Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

Shown Here:
Passed House amended (05/12/1992)

Legal Services Reauthorization Act of 1992 - Amends the Legal Services Corporation Act to authorize appropriations for the Legal Services Corporation for FY 1992 through 1996.

Amends the Federal criminal code to: (1) apply Federal criminal laws against theft, fraud, and embezzlement to Corporation funds; and (2) make the Federal criminal statute against obstructing a Federal audit applicable with regard to auditors employed or retained by the Corporation.

Specifies that certain provisions of the False Claims Act apply to the Corporation, any financial assistance recipient and other grantee or contractor of the Corporation (awardee), subgrantee or subcontractor of any such entity, or employee thereof (thus, giving the Attorney General the authority to bring a civil action against any person employed by or contracting with a recipient, subrecipient, grantee, or contractor who perpetuates a fraud with Corporation funds, but excluding from application to the Corporation and its recipients provisions which permit a private person to initiate a false claims action).

Revises prohibitions on the use of Corporation funds for lobbying purposes to prohibit use of Corporation funds by any awardee to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone communication, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, or for publicity or propaganda intended or designed to influence any: (1) decision by a Federal, State, or local agency, except when legal assistance is provided by an employee of an awardee of the Corporation to an eligible client on a particular matter which directly involves the client's legal rights or responsibilities; or (2) Member of Congress or other Federal, State, or local elected official to favor or oppose any legislation, referendum, initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure of the Congress, State legislature, local council, or similar governing body.

Permits the use of such funds in connection with any communication: (1) made in response to a Federal, State, or local agency or elected official; (2) to a Federal, State, or local elected official pertaining to the authorization or appropriation of funds or any other measure affecting the authority, functions, or funding of, or pertaining to oversight measures directly affecting, the awardee or the Corporation, if the project director or designee of the awardee has expressly determined that the legislative body involved is considering such authorization, appropriation, or other measure, or is conducting oversight of the awardee or the Corporation; or (3) on behalf of an eligible client in the course of representation of that client before a legislative body, if the project director or designee of the awardee has expressly approved such representation in accordance with policy established by the governing or policy body of the awardee and has determined, before approving the undertaking of such representation, that the client seeks representation to protect the client's existing legal rights or interests or is in need of relief which can be provided by the legislative body involved and documentation specifically authorizing such representation has been secured from such client by an awardee.

Specifies that nothing in this Act shall be construed to permit an attorney or an employee of an awardee to engage in any publicity or propaganda intended or designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress or State or local legislative bodies, or to influence any decision by a Federal, State, or local agency, or to solicit a client, in violation of professional responsibilities, for the purpose of making possible any activity permitted by this Act.

Requires the Corporation to: (1) arrange for evaluations to determine whether awardees are providing comprehensive, economical, and effective legal assistance to eligible clients; and (2) conduct monitoring and investigations into allegations that an awardee has violated applicable requirements. Sets forth provisions concerning investigation procedures.

Directs the Board of Directors of the Corporation to provide for the enforcement of requirements with respect to such awardees. Permits the Corporation to suspend, reduce, or terminate financial assistance (with termination only after consideration of other remedial measures and only after the employee has been afforded reasonable notice and opportunity for a timely, full, and fair hearing, to be conducted by an independent hearing examiner when requested) or deny an application for refunding (after affording the awardee an opportunity to correct the failure) when: (1) there has been a substantial failure to comply with applicable requirements; or (2) evaluations demonstrate that an awardee has consistently failed to provide economical and effective legal assistance. Authorizes the Corporation to deny an application for refunding when the Corporation has identified an applicant for financial assistance that is better able to provide comprehensive, economical, and effective legal assistance for the geographic area served by such awardee.

Revises provisions concerning notice to awardees prior to the suspension or termination of assistance or the denial of a refunding application. Prohibits the annual level of assistance from being reduced by more than five percent or $20,000, whichever is less, unless the awardee has been afforded notice and, at the awardee's request, a timely and fair hearing.

Sets forth Corporation monitoring requirements. Directs that standards and procedures adopted pursuant to such provision take into account: (1) the responsibility of the Corporation to provide for independent evaluations; (2) that each awardee has the responsibility to manage its day-to-day operations and to assure that its employees comply with all applicable law and deliver high quality legal assistance in an effective and economical manner; (3) that the personal privacy of eligible clients could be adversely affected by the public disclosure of records or documents obtained in connection with monitoring or investigation (and bars the Corporation from requiring disclosure of such records except to the extent that they can be expected to contain information directly pertinent and necessary to an audit, or to an investigation of a likely pattern of discrimination, lack of compliance with the law, or poor performance by an awardee which is indicated by other external evidence); and (4) the rules of ethics and professional responsibility that are applicable in the jurisdiction where an awardee delivers legal assistance.

Requires the Corporation to develop criteria for evaluating the capability and performance of awardees. Specifies that the Inspector General of the Corporation shall not, in carrying out his or her functions, be subject to any restriction that: (1) is contained in the standards and procedures adopted by the Corporation under this provision; and (2) limits access by the corporation to documents or other information.

Places restrictions on the bringing of a class action suit by an awardee against the Federal Government or any State or local government. Requires awardees to adopt policies to attempt to negotiate settlements and to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, where appropriate, before filing suit.

Prohibits the use of Corporation funds to alter, revise, or reapportion a legislative, judicial, or elective district at any level of government, including influencing the timing or manner of the taking of a census.

Places restrictions on the use of Corporation funds for legal assistance for aliens.

Revises requirements for governing bodies of grant or contract recipients to require a recipient's governing body to be comprised of (in the majority) attorneys who are appointed by State, county, or local bar associations the memberships of which represent a majority of the attorneys practicing law in the locality in which the recipient is to provide legal assistance. Sets forth requirements for governing or policy bodies of recipients and other awardees. Allows the governing body of a bar association to appoint members of the governing or policy bodies of more than one awardee of the Corporation.

Makes technical and conforming changes with respect to the professional responsibilities of the Corporation and attorney employees of the Corporation.

Specifies that neither the Corporation nor the Comptroller General shall have access to any reports or records protected from disclosure by the laws or rules of ethics or professional responsibility that apply in the jurisdiction where such reports or records are maintained.

Prohibits awardees (and employees of such awardees) who have given in-person unsolicited advice to a nonattorney to obtain counsel or take legal action from accepting employment or making referrals to other awardees (or employees) as a result of that advice, except that an awardee (or employee) may: (1) accept employment by a close friend, relative, former client (if the advice is germane to the previous employment by the client, or person whom the awardee reasonably believes to be a client because the awardee (or employee) is currently handling an active legal matter or case for that specific person); (2) accept employment or refer a nonattorney to another awardee (or employee) when the employment or referral results from the participation of the awardee (or employee) in activities designed to educate nonattorneys about their legal rights, recognize legal problems, make intelligent selection of counsel, or utilize available legal services, if such outreach activities are conducted or sponsored by the awardee or another legal assistance organization; and (3) speak publicly or write for publication on legal topics as long as such awardee (or employee) does not emphasize his, her, or its own professional experience or reputation and does not undertake to give individual advice in such speech or publication.

Prohibits the use of Corporation funds for initiating the defense of a person in a proceeding to evict such person from a public housing project if the person has been convicted of the illegal sale or distribution of a controlled substance and the proceeding has been brought by a public housing project agency because such person threatens the health or safety of other tenants or employees of such agency.

Prohibits awardees (or employees) from engaging in precomplaint settlement negotiations, filing a complaint, or pursuing litigation against a defendant unless a written retainer agreement which enumerates the facts on which the claim is based has been signed by the plaintiffs. Specifies that, unless authorized by a court of competent jurisdiction, no awardee (or employee of such awardee) may file a complaint or petition in a court until all plaintiffs known to plaintiff's counsel at the time have been specifically identified in the complaint or petition.

Requires the Corporation to study the feasibility of a system of competition in the awarding of grants or contracts for legal assistance.

Specifies that a general restriction on training activities of the Corporation should not be construed to prohibit training of attorneys or paralegals as necessary to prepare them to advise any eligible client as to the nature of the legislative process, or to inform any eligible client of his or her rights under any statute, order or regulation.

Prohibits the use of public funds received by an awardee, including funds from Interest on Lawyer Trust Account programs, to engage in publicity or propaganda.

Directs the Corporation to require each awardee to maintain records of time spent on the cases or matters with respect to which that awardee is engaged in activities and to maintain a recordkeeping system that discloses the source of funds to be charged for each such case or matter. Requires each employee of such awardee who is an attorney or paralegal to keep contemporaneous records of the time spent by, and the type of, case or matter.

Prohibits the use of alternative corporations to evade the provisions of this Act. Defines an "alternative corporation" as a group which has a single identity of interest with an awardee. Requires any awardee which shares employees with any other entity to specify with particularity the use of any funds by such employees.

Revises provisions concerning harassment and abuse of the legal process to authorize (currently, require) any court to award reasonable costs and attorneys' fees to a defendant if the Corporation commenced an action for purposes of harassment or retaliation or maliciously abused the legal process, or if its actions were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. Authorizes the Corporation to recover such costs from the awardee against whom the award was made by offsetting the amount against future grant awards. Prohibits the Corporation from deducting more than five percent annually from a grant for such purposes.

Requires grants and contracts made for calendar years 1992 through 1996 to be made for at least 12 months, except for any grant to a new program commencing operations after the beginning of the applicable calendar year.

Sets forth provisions with respect to the establishment of local priorities and periodic analysis of the legal needs of clients in the area served by each such awardee.

Revises the definition of "staff attorney" to mean an attorney who: (1) is employed by a recipient organized in whole or in part for the provision of legal assistance to eligible clients under the Act; and (2) receives more than half of his or her annual professional salary from the proceeds of a grant or contract from the Corporation to such recipient (currently, an attorney who receives more than half of his annual professional income from a recipient organized solely for the provision of legal assistance to eligible clients.)

Directs the Corporation to conduct a study on legal assistance to older Americans.