Public Interest News Bulletin: 8.20.10

 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 – 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).]
  • 8.16.10 – 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].” 
  • 8.14.10 – 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’.”

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