This Week: deferred law firm associates bitten by the public interest bug, indigent defense resource shortages in Missouri and Minnesota, congressional support for doctors and lawyers working together, $$$ in judicial elections, New Jersey libraries are prepping to help pro se litigants because legal services funding cuts are looming, Connecticut brings pro se resources to the Interwebs, and big cuts in Washington State’s welfare program.
- 8.19.10 – New York Times - some law firm associates who took temporary public interest placements when their law firm start dates were deferred have found public interest work so rewarding that they have opted to remain with their host organizations rather than going back to the law firm life, salary cut notwithstanding.
- 8.19.10 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch - the Missouri State Public Defender program is fighting back against accusations by some prosecutors that the defenders are exaggerating a resource shortage. An MSPD spokesperson notes that although some prosecutors are complaining that the defenders’ caseloads are not actually that high, it’s an apples-and-organges comparison because the public defenders count cases differently. [Ed. note: this article is one of the few written about this unfolding story that goes past the verbal battles and offers an update about how the criminal justice system has been affected by some public defenders' refusals to take new cases: "The impact on defendants has been minimal so far, with only the three circuits affected and their deferred July cases accepted with the arrival of August. But some of the system's doors are expected to close again each month, possibly a little earlier each time. While the effect is not very noticeable now, waits for help could increase in the longer term, and judges could face pressure to appoint private counsel to fill the gaps." It also provides hard data about the MSPD's funding. For more coverage of the back-and-forth between prosecutors and defenders, see item 7 below (Springfield News-Leader coverage).]
- 8.17.10 – Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota) - in southeastern Minnesota, the chief public defender is asking “a Steele County judge to remove public defenders from 45 open cases” because the office doesn’t have the staff to handle current caseloads.” This circumstance is emblematic of problems facing under-resourced defenders’ offices throughout the state. “Stiffer legal penalties, an annual battery of new laws and increasingly complex cases have thrust indigent defendants before the courts for longer periods, heaping work on the state public defense system just as it is experiencing back-to-back budget cuts.” The ACLU of Minnesota is keeping an eye on the problems in Southeastern Minnesota, concerned largely about the fact that overworked defenders may not be prepared for their cases. In fact, ”14 defenders filed a work grievance through the Teamsters union, calling their workloads illegal.” [Ed. Note: the article references a February, 2010 report from the state's legislative auditor highlighting systemic problems in the indigent defense network throughout the state.]
- 8.16.10 – American Medical News – federal lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed bills that would support and expand Medical-Legal Partnership programs throughout the country. [Ed. note: for more detail on this story and on MLPs generally, see our 8/17 blog post.]
- 8.16.10 – Brennan Center for Justice – Report – a new report from the Brennan Center, the Justice at Stake Campaign, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics looks at the remarkable increase in the amount of campaign funding in state judicial elections. The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change finds that campaign spending has more than doubled in the past decade compared to the decade prior. Learn more from our recent blog post on the report’s release. Also, the Philadelphia Inquirer picked up on the report because, lamentably, the Keystone State (home to the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies) “consistently rank[s] at or near the top for special-interest spending [in state supreme court election campaigns].”
- 8.15.10 – Springfield News-Leader (Missouri) – [Ed note: the News-Leader's editorial board weighs in on the statewide indigent defense controversy, worrying that the current back and forth between prosecutors and defenders about whether the latter are truly overworked is "rehash and backtracking" that gets nowhere toward a solution. There has been an acknowledged resource crisis in the state's indigent defense program for some time, and all interested parties must sit down together to develop practical solutions. Speaking of back and forth, the News-Leader also ran dueling opinion pieces. Taney County's two top prosecutors propose doing away with, or heavily downgrading the role of, the Missouri State Public Defender. They allege that the MSPD has become a bloated bureaucracy. Not so fast, says Springfield County's chief defender: "The idea of disbanding the entire public defender system is likely the most ridiculous attack on our efforts. The suggestions that have been made as to how we could be replaced only bolster the position that the prosecutor's true objective is to maintain an advantage and how sad is it that the ones they seek to keep down are those who already have little to nothing." The National Legal Aid & Defender Association also counters the prosecutors' ideas. For those who are following events as they unfold, the PSLawNet Blog has been tracking news coverage over the past few weeks. For what it's worth, while we at the PSLawNet Blog find the News-Leader's editorial to be a bit glib, we agree with the core point that all interested parties - and that includes neutral parties like the state judiciary and bar association officials - should get down to brass tacks to identify the scale and scope of the problem and craft solutions. The attacks on the MSPD and its counterattacks could just go on forever.]
- 8.14.10 – Philadelphia Inquirer – Legal Services of New Jersey is facing dramatic funding cuts that will result in large-scale layoffs of lawyers and staff. ”So where can residents turn for assistance? Try the library. A New Jersey Courts program is training librarians to help patrons find legal forms and instructions so they can represent themselves.” LSNJ’s president observes that “[t]his is in no way the answer…But a small percentage of people can benefit.” Librarians are willing to help connect people to information and resources but are wary of “cross[ing] the line” and providing legal advice. [Ed. note: the PSLawNet blog covered the LSNJ funding cuts in some depth. See item 5 in our 8/6/10 Public Interest News Bulletin for more.
- 8.14.10 - Connecticut Post - legal services advocates in Connecticut have launched a new website to provide resources for pro se litigants. "Trying to represent oneself in court is a daunting task, and the number of people doing so in civil lawsuits has steadily risen in the past five years, according to state Judicial Branch data. Thankfully for pro se parties across the state, a new website created by legal aid advocates is billing itself as a valuable resource for low-income people involved in civil actions. The Connecticut Network for Legal Aid site -- www.ctnla.org -- is the result of a statewide initiative to provide online guidance and information to low-income residents. The site features self-help guides to immigration and family law, links to a legalese dictionary, and a directory of phone numbers for various nonprofits and social services." [Ed. note, for additional coverage see Item 4 in our 8/6/10 Public Interest News Bulletin.
- 8.13.10 - Bloomberg Businessweek (running an AP story) - "[a]t least $51 million is being cut from WorkFirst, [Washington State's] welfare-to-work program, because while enrollment continues to rise, matching funds from the federal government have remained flat since the 1990s…. Advocacy groups decried the cuts, and said that removing poor families from the program will cause them to seek out social services through different state programs. ‘This seems like a really tough time to put families on the street,’ said Robin Zukoski, a staff attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which provide civil legal aid to low-income people. ‘These families are not going to just disappear. They’re going to go into the homeless shelters’.”