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Posted at 4:51 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

D.C. schools general counsel tapped to lead Legal Services Corp.

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 5:11 p.m. ET
The top lawyer for District of Columbia Public Schools and former president of the District of Columbia Bar has been tapped to lead Legal Services Corporation, it announced Monday.

James J. Sandman, who has served as D.C. Public Schools general counsel since 2007, will lead the independent federal nonprofit corporation responsible for providing civil legal aid to the nation's poor.

Sandman is slated to take office at the end of the month; acting president Victor M. Fortuno is expected to return to his role as general counsel, LSC said.

On Monday Sandman called the position, "The best job in American law."

"It is a unique opportunity to improve access to justice at a time when too many poor Americans are facing difficulty in getting fair treatment," Sandman said in an interview. He cited the rising tide of foreclosures and evictions, increased cases of domestic violence and emerging concerns for military veterans as just some of the legal issues facing lower-income Americans.

"The gap between the need for legal services by poor people and what's available to serve them has been widening in recent years," Sandman said. "The system doesn't work if you don't have a lawyer. Anyone who's tried to go into court alone knows that. [LSC] is designed to ensure fundamental fairness when people are facing the types of issues they're facing today."

In a statement, LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi called Sandman "a very distinguished attorney admired by his colleagues for his service to the community and to the legal profession."

Sandman was contacted about the job before November's elections, he said, insisting that his departure from D.C. schools had nothing to do with the inauguration of new mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Before D.C. schools, Sandman spent three decades with D.C.-based Arnold & Porter LLP, most recently as managing partner. A leading proponent of pro bono legal services, Sandman also serves as a vice chairman of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Established in 1974, LSC is led by an 11-member bipartisan board of directors. It distributes about $400 million in federal grants annually to 136 independent nonprofit legal aid programs nationwide, with most of the assistance going to low-income women and military veterans, according to the corporation.

Sandman's is the second high-level departure in the last month for DCPS following Michelle Rhee's resignation as schools chancellor in October. Chief Operations Officer Anthony Tata also is leaving to become superintendent of the Wake County, N.C. school system. Newly inaugurated D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has yet to name Rhee's successor, but Kaya Henderson continues to serve as interim chancellor.

Staff writer Bill Turque contributed to this report

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 3, 2011; 4:51 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Revolving Door  
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Maybe now he'll have a chance to do something really worthwhile for people in need.

Posted by: efavorite | January 3, 2011 8:44 PM | Report abuse

DCPS and its primary customers (no, not the employees), The Children, are definitely people in need.

Posted by: axolotl | January 4, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

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