By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, August 23, 2017, Legal Services Corporation (LSC) President James J. Sandman joined Legal Services Alabama (KSA) staff for a day of events focused on civil legal issues affecting low-income Americans in Alabama and across the country. The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) was asked by LSC and LSA to join them for a reception afterwards and a joint press conference at the Alabama Bar Association following the reception. Well, the press conference did not happen and the event was most memorable for the absence of LSA head former Congressman Artur Davis. On Friday August 25, we learned why Wednesday’s event was altered when Davis made it public that he has resigned from his role as the head of LSA.
Rep. Davis wrote in an op-ed to the Alabama Media Group: “A few days ago, I resigned from the leadership of Alabama’s legal services program. It came at the end of a turbulent several weeks where I was expending more time clashing with a board president and a few dissident employees than I was spending on devising strategies to serve Alabama’s low income families. And the clashes turned very petty: after I had the nerve to reassign a longtime administrative aide who pitched a tantrum, I suddenly found myself served with an out-of-the-blue suspension notice.”
Davis said, “I haven’t exactly taken it lying down and have asked the national Legal Services Corporation to take a hard look at the integrity and future of the Alabama program, which desperately needs an intervention. But I chose resignation rather than a protracted fight to regain authority, even though lawyers have told me I would have won. I have other plans for my life, including a return to the public arena sooner or later. And maybe I had hit the wall on what I could do at Legal Services.” “I took pride in every single lawyer on the payroll, but I felt demoralized every time I read our monthly data on case load and saw that we were not fundamentally different from our legal aid counterparts around the country: we spent 80 percent of our time on short-term representations and even our best lawyers hardly ever sued corporate wrongdoers.”
Davis said that the need for legal services for the poor is so great that, “There was no shortage of people who called our hotline needing help: 90 percent of them we either turned away or gave only limited-scope advice.”
On Wednesday morning, Sandman visited the Legal Services Alabama office in Montgomery without Davis in attendance. We did receive comments from Davis and Alabama Bar Association Augusta Dowd in a pre-event press release. Neither they nor Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) who the release claimed would also be there, actually were.
LSC President Sandman said that the first sentence of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Sandman that the founders put “establish Justice” first. I think that was by design; because there is no way to “insure domestic Tranquility” with establishing Justice and there is no country worth defending unless there is justice.
LSC President Sandman said that to often the poor have not received the justice that they deserve. “The legal system was built by lawyers, for lawyers, with the assumption that everybody could afford a lawyer.” This is not the case for over 60 million Americans who qualify for our services. If you sit in on family court in many jurisdictions, most of those families are there without an attorney. That is very complex laws and people really need representation there. In most foreclosures the people being foreclosed on are not represented by an attorney; however most landlords are represented by attorneys in foreclosures.
Davis has had an interesting political career. He challenged Congressman Earl Hilliard Ae. (D-Birmingham) in a Democratic Primary in 2002 and won. In 2008, he bucked Alabama Democratic Party bosses by endorsing and then chairing his longtime friend’s, Senator Barack Obama, Alabama Campaign. He even gave a speech in support of Obama at the Democratic Party convention and appeared to be one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars. There was even some reports that Obama considered Davis for US Attorney General. Ultimately that appointment went to Eric Holder. In 2010 Davis ran for Governor of Alabama. Perhaps to make himself more electable in the general election, he was the only Democratic member of the House Congressional Black Caucus to vote against Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). That and his opposition to gambling expansion were not popular positions with Democrats so he lost the Democratic nomination to then Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks (D). Running for Governor meant vacating his Seventh Congressional District seat, which ultimately went to Terri Sewell (D-Selma). Davis switched to the Republican Party and endorsed Mitt Romney for President (R-Massachusetts). Davis even addressed the GOP Presidential convention in 2012. Davis reportedly considered running for Congress as a Republican in Virginia; but ultimately he moved to Montgomery and ran for Mayor in 2015, losing to incumbent Todd Strange. Later he tried to switch back to the Democratic Party, so he could run for their nomination for Montgomery County Commissioner. They refused to allow him to qualify as a Democrat.
Davis is 49.
Legal Services Alabama received $6,174,026 in fiscal year 2016 from LSC.