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Group lobbies to save legal services

By Chris Boyd
--Miami Daily Business Review, Miami, Florida, 1996


As the day of reckoning for legal services funding nears in Congress, a grassroots South Florida committee is launching a letter-writing campaign to save the program from the political ax.

Xavier Cortada, a University of Miami professor, heads the South Florida drive to preserve funding for the Legal Services Corp. which subsidizes Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc.  The House Budget Committee has recommended phasing out the stipend over the next five years.

"For years the Legal Services Corp. has been under attack, and that attack has been focused this spring," Cortada said.  "The mood in Congress is to curb the national deficit, and legal services could be a victim."

So Cortada, South Florida coordinator for Floridians for Access to Justice, is mailing letters to lawyers and business leaders urging them to bombard South Florida's congressional delegation with notes supporting legal services.

"We're saying we're willing to take a cut, but don't eliminate our program," Cortada said.  "Maintaining this program is important for keeping an ordered society.  It gives those who have problems but little money an avenue for finding justice within the system, rather than in the street."



Legal Services of Greater Miami relies on the Legal Services Corp. for $3.5 million of its $6.2-million annual budgets.  Obviously, a bankrupt parent organization would have a dramatic impact on the local program, which handled 7,500 cases last year and provided advice and referrals to an additional 20,700 individuals.   Almost all its clients are poor.

Cortada said his organization has support from most of the South Florida delegation.  Only Rep. Clay Shaw is undecided, he said.  But Cortada believes the letter-writing effort is still necessary.

"Republican representatives like De-ana Ros-Lehlemen and Limendla Diaz-Balart who are willing to cross part lines to support funding, need a paper trail to justify breaking party ranks."  Cortada said.

Though Cortada's organization is less than hopeful about its chances of reversing the funding cuts in the House, he said it's preparing for a vigorous fight in the Senate.