Public Interest Law News Bulletin: February 18, 2011

We return after a week’s absence with a robust edition of the News Bulletin.  Below, please read our coverage of:

  • Layoffs at the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD);
  • Legal services funding crisis in Texas – and proposed solutions;
  • in Georgia, even a small cut to DV legal services funding will have a big impact;
  • Maine indigent defense program still struggling with funding;
  • Ditto, and it’s even worse, in Missouri;
  • A profile of L.A. County’s public defender;
  • Right to counsel in New York foreclosure proceedings;
  • How an LSC funding slash could impact Florida’s legal services community;
  • DOJ’s budget proposal calls for a modest increase in attorney positions, sheds light on agency priorities;
  • Lots of coverage of FY 2012 LSC funding proposals;
  • A 1,000-lawyer public defense agency in Massachusetts?;
  • President Ronald Reagan’s legacy in spurring the growth of conservative public interest organizations;
  • Cuts in Florida court funding will strain defenders and prosecutors;
  • New academic work on exonerations via DNA evidence;
  • Some props for the Tennessee Justice Center;
  • Lawyers ensuring Florida farmworkers are paid for their labor;
  • In Arizona, the Justice Bus rides again!;
  • A political fight in Chicago (surprise!) – dispute about 10% cuts to the state’s attorney’s and defender’s budgets;
  • Continued wrangling about the administration of Georgia’s indigent defense program;
  • A solution to lowering criminal justice costs in Seattle: fewer capital-case prosecutions;
  • Rhode Island U.S. Attorney not invited to party as DEA, state trooper make big drug bust;
  • The importance of pro bono in Eastern Pennsylvania;
  • Tennessee’s “attorney emeritus” pro bono program has launched.

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  • 2.17.11 – as a follow-up to previous coverage of financial troubles at the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD) – an LSC-funded legal services provider in Eastern Kentucky - a piece in the Richmond Register provides some detail about layoffs: “Layoffs are expected in Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky (AppalRed) offices around the state. A total of nine employees will be cut, according to a press release from Interim Executive Director Jonathan Picklesimer.”
  • 2.16.11 – Maine’s Kennebec Journal provides the latest on funding challenges confronting the Pine Tree State’s indigent defense administration: “Leaders of the new state commission that oversees legal defense for the poor say a recent budget compromise should enable them to keep paying court-appointed lawyers into early June, the last month of the fiscal year.  However, the added $200,000 for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services’ budget is only enough to keep the commission running, they say. It does not address long-term financial concerns and an ongoing $600,000 budget shortfall that was inherited from the prior administration.”  The article goes on to provide background on the Commission’s formation and the rocky financial road it has driven since.
  • 2.16.11 - the L.A. Times runs an enjoyable, and inspiring, piece on Ron Brown, who grew up in an L.A. housing project and faced down personal and professional adversity while rising quickly through the ranks to become Los Angeles County’s public defender.  Brown appears to be naturally gifted as a litigator, but has also invested great amounts of time and energy in honing his lawyering and management skills.  The story serves as an ample lesson for law students that, at all stages of their lives, many successful lawyers work through unexpected challenges – from bumps in the road to more tragic events.
  • 2.15.11 – Civil Gideon!  Kind of!  The New York Times reports on civil-right-to-counsel program being unveiled in New York State foreclosure proceedings: “New York court officials outlined procedures Tuesday aimed at assuring that all homeowners facing foreclosure were represented by a lawyer, a shift that could give tens of thousands of families a better chance at saving their homes.  Criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, but New York will be the first state to try to extend that pledge to foreclosures, which are civil matters. There are about 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York courts. In more than half of them, only the banks have lawyers.”  The program is going to launch in Queens and Orange Counties in the immediate future.  By the end of the year it should be rolled out throughout the state.

 

  • 2.15.11 – the Daily Business Review highlights how a proposed Legal Services Corporation funding cut could impact Florida’s legal services community.  “The U.S. House Appropriations Committee plans cuts of at least 17 percent in federal support for Legal Services Corp., the largest legal aid organization serving indigent clients in Florida.  LSC distributes funds to seven legal aid agencies in Florida. In South Florida, Broward and Miami-Dade counties receive most of their budgets from LSC. The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County does not take LSC funding due to federal spending restrictions.”  As noted in the piece, Florida legal services programs are already reeling from plummeted IOLTA yields.  “This comes at a time when another major funding source — interest on lawyer trust accounts — is on the verge of disappearing. Since the Federal Reserve reduced interest rates to near zero, earned interest on trust accounts dropped to almost nothing. Grants have been paid from reserves, but reserves will be exhausted this year.”
  • 2.14.11 - the Blog of the Legal Times blogs about the U.S. DOJ’s 2012 budget request, which calls for creating new attorney positions.  When the PSLawNet Blog read the headline, our eyes opened wide.  Jobs!  In fact, there aren’t too many new positions proposed.  But hey, it’s something.  And more importantly for job seekers, it speaks to where administration staffing priorities are right now.  “Justice Department officials on Monday rolled out the department’s $28.2 billion fiscal year 2012 proposed budget, which calls for adding attorneys to focus on national security, appellate litigation and intellectual property enforcement … The DOJ budget proposal calls for five additional attorneys and 71 agents in the national security arena, including two lawyers to focus on counterterrorism and counterespionage … The budget also asks for two more lawyers in the Office of the Solicitor General … DOJ officials want to pump $3 million more into the Criminal Division, including adding six attorneys, to focus on transnational intellectual property enforcement. Overall, the department is asking for 22 more attorneys for the division in a budget request that is a 13.4% increase over previous funding.”  Also notable is that DOJ is proposing a funding slash to the National Drug Intelligence Center and the elimination of the DEA’s Mobile Enforcement Team program.
  • 2.13.11 – the Palm Beach Post reports on proposed budget cuts that will weigh heavily an already strained court system.  “Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget cuts ranging from 5 percent to more than 7 percent for various parts of the justice system come on the heels of other recent cutbacks and, if enacted, will place an even greater strain on judges, prosecutors and public defenders … The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has seen its budget pared by 15 percent over the past three years, and prosecutors have not had a cost-of-living salary adjustment in five years, State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said.”  Prosecutor turnover, according to McAuliffe, ultimately costs the taxpayers “millions of dollars every year.”  As for those on the other side of the courtroom: “The budget of Public Defender Carey Haughwout’s office has been reduced 10 percent over the past five years. In the same time, its caseload has increased from 46,342 cases in 2006 to 51,349 cases in 2010, but the office’s workforce has been reduced by 15 percent, Haughwout said.  Facing a 5 percent budget reduction under Scott’s proposal, she said more layoffs will be necessary if the legislature approves the plan.”
  • 2.12.11 - the Tennessean runs a guest piece by former state high court justice E. Riley Anderson in which he writes that the Tennessee Justice Center “has made our legal system more just, our community more compassionate, and our government institutions more accountable. This small public-interest law firm, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, has an outsized effect on the quality of life in Tennessee.”  TJC, headquartered in Nashville, provides a range of services to clients and other service providers, focusing largely on access-to-healthcare work.
  • 2.10.11 – continued drama affecting Georgia’s indigent defense system.  An AP article hosted on the WRCP TV station website notes this activity in the state legislature: “Powerful House Republicans are pushing a measure that would give the board of Georgia’s public defender system more say on its leader.  State Rep. Rich Golick of Smyrna and others back a House measure that would allow the director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council to be appointed and removed by the council, subject to the approval of the governor.
  • 2.8.11 - in Seattle, as in other local and state jurisdictions, lean fiscal times bring about debate on the costs (financial, that is) of capital punishment.  From the Seattle Times:  ”An association representing defense lawyers has a different idea than King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg about how his office can do its job following the elimination of 36 deputy prosecutors since 2008.   Instead of seeking an appropriation of criminal-justice reserve funds, the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers suggests that Satterberg not seek the death penalty in aggravated murder cases.  The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office could “could make up its budget shortfall several times over” with the money it would save by withdrawing death-penalty requests, the trial lawyers wrote in a letter Friday to Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Larry Gossett.”

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    February 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

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