On November 2nd, Chicago welcomed back its own Kareem A. Dale, Special Assistant to President Obama, to address issues of concern to the Chicago legal community. Mr. Dale met with several groups during his visit including a forum of bar leaders hosted by ISBA President, John O’Brien.
Paula Holderman, ISBA Board of Governors and Candidate for Third Vice-President, introduced her friend and former Winston & Strawn colleague, Kareem Dale. Mr. Dale explained that through his work with the White House Office of Public Engagements as well as the Domestic Policy Council, his visit was part of President Obama’s continuing interest in outreach to the legal community and obtaining comments and feedback on the justice system. While Mr. Dale’s responsibilities are varied, one key area of focus is Americans with disabilities.
In his brief remarks about the priorities right now for the Obama Administration, he specifically discussed key concerns associated with healthcare reform, civil rights, youth violence, the Patriot Act and issues related to Guantanamo Bay. He also noted that the White House is working on the 2011 budget with OMB.
The bar leaders discussed a number of concerns with Mr. Dale related to legal services and the justice system overall. These discussions included the following topics:
• Need for increased funding for legal services;
• Recommendation to remove government-imposed funding restrictions that are applied to private funds raised by legal organizations—privately generated funds should have greater flexibility in how the same are used;
• Reevaluate prohibition on public funding of legal services that prohibits attorneys from seeking cost recovery in cases where appropriate—the government also would benefit from such recoveries with a possible funding “true up”;
• Support for legislation to allow more opportunities for loan forgiveness for attorneys taking positions with not-for-profit organizations and/or certain government positions;
• Address judicial vacancies on the Northern District as part of improving access to justice;
• Examine disproportionate minority confinement situation in our prison system and how to reverse this reality—Mr. Dale commented that President Obama is committed to reforming the “war on drugs,” which is a critical part of this problem; and,
• Immigration reform as a means of addressing a number of social and legal concerns.
In responding to the many comments raised about the critical importance of legal services, President O’Brien said that lawyers are generous with their time and talent but they cannot take charge of all of the critical social and legal services needs at issue. He asked that Mr. Dale take back a strong message to President Obama that more funding is needed for legal services to ensure equal access to justice for all.
In closing, Mr. Dale observed that the Obama Administration is interested in creative solutions to address the concerns identified at this forum. He would like to hear from attorneys that have thoughts, comments or insights on how concerns over legal services may be improved. He invited the bar leaders to communicate further with him at. ■