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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