The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall...have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense," and that principle has been reaffirmed in a number of Supreme Court cases.
However, it is quite one thing for the courts to rule, yet someone must pay for the services required. In the wave of civil rights legislation in the 1970's Congress established the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) as a nonprofit corporation funded under the LSC Act originally passed in 1974, and amended in 1977, 1997, and 2000.
(3) providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate counsel will serve best the ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons consistent with the purposes of this Act.
(6) attorneys providing legal assistance must have full freedom to protect the best interests of their clients in keeping with the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Canons of Ethics, and the high standards of the legal profession.
The LSC is currently charged with funding and monitoring their Grantees, who provide free (actually greatly reduced cost) criminal and civil legal aid in the United States with a $300+ million budget. LSC funds 138 legal aid programs with 700 offices around the nation to help poor Americans gain equal access to the judicial system.
Sitting judges in several states have acknowledged that the filing of false claims of domestic violence is both pervasive and that employees of LSC Grantees are among those scripting the statements of their clients in these cases. Additionally, these judges have expressed their concern over reluctance of their local district attorneys to file charges against the participants in those actions and the lack of redress the legal system and LSC offers to its victims.
Passing mention to the above was made in an opinion piece by author Carey Roberts on May 17, 2006. Following publication of Robert's article, the general contact email address and offices of True Equality Network (TEN) were inundated with unsolicited contacts from victims of the complaints listed in the letter below to Mr. Kirt West, Inspector General of Legal Services Corporation. Presently TEN has received over six thousand contacts.
As a result of these thousands of complaints, TEN began to collate, compile, and produce a letter seeking redress from the LSC Office of Compliance and Enforcement (LSC-OCE) presented below and mailed June 19th. Numerous groups, tabulated at the end of the letter, have joined with TEN in requesting action on these grievances.
While TEN has presently documented evidence of the abuses listed in the June 19, 2006, letter to the LSC below, they are still assembling proof of more serious allegations that include the use of physical torture to coerce confessions/agreements to domestic violence accusations sanctioned or supported by LSC grantees. Unlike the civil rights issues, that only required review of the documentation to validate the alleged victims complaint, claims of physical torture requires medical-forensic evaluation to validate.
These cases are very time consuming and expensive to investigate and TEN started by investigating the worst cases first, of which there are now 27 verified cases out of the many who complained. Given logistical and financial constraints it is impossible to move quickly on this project as most of the putative victims are uninsured and live in diverse locations.
In the worst cases the defendant alleged abuser was imprisoned without charges being filed, held without bail, sleep deprived, not fed, kept in cold rooms with little clothing, not allowed to lie down, kept shackled, and denied access to legal counsel.
During their imprisonment some defendants were stripped naked, doused with water then "stun-gun/tasers" were applied to their genitals. This was repeated until they confessed/agreed to the complaint against them. This practice leaves permanent scaring with distinctive patterns that can be forensically verified against their account of the actions and the type of stun-gun/taser used in the assault.
These were the worst cases that TEN was contacted about. Also, in January 2006 the Equal Justice Foundation had written the El Paso County (Colorado) court and 4th Judicial District Attorney about issues with prisoner torture.
If you know of any such victims, or victims of other methods of physical torture, please contact Terri Lynn Tersak. TEN has been advised to have the victims tested locally near their area of residence, then to have all the evidence reevaluated by one group of forensic pathologists. The testing and reevaluation takes about three weeks total and costs roughly $17,000 per victim. Obviously, financial support is needed for this investigation and TEN was required to embark on a fund raising drive to cover the reevaluation costs. Currently several venture capitalists and hedge fund operators have agreed to support the investigation.
The undersigned individuals and organizations are writing to request that your office initiate an investigation of widespread abuses and the apparent failure of Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to address them. The issues covered in this complaint are outlined below and include: systemic civil rights abuses, participation in filing of false claims, failure to accept complaints, and other abuses by LSC Grantees. To the best of our knowledge the LSC Office of Compliance and Enforcement (LSC-OCE) has failed to respond to complaints regarding an assortment of abuses.
Sitting Judges in several states have corroborated the above in meetings and interviews with some of the undersigned. They further acknowledged that the filing of false claims of domestic violence is pervasive and that employees of LSC Grantees are among those scripting the statements of their clients in these cases. They have also expressed their concern over reluctance of their local District Attorneys to file charges against the participants in those actions and the lack of redress the legal system and LSC offers to its victims.
The information in the prior paragraph was given passing mention in an opinion piece by author Carey Roberts on May 17, 2006. Within hours of the release of his article, the general contact email address and offices of True Equality Network (TEN) were inundated with unsolicited contacts from the victims of the complaints listed above and other egregious abuses. As of the date of this letter, TEN has received over five thousand contacts.
Of the complaints received, many referenced a complete lack of response to complaints sent to Legal Services Corporation's Office of Compliance and Enforcement. This contradicts LSC-OCE's published mission statement wherein it states, "Further, to respond promptly and effectively to inquiries and complaints pertaining to recipients filed by members of the public" as found on this web page.
Many of the individuals who contacted us described acts of retaliation committed against them. Retaliation included, but was not limited to, false claims of abuse, some of which were filed ex-parte on behalf of their minor children. Many of the individuals who dared to file complaints have not seen or heard from their children since as a result of the retaliatory actions taken in response to their speaking out.
In other cases where a client of an LSC Grantee has complained about one of their attorneys, they were assigned a different attorney who worked first to calm the client's complaint. Then when the case came before the court, the Grantee's new attorney went on the attack against their putative client requesting that the court punish them with every possible deprivation that the court can deem applicable.
Complainants who have reported abuses to LSC Grantees concerning the Grantee's employees are not being informed of the complaint process available via LSC-OCE. The Grantees also strongly suggest not submitting written complaints to them and often tell the complainants there is no avenue of redress. However, most of the complainants who have discovered, and then contacted LSC-OCE have not received any response.
However, a significant number of the individuals that have sent complaints to LSC-OCE, but received no response, have later found themselves cornered, such as in waiting areas of the courthouses, being berated by employees of the LSC Grantee representing the adversary in their case. Further, the employees of the LSC Grantee were able to cite verbatim the content of the complaint the individual had sent to LSC-OCE. These complainants have then been told that they should understand and accept that there is no one that is going help them.
As a check on information provided us, some of the undersigned have called several LSC Grantees requesting information about filing complaints about them. The specifics of the replies vary, e.g. call the Governor, your Congressman and such, but all reflect a position that no such system as the LSC-OCE system is in place.
When organizations such as True Equality Network receive unsolicited pleas for help by the thousands from victims of abuses of our publicly-funded legal system, it is decisive evidence that the system as a whole has categorically failed in its charge to serve the public and in the oversight of it operations. When one takes into account that TEN does not offer such support services, and the supplemental commentary of sitting Judges proffered to us, it is reasonable to assume the actual abuse rate is considerably higher than even what is indicated by the thousands of comments we have so far received.
The opinion shared by the undersigned is that the current system of reporting a complaint against an LSC Grantee is unreasonable, unethical and lacks any moral foundation. Working within the current system can be equated to someone who has been mugged. Victims are then restricted to a complaint process that requires them to report the crime only to their attacker. The system then grants their attacker the exclusive authority to decide whether to (a) turn themselves into the police for arrest (b) attack their victim even more viciously to stifle their complaint. It is quite apparent in the thousands of comments TEN has received that LSC Grantees have chosen option (b).
When it was suggested to the complainants that they contact or contact LSC-OCE again, the vast majority expressed a deep fear of contacting anyone within the publicly-funded legal system citing understandable fear of severe retaliation should they do so. Most of these victims are devastated, financially and emotionally as a result of both the abuses they have been subjected to, and also the disastrous results of prior attempts to file complaints.
In addition to the comments received from individuals, we examined the LSC web site and found that the procedures for filing a complaint with LSC-OCE against Grantees are not clearly displayed on the LSC site. Rather this information in contained among a myriad of documents none of which are displayed, linked to on the LSC-OCE page, or can be found using common search terms such as "complaint manual," "complaint procedures," "complaint instructions" on the LSC web site.
Contacts for complaints are located on just one page of the LSC web site, identifiable only by the word "Complaints" listed in parentheses among other terms following a contact's name and prior to their email address. We suggest that a concise manual of easy to follow instructions for filing complaints against LSC Grantees needs to be developed. A direct link to this manual must be prominently located in plain view on the LSC-OCE page on the LSC web site. In addition, a "Complaints" link should be added to the master menu system of the LSC web site at the top level of the menu hierarchy.
LSC-OCE complaint investigations must be able to validate complaints to the level of prima facie evidence where abuses are indicated. Those claims and investigation results should be submitted directly to the district attorney's office. Under no circumstances should the claims and investigation results ever be submitted to the LSC Grantee in question. Violating the confidentiality of an individual's complaint is both unethical and likely to contribute to their fear of seeking assistance from LSC-OCE or LSC in general.
The complaint investigator must also be required to track the progress of the complaint and report failures to the government entities responsible for oversight and funding of the violators, and to the Department of Justice when violations require their intervention.
Additionally, it must become a requirement of grant compliance (a) that LSC Grantees must display in their offices, in prominent public view, accurate contact information for submitting complaints to LSC-OCE against LSC Grantees, and (b) that LSC Grantees must print the aforementioned contact information for submitting complaints in all advertisements for their services.
It is noted that in the LSC Office of Inspector General report referenced below, "Interim Report on Management Oversight of Grantees: Office of Compliance and Enforcement," of 31 March 2006 it is stated that review of LSC-OCE in relation to public complaints is among the LSC-OCE responsibilities not included in the current OIG audit. This is stated in reference item seven found in the footer of page 4 of the "OBJECTIVES, SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY" section of the interim report. The above referenced report was located on the OIG webpage as of June 1, 2006.
In view of the above, we believe that the LSC Inspector General needs to conduct a broad inquiry to assess why LSC's current policies and procedures have failed to prevent widespread abuses of the public and our family courts by LSC Grantees, and why LSC-OCE has failed to combat this trend. Based on those findings, the Inspector General needs to make specific recommendations designed to prevent a recurrence of these serious abuses and violations of civil rights and the Inspector General must then insure that these recommendations are implemented.
In 1997, the United States Congress held public hearings to deal with the horrific abuses by the Internal Revenue Service carried out against the American taxpayers. Those abuses of citizens pale in comparison to the daily occurrences in our nation's family courts today. However, today employees of LSC Grantees are among those inflicting the abuses on the public.
If you would like to add your name, or the name of your group to the above list of those endorsing this investigation please contact Terri Lynn Tersak.