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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