Public Interest News Bulletin – October 29, 2010 – Halloween Edition

Boo!!!, people.  Boo! because it’s Halloween and boo! because the Phillies got knocked out of the playoffs.  This week’s News Bulletin is bursting at the seams because we took a break last Friday.  This happened because we are lazy we were hosting and/or attending NALP’s Public Service Mini-Conference and the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair.

We’ll put up a debriefing post about those events later, but without further ado here’s two weeks of public interest news, including: A Colorado district attorney isn’t high on public defenders; there’s nothing corny about access to justice in Iowa; a public law school’s clinic program subject to NJ open records laws; grayhairs…er…senior attorneys…volunteering on the access to justice front; federal hiring reform is happening about as quickly as most federal things happen; some domestic abuse prevention funding in Southeast PA; a foreclosure clinic at Albany Law; Canada’s feeling the legal services funding pain, too; misguided pro bono efforts in San Fran?; public defender and prosecutor almost come to blows?; speaking of, let’s return to prosecutors and defenders in Colorado; you’re welcome, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, for your organization’s new motto; LSC’s inspector general scrutinizing a Louisiana grantee program; law students fighting foreclosures in Beantown; a goofy and fortunate financial boost for a Chicago public interest organization; Microsoft forks over big donation bucks to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND); Kentucky hops on the AtJ commission bandwagon; New York State Bar’s president wants more government funding for legal services; so does the New York Times’ editorial board.

  • 10.28.10 – Kerfuffle alert!  On 10/22, the Aspen Daily News in Colorado ran a story about the funding differences between the local public defender’s and prosecutor’s office.  We summarized that story in Item 11 below, and we indicated that the story closed with comments from District Attorney Martin Beeson that were sharply critical of the role of public defenders in the criminal justice system.  Well, those comments – “Public defenders are not defenders of the public. They are not serving the public good. They are taxpayer-funded attorneys for criminals.” – have caused a stir in the Colorado legal community.  In a more recent Aspen Daily News piece, critics characterized Beeson’s comments as “scary,” “spectacularly ignorant,” and showing a “shocking disregard” for constitutional principles.  Beeson is not backing down: ““I stand by my statement. The so-called public defenders do not defend the public. The law enforcement defends the public. The prosecutors defend the public.”
  • 10.26.10 – New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the state’s top jurist, is making good use of attorneys who are long in the tooth and not short on altruism.  A while back we covered Chief Judge Lippman’s launching of an “attorney emeritus” program that allowed retired attorneys to remain active and provide pro bono services to low-income clients in a variety of civil matters.  This represents one step Lippman has taken in an impressive personal crusade to narrow the justice gap.  (For more see Item 1 and accompanying links).  More recently, according to the New York Law Journal, the emeritus program is expanding to accept more volunteers.  “Last month, the initiative was one of 10 programs in the state to be recognized by Harvard Kennedy School’s ‘Bright Ideas’ program, which was created to share ‘creative government initiatives’ around the country with public sector, nonprofit and academic communities.  Now, eligibility has been expanded to include non-retired lawyers who otherwise meet the program’s age and experience requirements.”

  • 10.26.10 – from Federal Times.com we learn that Uncle Sam’s hiring-process streamlining is moving in the right direction, but slowly.  “The government has reduced average hiring times from 140 days to 110 days, but it is still far from meeting the Obama administration’s goal of 80 days from initial application to hiring.   By Nov. 1, OPM will begin reviewing how well agencies are meeting the administration’s goals to reform the hiring process. The White House issued a directive to agencies in May, ordering agencies to streamline the application process by using plain language, removing essay questions from initial applications and by notifying applicants about the progress of their applications.”
  • 10.25.10 – the WTEN television station in Albany reports on a  new clinic at Albany Law School.  “Albany Law School has opened a new program to help some of the forgotten victims of this nationwide foreclosure crisis, it’s called the Tenant Foreclosure Protection Clinic …. Albany Law School received a $205,000 grant from the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation to fund the new clinic within the law school’s Clinic and Justice Center.  This funding news is a bit of a silver lining around an otherwise dark cloud.  See the bottom two items for bleaker news.
  • 10.22.10 – Colorado’s Aspen Daily News looks at the differences in budgets between the local public defender’s and district attorney’s offices, and notes that while the elected DA is able to make his case for appropriations in front of county legislators, there is no elected public defender and indigent defense funding runs through a statewide program.  The article also compares salaries, and notes that defender salaries are generally lower than those of other public service attorneys.  “Entry-level defenders make about $48,000, and their average lawyer makes $55,000 in his or her first five years … On the district attorney’s side, entry-level prosecutors in county courts make about $50,000. District court deputies, who handle felonies, start at $60,000.”  Defender and unelected prosecutor salaries have been frozen since 2008, according to the article.  In the PSLawNet Blog’s several months of scanning the public interest news landscape, we’ve noticed that at least some prosecutors and defenders share mutual respect and see each other as playing valuable – if necessarily adversarial – roles in the criminal justice system.  Not so District Attorney Martin Beeson!  He’s quoted as saying that “Public defenders are not defenders of the public … They are not serving the public good. They are taxpayer-funded attorneys for criminals.”
  • 10.21.10 – It’s news from Wasilla, Alaska that does not involve Mama Grizzlies or the dramatically dramatic lives of Bristol and Levi!  The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman (great name!) reports that Alaska Legal Services Corporation has moved a staff attorney into the Valley (with the help of a local government grant) in order to serve its growing population.  Like its counterpart organizations down here in the Lower 48, ALSC struggles in stretching its limited resources to help as many clients as possible: “ALSC estimates that for every 100 callers who asked for legal aid in 2009, ALSC attorneys were able to help 54. Of the 46 rejected callers, 17 did not meet requirements for assistance, but 29 could have received some type of legal service if ALSC had more resources.”  Our favorite part of the story is a former ALSC client’s praise for the organization, noting that “[t]hey went balls to the wall” in handling her case.  How’s that for a memorable tagline?  “ALSC: Balls to the Wall for Our Clients”.  (And we’ll have you know, dear readers, that this expression is not naughty even though many people believe it is.  Go ahead: Google your Internets!)
  • 10.21.10 –  the Center for Public Integrity is again taking aim at the Legal Services Corporation for budget management questions arising at LSC grantee organizations.  An article on the Center’s website reports that LSC’s inspector general has “challenged $318,768 in expenditures by the Capital Area Legal Services Corp. in Baton Rouge, La., that were charged to taxpayers.”  Capital Area Legal Services’ executive director, whose use of funds is under scrutiny, disputes the idea of wrongdoing on his end.  This past summer, a Center for Public Integrity report criticized LSC’s oversight of grantee organizations.  A U.S. Government Accountability Office audit of LSC practices had also been released in the summer.  For more on these developments, see Item 4 of our 7/16/10 News Bulletin.
  • 10.18.10 – a blogger at the Blog of the Legal Times blogs that “Microsoft has donated $3 million to Kids in Need of Defense to aid in the organization’s effort to help children who come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian find pro bono lawyers to represent them in immigration court proceedings.”  Seed money from Microsoft had actually gone toward founding KIND in 2008.  In light of Microsoft’s largesse, we at the PSLawNet Blog would just like to note publicly that we’re super-huge fans of Windows and Bing and Seattle and even that crazy Microsoft Access program.  Donationshappilyacceptedthankyou!
  • 10.15.10 – here’s an op-ed on the Buffalo News website from Stephen P. Younger, president of the New York State Bar Association, that’s been making the rounds in Empire State media outlets.  Younger notes that the state’s funding of legal services, at a time of acute need, is “woefully inadequate.”  He offers an interesting per capita statistic to contextualize legal services funding:  “Our state’s core operating funding for these critical legal services amounts to only $3.68 per indigent person, compared to an average of $23.51 funded by our neighboring states.”  Younger ultimately calls on the legislature to boost funding (and lauds the work of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on the issue).

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