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Despite opposition from the American Bar Association and a coalition of more than 70 civil rights, fair housing, consumer and other legal groups, a Senate committee on Wednesday approved the nomination of Sharon Browne of the Pacific Legal Foundation to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corp. Browne is one of three LSC nominees recommended to President Barack Obama by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the only one to trigger organized opposition. The other two nominees are: Charles Keckler, a visiting professor at the Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law, where he teaches civil procedure and evidence, and a former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Victor B. Maddox, partner in Fultz Maddox Hovious & Dickens in Louisville, Ky. The LSC is headed by an 11-member board of directors, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. By law, no more than six members may be of the same political party. By voice vote, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee agreed to send the three Republican nominations to the full Senate during a meeting called off of the Senate floor. Browne’s nomination in January immediately drew fire from civil rights groups because of her work at the Pacific Legal Foundation on a variety of conservative legal causes, such as opposition to Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts funding of legal services and support of California’s Proposition 209, a ballot initiative to end most affirmative action programs in that state. “Sharon Browne’s nomination is highly troubling because she has spent her entire career advocating against the very constituencies the Legal Services Corporation serves,” said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice in a letter to senators. “After extensively reviewing her record, I have seen nothing to indicate that she is committed to supporting women, people of color, or the poor — the very people LSC was created to support.” American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm in January also contacted Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to voice opposition to Browne’s nomination. In her letter, Lamm said Browne’s views and qualifications were not consistent with the criteria for LSC nominations that was adopted by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. The ABA committee, said Lamm, found that Browne is not committed to the freedom of LSC and its grantees from political control, and could not assure that she is fully committed to the role of legal services attorneys. However, Harold Johnson, an attorney and spokesman for the Pacific Legal Foundation, on Thursday said Browne is “incredibly passionate for principles of justice, equal rights and fairness.” The foundation, he added, is a legal services organization itself. “We defend people who are victims of government abuse and oppression and, in most cases, can’t marshall resources to defend themselves. She should be a great asset to the Legal Services board.” Browne is not the first attorney from the foundation whose nomination to the LSC board created controversy. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, who sought to abolish the LSC, chose Ronald Zumbrun, then president and co-founder of the foundation, to be board chairman. Zumbrun’s selection drew so much fire from legal services supporters that the administration dropped it in January 1982. Although Browne and the other two nominations now move to the Senate floor, Browne may still face obstacles. There may be an attempt to place a hold on her nomination or to seek a roll call vote of senators in order to place their votes on the record, according to groups following the nomination. Five other LSC board nominees, announced last August, await Senate confirmation. They are Robert Grey, partner in Hunton & Williams in Richmond, Va.; John Levi, partner in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin; Martha Minow, dean of the Harvard Law School; Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and Prof. Gloria Valencia-Weber of the University of New Mexico School of Law. Last year, the Senate confirmed Laurie Mikva as a board member. She is a staff attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Illinois Department of Employment Security and a former civil legal aid attorney and public defender.

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