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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