Public Interest News Bulletin – June 11, 2010

  • 6.10.10 – New York Law Journal – “Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has named 28 people to a task force charged with spearheading a court-led effort to secure adequate state funding for the representation of low-income New Yorkers in civil cases.”  The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York is being led by Helaine Barnett, who recently stepped down as the Legal Services Corporation’s president.  The task force’s responsibilities will be to analyze information gathered at a series of hearings on the topic of access to justice that will be presided over by Judge Lippman and others.  “The aim of the hearings will be to determine the extent and nature of unmet legal needs throughout the state. Based on those findings and information gathered by the task force, Judge Lippman will make recommendations for increased state funding.”   Link to article.  [Ed note: for other, recent coverage about Judge Lippman’s focus on AtJ issues, see a 5/26/10 New York Law Journal piece on his creation of an attorney emeritus program for retired NY attorneys to provide pro bono service, and a 5.3.10 New York Times article covering Lippman’s call for a civil right to counsel.]
  • 6.9.10 – Porterville Recorder (California) – budget cuts are forcing staff layoffs in the Tulare County public defender’s and district attorney’s offices.  The public defender will have to lay off three investigators and leave two other open positions unfilled.  In the prosecutor’s office, there is no funding to continue supporting an analyst position to maintain a database about agricultural crime.  Link to article.
  • 6.9.10 – ABA Journal – the New York City Law Department, which is now hosting 13 deferred law firm associates, has 25 more deferred or furloughed associates taking placements this fall, and could take on more.  “The law department, which reached out to laid-off associates last April with offers of a haven to sharpen their skills while job-hunting, is now the go-to host for associates faced with 2011 start-dates, according to Stuart Smith, the law department’s director of legal recruitment.”
  • 6.8.10 – Houston Chronicle [Op-ed] – a current Texas state judge and former federal judge write that a proposal to create a public defender’s office in Harris County (Houston) could be a step in the right direction, but that the public defender’s office contemplated in the current proposal would lack “1) independence from the judiciary; 2) workload standards; and 3) uniform use of the public defender office by all judges…. Harris County should undertake the establishment of this office, but only if it gets it right. The proposal should be amended to ensure that the public defender office is effective and meets national standards. Specifically, the county proposal should: 1) provide for an independent board of directors with the power to insulate the office and the public defender from partisan politics and judicial interference; 2) limit caseloads so that attorneys may zealously defend their clients; and 3) preclude judges from opting out of the new reforms.”  Link to op-ed.
  • 6.8.10 – Dallas Morning News – “Legal aid lawyers today accused Texas of still running an illegally understaffed, inconvenient and confusing eligibility system for food stamps despite having worked off a backlog of pleas for help.”  Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has just made an additional court filing on behalf of food stamp applicants, following up on an initial lawsuit last December.  The Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s food stamp offices have been laboring for some time in the wake of a failed privatization attempt and swelling numbers of food stamp applicants.  “Last October, the state was tardy in deciding the cases for some 42,000 households that sought aid.”  Link to article. [Ed. Note: additional, past coverage of the lawsuit can be found in this 12.23.09 Houston Chronicle piece, this  1.26.10 KGNS TV Station website piece, and this 2.1.10 Dallas Morning News blog post. ]
  • 6.7.10 – PR Newswire [Press Release] – staff attorneys of the Legal Aid and Defender Association in Detroit who are unionized with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will demonstrate outside of the Association’s office because they have no employment contract.  Link to press release.
  • 6.6.10 – The Star-Ledger (New Jersey) – two Seton Hall Law School graduates, both of whom work as local prosecutors in New Jersey, are leading a grassroots campaign to have their alma mater expand its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to cover prosecutors.  They have launched a website and a Facebook page, and have secured the support of the New Jersey State Bar Association.  Seton Hall Law School’s LRAP program was begun in 2002 for graduates in public service careers.  A school official noted that there was never an intention on the school’s side to exclude any lawyers in public service careers, but rather that they did not see career paths of prosecutors as including some of the same financial hurdles as other public service career paths.  Link to article.
  • 6.6.10 – Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) – on June 1st, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, urging him to reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds made available to Ohioans through a mortgage foreclosure relief program.  Brown is concerned that the money can not be used to fund the provision of free legal services to low-income Ohioans in trouble.  “Brown said in a letter to Geithner last week: ‘Legal-aid services are immensely useful to homeowners who fall behind on their mortgage payments, sometimes because they are unable to access benefits like unemployment insurance. Foreclosure counseling is a similarly vital service’.”  Link to short article and to press release from Sen. Brown.
  • 6.5.10 – Fresno Bee –  “Central California Legal Services has threatened to sue the City of Merced if it moves forward with its plan to enforce a no-camping ordinance and remove the residents of a large homeless camp on the edge of the city…”  CCLS contends that the city’s plan is “short-sighted, [and] unsupported by any evidence that suitable and affordable housing is available to accommodate the housing needs of the homeless persons threatened with displacement…”  Link to short article.

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