Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Obama Nominates California Attorney to Legal Services Corporation Board
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
President Obama has nominated an attorney from the conservative, Sacramento-based advocacy group Pacific Legal Foundation to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation, a move met with criticism yesterday by a left-of-center legal group.
The National Lawyers Guild called on Obama to withdraw his Monday nomination of Sharon L. Browne—a principal attorney and member of the PLF’s senior management—to the post.
The LSC is the nation’s principal funder of civil legal aid for the poor. Established by Congress in 1974, it provides grants to and oversees independent nonprofit legal aid programs throughout the country.
The corporation operates as a private, nonprofit entity, with a board of directors composed of 11 members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. By law, the board is bipartisan: No more than six members may be of the same political party.
The Pacific Legal Foundation was established in 1973 and claims to be “the oldest and most successful public interest legal organization that fights for limited government, property rights, individual rights and a balanced approach to environmental protection.”
Browne has authored briefs for the foundation arguing against race-based school district assignment policies and has been active in defending and implementing Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative which ended race- and sex- based discrimination and preferences in public contracting, employment and education.
The National Lawyers Guild is a left-wing bar association that describes itself as “dedicated to the need for basic and progressive change in the structure of our political and economic system…to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests.”
Explaining its opposition, the guild said yesterday that:
“Not only does the PLF oppose much of what Legal Services stands for, but it has also directly opposed funding for Legal Services agencies. The PLF filed an amicus brief seven years ago in support of litigation challenging the legality of IOLTAs, or Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, which are an essential supplementary funding resource for Legal Services agencies around the country.”
Calling on Obama to either appoint an independent or invite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to offer another candidate who would “seek to strengthen” the corporation, the group said Obama was “[a]t the very least…obligated to nominate someone who believes in the importance of ensuring that the poor be afforded the legal services they need.”
But Browne told the MetNews she was “very honored” to be considered for the post, and remarked that she considers the corporation to provide “an important service, especially to low income families that cannot afford to pay.”
She said was recommended to president for the post by McConnell, whose office contacted her earlier this year and asked if she was willing to be considered. She said she had no prior relationship with McConnell or his office, and found out about the appointment last week, when Obama announced the intended nomination.
McConnell’s office could not be reached for comment.
A graduate of UC Davis and University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Browne was admitted to the State Bar in 1985 and joined Pacific Legal Foundation that year. From 1991 to 1995, she was with the public issues law firm of Zumbrun, Best, & Findley in Sacramento, where she specialized in land use and education law.
Browne is a current member of the California Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a member of the Civil Rights Practice Group of the Federalist Society. She has also served as an adjunct professor of law at McGeorge for five years.
She said public interest law has given her “an opportunity to provide a very important public service to people,” and that “it gives the opportunity to help guide and interpret the law.”
Browne commented that the nomination was “very exciting,” but noted that there remains a long way to go until the Senate acts on her nomination. She also remarked that a seat on the board “is not a full time job” and said she planned to keep her “day job.”
If confirmed, Browne will serve out the term of board member Michael McKay, which expires July 13.
Obama on Monday also appointed Charles Norman Wiltse Keckler of Virginia and Victor B. Maddox of Kentucky to the board for terms expiring July 13. If confirmed, they would complete the terms of Frank B. Strickland of Georgia and Lillian R. BeVier of Virginia.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company