Live: AG Bill Barr testifies before Congress

Attorney General Bill Barr is testifying to Congress for the first time since he released his summary of the Mueller Report. Barr is appearing to discuss the Department of Justice budget with the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, but he’s expected to face questions from Democrats on the Mueller report. NBC News is carrying Barr’s testimony live:

Podcast: Low income tenants get free legal aid for housing court

apartment for rentA 74-year-old woman facing eviction from the one-bedroom Bronx apartment she has lived in for 30 years now has someone fighting on her side. She qualified for a first-ever program that provides free legal services to low income tenants facing eviction. NPR’s Jenifer McKim has more on the legal aid program that’s the first of its kind in America.

The legal implications of the Mueller report summary

Robert MuellerNow that Robert Mueller has submitted his report to the Justice Department and Attorney General Bill Barr has released a summary to Congress and the public, what lies ahead for the investigations of the Trump administration that are still ongoing? Former federal prosecutor Seth Waxman speaks with NPR’s Michel Martin about the legal implications of Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report.

Video: White House lawyers want to see Mueller report before Congress does

Robert MuellerWhite House lawyers are expecting to get a first look at the Mueller report when it’s filed, but before Attorney General Bill Barr submits it to Congress, multiple sources tell CNN. Those expectations could set up a political battle over the highly anticipated report. White House lawyers want to have an opportunity to claim executive privilege over some parts of the report that draw on documents and interviews with administration officials. Critics are concerned that President Trump may try to shield certain information that could be included in the report from the public. CNN’s Pamela Brown has more.

Legal Services Corporation Optimistic About Bipartisan Support in Congress Despite White House Proposal to Defund

The White House’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal calls for defunding the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for the third year in row. The budget appendix released today designates $18.2 million for costs to close LSC down. LSC remains optimistic about congressional support for its funding and has submitted its own 2020 budget request for $593 million. This is an increase over last year’s request of $564.8 million.

“I believe that the bipartisan support LSC has enjoyed in Congress for almost 45 years will continue long into the future,” said LSC President Jim Sandman. “We are grateful that Congress recognizes LSC’s vital importance in ensuring equal access to justice and has increased our funding in each of the last two fiscal years.” 

LSC is the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal aid. LSC was created in 1974 by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Nixon. LSC works to ensure that low-income Americans receive the help they need in civil legal matters like evictions, foreclosures, child custody, adoptions, and protective orders against domestic abusers.  Congress continues to fund LSC each year so that low-income constituents have access to high-quality legal assistance in such matters.

The Budget proposes to eliminate funding for LSC to “put more control in the hands of State and local governments that better understand the needs of their communities.”  But the legal aid programs that LSC funds are locally controlled and already set their own priorities based on their assessments of their communities’ needs. LSC distributes more than 93% of its funding to locally run organizations.

Federal funding for LSC reflects the fundamental national interest in the rule of law.  Eliminating LSC funding would effectively eliminate civil legal aid in some states and diminish it in every state, with a resulting loss of confidence in the fairness of the justice system for those who cannot afford to pay for legal assistance.  Today, even with federal funding of LSC, in many jurisdictions 90% or more of family cases and landlord-tenant cases involve unrepresented litigants, and legal aid providers must regularly turn away at least half of the eligible clients seeking their help. 

 Following the President’s proposal to defund LSC the previous two years, Congress has continued to allocate funds for the organization. In March 2018, Congress funded LSC at $410 million, a $25 million increase from FY 2017. This was the largest increase to LSC’s budget since FY 2010. Last month, Congress again increased LSC’s funding, to $415 million, a $5 million increase.

The 132 legal aid programs that LSC funds serve every county in every state and the territories. They protect seniors from consumer scams, help veterans secure the benefits they have earned, assist domestic violence victims in obtaining protection orders against abusers, and help disaster survivors get back on their feet. Federal funding for civil legal services provides crucial assistance to hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. 

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Congressional Leaders Unveil House and Senate Bills to End Forced Arbitration and Restore Workers’ and Consumers’ Rights

arbitrationAmerican Consumers and Workers Detail the Harm Caused by Forced Arbitration at Capitol Hill Press Conference

Victim advocates from around the country joined Congressional leaders at a press conference to bring attention to the secretive, rigged system of forced arbitration that is hidden in the fine print of many everyday consumer contracts, employee handbooks, and even “click-through agreements.” Together, they unveiled the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), that would restore the rights of consumers, workers, and patients to seek justice and accountability from the corporations that physically or financially hurt them.

New polling data was released in conjunction with today’s press conference. A recent nationwide poll by Hart Research found broad bipartisan support of 84% of voters for a bill to end forced arbitration (87% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats). More poll results can be found here.

“Forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print hurt everyone,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice. “If corporations know they won’t ever be held publicly responsible, our civil rights, as well as our public health and safety are at risk, from the cars we drive, to the jobs we take, and the food we eat. That’s what makes this legislation so important, and I commend the advocates and Members of Congress who stood up today to demand action.”

“We at Public Justice routinely hear from people who are unable to seek justice after a corporation broke the law and harmed them. Forced arbitration clauses bar them from having their claims heard in court,” said Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice. “The energy in favor of the FAIR Act is like nothing I’ve seen before in this fight for corporate accountability and against perpetrators of gender and race discrimination. Its passage would make American life much safer, healthier, and fairer.”

“Real justice means that the people’s courts – not corporate courts like those in forced arbitration proceedings – decide who gets access to justice. Forced arbitration clauses literally pick consumers’ pockets by putting big business’s favored arbitrators in charge, leaving regular people with no choice but to accept secretive, one-sided proceedings for their claims,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation and head of the Access to Justice program at Earthjustice.” Earthjustice applauds Chairman Nadler, his colleagues, and all of the advocates fighting against this unfair and unethical practice for their efforts to craft the FAIR Act, and we are proud to support the legislation.”

“Imagine if the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could escape lawsuits aiming to enforce consumer protection, worker rights and anti-discrimination laws simply by uttering a secret code. Outrageously, exactly that has happened, except it is not a secret. Corporations of all sorts insert forced arbitration provisions in worker and consumer contracts, and effectively wipe away people’s protection against financial rip-offs, wage theft, online swindles, harassment and discrimination and more,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The good news is that the public has caught on to this racket and is demanding action. The FAIR Act, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, provides exactly what the public is demanding: an end to the forced arbitration fraud that systematically strips Americans of their legal rights and access to justice.”

“Forced arbitration is a rigged secret proceeding that denies the cheated and ripped off the right to seek remedies before a judge and jury, and allows corporations to hide their misconduct from the public,” said Christine Hines, legislative director at National Association of Consumer Advocates. “The FAIR Act and other bills introduced today will help to level the playing field for consumers and workers by ending forced arbitration in the corporate fine print and restoring our choice to seek to hold wrongdoers accountable in open court.”

“I am proud to have spearheaded the Ending Arbitration Act of Sexual Harassment. Forced arbitration clauses in employment agreements are not designed to achieve fair, expeditious or cost-effective resolutions for sexual harassment cases. They are often used by companies to demean and silence women and conceal pervasive sexual harassment while allowing sexual predators to operate with virtual impunity,” said Gretchen Carlson. “I believe every woman and man should be entitled to have their claims adjudicated in a courtroom rather than behind closed doors where victims can never discuss what happened. I’m thankful for this bi-partisan effort to make workplaces safer for ALL across our country.”

“Alliance for Justice applauds the FAIR Act and this very important step to address a serious injustice that affects millions of Americans,” said Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. “Forced arbitration is an abusive practice that denies workers and consumers their right to a fair day in court. Instead, it corrals them into an unjust process controlled by the very party that harmed them, whether it be an employer, a lender, a nursing home, a service provider or some other entity. It’s time for forced arbitration to end.”   

Video: Trump’s legal troubles extend beyond Mueller probe

President Trump is asking his legal team to stay on beyond the end of the Mueller investigation, according to The Daily Beast. That’s because the Southern District of New York isn’t limited in the scope of what it can investigate. Above the Law editor Elie Mystal tells MSNBC’s Ari Melber “there is significant jeopardy up and down the Trump Organization” as to what the SDNY may look into.

Human Trafficking Program Hosted by The Arthur D. Shores – Robert S. Vance American Inn of Court

The Arthur D. Shores – Robert S. Vance American Inn of Court is hosting a special presentation entitled Human Trafficking in Our Own Backyard: A Panel Discussion. The presentation will be held February 12th at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Birmingham (250 18th St. South).

The nation’s most trafficked intersection runs along I-20 from Birmingham to Atlanta, making human trafficking an issue that affects every community in the metro area and throughout the state. Carla Ward, Assistant U.S. Attorney, will moderate a panel of professionals who are dedicated and active in the efforts to halt human trafficking: Carolyn Potter, Executive Director of The Well House, Sgt. Trent Kempster, Tuscaloosa Police Department, Doug Gilmer, Special Agent in Charge with Department of Homeland Security, and Jordan Giddens, Finance Director and Member Resource Liaison of the AL House Democratic Caucus.

The presentation has been approved for one hour of CLE credit. CLE materials will be sent to registrants ahead of the meeting. The meeting will start with a cash bar cocktail hour at 5:00 pm and the meeting will begin promptly at 5:30 pm. The cost to attend is $25 per person to cover the cost of dinner. Seating is limited so RSVP you and your guests early.

Meeting Date: Tuesday, February 12, 2019 5:00 PM Where: Hilton Garden Inn, 250 18th Street South, Birmingham, Alabama 35233 Cost: $25 per person RSVP Deadline: Friday, February 8, 2019 12:00 PM (or when limited seating is full)

Non-Members: RSVP by emailing Ben Cohn at cohn@wec-law.com. To complete your registration you will need to mail your $25 check ahead of the meeting, made payable to Birmingham Inn of Court, to P.O. Box 59591, Birmingham, Alabama 35259.