Key Republican Subverts Reform of Legal Services

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Rep. Fox Subverts Key Congressional Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Legal and Policy Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group of the Legal Services Corporation and its approximately 300 federal grantees, blasted Rep. Jon Fox (R-PA) for pressuring a private Philadelphia law firm into refusing a Legal Services Corporation contract and thus subverting Congress’ attempt to introduce competition into the LSC grant-making process,

“It’s another serious blow to Congressional reforms aimed at de-politicizing the federal Legal Services program,” said NLPC Chairman and former Counsel to the LSC Board of Directors Ken Boehm.

“In undermining competition, Pox has taken a step backwards and has gone against the will of Congress,”added Boehm, a native Pennsylvanian. “It only further proves the Legal Services program is incapable of reform and should be eliminated,”

Prior to 1996, local Legal Services groups received their federal grants without having to face competition. Thus, lawyers abusing their LSC grants never had to worry about being held accountable because the LSC continued their funding automatically.

To rectify this accountability problem, Congress — most notably Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) — introduced a competitive bidding system in which traditional grantees bid to compete with non-LSC programs. The reform was designed to winnow out the poorly managed programs and introduce the same competition that exists in the private sector and many federal grant programs.

However, out of the nearly 300 LSC grants supposedly open to competition, the Dessen, Moses & Sheinoff law firm was the only non-LSC entity in America to win a LSC grant for 1997 in competition with LSC grantees

LSC awarded Dessen $464,000 that had previously gone to Montgomery County Legal Aid (MCLA) and the Delaware County Legal Assistance (DCLA). But, even one grant was too much for Legal Services activists to stomach. Rep. Fox, former MCLA Board Member, joined with Legal Services advocates to pressure Dessen to drop the contract.

The anti-Dessen campaign included picketing of the Dessen firm by Legal Services lawyers. Rep. Fox himself went before the Clinton-appointed LSC Board asking that it renege on the only truly competitive contract awarded under the new rules. Although LSC President Alex Forpei refused to restore funding, Rep. Fox persisted to pressure Dessen out of the deal.

On March 13, Dessen announced it would turn down the LSC contract, citing as a major reason pressure from Rep. Fox. Managing Partner David Dessen reportedly said that Rep. Fox mentioned he would end his strong support for LSC funding nationwide if MCLA’s funding was not restored.

In 1996, Rep. Fox was the leader of the mass Republican defection on a key vote to increase LSC spending from $141 million to $250 million. Rep. Fox pushed through an amendment, supported by almost all Democrats and 56 Republicans, to increase funding.

As a key pro-LSC Republican, Rep. Fox is especially valued by Legal Services advocates for his support. When he let out he would not continue his active support, Legal Services supporters among the bar and among the firm’s union clients apparently turned up the pressure on Dessen to withdraw.

“Fox’s actions are disgraceful. To continue the flow of money to his legal aid pet, Fox subverted a major reform designed to de-politicize legal services,” Boehm commented. “Not only is Fox determined to protect this special interest pork fox his lawyer friends, he has reportedly vowed to introduce an amendment to take it even more difficult for non-LSC programs to get involved in the competitive bidding process.”

“McCollum and other Members — Republican and Democrat — have long championed competition as key to reforming the scandal-ridden LSC. If this reform measure could be subverted so easily and so quickly, it should be clear by now that the only way to ‘reform’ such an arrogant and unrepentant program is to simply get rid of it,” added Bochm.

NLPC promotes ethics and accountability in government through distribution of the “Code of Ethics for Government Service,”and through research, education and legal action. NLPC’s Legal Services Accountability Project has called attention to hundreds of abuses in the federal Legal Services program nationwide. NLPC was a plaintiff in the lawsuit which succeeded in opening the records of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Health Care Task Force.

To arrange an interview to facilitate your coverage please contact Michael Nelson at 703-734-2322.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.