- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

A leading House Republican is seeking to prevent the Legal Services Corp. from altering its regulations, including a change that would allow LSC grantees to accept clients who are not necessarily poor.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin said yesterday that the changes would violate the law and noted they were requested weeks before new Republican-nominated LSC board members would replace Clinton appointees.
Mr. Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the federally funded LSC yesterday, protesting the proposed rules changes which he said could be approved as early as this week and urged the corporation to "wait until the new Board members are confirmed to consider the proposals."
LSC President John N. Erlenborn agreed to delay action on the regulations.
"The Board will certainly honor the chairman's request in order to provide the committee with additional information and answer any outstanding questions," Mr. Erlenborn said in a statement late yesterday.
Created in 1974, the LSC gives grants to local organizations that provide legal services to poor Americans.
Republicans have complained for years that the LSC pursues liberal political causes through its lawsuits. That prompted Congress to enact reforms in 1996 intended to restrict the LSC's political activities.
President Bush recently resubmitted the names of six new board candidates that never were considered by the Democrat-controlled Senate last session. Mr. Sensenbrenner said the new Republican-controlled Senate is "expected to act quickly" and confirm the Bush nominees "in the next few weeks.".
Meanwhile, the LSC is trying to change a few regulations, the letter said.
One of the most significant proposed changes would allow LSC grantees to accept clients that are not necessarily poor. The letter states the change "would permit representation of individuals who do not satisfy the financial eligibility criteria and would establish vague standards for the documentation of eligibility group clients."
Another change would allow LSC lawyers to accept fee-generating cases, which the letter said is clearly prohibited by the law governing the LSC.
The lawyers would be required to return fees to their LSC offices, but Mr. Sensenbrenner noted that the LSC's own Office of Inspector General said that still would violate the law.
The letter said the "most alarming" proposed change is to eliminate a congressional requirement that LSC lawyers obtain retainer agreements in their cases.
A retainer agreement establishes the nature and scope of the attorney-client relationship, and prevents any misunderstanding of this relationship by establishing specific guidelines.
Despite Mr. Sensenbrenner's concern, Mr. Erlenborn said in his statement, "LSC continues to enjoy the strong support of the administration and Congress. The LSC Board will continue to exercise its authority and oversight responsibilities in a manner fully consistent with the LSC Act."

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