Public Interest News Bulletin – March 19, 2010


  • 3/18/10 – State Bar of Wisconsin Website – “In a move supported by the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has approved releasing an additional $1.4 million to support prosecutors around the state in an effort to ease the increased workload caused by a new law increasing penalties for driving while intoxicated.  However, the committee on March 16 also passed on three opportunities to allocate even more support to already-strained district attorney offices in Wisconsin.”  Link to article.
  • 3/18/10 – Columbia Missourian (Op-ed) – as a litany of studies and reports have demonstrated, the indigent defense network in Missouri is laboring under the weight of too many cases with too few resources.  The 6th Amendment guarantee of a right to counsel that was recognized in Gideon v. Wainwright could be in jeopardy.  “At some point, justice underfunded is justice denied.”  In the current legislative climate, the problem will not likely be solved with a windfall of needed funding, though.  So, it may be necessary to take administrative steps that increase public defenders’ political clout and broaden their base of political support, giving them a stronger voice when they seek additional resources for their programs.  Link to op-ed.
  • 3/18/10 – San Francisco Chronicle – “A Senate committee approved the nominations of Sharon Browne and two other Republicans to the board of Legal Services Corp. last week on a voice vote with no dissent.  Ms. Browne’s nomination had been opposed by several civil rights and public interest organizations, which argued that some of her work and the work of her employer, the Pacific Legal Foundation, essentially undermined the mission of the legal services community.  However, “In written answers to questions from Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Browne said she supports federal legal aid to the poor. She disavowed some of her foundation’s positions, including a lawsuit that unsuccessfully challenged one of the major sources of legal aid funding.”  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: the PSLawNet Blog has additional coverage of  the Senate committee vote here.]
  • 3/18/10 – Press Release – “The New York Bar Foundation announced today that it has recently awarded 57 grants totaling $337,050 to fund charitable and educational law-related projects. The grants have been awarded to legal services agencies, bar associations and other nonprofit organizations to fund projects throughout New York State. Several grants will support programs that provide access to justice to those who suffer from domestic violence, to low-income or poor immigrants, to the elderly who are neglected or abused, and to incarcerated women. Portions of grant funding will help those seeking assistance with legal guardianships for disabled children, bankruptcy, foreclosures, debt collection, and consumer debt.”  Link to press release.
  • 3/18/10 – Baltimore Sun “Maryland Politics” Blog – Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a measure that would increase funding for financially beleaguered legal services programs through an increase in court filing fees.  However, the language in the House’s bill differs from a measure recently approved by the Senate, and the two must be reconciled before April 12th, when the legislative session ends.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: earlier this week a Washington Post editorial urged Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation that would boost funding for legal services providers throughout the state.  Shoring up funding for legal services is essential, the editorial argued, because the IOLTA funding mechanism in the state has been all but crippled during the recession; IOLTA yields fell from $6.7 million just 18 months ago to $2 million presently.  Link to editorial.]
  • 3/18/10 – New York Law Journal – “The New York City Bar yesterday retracted a finding from a survey suggesting that deferred associates were not satisfied with the lawyers with whom they worked at public interest groups. The city bar said it misinterpreted data it collected earlier this year.”  The City Bar attributed the mistake in interpreting the initial finding to a confusing presentation of the survey data.  A revised version of the survey report is now available.  In contrast to the initial report, the revised report shows that “deferred associates ‘were largely happy with their placements,’ a stark difference from the previous report, which suggested a “culture gap” had emerged between the law firm-bound lawyers and their public interest colleagues.”  Link to articleLink to revised report.  
  • 3/16/10 – Washington Post (Letter to the Editor) – Scott Wallace, now a foundation chair and formerly the director of defender services for the Nat’l Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) writes in praise of a recent Washington Post editorial, which itself was supportive of Attorney General Holder’s initiative to shore up indigent defense services throughout the country.  Wallace argues that the editorial did not go far enough, though, and that DOJ should pressure states to make sure that their public defense infrastructures do in fact meet constitutional obligations.  Link to letter
  • 3/16/10 – National Law Journal –  “The Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court will lay off 329 employees and close 17 courtrooms in response to cuts tied to California’s continuing budget crisis, administrators announced on Tuesday.”  There is some controversy surrounding the move; the Judicial Council of California, “which oversees court funding” throughout the state, expressed skepticism that this move by local court officials was necessary.  However, L.A. Superior Court Presiding Judge Tim McCoy, Jr. hinted that even more layoffs could be necessary to stem a budget deficit that could run to $140 million in the next four years.   Link to article.
  • 3/15/10 – New York Times – as U.S. military veterans return from combat deployments, a significant percentage is at risk of suffering from mental health problems.  Civilian courts across the country take veterans’ service and potential readjustment issues into account when they run into trouble with the law.  “Judges have recognized that many of those returning from war are carrying a heavy burden of damage that might not be physically visible.”  Several states have been seeing more veterans in courts, and in order to ensure that they receive the treatment they are due have been establishing special courts, akin to drug courts, that allow the judicial system to take into account the unique circumstances that affect veterans’ behavior.  Link to article.
  • 3/15/10 – The Daily Tell – “two $1 million grants to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University will establish the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice and the NextCare Urgent Care Family Violence Legal Clinic to address domestic law issues….  Together, these two new organizations will engage law students [on issues related to] child abuse, spousal abuse, family law, juvenile law, protective orders and more. It is hoped that the programs will not only benefit victims but also educate future generations of lawyers about the importance of serving family clients.”  Link to article.
  • 3/15/10 – New York Times – “A class-action suit to be argued next week in New York’s highest court has become a test of a national strategy by civil liberties groups to challenge what they say are failed public defender programs in many states.  Because an estimated 80 percent of felony defendants in large states are too poor to hire their own lawyers, and because the case is being watched around the nation, the case has the potential to alter the shape of the criminal justice system.”  In the suit, the New York Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of the statewide indigent defense infrastructure in the Empire State.  The Court of Appeals will decide whether the suit can go forward in a lower trial court.  The state has argued that the judiciary should not be involved in re-fashioning the indigent defense system through a court decision because it is the responsibility of the other two branches of government.  Link to article.
  • 3/15/10 – Cincinnati Enquirer – The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati has a launched the “Covering Kids and Families” campaign, which “aims to enroll 1,800 eligible children and teens in nine Southwest Ohio counties, including Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties, in Medicaid. There are an estimated 18,000 uninsured children and teens in the nine-county area.”  Campaign efforts will concentrate on outreach to underserved communities.  The initiative coincides with a similar undertaking by the state government to insure children who are eligible for health coverage but are not enrolled.  Link to article.
  • 3.14.10 – Minneapolis Star Tribune – Galen Robinson, an attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance, is used to helping low-income clients with matters that may not garner much media attention.  Now, though, the spotlight has found Robinson as he and team of colleagues wage a legal battle against Governor Tim Pawlenty over his budget-cutting move that would defund a nutrition program used by low-income Minnesotans.  Link to article
  • 3/12/10 – Los Angeles Times – a medical-legal partnership serving low-income residents in the Los Angeles area is one of 10 such programs in California and 76 partnerships nationwide.  Often, poor people will seek medical attention for health problems but will not realize that they also have underlying legal problems or that they may be able to use the justice system to improve their living conditions – and their health – by addressing poor housing conditions, accessing public benefits, and in other ways.  Medical-legal partnerships allow doctors and lawyers to take more broad-based approaches to improving their patients’/clients’ lives.  Link to article.

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