” Minow said in a statement. “That’s why, on a bipartisan basis, our chief law enforcement officers overwhelmingly support the Legal Services Corporation. They call for funding legal assistance to low-income and rural Americans, as Congress has done for more than 40 years, in order to strengthen the rule of law, fairness, and human dignity.”

In addition to Colorado and Massachusetts, the letter was signed by attorneys general from Alaska, American Samoa, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

ernest@coloradostatesman.com  

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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