Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Florida Bar Foundation Provides Leadership And Funding For Justice

By Gregory P. Brown

As lawyers, we share a commitment to justice.  The Florida Bar Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, turns that commitment into action through its funding of programs that provide access to justice for Floridians living in poverty.  Through our support of The Florida Bar Foundation, we can demonstrate our belief that the justice system works best when it works for everyone ― regardless of economic status.

Locally, The Florida Bar Foundation is an important funding source for Bay Area Legal Services.  Through its Administration of Justice (AOJ) Grant Program, the foundation also helps fund special projects and initiatives across the state such as the Innocence Project of Florida, which has succeeded in exonerating 13 wrongfully imprisoned Floridians using DNA evidence since 2003, as well as the Florida Law Related Education Association, which teaches Florida students about democracy and the American legal system.  Several years ago, another AOJ grant went to Bay Area Legal Services for a highly successful and widely emulated Bankruptcy Pro Se Assistance Project that involved a collaboration with several other legal services organizations and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District.

If you visit the foundation’s website, you will be impressed with the number and diversity of the grantees assisted by the foundation.

Since 1981, the primary source of funding for The Florida Bar Foundation has been Florida’s Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) Program, which has enabled the foundation to provide about one-third of the total funding for civil legal aid organizations in Florida.  Over the past 32 years, Florida’s IOTA Program has distributed more than $425 million to help hundreds of thousands of poor people receive critically needed free civil legal assistance throughout Florida.

The Foundation also funds initiatives such as salary supplementation and loan repayment programs that help attract and retain legal aid attorneys.  The salary supplementation grant for Bay Area Legal Services was $403,260 in 2012-13.

In recent years, due to the impact of extremely low interest rates on IOTA revenue, the foundation has had to drastically reduce its funding to legal aid agencies.  Whereas in 2010, Bay Area Legal Services received a foundation general support grant of $396,467 to provide legal services, as well as a $164,800 foundation grant specifically for Children’s Legal Services, in 2013 those grant amounts were $180,393 and $71,957, respectively.  Overall, foundation funding is now about a quarter of legal aid funding statewide.

I urge you to take a few minutes to learn more about The Florida Bar Foundation, an organization in which all of us, as Florida attorneys, can take tremendous pride, and one that brings critical resources back to our community.  If you have questions about the foundation, feel free to ask me or my fellow Florida Bar Foundation board members from Hillsborough County, Hala Sandridge and Judge Jim Barton.