Archive for January, 2010

Practising Law Institute Audio Briefing on Haiti Help

The Practising Law Institute is offering a free one-hour audio webcast this Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 1 PM EST on how the legal community can best provide assistance in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake. The briefing will be largely focused on Temporary Protected Status applications, as well as some other ways lawyers can help in the wake of natural disasters. For more information and to register, visit the PLI website.

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New Resource for Those Helping Pro Se Litigants

Technola blogged today about the release of the newest version of A2J Author 3.0, which can be used to create “user-friendly interfaces that help self-represented litigants fill out court forms and other legal documents.” A2J Author is free for non-commercial use and is available for download – check out Technola, the Center for Access to Justice and Technology, and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction to learn more.

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Upcoming Opportunity for DC-area Public Interest People

The American University Washington College of Law Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law in conjunction with the WCL Continuing Legal Education program is hosting a one-day symposium next Thursday, Jan. 28 on the impact of the recession on social welfare. The program is called “Framing Problems and Finding Solutions: A Look at the Effects of the Recession on Social Welfare,” and is being offered at no cost, though registration is required. You can read more about the program and register on the WCL website.

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NPR Reports on the Bail Bond System

NPR has a fascinating report on the state of the bail bond system in the United States. Part one of three was posted yesterday, and discussed the situation in Lubbock, Texas, which is not dissimilar to how most of the country functions. Some highlights from the story include:

  • 2/3 of the people currently in U.S. jails are there because they cannot make bail.
  • The ability to make bail plays a substantial role in getting reduced sentences.
  • Bail is now typically set at what a judge thinks a defendant can afford to pay a bondsman, not what they can afford to pay (e.g. a $10,000 bail if they can afford $1000).

This is a devastating story that highlights the interaction of the privatized world of commercial bondsmen with the public one of district attorney’s offices, judges, public defenders, and law enforcement.

Part two of three was posted this morning, and focuses on the consequences of the bail bond system, both to jails and to inmates.

Edited to Add: Part three of three was posted this afternoon and discusses one county’s successful pre-trial release program which was slashed due to an effective lobbying effort by the bail bondsmen in that county.

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Public Interest News Bulletin- Jan. 22, 2010

  • 1.21.10 – Cloud Computing Journal (running a Business Wire piece) – $2 million in cy pres funds resulting from an $11.5 million class-action settlement in California will go to legal services and other public interest organizations.  Beneficiaries of the funding windfall include Public Counsel, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, East Bay Community Law Center, and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.  Link to press release.
  • 1.19.10 – Government Executive newsletter – by 2013, 78% of federal, administrative law judges will be eligible for retirement.  (Over 50% are eligible now.)  Feeling the pressure to beef up their ranks, agencies that “rely most heavily on [ALJs]…would like to be able to hire them for specialized knowledge” and “find ways to have conversations about [their] job performance without infringing on judicial independence.”  Link to article.
  • 1.18.10 – Kitsap Sun (Washington State) – in the wake of a statewide initiative to bolster the indigent defense network, Kitsap County, in Washington State, “began dramatically reshaping how the indigent are represented in criminal court” by creating an Office of Public Defense.  Having “in-house” public defenders has proven highly cost-effective; it costs the government about one-half the amount to have a staff public defender handling felonies than it would to contract with outside counsel.  The OPD’s supervising attorney “anticipates that the county will hire even more public defenders.”  Link to article.
  • 1.18.10 – New York Times “City Room” Blog  - in a  follow-up to a blog post last week describing the public interest placement experience of deferred Ropes & Gray associate Chris Reid, Mr. Reid offers thoughtful answers to questions raised by readers of the original blog post.  Mr. Reid’s responses address his adjustment to a chaotic practice setting (housing court), the rewards of his immersion into public-interest culture, and how this experience may change his approach to practice when he returns to the private bar.  Link to article.
  • 1.18.10 – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – the Wisconsin Department of Corrections has sent letters to some former inmates who have completed their sentences, demanding that they submit DNA samples or face possible prosecution.  However, the state’s DNA submission law does not “expressly say that offenders are still obligated to submit DNA if they are no longer in prison, on probation or on parole.”  Some critics charge that the Department of Corrections may be exceeding its statutory authority, giving the former inmates an easy ground for suppression should their DNA be used against them in a future criminal proceeding.  Link to article.
  • 1.17.10 – “Ozarks First” Website – (including video report) – the amount of low-income applicants seeking help from Legal Services of Southern Missouri has risen by 20% in just one year.  And “[b]ecause of our funding we can’t help everyone,” according to the group’s executive director, who further notes that, “[w]e’re turning away a lot of people who are income eligible.”  This leads some low-income Missourians to take a do-it-yourself approach to resolving their legal problems.  Link to article.
  • 1.16.10 – Chicago Public Radio – the business of Cook County’s Central Bond Court takes place at a frenzied pace, as judges, prosecutors, and defense counsel race through bond/bail hearings for newly charged defendants.  This very rapid spinning of the wheels of justice – an average hearing lasts 47 seconds – concerns some critics, who question how justice can be done with so little time devoted to many cases, and who also note that defendants’ fates vary considerably from judge to judge.  Link to story.

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Expert Opinion: Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader – Derwyn Bunton

Derwyn Bunton, Chief Public Defender of Orleans Parish

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. For our fourth “Five Questions” we spoke with Derwyn Bunton, the Chief Public Defender for Orleans Parish (serving the city of New Orleans, Louisiana). Mr. Bunton is 1998 graduate of New York University School of Law and has been Chief Public Defender since the fall of 2008. Before that he worked for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and Juvenile Regional Services, serving youth involved in the criminal justice system. Mr. Bunton was incredibly generous with his time, and as a result this is a special 7-question edition of Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader.

Read the Questions and Answers!

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Supreme Court Blocks McCain-Feingold Provisions

The Supreme Court handed down their decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission today, a not unexpected 5-4 decision that overturns two earlier cases and allows for considerably more spending on political campaigns by corporations, unions, and other organizations. This decision has potentially huge repercussions for the future of campaign finance reform. You can read the complete decision here (pdf), which includes Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the court, concurring opinions from Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas (Thomas dissented from the majority to explain that he would overturn the donor disclosure requirements as well – something the rest of the majority was unwilling to do), and an extensive dissent from Justice Stevens (joined by Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer).

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Post Story on Barriers to Safety Net Access

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia blogged yesterday about a Washington Post article detailing increased difficulty D.C. residents are facing in accessing safety net programs such as Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This is due to the combination of a rise in applicants for these programs and the budget-driven closing of two Income Maintenance Administration (IMA) service centers. In the face of bureaucratic hassles, civil legal services such as those provided by the Legal Aid Society are increasingly important in helping people access these programs.

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A Day in the life of Bond Court

Chicago Public Radio has a fascinating story on the inner workings of Cook County Bond Court – the court that sets bail for defendants awaiting trial. Cook County has one of the most over-worked bond courts in the country, with the average hearing lasting 47 seconds (leading some critics to call the proceedings an unconstitutional denial of due process). This article provides a unique and rarely-shared view into an important part of the work of public defenders and prosecutors.

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Cover Public Interest Retreat Feb. 26-28, 2010 – Registration Open

The annual Cover Retreat, which provides a forum for public-interest and reform-minded law students, practitioners, and academics to gather, network, and exchange ideas, will take place at Camp Sargent in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Learn more about the retreat’s rich history and download this year’s registration info.

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