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A 'Blank Check' For Legal Aid Gets Harder to Cash

Monday, November 26, 2018

A 'Blank Check' For Legal Aid Gets Harder to Cash

"The cases were among the most rewarding of attorney Sharon Caserta's career: taking on hospitals, law enforcement, even the state Department of Children and Families when they refused to provide deaf members of the community with proper accommodations.

But the program that connected Caserta with those cases, a special litigation unit of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, shut its doors in 2015 despite having no shortage of work. The biggest reason was a significant decline in the funding JALA receives from Florida's Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts program, which pools the interest the state's attorneys earn on some money they hold temporarily for clients in order to fund civil legal aid.
Caserta left the organization for private practice in 2015 after grappling with unpaid furlough days and other budget woes.

"It got to be very difficult to continue that way," Caserta said. "I wanted to take cases which required a larger litigation budget, which Legal Aid just didn't have."

Caserta's experience is not unique. IOLTA programs across the country have been a major source of dollars for civil legal aid programs for decades, but anemic interest rates since the financial crash in 2008 have largely drained what was once a much deeper pond, leaving organizations that relied on that money high and dry and sowing a wide-ranging and lasting impact on civil legal aid services for the poor throughout the country..."

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