Archive for January, 2010

Philly's Juvenile Law Center: Founded by Four Grads Fresh out of Law School

Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center, which was founded  in 1976 by a group of idealistic Temple Law Grads and has evolved to become a nationally recognized leader in children’s rights issues, is profiled in the Wilkes Barre Times-Leader.

JLC’s founding members, two of whom still run the organization, made considerable sacrifices to pay their own bills while cultivating the fledgling – and fundless – organization’s growth: writing briefs for other attorneys, refereeing youth sports, and rooming with old college friends. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington State may cut State Work Study Program

The Seattle University Spectator reported today on a proposal of Washington Governor Christine Gregoire to suspend the state work study program for one year to address budget shortfalls. Washington, like many other states, offers a state-level work study program in addition to the Federal Work Study program most of us may be familiar with. A representative of the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board explained that this cut could be particularly devastating for graduate and professional students (including law students), because work study is the only need-based aid offered at that level by the state.

Other states have struggled with funding state-level work study programs in tough times too. Iowa eliminated their program for four years during the last decade, and its current funding level is at a fraction of what it was in the late 90’s.  Minnesota managed to escape with just a five percent cut for the 2010-11 year, though its program was also temporarily eliminated in the early 2000’s.

Watching the balance between state and federal support for higher education is critical – just because Federal Work Study programs stay intact doesn’t mean students at all levels aren’t being negatively affected in their financial aid scenarios.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – Jan. 29, 2010

  • 1.27.10 – Dallas Morning News – the new Dallas Bar Association president, Ike Vanden Eykel, is making a priority of raising funds to benefit legal services through the Campaign for Equal Justice.  Vanden Eykel, who himself is one of the city’s elite, highly-paid, attorneys, “intends to strong-arm those at the top of the legal system so that those at the bottom of society can have access to it.”  Link to article.
  • 1.26.10 – San Jose Mercury News – Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr has instructed prosecutors in her office to stop bringing criminal cases before Superior Court Judge Andrea Bryan.  Bryan “recently angered prosecutors by finding that a trial prosecutor committed numerous acts of misconduct.”  Carr is defending the decision as being based not just on this action by the judge, but on a pattern of actions.  And she notes that other prosecutors and public defenders have taken similar steps in other California courts.  Nonetheless, “experts in criminal law and ethics said the blanket boycott [of a particular judge]…is an abusive tactic that can damage the court system.”  Carr is running for re-election to her post.  Link to article.
  • 1.27.10 – MinnPost Website (Minnesota) – Minnesota’s Department of Human Services decided on Wednesday to extend its General Assistance Medical Care coverage for low-income adults by one month.  The program had been scheduled to terminate on March 1 because funding for it was “unalloted” through cost-saving measures by Governor Tim Pawlenty.  The DHS decision came two days after the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis threatened a lawsuit to stop the government from cutting the program off.  The legal aid program noted that “they would use the same arguments [in this effort] that were posed in a separate lawsuit that led a Ramsey County judge to rule that [the governor] overstepped his authority when he unalloted money for a state nutrition program.”  Link to article
  • 1.27.10 – North County Times (Southern California) – a high-stakes courtroom battle played out in Vista, California, as a “senior member of the…public defender’s office argued to Superior Court Judge Harry Elias that there has been ‘a continuing pattern of failure’ by prosecutors to supply evidence that could be important to the defense.”  While this argument took place in the context of minor theft case, the “heavyweight allegations drew a heavyweight audience in the courtroom,” including high-level members of the Vista branch of the D.A’s office and a chief administrator from the D.A.’s headquarters.  The D.A. released a statement attesting to her office’s high ethical standards.  Noteworthy also is that prosecutors have accused Judge Elias of bias.  Link to article.
  • 1.26.10 – KGNS TV Website (NBC Affiliate in Laredo, TX) [Video story and transcript] –  Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid has sued the state in “an attempt to force them to help starving families, many of which are here in Laredo.”  The lawsuit, filed in December against the Texas Health and Human Services Office, is “attempting to force [the office] to make quick decisions on the piles of pending Food Stamp Applications and bring in the manpower needed to complete the task.”  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: you may view past coverage of the suit from the Houston Chronicle (12/23/09) and Austin American-Statesman (12/18/09).]
  • 1.25.10 – Los Angeles Times Money & Company Blog – President Obama is proposing changes to the College Cost Reduction & Access Act’s Income Based Repayment program that would lower the required monthly payment amount, and is also proposing an expansion of the CCRAA’s debt forgiveness program that would lower the pay-in period for qualified borrowers from 25 to 20 years.  Those in public service would still be eligible for forgiveness in 10 years.  Link to blog post.
  • Government Executive Newsletter – the federal Office of Personnel Management unveiled a new version of its USAJobs website on Monday.  The new, cleaner looking version of the website “simplifies the site’s searching capability” and “also includes updates on the status of positions as well as a candidate’s application.”  Link to article.
  • 1.25.10 – Blog of the Legal Times – the National Veterans Legal Services Program filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government in 2008, alleging that some veterans “were illegally denied disability benefits despite being diagnosed with severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that should have qualified them for free care.”  This week, NVLSP announced that through an agreement with the government, an “estimated 4,300 class members will be eligible for a faster review of their disability ratings, as well as a correction of their past and future benefits.”   Link to article.
  • 1.25.10 – New York Law Journal [Article contributed by Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge, State of New York] – the New York legal community, which “is at the vanguard of a nationwide increase in lawyer pro bono,” must remain proactive in the public interest arena because IOLA funding for legal services program has declined markedly.  One new tool to aid in providing legal services to New York’s most needy is the Attorney Emeritus Program, which allows retired lawyers in good standing who are at least 55 years old to take on “Attorney Emeritus” status, allowing them to provide pro bono services “under the auspices of qualified organizations, including legal services programs, bar associations and…volunteer lawyer programs.”  Attorneys Emeritus will be exempted from CLE requirements and will receive malpractice insurance coverage through the organization with which they volunteer.  Link to full piece.   [Ed. Note: the New York Times had covered the Attorney Emeritus program in an article on 1.6.10.] 
  • 1.23.10 – “Delaware Online” Website – Delaware’s Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., is sharing $364,621 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with another nonprofit.  The Legal Aid Society will use the grant funding “to help finance investigations into alleged housing discrimination and to enforce the state Fair Housing Act…”  Link to article.
  • 1.22.10 – New Orleans Times-Picayune – the Orleans Parish district attorney’s and public defender’s offices have agreed upon a plan to ramp up efficiency in the assignment and  management of criminal cases in the courthouse, but judges have not gotten on board yet.  In effect, the change in process would allow one prosecutor to remain with a criminal case beginning to end, avoiding the occurence of cases bouncing from one prosecutor to another.  The district attorney has cited a letter from judges, raising “unspecified concerns about due process for defendants if the…process was changed.”  An official with the Vera Institute for Justice, which has worked in support of the proposed plan, does not believe that it would “violate any state or federal standards.”  Link to article.

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New Report on Low-wage Worker Abuses

The National Employment Law Project released a report today on the state of low-wage workers in New York City(pdf). The New York Times City Room blog has a nice summary of the report, which found that over half of low-wage workers in the city were regularly being paid less than they were due. Many of these violations resulted from not being paid the minimum wage, or not being paid overtime. However, the report also includes stories of tipped employees not being paid at all, and one employer who went so far as to withhold money from earned tips to cover unemployment and social security taxes. If you want to learn more about low-wage workers and the conditions they often face, NELP released a report last year titled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” (pdf) that looks at conditions across the country.

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Expert Opinion: Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader – Joy Moses

Joy Moses is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

A recurring feature on the blog will be “Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader” – a short interview with a variety of public interest legal leaders including non-profit directors, public defenders, law school administrators, and more. Our fifth installment is with Joy Moses, a policy analyst in the Poverty and Prosperity program at Center for American Progress. Before starting at the Center, she worked at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty focusing on educational issues facing homeless students, and she started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where she also focused on education issues. Our questions with her today focus on her experience as a policy-oriented lawyer.

Keep reading to learn more about policy lawyering.

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NLADA Opposes Nominee for Legal Services Corp. Board

Last December, one day after President Obama signed a budget bill which included an 8% increase in funding for the Legal Services Corporation for FY 2010, the White House announced nominations of three attorneys for LSC board positions.  Two days ago, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), an umbrella organization for civil legal services and public defense programs throughout the country, joined a coalition of public interest organizations in opposing one of the three nominees: Sharon Browne, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Some Background on LSC: The Legal Services Corporation was established by Congress in 1974 as an independently functioning, federally-funded, nonprofit corporation.  Its mission: “To promote equal access to justice in our Nation and to provide high quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons.”  There are 137 LSC grantee organizations – which themselves operate as independent nonprofit entities and also receive some of their funding from non-LSC sources – providing legal services to low-income individuals and families throughout the country.  LSC’s annual appropriation was recently bumped from $390 million to $420 million, $394.4 million of which will be distributed to LSC’s grantee organizations.

LSC Board Nominations: by statute (42 USC 2996c), LSC’s board of directors consists of eleven individuals, no more than six of whom may be from the same political party.  Board members are appointed by the president, subject to the consent of the Senate. President Obama’s nomination announcement raised some eyebrows because it includes politically conservative attorneys, including Ms. Browne.  But the nomination of individuals with even starkly differing ideologies than the president is not unusual in and of itself, because of the LSC board’s bipartisanship requirement.

As for this week’s events, NLADA joined a letter of opposition, written under the letterhead of the liberal Alliance for Justice, which argues that:

Ms. Browne should not be placed in a position to help determine the future of legal services for poor Americans. She and the Pacific Legal Foundation (“PLF”), her employer, have engaged in litigation aimed at defunding those very services and legal efforts opposing the principle of equal justice—the core of LSC’s mission.

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NALP Launches 2010 Public Interest Attorney Salary Survey

Calling All Public Interest Attorneys: please have your office participate in the National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) 2010 Public Sector & Public Interest Attorney Salary Survey.

What is the Survey?

Every 2 years, NALP conducts this unique survey of public interest and government law offices to gather important data on attorney salaries, benefits packages, and loan repayment assistance programs.  Public interest law offices have relied upon data from past surveys in resetting salary scales; negotiating union contracts; advocating for legislative changes to salaries and expansions of loan repayment programs; and more.

The survey is endorsed by the Legal Services Corporation, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and others.

Who should participate?

  • Civil Legal Services Organizations
  • Public Defender’s Offices
  • District Attorney/Local Prosecutor’s Offices
  • All other nonprofit, public interest law offices (e.g. those organizations that promote civil liberties, human rights, advocate for the homeless, etc.)

How to Participate

It is very easy to do.  The survey is now being mailed by hard copy to public interest law offices throughout the country.  It is also available electronically here: https://vovici.com/wsb.dll/s/9c6eg423bc.    (Please complete either the hard-copy or electronic versions, not both.)  All survey participants will receive a free electronic copy of the report when it is released later in the year.

Please contact Steve Grumm, NALP’s Director of Public Service Initiatives, with any questions: sgrumm@nalp.org or 202-296-0057.

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Northwestern Law's Loan Forgiveness to Mesh with CCRAA

The ABA Journal reports that the Northwestern University School of Law has become the third law school (Georgetown, Berkeley) to dovetail their public service loan forgiveness program with the College Cost  Reduction & Access Act’s “Income-based Repayment” and “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” provisions.

When regs were being drafted in 2008 to implement the CCRAA, many educational-debt experts wondered how its programs to reduce monthly payments and ultimately forgive the loans of qualifying public service lawyers would interact with the potpourri of differently-structured LRAPs already offered by law schools, state governments, and some employers.  These three law schools have decided that the best solution is to put the CCRAA at the center of things and rework their programs to orbit around it.

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New Report on Colorado Sheepherders

Ever wondered about the range of people you could help with your law degree? Colorado Legal Services just released a report on the employment status and abuses facing migrant sheepherders. They found that many of these workers are severely isolated, underpaid, “on call” around the clock, and frequently face abuses such as lack of access food, communication, personal documents, and more. The report is fascinating, and highlights the range of legal issues at play from immigration law to employment and contract law.

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New USAJobs Website

Anybody who has looked at or applied for federal jobs knows the USAJobs website all too well. Today, there’s good news! The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) revealed yesterday a brand-new interface for the USAJobs site, featuring more user-friendly ways to sort and search for jobs, refine searches, and most importantly, track the status of your applications. A brief article from Government Executive summarizes the changes and provides some nice quotes from OPM officers explaining the motivation for change. One particularly nice feature to check out is the Students page, which has information on internships, fellowships, and routes into permanent federal service.

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