Archive for April, 2010

KSA's Jettisoned from Federal Hiring Process Soon?

From the Government Executive newsletter:

As soon as next week, the White House will release a hiring reform memo that will promote using résumés in place of knowledge, skills and abilities essays, a senior human capital official told Government Executive.

The official, who spoke on background in advance of the memo’s release, said Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management officials almost have completed the document and are prepared to pass it along to the White House for clearance.

Here’s the full story.

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Battle for Independence of Law School Clinics Continues

We’ve posted quite a bit in recent weeks about legislative efforts on the state level to curtail the scope of operation of law school clinical programs that engage in litigation that is sometimes politically unpopular.  The University of Maryland controversy got a lot of press coverage, but it also shined a light on similar debates elsewhere.  For instance, several days ago, the New York Times ran a piece that touches on the Maryland controversy and zooms out more broadly to look at the proliferation of law school environmental clinic programs in recent decades, their relationships with the environmental movement, and the dust-ups that have occurred throughout the country as clinical programs have gotten involved in litigation against business interests.  The Times’s editorial board got involved, too, coming down on the side of clinical programs (noting yet another, recent controversy in Louisiana), arguing that business interests prompting legislative scrutiny of clinic activities interfere “with law schools’ freedom to decide how to educate students” and that “extracting information from clinics about the people they serve … also threatens the clinics’ relationships with their clients.”

As regards that Louisiana controversy, the Shreveport Times’s editorial board weighed in today, noting skepticism about the unintended consequences of a proposed bill that would curtail law school clinic programs’ ability to sue government entities:  “A move to hamstring university law clinics that represent poor citizens in environmental cases could also affect free legal representation related to domestic violence and juvenile justice.”

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Public Interest News Bulletin – 4/23/10

  • 4.23.10 – Fulton County Daily Report (Georgia) – a local estate law attorney recounts the unique reward that comes with helping a pro bono client who had nowhere else to turn and, by way of a “top 8” list, explains the reasons that she has built pro bono into her practice.  Link to article (hosted on law.com).
  • 4.22.10 – Washington Post – in Perdue v. Kenny A., a decision handed down by the Supreme Court this week, public interest lawyers may have scored a longer-term victory while enduring a shorter-term loss.  The case had to do with whether lawyers who prevail in federal cases and achieve a result in the public interest could be awarded not just attorneys fees but also financial “enhancements” on account of their advocacy.  In Perdue, a successful action brought by a public interest organization and pro bono co-counsel against the State of Georgia resulted in “a transformation of Georgia’s dysfunctional foster-case system.”  A judge awarded not just attorneys fees, but an additional amount equal to 75% of those fees in recognition of their excellent advocacy and their achieving a favorable result.  Georgia argued that there were no grounds for such an enhancement in the law.  The Supreme Court disagreed with Georgia, finding that such enhancements could be permitted.  But it set up very narrow parameters in which it could happen, preferring only an amount equal to attorneys fees to be the presumptively correct award.  It did not allow the enhancement of $4.5 million to stand in this case, and sent it back to the lower court for reconsideration.  Link to article.  See additional coverage from the ABA Journal.
  • 4.21.10 – South County Spotlight (Oregon) – after Columbia County Legal Aid and the Oregon State Bar (its funder) hit loggerheads concerning the former’s precarious funding situation, a state senator helped organize a “mediation” session between the two groups.  CCLA is one of a small group of legal services organizations that does not operate under the umbrella of Legal Aid Services of Oregon.  CCLA’s funding comes from court filing fees from Columbia County, which may not be enough to sustain the staff needed to help its residents.  Still, CCLA fears that a merger with LASO would lead to closure of its office, potentially “forcing [clients] to visit LASO’s office in Portland.”  CCRA’s director argues that the unique types of issues and client base in Columbia County would make it difficult to provide out-of-county services effectively.  Link to article.
  • 4.20.10 – Harvard Law Record – a group of public-service minded Harvard Law students is spearheading a fundraising initiative – the Post-Graduate Student Funded Fellowship – that would bankroll a public interest fellowship for one graduating classmate.  The group notes that “$1 per day for 1 month from each student … would fund a fellow classmate to work in the public interest for a year following graduation.”  The group, which hopes that the project will remain institutionalized after its founders graduate, has created a website to collect donations and is also taking the tried-and-true “bake sale” route to kick off fundraising efforts.   Link to article.  And see additional coverage (4.22.10) in the National Law Journal.
  • 4.20.10 – San Francisco Chronicle – in the wake of a scandal inside San Francisco’s crime lab, the city’s public defender suggested that “[a]s many as 40,000 drug cases … may need to be reviewed and it’s going to take money to do it.” Already, more than 500 drug cases have been dismissed on account of “concerns about the police lab’s performance.”  The public defender is arguing that neither the police nor the district attorney should take the lead in investigating apparent malfeasance at the lab because both organizations rely on the lab for support in making criminal cases.  The defender and DA do agree, though, that any investigation will be expensive.  Link to story.  [Ed. Note: some background on the scandal, which centers on the erratic behavior of a technician who may have stolen cocaine from the lab, is available via a 4.18.10 Associated Press story.]
  • 4.20.10 – American Lawyer Daily– Andrew Ardinger, a Class-of-2009 law school grad whose law firm start date was deferred, is spending a year with the Public Interest Law Project (PILP), a civil legal services organization in California.  Ardinger has occasionally blogged for the American Lawyer about his public-interest experience.  His latest AmLaw post suggests that his experience at PILP thus far has offered ample opportunities for client contact and for cultivating practice skills, including working on a complaint and participating in a settlement negotiation on an important public benefit case.  Link to blog post.
  • 4.19.10 – Bangor Daily News (Maine) – since last October, the Penobscot County Bar Association has been offering free attorney consults with low-income clients who are representing (or will represent) themselves in court.  “About 75 percent of the people who appear in Maine courts in criminal, civil and family matters are not represented by attorneys, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said last fall.”  One of the reasons for this is that Maine’s civil legal services programs are overworked, and can serve only about one quarter of eligible individuals who apply for services.  The clinic has by all accounts been successful, and as a result the county bar association has been nominated for an ABA public service award.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: in recent weeks there has been coverage around the country of bar associations’ and public interest organizations’ attempts to better support rising numbers of pro se litigants.  See related stories coming out of Michigan (Detroit Free Press, 4.15.10) and Texas (Texas Tribune, 4.13.10; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 4.1.10).]
  • 4.17.10 – Wisconsin Rapids Tribune – officials in Wood County, Wisconsin hope that a forthcoming statewide change in the formula used to determine if a criminal defendant is eligible for a public defender will reduce county legal bills.  At present, “[i]f a judge decides a defendant cannot pay for a lawyer but doesn’t meet the criteria for a public defender, the judge appoints an attorney, and the county pays the bill.”  The indigent defense eligibility standards had not been updated since 1987, with a result being that a lot of poor defendants were determined ineligible for a public defender even though they were living in poverty.  The state’s decision to expand the standards will mean that more defendants will be eligible for public defenders, with the state picking up most of the tab.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: see past coverage of the Wisconsin governor signing into law the bill to expand the eligibility standards via the Wisconsin Bar Association website (3.17.10).]

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Government Employees Unenthusiastic about Top Promotions

A new survey, conducted by the Senior Executive Association (and reported on at GovExec.com) found that many federal employees were leery of seeking promotion to the top Senior Executive Service level. If you’re like this PSLawNet blogger and have a hard time keeping all the federal designations straight, check out the PSLawNet Federal Government Resources for a quick explanation – in brief, SES employees are the top managers and supervisors who are not political appointees. The survey found that concerns over work-life balance are a bigger impediment to younger employees (half of all respondents under 40 versus 40% of those over 50). It also found that the higher one’s salary is, the less attractive the attendant pay bump in moving to SES becomes (employees at the top of the GS scale can make over $150,000 annually, while the base SES salary runs from about $120,000 to $180,000).

Interestingly, the survey found a disconnect between the chief human capital officers (CHCOs) survey responses and the GS-14 and -15 respondents, where the CHCOs thought the monetary benefits to the SES rank are the most influential, and the people considering applying for promotion were much more heavily swayed by “the chance to contribute more meaningfully and creatively to their agency’s mission.”

So what do you think?

[polldaddy poll=3092988]

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Blog Post from Deferred Associate: Update on Placement with Oakland's Public Interest Law Project

Andrew Ardinger, whose start date at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe was deferred, is spending a year with the Public Interest Law Project (PILP), a civil legal services support and resource organization that works with partners throughout California.  Ardinger has occasionally blogged for the American Lawyer about his public-interest experience.  His latest AmLaw post suggests that he’s had some valuable experiences, in terms of both professional and personal development, at PILP. 

…it was the first case that I got to see all the way through from start to finish that was the highlight of my first six months here. Through a task force that focuses on public benefits issues, PILP learned that a local county had created a rule that appeared unsupported on a legal level and grossly unfair on a gut level. As a result of the rule, poor people were being forced from stable homes to the streets because of a sharp reduction in their welfare benefits. I was involved in the preliminary investigation, researching the legal issues and talking with recipients to determine how and when this rule had been applied, and to what effect. When the decision was made to file, my bosses had me develop the complaint (at least the first draft or so), and I traveled out to our clients’ homes to meet with them and discuss the suit in detail. A while after we filed, the county agreed to discuss a settlement, and my bosses encouraged me to attend and participate in the negotiation sessions. PILP and the county reached an agreement that rescinded the rule and paid recipients across the county benefits that had been previously withheld.

It was my happy duty to discuss the terms of the settlement with our clients…

We’ve been closely following the phenomenon of deferred associates taking temporary public interest placements.  (We did some writing on the issue last December.  And a number of media articles focused on the phenomenon are collected here, on ProBono.net.)  There are many variables to consider when it comes to assessing how well things are playing out.  Two of the most important variables deal with whether the associates have opportunities to 1) interact with clients so that they can see first-hand the challenges those clients face, and 2) cultivate practice-related skills that will aid in their professional development.  It’s good to see that Mr. Ardinger’s experience has allowed him to do both.

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Students Take it Upon Themselves to Support Post-Graduate Public Interest Work

Many law schools have had student-supported public interest funding programs for unpaid public interest summer work for years. Harvard is now taking that idea one step farther, by trying to establish a post-graduate student-funded fellowship. The fellowship would support a graduating student for a year in a public interest setting. The fellowship program chairs published an open letter to all students in yesterday’s Harvard Law Record, asking for a donation of one dollar per day for a month from all students  (which by PSLawNet’s rough calculations would work out to about $45,000) to support this program. While developed as a one-time idea in the face of immense economic difficulties, the founders express hope that this may become a permanent program.

It will be interesting to see if other schools decide to attempt this model as well. As always, we will keep you updated with any new developments.

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Fireworks during "Christian Legal Society v. Martinez" Oral Arguments

We posted over the weekend about Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case centered on “whether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints.”

The National Law Journal reports on yesterday’s oral arguments:

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a key church-state dispute over the status of a Christian group at a state university law school. But the discussion quickly devolved into a testy debate over the factual record in the case and what it was all about.

The San Francisco law school [Cal.-Hastings] denied official recognition to the society because of its bylaws, which require members and leaders to adhere to its religious views and bars membership those who advocate or participate in homosexual conduct. Those requirements, the university argued, violate the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which says recognized student organizations must admit any student regardless of their “status or beliefs.”

But in the briefing of the case, the parties squabbled over the breadth of the university policy — was it an “all comers” policy that would also require a Republican club to admit Democrats, or does it have the effect of singling out religious groups as the only ones that may not exclude nonadherents?

The answer is important, because an all-comers policy might have a better chance of being upheld as a viewpoint-neutral rule that is evenly applied to all groups, not just religious ones.

USA Today also reported on the heated arguments.  And so did the Washington Post.

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U.S. Public Defender Offices Aren't the Only Ones Struggling

The Jamaica Gleaner reported Sunday on that the country’s Office of the Public Defender is facing a massive backlog of cases. In 2009, the Office opened 846 cases, but only managed to close 159. So far in 2010, 255 new cases have been received but only 18 have been closed. The new Public Defender, Earl Witter, has blamed shoddy investigative work for much of backlog. After taking over the office, Witter said he confronted a sense of “arrogance, malaise and indolence that [he] found intolerable and had to be eradicated,” which led him to reconfigure much of the staff.  For an interesting international comparison to public defender woes, the article makes an good read.

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Constitutional Principles Collide in Supreme Court Battle between Christian Legal Society and Cal-Hastings Law School

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case that asks “whether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints” (from SCOTUS Wiki).

 The CLS chapter on the UC Hastings campus, when it chose earlier in the decade to affiliate with the national Christian Legal Society, began to require that its members sign a “statement of faith” centered around Christian values.  The school determined that requiring this statement of faith as a condition of membership violated the school’s non-discrimination policy, which, according SCOTUS Wiki, “forbids recognized [student] groups to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation.”  The chapter sued to protect its right to religious expression, while the law school declared that it could not sanction discriminatory practices among its officially recognized student groups (which get funding and in-kind benefits from the school to carry out their activities).  Thusly, a thorny constitutional showdown came to be. 

PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has a piece interviewing the parties, and the Constitutional Law Prof Blog links to video recordings of panel discussions hosted by both the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.

EDIT (4/18/10): the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes, who is, for the PSLawNet Blog’s money, one of the best Supreme Court reporters out there, contributed a nice summary of the case to today’s paper:

At the oldest law school in the West, law is being made this semester, not just taught.

In a case that carries great implications for how public universities and schools must accommodate religious groups, the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law is defending its anti-discrimination policy against charges that it denies religious freedom.

The college, which requires officially recognized student groups to admit any Hastings student who wants to join, may be well-meaning, says the student outpost of the Christian Legal Society. But the group contends that requiring it to allow gay students and nonbelievers into its leadership would be a renunciation of its core beliefs, and that the policy violates the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, association with like-minded individuals and exercise of religion.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – April 16, 2010

 This week’s edition is fairly abbreviated, with stories touching upon the challenges that increased pro se litigation create for public interest advocates and for court administrators, continued coverage of the debate about the autonomy of public-interest clinical programs at state-run law schools, and more.

  • 4.15.10 – Detroit Free Press (running an AP article) – delivering a State of the Judiciary speech to the state’s legislature, Michigan Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly highlighted the fact that the number of Michiganders who can not afford an attorney to help with their legal problems is rising.  Kelly noted that “her plans to address the problem include creating a task force to promote ways to help people who can’t afford an attorney, and a Web site for non-lawyers who represent themselves in legal proceedings.”  Link to article.
  • 4.13.10 – Texas Tribune – as more Texans struggle to navigate the legal system on a pro se basis because they are unable to afford counsel, “[t]he problem of decreasing legal services for the poor is getting worse in Texas — ranked 43rd nationally — and fast.  The primary source of funds for civil legal aid in Texas — interest from trust accounts, client money that Texas attorneys are required to pool — dropped from $20 million in 2007 to $5.5 million in 2009 due to falling interest rates.”  A group of lawyers, judges, courthouse administrators, and others met last week at the “Texas Forum on Self-Represented Litigants and the Courts” to brainstorm about how to better assist pro se litigants.  Link to article.  [Ed. note: last week, the Forth Worth Star-Telegram ran an op-ed by the state’s chief justice and chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, arguing that while the longer-term solution to this problem is to adequately fund civil legal services programs, in the short term courts, public interest organizations, and other stakeholders should implement programs and resources to help pro se litigants navigate the justice system.] 
  • 4.13.10 – Maryland Daily Record – the Maryland legislature has considerably expanded the size of the board that oversees the state’s Office of the Public Defender – from three to 13 individuals.  “The new law, which takes effect June 1, follows the controversial firing last August of former Public Defender Nancy S. Forster on a 2-1 vote by the current three-member panel that oversees the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.  Supporters of the change in the board’s composition had expressed frustration that the state’s chief defender of indigent criminal defendants could be removed by just two individuals. Under the new law, Senate Bill 97, the public defender can still be removed by a majority vote. But that majority will consist of seven votes.”  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: Ms. Forster’s firing, which was driven in part by philosophical differences over how the office approached its mission, received extensive local coverage last August.  Forster favored the continued use of funds on social services resources for clients, while at least one trustee favored a greater concentration of funds on courtroom work.  See Washington Post coverage, an 8.26.09 Baltimore Sun op-ed, by a Univ. of Maryland School of Law faculty member questioning Forster’s dismissal, as well as coverage from the Daily Record.]
  • 4.13.10 – WCCO Television Station Website (CBS Affiliate in Minneapolis) – the fact that a “one-time millionaire” has gotten a federal public defender in Minnesota raises questions about who is entitled to a free public defense and how the system works.  John Stuart, the state’s top public defender explains that while the particular case in question is a federal matter, the framework for making the decision about indigent defense is the same on the federal and state levels.  The court looks at whether a defendant is in jeopardy of facing jail time, and whether they have the assets to hire a lawyer to defend them.  Stuart goes on to note that most public defense clients are very poor – “Almost all the public defender clients were really, really poor. So if [WCCO’s] viewers are worried about their tax money going to provide free lawyers to a bunch of people situated like a used car dealer or whatever, that doesn’t happen” – and that his state office, which pays its starting lawyers an annual salary equal to a sum that highly paid criminal defense attorneys could earn in one case, is hemorrhaging lawyers as a result of budget cuts.  Link to story.
  • 4.11.10 – The Record (New Jersey) – the Rutgers University School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic tried this week to fend off an open-records request regarding its representation of a local group of citizens who are trying to stop the building of  strip mall in Sussex County, New Jersey.  Since the school is a state institution, an attorney for the land developer has sued the clinic seeking records regarding its involvement in the litigation.  The case, which comes on the heels of a similar controversy at the University of Maryland, raises questions about the degree of school clinical programs’ autonomy as they seek to train students and serve public interest causes.  “Academic associations and law schools filed papers supporting Rutgers. The developer’s request, if granted, would hamper the school’s ability to educate its students and ‘interfere with the availability of pro bono services provided by law clinics to needy citizens of New Jersey,’ they argued.  The case also raises concerns about academic freedom at public universities, they said.”  Link to article.  [Ed. note: late last week, the New York Times ran a piece that touches on the University of Maryland controversy and zooms out more broadly to look at the proliferation of law school environmental clinic programs in recent decades, their relationships with the environmental movement, and the dust-ups that have occurred throughout the country as clinical programs have gotten involved in litigation against business interests.    Also, a 4/11/10 New York Times editorial came down on the side of clinical programs (noting yet another, recent controversy in Louisiana), arguing that business interests prompting legislative scrutiny of clinic activities interfere “with law schools’ freedom to decide how to educate students” and that “extracting information from clinics about the people they serve … also threatens the clinics’ relationships with their clients.”

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