Public Interest News Bulletin – April 9, 2010

  • 4.8.10 – Casper Star-Tribune (Wyoming) – the Wyoming legislature just passed a bill to create a statewide legal services program.   Before this became a reality, though, Legal Aid of Wyoming had been leveraging its limited resources to provide access to justice for low-income Wyomingites.  The organization can help only about 10% of those who apply for services.  Link to article.
  • 4.8.10 – The Town Talk (Central Louisiana) – Louisiana State Bar Association members are advocating that the legislature restore state funding to civil legal services programs that operate throughout the state.  Attorneys in the legal services community point out that while demand for services is rising, resource cuts are limiting the amount of help they can offer.  Link to article.
  • 4.7.10 – Legal Services Corporation Press Release – “Six presidential appointees to the Legal Services Corporation’s Board of Directors were sworn in to office this morning and at their inaugural Board meeting elected John G. Levi, a partner in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin, as Board chairman and Martha Minow, dean of the Harvard Law School, as vice chair.”  Link to press release.
  • 4.7.10 – Baltimore Sun – “Annapolis lawmakers will not withhold any funds from the University of Maryland’s law clinic for pursuing an unpopular environmental lawsuit, quieting a debate about academic freedom that raged in the state legislature last week.  The decision reverses an earlier position taken by senators and House Appropriations members who initially were outraged that the law students named a small Eastern Shore farmer in an environmental lawsuit that targeted poultry giant Perdue.”  Lawmakers, who must reconcile the final language in the state’s budget bill, are still requesting that the clinical program turn over some information about its activities, but this disclosure will likely no longer be tied to a threat to withhold funding.  The PSLawNet Blog has covered this story extensively, with links to additional media coverage from the Sun and other outlets.
  • 4.7.10 – University of Virginia School of Law Website – “Law School graduates who choose careers in public service will soon be able to take advantage of a more generous loan forgiveness program, the Law School announced Wednesday.  Under the new Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program (VLFP II), graduates who take public service jobs that pay less than $75,000 per year will be eligible for loan assistance. The new program will cover the entire annual loan payments for graduates who make $55,000 or less.”    Link to announcement on website.  [Ed. Note: the loan forgiveness program has essentially been redesigned so that it works in tandem with the Income Based Repayment provision of the federal College Cost Reduction and Access Act.  The University of Virginia joins the Georgetown University Law Center and the University of California Berkeley School of Law in “dovetailing” their loan repayment/forgiveness program with the CCRAA.]
  • 4.5.10 – San Jose Mercury News (California) – in Santa Clara County, public defenders have just begun staffing misdemeanor arraignment proceedings to “help defendants deal with…potentially serious criminal charges.”  Up until now, “neither public defenders [n]or prosecutors have regularly staffed misdemeanor arraignments, a defendant’s first court appearance. Defendants charged with misdemeanors were arraigned before a judge who often offered a plea deal to quickly resolve the case. Many legal experts consider that a potential violation of the defendants’ constitutional right to counsel. Some believe that defendants plead guilty simply to get out of jail.”    Link to article.   
  • 4.5.10 – New Jersey Law Journal – The Seton Hall University School of Law’s loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) is not currently available to prosecutors.  Two alumni, both of whom work as county prosecutors in New Jersey, are spearheading an initiative to change that.  They have garnered support from other alumni and attorneys via an online petition and a Facebook group page.  The law school is “not unreceptive” to the idea of expanding the program to include prosecutors.  One school official noted that, at the time the LRAP was created in 2002, there was a sense that low salaries were not as much an impediment to law grads choosing careers as prosecutors relative to some other, low-paying public service jobs.  Link to article.
  • 4.4.10 – Chicago Tribune – about 60 Class-of-2009 law graduates whose start dates were deferred by big law firms have joined Chicago’s  legal services community during their deferral periods.  Despite some initial skepticism about how effective these temporary placements would be, they have worked out remarkably well so far, with the deferred associates getting valuable hands-on practice experience while helping organizations to maintain service capacity.  Link to PSLawNet Blog post and Tribune article
  • 4.4.10 – Toledo Blade (Ohio) – in Lucas County, Ohio, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) is among a group of nonprofit organizations administering the “Mobile Benefit Bank,” which seeks to engage clients who need help applying for government benefits by making house-calls and attending community events rather than requiring clients to come to the organizations’ offices or to navigate government application processes on their own.  Five AmeriCorps volunteers, armed with laptops and portable printers, staff the project by meeting clients at locales throughout the county.  Link to article
  • 4.2.10 – National Law Journal – on the heels of a huge staff layoff at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the court’s presiding judge is locking horns with the Administrative Office of the Courts, which funds state courts, about how severe the Superior Court’s financial problems are.  “A recent report playing down the fiscal crisis at Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court was based on ‘unfounded optimism’ and ‘erroneous’ calculations, Presiding Judge Charles ‘Tim’ McCoy wrote in a March 31 letter to the Judicial Council of California, which oversees the state’s courts.  The letter came two days after the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the Judicial Council funding arm for the state’s courts, released a report contending that an anticipated layoff of 500 employees later this year at the Los Angeles Superior Court was based on ‘overly pessimistic’ assumptions about the court’s budget scenario.”  Link to article.
  • 4.1.10 – Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Op-Ed) – more and more low-income Texans are representing themselves in civil matters for which they can not afford counsel, which runs the risk of clogging up the court system.  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.   Link to op-ed

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