National Legal and Policy Center
8321 Old Courthouse Road -- Suite 270 -- Vienna, Virginia 22182
Main Office 703-847-3060 -- FAX 703-448-8341
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 28,1997
CONTACT: Michael J. Nelson 703-734-2322
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.