Archive for June, 2010

SCOTUS Sides with Law School in Major First Amendment Case

We blogged back in April about the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez case (both before and after oral arguments), which centered over whether the University of California, Hastings Law School (as a public entity) had to grant official school recognition and the benefits that entails to the school’s chapter of CLS. CLS requires members to sign a statement of faith and explicitly forbade open GLBT members, in violation of the school’s non-discrimination policy, but the organization argued that by not getting an exemption their First Amendment rights were being unfairly curtailed.

Well the Supreme Court finally weighed in yesterday, and came down 5-4 on the side of the law school and their non-discrimination policy. The San Jose Mercury News has a good recap of the decision and Justice Alito-authored dissent, with thoughts from several experts in the field.

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Federal Hiring Officers Call for Better Ways to Hire Recent Grads

The Office of Personnel Management hosted a public hearing last week, according to this helpful article from Government Executive, where many top agency hiring officers talked about how the competitive hiring system is not an effective way to hire recent college or graduate school grads. One speaker discussed the particular disadvantage recent grads have going up against applicants with more experience but perhaps less education:

Officials also agreed that hiring based on past work experience also puts college graduates at a disadvantage when they are compared with applicants who have been in the workforce for many years. Instead, they should be evaluated based on “foundational competencies that we believe are lifetime skills and underpin every job,” said [Marilee] Fitzgerald [of the Department of Defense], such as optimism and intellectual curiosity.

Changes in the federal hiring mechanism that make it easier for recent grads to find a way into the system, whether through structured internships, honors programs, or other options, all spell good news for recent law graduates looking to get into the federal market.

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Renewed Call for Increased LSC Funding

Emily Savner of the Brennan Center for Justice makes a strong case for the need to increase Legal Services Corp. funding to support civil legal services work over at the National Law Journal (something we’ve blogged about here in the past). Savner argues that LSC funding has become even more critical in the face of IOLTA funding decreases (we blogged about that earlier as well) and increased demand for services. Some numbers she cites includes:

The Legal Aid Society in New York City, for example, reported a 16% increase in clients seeking domestic violence-related help, a 40% increase in health cases, a 30% increase in employment-related cases and a 20% increase in housing cases from the recession’s start to July 2009. Legal services programs in Maryland reported a 60% jump in requests for assistance from 2008 to 2010. And in Florida, one program alone, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, has seen a 700% increase in the number of people seeking advice in the 12 counties it serves.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – June 25, 2010

  • 6.24.10 – San Jose Mercury News – the Santa Clara County public defender’s office has recently expanded the scope of its services so that attorneys are now staffing almost all misdemeanor arraignment hearings.  “Unlike most counties in California, Santa Clara County historically has not had public defenders or prosecutors at 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.  Earlier this year the county board of supervisors added $1 million to the public defender’s budget over the next two fiscal years to fund the attorneys to staff the arraignments.”  Link to article.
  • 6.23.10 – Tulsa World – former Oklahoma governor George Nigh and his wife are co-chairs of the Campaign for Legal Aid, and are spearheading efforts to raise $750,000 for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc., the statewide program that has seen other funding streams recede during the recession.  Link to article.
  • 6.23.10 – Washington Post – “The Obama administration released a strategy Tuesday to end homelessness by expanding programs to secure housing for veterans and families with young children and by building on efforts to help chronically homeless people.”  The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’s strategy seeks ways to maximize collaboration between the many federal, state, and local government entities that combat homelessness, and emphasizes how important a stable living environment can be to helping people deal successfully with other problems, such as mental illness.  The strategy focuses especially on homelessness among veterans and children.  Link to article.  Link to Opening Doors – Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness – 2010.
  • 6.22.10 – The Tennessean – the Volunteer State’s high court, which in 2009 had formed an Access to Justice Commission, is poised to “unveil [a plan] to make legal aid more available to state residents.”  The AtJ Commission had submitted recommendations to the court earlier this year.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: the Supreme Court's website includes coverage of the announcement event, which laid out plans to convene a pro bono summit and create a resource website with self-help materials for Tennesseans with legal problems.]
  • 6.22.10 - WHBQ Fox 13 T.V. Station Website (Memphis) - as more local families are impacted by the recession, more are in need of legal services.  Memphis Area Legal Services held a press conference, attended by ABA President Carolyn Lamm and U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, which highlighted the crises faced by poor families whose homes are in foreclosure.  Lamm noted that non-LSC legal services funding remains scarce, and that increasing LSC funding is an uncertain proposition.  Link to article and video.
  • 6.21.10 – Houston Chronicle – the State of Texas has hired an experienced federal defender to “run its first-ever public defense office for death row appeals….The office was created by the Texas Legislature after a series of scandals generated by ill-prepared and mostly poorly-paid death row defense lawyers assigned to handle writs of habeas corpus across Texas.”  Brad D. Levenson, the new hire, will be working with an annual budget of $1 million.  Link to article.
  • 6.20.10 - New York Times – R. Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s new district attorney, is charting a different course than his predecessor by emphasizing a “smart on crime,” as opposed to “tough on crime,” approach.  Williams intends to prosecute fewer cases but to raise his office’s conviction rate.  He is also focusing less on minor crimes and more on violent crime, and reaching out to youth with a message that staying in school makes it easier to stay awayfrom criminal activity.  Link to article.  
  • 6.19.10 – [Ed. Note: Professor Laurence Tribe, who earlier this year was tapped by Attorney General Eric Holder to spearhead the Department of Justice's Access to Justice Initiative, has lately been speaking about how his office may attack the problem of shoring up poorly funded pubic defense programs throughout the country.  Tribe recently spoke at an event sponsored by two Congressmen, called "The Constitutional Right to Counsel Summit: A Dialogue on the State Public Defense Crisis & the Federal Response."  The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has put up a nice summary of the program.  Also, Prof. Tribe spoke last week at the American Constitution Society's National Convention, and was featured on two panels: one concerning civil legal services (Main Justice has a summary of that panel), and one regarding indigent criminal defense issues (the Blog of the Legal Times has that summary).]
  • 6.18.10 – McClatchy News Service - funding for the Legal Services Corporation, a question which may be taken up by Congress shortly, remains a hot-button political issue in Washington, DC and in Central California.  “Some lawmakers now hope to boost funding for the Legal Services Corp. and lift some longstanding restrictions on its work. Others consider the agency a bastion of liberal activism and want it curtailed.  No region has a bigger stake in the political outcome than the [California] Central Valley, home to thousands of legal services clients as well as some of the federal program’s most vocal critics.”  Link to article.
  • 6.18.10 - New York Times – the small-but-formidable group of federal defenders working in Manhattan are held in high regard by their adversaries – U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara offers that they “have earned their reputation as among the finest public defenders in the country.” – and are accustomed to handling high-profile cases like the current “Times Square Bomber” trial.  Link to article.

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Expert Opinion: Five Ways to Strengthen Your Professional Network This Summer

Today’s Expert Opinion column, on five concrete ways to strengthen your professional network this summer, comes to us from Alisa Rosales. Alisa is the Associate Director of Public Service Law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, where she specializes in public interest career advising and program development. Nationally, she is a member of the NALP PSLawNet Advisory Board and serves as NALP Public Service Section Chair.  Locally, Alisa developed and served as inaugural Chair of the Public Interest Committee for the Chicago Area Law School Consortium. She is an alumna of the University of Nebraska.

Check out Alisa’s 5 Networking Tips after the jump!

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Health of State Indigent Defense Programs A Hot Discussion Topic in Washington, DC – What's the Federal Government's Role?

Earlier this year we covered the appointment of Harvard professor Laurence Tribe as the Senior Counselor for DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative, which is exploring what role the federal government’s chief criminal justice arm should play in shoring up weakened indigent defense infrastructures on the state level.  In states throughout the country (e.g. New York, Michigan, and Idaho) funding pressures are weighing heavily on public defense programs.  While exacerbated by the recession, many of these funding problems existed on a systemic level long before.

Anyway, this brings us to what’s been happening recently in Washington.  Last week, Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) hosted  an indigent defense summit called ”The Constitutional Right to Counsel Summit: A Dialogue on the State Public Defense Crisis & the Federal Response.”  Courtesy of the Constitution Project, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has put up a nice summary of the program. Professor Tribe spoke, as well as defenders and prosecutors from around the country. Several panelists discussed the imbalance in federal funding to prosecutor’s offices and defender’s offices.

Also last week, Prof.  Tribe spoke at the American Constitution Society’s National Convention.  He actually was featured on two panels, one concerning civil legal services on Friday (Main Justice has a summary of that panel), and one on Saturday regarding indigent criminal defense (the Blog of the Legal Times had that summary). During the indigent defense panel, Prof. Tribe mentioned the importance of increasing law firm pro bono efforts. However, it was unclear whether he meant that law firms should make efforts to take more indigent defense cases, or whether he was merely discussing DOJ’s efforts to expand civil access to justice as well (as he had been talking about the day before).

The cost of prosecution and defense was another popular topic at the ACS panel, with Jo-Ann Wallace (president and CEO of NLADA) pointing out that if states provide competent counsel at the beginning of cases, they can avoid higher costs associated with appeals later due to less-than-stellar representation. Erik Luna (professor at Washington and Lee, whose op-ed we blogged about back in March) argued that there is no appropriate role for the federal government in state-level indigent defense (or state-level prosecutions), and that a complete withdrawal of support on all levels could force states to cut down on their prosecutions in order to stay within their new budgetary constraints.

We linked yesterday to the video and audio of many of ACS’s convention panels, but the two discussed here are not yet posted. If they go up, we will link to them as well.

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American Constitution Society Convention Panel Audio Available

The 2010 American Constitution Society National Convention was held this past weekend in Washington, DC. The convention featured panels on myriad topics (from immigration to environmental protection to access to justice) with many high-powered guests, and for those who couldn’t make it in person, audio recordings of most panels are now available on ACS’s homepage. One of the panels featured Laurence Tribe in his new(ish) role as head of the Access to Justice Initative at the U.S. Department of Justice, and while audio isn’t available for that one, the Blog of the Legal Times provided a brief summary on Saturday.

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As Its Annual Appropriation is Considered, Strong Opinions about the Legal Services Corporation are Alive and Well in Congress

The McClatchy News Service recently ran a piece about political perceptions – particularly in California – of the Legal Services Corporation and the work of its grantee organizations.

Conflicting sentiments surround the federal agency that helps provide legal services to California farm workers and the poor.

Some lawmakers now hope to boost funding for the Legal Services Corp. and lift some longstanding restrictions on its work. Others consider the agency a bastion of liberal activism and want it curtailed.

No region has a bigger stake in the political outcome than the Central Valley [in California], home to thousands of legal services clients as well as some of the federal program’s most vocal critics.

The article notes that while President Obama supports a slight boost in LSC’s annual appropriation, from $420 to $435 million next fiscal year, some in Congress wish to significantly expand LSC’s funding and vanquish operating restrictions that have hindered grantee organinizations from offering a full range of advocacy techniques to their clients.  (The article also notes that a jam-packed legislative calendar this fall, in tandem with the strong feelings around LSC, may make it difficult to get a new appropriation passesd before recess.)

Political debate surrounding LSC is, of course, nothing new.  Recently, we covered the (controversial-but-eventually-successful) nomination of Sharon Browne to the LSC’s board, and tracked the LSC’s work on the Hill to lobby for additional funding to serve the increased numbers of impoverished individuals and families throughout the country.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – June 18, 2010

  • 6.14.10 – Los Angeles Times – largely on account of extremely low fees paid to panel attorneys who represent juvenile defendants when public defenders can not, critics suggest that there are two levels of justice for those defendants.  Those who get public defenders typically will have more resources available to make their case, while those who have panel attorneys - who are paid a flat fee of $345 per case – may end up with a lawyer who has very few resources to provide an adequate representation.  “Questions about equity for juvenile offenders come as a group of California legal experts is nearing the end of a three-year, $100,000 study — paid for by the MacArthur Foundation grant — on improving juvenile representation statewide.”  Link to article.
  • 6.14.10 – KKCO TV Station Website (NBC Affiliate in Grand Junction, CO) – the Mesa County Public Defender’s offices has already added one attorney to its staff in order to handle an increasing caseload, and another attorney is due to be added this fall.  The local district attorney questioned the wisdom of using funds to hire more defenders.  Link to article.
  • 6.14.10 – National Law Journal – “Attorney fee awards under a major federal fee-shifting statute are paid to the client, not to the attorney, and can be offset to pay a client’s debt to the federal government, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.  The Court’s decision in Astrue v. Ratliff will affect primarily lawyers and law clinics who successfully represent clients seeking Social Security or veterans benefits and who earn fee awards under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).”  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: as we noted in a prior blog postAstrue is meaningful for legal services programs that rely on the possibility of receiving attorneys fee awards in order to finance the costs of representing low-income clients (at no charge) in administrative appeals of government benefit denials.  If the government can siphon off an attorneys fee award to recoup on a debt owed by the party who successfully appeals a benefit denial, the legal services provider's chances of being able to offset their own costs are jeopardized.  A handful of legal services providers had submitted an amicus brief in Astrue arguing for the opposite result than the one ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court.]
  • 6.11.10 - New York Times (“City Room” blog) – the City Room blog looks at the ongoing legal battle surrounding NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to change the way that cases involving indigent defendants are assigned to counsel.  Link to blog post.  [Ed. Note: NYC's counsel assignment system is more complicated than in most jurisdictions, and involves potential assignment to the Legal Aid Society, other public defense services, or private counsel who are designated to serve as assigned counsel.  For more on Mayor Bloomberg's initial proposal, see this City Room blog post from early March.] 
  • 6.11.10 – The Arizona Republic [Special feature] - low- and moderate-income Arizonans who have legal problems could receive help through a variety of initiatives designed to provide limited-scope representation.  These initiatives include the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education’s “Modest Means Project” and the “Bankruptcy Self-Help Center at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Arizona.  Southern Arizona Legal Aid has also set up limited-representation arrangements in order to accommodate the greater numbers of low-income clients seeking assistance.  Link to piece.
  • 6.10.10 – “The Careerist” Blog – in New York City, it seems considerably easier for law graduates/attorneys who have been deferred or furloughed by their firms to find temporary public-service placements than it is for those who have been laid off.  Link to blog post.

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Expert Opinion: Getting (and Giving) the Most in Your Summer Internship

This week’s Expert Opinion, on how to maximize your summer internship experience comes to us courtesy of Deb Ellis, Assistant Dean for Public Service at NYU School of Law, where she directs the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program and oversees the Judicial Clerkship Office. Prior to heading PILC, Deb had a varied public interest career, including serving as Legal Director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, where in 1992 she argued Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic before the U.S. Supreme Court. She also served as Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, and as a Staff Attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Deb graduated from Yale College and from NYU Law where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar. She clerked for the late Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Exams are over and you’ve begun your public interest internship!  How can you be the kind of intern that employers will rave about and hopefully want to hire as an attorney someday?

From my perspective as both a public interest practitioner and now a law school counselor, I have developed eight tips based on what I look for when I hire:  individuals who take initiative — who can figure out what needs to be done on their cases and projects.  In short, I look for people who are proactive.

Sometimes students find that it takes a change of perspective to be proactive after a year spent in classrooms, where their role is more passive. But in the work world it is essential to take responsibility for your own learning.  If you make that effort  – to think through your priorities, contribute as much as you can to your employer, and be a team player – you will learn the most, and have the most fun, too.

Read Deb’s 8 Tips after the break!

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