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Of Service: 1988 Cardin Report: A milestone for legal services

As the Maryland Legal Services Corp. looks forward to next month’s 25th anniversary gala, now is a good time to look back at a major milestone — the Cardin Advisory Council Report of 1988, which led to mandatory IOLTA and a significant increase in funding for civil legal-service programs across the state.

In 1986, total funding for civil legal aid to Maryland’s poor was about $10.9 million, used to provide legal aid in about 44,000 cases. Today, total funding for civil legal aid to low-income people in Maryland is approximately $45 million annually, serving over 120,000 cases per year.

With the influx of new funding, MLSC expanded its support of pro bono projects, clinical law programs, and legal services to victims of domestic violence, the homeless, people with disabilities, nursing home residents, and many other low-income people in Maryland.

The genesis of the report was a 1987 request from MLSC Board Chair Herbert J. Belgrad asking then-U.S. Congressman (now Senator) Benjamin L. Cardin to chair an advisory council, which developed the “Action Plan for Legal Services to Maryland’s Poor” — the blueprint for the future of legal services in Maryland.

Cardin had previously been a sponsor of legislation creating MLSC and the IOLTA program while serving as speaker of the House of Delegates in 1982.

“We had great members on the commission and it wasn’t difficult to make a finding of the need — and that funding should be doubled,” Cardin said in a phone interview. “So we looked at IOLTA. But we also looked at innovative approaches, like expanding clinical programs at the law schools in order to sensitize new lawyers to the needs of poor people.”

Cardin called the experience “one of the more important things I’ve done in my career. The clinical programs are fantastic. So many lawyers tell me it is one of the most important things they did in law school. I’m very proud of MLSC on its 25th anniversary.”

Robert J. Rhudy, who was executive director of MLSC when the report was published, credited Cardin with much of the success that followed.

“He personally recruited many of the other members, including Vice Chairman Richard Berndt, and oversaw the research, recommendations and implementation,” Rhudy said.

The task force also included former Legal Services Corp. Director Clinton Bamberger, late U.S. District Court Judge Frank Kaufman, Harford County Circuit Court Judge William O. Carr, the late Charles Dorsey (executive director of Maryland Legal Aid), University of Maryland law professor Michael Millemann, and attorneys Sheila Sachs and Stuart O. Simms.

“The meetings of the Cardin Commission were engaging and challenging conversations among leaders of the bar, the bench and the legal academy who were committed to providing the protection of the law for the poor and the marginalized in our society,” Bamberger recalled. “I’m sure those conversations still take place. But they are not as much in the public eye or ear as was the work of the Cardin Commission.”

Nor are the participants as broadly representative of the leadership of the legal profession as they were in 1987, added Bamberger, a retired University of Maryland law professor.

“The United States lags woefully behind every industrialized democracy in providing legal assistance to the poor in civil matters,” he said. “As Maryland lawyers and the ABA lead the effort to give the poor a right to legal assistance in civil law matters — a ‘civil Gideon’ — the MLSC should seize the opportunity to revive the noblest mission of lawyers: the commitment to a rule of law that includes everyone.”

Added Everett Lallis, a former MLSC board member: “[Cardin’s] action plan raised the interest of many within the state and aided in channeling young attorneys to consider early in their career work for the underprivileged,” Lallis said. “Additionally, the focus on pro bono by all attorneys may have increased legal services participation.”

The report included extensive research on Maryland’s legal aid system, review of court records and administrative agency reports, surveys of hundreds of bar leaders, judges, legal services attorneys, and government officials, and interviews with nearly 1,000 low-income households.

It also included a review of “best practices” by legal aid programs around the country for successful funding and delivery approaches. The commission conducted public hearings around the state prior to publishing its findings and recommendations.

The report made 41 proposals, including:
* Increase federal and state funding for civil legal services
* Assess civil filing fee surcharges
* Require all law students enroll in clinical programs
* Establish loan forgiveness programs for new lawyers entering public interest law
* Make IOLTA mandatory
* Make pro bono mandatory
Not all the proposals have become reality. Pro bono isn’t mandatory (although reporting is), federal funding is down, and law students aren’t required to enroll in clinical programs (but many do). But IOLTA and court filing fees are up significantly.

“This growth [in funding], through the foundation developed in 1987-88 by the Cardin Commission and resulting advocacy, is unprecedented in the United States,” Rhudy noted.

Future lawyers are also benefiting

“MLSC’s summer public interest grants for law students to engage in public interest legal work cultivates … a dedication to serve the community,” noted M. Teresa Schmiedeler, University of Maryland Law’s director of pro bono and public service initiatives.

Mary Joel Davis, executive director of Alternative Directions (a Baltimore program that helps women released from prison with their civil legal needs), is helping more clients, thanks to increases in MLSC grants.

“Twenty years later, because of Ben Cardin’s insight, MLSC is helping thousands upon thousands of people,” Davis said.

MLSC will be celebrating its 25th anniversary along with its annual awards presentations on Dec. 10 at the Tremont Grand in Baltimore. For more information, go to www.mlsc.org or call (410) 576-9494.

Harriet Robinson is deputy director of MLSC. Her e-mail is hrobinson@mlsc.org. Joe Surkiewicz is the director of communications at Maryland Legal Aid. His e-mail is jsurkiewicz@mdlab.org.