The Legal Service Corp. has asked Congress for $45.7 million more than President Carter recommended it get for the next fiscal year -- not the higher amount reported in yesterday's paper. The president recommended $291.8 million for the nonprofit corporation while it is asking Congress for $337.5.
JAILHOUSE LAWYERS ARE NOT known for getting paid. They usually are nonattorneys with plenty of time on their hands to read law books, draft briefs and file suits -- either for themselves or as behind-the-scenes advisers for fellow prisoners. Sometimes they win their cases.
This is about a jailhouse lawyer who not only won his case but was awarded$10 an hour in legal fees from the U.S. government for acting as his own attorney from his Leavenworth jail cell in a freedom of information suit against the Secret Service.
George R. Jones Jr., a convicted counterfeiter, is the first known prisoner to be awarded legal fees for acting as his own lawyer, the Justice Department said.
"It's a novel way to make money while still in prison," said Royce Lamberth of the U.S. Attorney's office here. He has recommended that the government appeal last month's decision by U.S. District Judge Barrington P. Parker awarding Jones a total of $425 in legal fees.
Jones tried to bill the government $50 an hour for his time, which would have netted him $4,250 for the 85 hours he said he worked. While Judge Parker said the $50-an-hour rate would be fine for an attorney, he ruled that Jones wasted time because he had no experience as a lawyer. Moreover, much of the time for which he was billing the government was not legal work but instead was for doing clerical chores such as typing his briefs.
"He should not be compensated for this activity at attorney rates," Parker said.
At the same time, Parker praised Jones' skill, pointing out that the prisoner won an appeal after the case was dismissed at the District Court level.
Jones, in jail on a five-year sentence for possession of counterfeit money, had sued the Secret Service to get documents about his case. Although other nonlawyers have won attorney fees, this is the first time one has been awarded to a prisoner in jail -- all of which causes the Justice Department to worry that more jailhouse lawyers will find this a profitable way to use the time they have on their hands.
What's the American Bar Association trying to do? Put Washington lawyers out of business?
The ABA's Standing Committee on Legal Drafting is holding a public program here Friday on whether a three-line statement can replace the close to 2,500 pages that make up the Truth in Lending Act, regulations stemming from it and its supporting interpretations and letters.
As the ABA announcement puts it, "What if the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z were repealed and the supporting interpretations and letters rescinded and the total caboodle were replaced by the following statute and no more:
"In consumer credit transactions, the creditor shall disclose the annual percentage rate. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000."
A panel of government, industry and academic lawyers will try to figure out if the simple statement would help or harm consumers and industry more than the present law with its accompanying baggage of regulations and interpretations.
Carl Felsenfeld, vice president of Citibank in New York, which has pioneered in the use of plain language in consumer transactions, said many feel that merely making laws simpler raises more questions than laws drafted in traditional legalese.
Nonetheless, there is a general feeling that the amount of regulations and interpretations that accompany the law has gotten out of hand.
The act itself takes up only a few pages in the books. Almost 300 pages of regulations stem from it and there also are two volumes of commentary and interpretations put out by the Federal Reserve Board. Together, they total more than 3,000 pages.
Felsenfeld will be moderator for the discussion on whether all that verbiage can be replaced with a simple three-line, two-sentence statement. The program will be from 9 a.m. till noon Friday at the Dupont Plaza Hotel, Connecticut and Massachusetts avenues NW.
Other speakers will be Nathaniel E. Butler, associate director of the Federal Reserve Board's division of consumer affairs; Robert B. Evans, general counsel of the National Consumer Finance Association; Boston College Law Prof. William Willier, former director of the Boston College Consumer Law Center, and University of Illinois Law Prof. Jonathan Landers.
The Legal Service Corp. has asked Congress for $337.5 million -- $125.7 million more than President Carter recommended it get -- for the next fiscal year. LSC President Thomas Ehrlich told the Senate Appropriation Committee the extra money will allow the corporation to complete its congressionally mandated task of supplying basic legal aid to the nation's poor.
With the $337.5 million, all areas of the country would have legal service programs staffed at the equivalent of two attorneys for each 10,000 poor people.
Ehrlich, who is due to become head of AID, is leaving the Legal Services Corp. May 1 and Alice Daniel, its general counsel, has been named acting president while a search committee looks for a permanent chief.