Public Interest News Bulletin: July 9, 2010

The PSLawNet Blog took a news bulletin vacation last week in order to celebrate liberation from the rule of King George III and, on Saturday, to attend a baseball contest in which the Glorious Philadelphia Phillies soundly defeated the Pirates of Pittsburgh.  (Unfortunately, the Bucs took the series.)  In any event, we are now back to our weekly posting schedule. 

  • 7.7.10 – National Law Journal – a new, statewide Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, is intended to offer financial relief to debt-laden public interest lawyers who are working with IOLTA-funded organizations in the Keystone State.  Link to article.
  • 7.6.10 – American Lawyer Daily – Andrew Ardinger, a deferred first-year associate with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe reflects on how his temporary placement with the Public Interest Law Project has allowed him to experience, and see the links between, direct advocacy for clients on discrete matters and more systemic advocacy that is intended to serve larger constituencies.  Link to blog post.  [Ed. note: this post is the fourth that Ardinger has contributed to AmLaw during his deferral experience.  Here are links to the firstsecond, and third.]
  • 7.5.10 – New York Times – the legal saga surrounding Jamie Weis, a man charged with murder in Georgia but who has yet to be tried after four years, highlights how weak the indigent defense infrastructure is in the Peach State.  The state sought to establish a statewide public defense network in 2003, but it has since been plagued by budget and other resource problems.  In Weis’s case, he has sat in jail as a capital defendant for four years amidst problems finding resources to put on a defense.  In a very unusual move, the prosecutor had urged a trial judge to appoint two specific public defenders, and the judge did so.  The defenders sought to remove themselves from the case on account of insufficient resources or capital trial experience to mount a defense.  The Georgia Supreme Court sanctioned the lower court’s arrangement, but these proceedings have taken some time to play out.  Weis is now seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to hear the case.  Link to article.  [Ed. note: the PSLawNet Blog reviewed coverage of the Weis case earlier this year, and included links to other articles looking at insufficiencies within the Georgia indigent defense system.] 
  • 7.3.10 – Palm Beach Post – following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year banning life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes, a question has arisen in Florida about what to do with the 77 inmates in state prisons who were already sentenced to life for non-homicide crimes committed while juveniles.  (Florida is apparently hosting the large majority of inmates nationwide who are in this circumstance.)  The problem lies in the fact that, by state law, there is currently no parole eligibility for anyone with a life sentence in Florida.  “The state’s public defenders and the attorney general’s office now are debating just what should be done to comply with the [Supreme Court’s] May ruling.”  Link to article.  [Ed note: here is National Law Journal coverage of the Supreme Court’s Graham v. Florida decision.]
  • 6.30.10 – Press Release on LSC Budget Development –  “The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved a $440 million Fiscal Year 2011 budget for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) on June 29…[representing] a nearly 5 percent increase in the LSC budget….The Subcommittee bill continues existing restrictions on the use of funds, but lifts the restriction on the ability of LSC-funded programs to consolidate related client cases into class-action suits.”  Link to press release.
  • 6.28.10 – Cincinnati Enquirer – Ohio’s state public defender commission is exerting pressure on Hamilton County (which includes Cincinnati) to devote more resources to its public defender program.  The state is demanding that a written improvement plan be produced this month.  A draft of a memorandum obtained by the Enquirer suggests that the improvements will include increasing salaries, hiring additional staff and attorneys, and moving to a larger office with improved office technology.  Right now, attorneys are “working out of 30-by-60-inch cubicles, with no computers of their own.”  One county official noted that this is a difficult time to find funding to support improvements, but supporters of the changes say that the current state of affairs has resulted from years of under-funding, and that there is no choice but to live up to constitutional obligations to provide adequate resources for indigent defendants.  Link to article. 
  • 6.28.10 – National Law Journal [Opinion Piece] – “Lawmakers should take steps to increase access to civil legal services while the poor continue to be battered by the recession: increase federal funding for legal services, lift federal restrictions hindering representation and pass legislation currently pending in Congress…to…revitalize the federal commitment to legal aid, the Civil Access to Justice Act.”  The number of people qualifying for legal services is rising, and along with that increase, “[t]he legal needs of the poor and working poor are rising in both volume and intensity.”  Legal services programs in New York, Maryland, and Florida, for instance, have seen double- or even triple-digit percentage jumps in requests for help.  This comes at a time when, nationally, “IOLTA revenue dropped from $371 million in 2007 to an estimated $92 million in 2009, a 75% decrease.”  Link to piece.
  • 6.28.10 – NJ.com (New Jersey news website) – Legal Services of New Jersey will see one-third ($9.7 million) of its state funding cut for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  This compounds the extraordinary strain put on the program’s budget by a collapse in IOLTA yields, which fell from $40 million in 2007 to $8 million in 2009  Link to article.  [Ed note: the Jersey Journal offered pre-budget-vote coverage of how Northeast New Jersey Legal Services would be affected by the anticipated state budget cut.  The program had already lost 21 employees to layoffs or attrition over the past year.  The budget cut was predicted to result in additional layoffs and services cuts.  Link to article.]
  • 6.26.10 – Houston Chronicle [Editorial] – In Texas, one of the chief criticisms of the death penalty’s administration is that “a higher percentage of poor defendants represented by court-appointed counsel are executed than those who can afford their own defense lawyers.” It is a “welcome step” that the state has created an office specifically to provide appellate advocacy for indigent clients on death row.  The lawyer chosen to head the office, Bard Levenson, is currently a federal defender in California, and brings experience with capital punishment issues and a willingness to face down injustice.  Link to editorial.  [Ed. note: news coverage of the office’s creation and Levenson’s hiring is found in this Chronicle article.]
  • 6.25.10 – The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) [Editorial] – at a time when Tennesseans face increased barriers to accessing legal services, the state’s high court and the American Bar Association have taken positive steps toward promoting access to justice.  The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice initiative, in particular, is producing self-help resources for pro se litigants and convening a pro bono summit to discuss how low-income Tennesseans can be better served.  Link to editorial.  [Ed note:  PSLawNet’s June 25 Public Interest News Bulletin featured coverage of the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission activities and a report on the increased need for legal services for low-income people.]
  • 6.25.10 – Washington Business Journal (Washington, DC) – according to a report by the DC Bar, pro bono hour contributions ticked upward by 2.5% among large Washington, DC law firms in 2009 compared to 2008.  Link to short piece.  [Ed. note: more information about the report, which surveyed law firms participating in the DC Bar’s Pro Bono Initiative, is available on the DC Bar’s website.] 

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