Public Interest News Bulletin – May 27, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Greetings, Dear Readers, and Happy Friday!  Having returned from the Equal Justice Conference, which featured some terrific programming and offered important insights about trends affecting the legal services and pro bono communities, I give you this week’s Bulletin, which is brimming over with news and developments from all corners of the public interest legal world.

Featured: Georgia’s top jurist goes to bat for legal services funding; hard times for Legal Services of New Jersey; a “corps” of newly minted lawyers to help  unclog the immigration system?; a prosecutor/public defender scuffle ends in a lawsuit; New York gets an IOLA funding windfall, but it’s notably “uninteresting”; former AG Gonzales “disappointed” in himself over politicization of hiring practices; the SEC and CFTC hang the “Help Wanted” sign for lawyers; funding for prosecutors and public defenders in one South Carolina county; stagnant prosecutor salaries are causing problems in Tucson; prosecutor funding ain’t great in Vegas, either; a piece on the public defender’s office in Terra Haute, IN; the Texas AtJ Foundation recognizes four banks as IOLTA all-stars; two LSC board members make the case for funding programs in Virginia and nationwide; in Tennessee, a legal services ED explains how even small federal funding cuts disproportionately impact the poor; questions about indigent defense funding in the Tarheel State.

 

  • 5.25.11 – writing in the National Law Journal, Stacy Caplow, director of clinical legal education at Brooklyn Law School, offers a solution to the “crisis” in the immigration system: a corps of law grads doing two years of service as immigration attorneys.  In laying out the system’s myriad problems, Prof. Caplow offers a startling statistic: as for immigrants in the NY area, “a nondetained immigrant represented by a lawyer had a 74% chance of avoiding deportation, whereas a detained immigrant without counsel had only a 3% rate of success.”  Wow.  Caplow’s solution: [L]et’s create a structured program for…law graduates to provide legal services to poor, unrepresented immigrants while developing skills and knowledge to improve the level of competency of the immigration bar….  We could call it Immig-Corps. I picture recent law graduates being trained and supervised over a period of two years, going to detention centers, to immigration court, interviewing, counseling and representing individuals facing deportation.”  Read the full piece for discussion of how to fund the program.  I’ve got some thoughts on these proposals – not the least of which is apprehension about the risk of downward pressure on already-low public interest attorney salaries.  But that must wait for a longer blog post.
  • 5.24.1 – according to the Blog of the Legal Times, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expressed “disappointment” in himself stemming from a scandal around political vetting of attorneys and law students who were competing for (non-political-appointment) positions with DOJ.
  • 5.24.11 – it looks like prosecutors in Berkeley will see some more funding from the county.  Huzzah!  After all, someone has to bring Swift Justice to all those good-for-nothing, commune-living, dope-smoking hippie rapscallions…wait…oh…Berkeley, South Carolina.  Our bad.  In any case, the Berkeley Independent reports: “Berkeley County Council has included funding to help assist the solicitor and public defender’s offices in its fiscal year 2011-2012 budget that will be presented to council next month.  Included in the budget is funding that would help Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson recoup more than $140,000 that was cut from her office’s budget due to the discontinuation of grants from the Department of Justice and the state’s Department of Public Safety.  Also included in the budget is $115,000 earmarked for the public defender’s office.  Without the funding, it is estimated that the county’s public defender’s office would have to close for two months next year or lay off two of its five attorneys.”

 

  • 5.223.11 – stagnant salaries are leading to attorney retention troubles for one Arizona prosecutor.  From to the Arizona Daily Star: Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has seen so many resignations and retirements over the past three years that 64 percent of her prosecutors have five years’ or less experience in the courtroom.  As with most county employees, LaWall’s staff hasn’t seen a raise in nearly four years, causing many to leave…. Pima County [which is the Tucson area] records indicate the 29 prosecutors hired at $57,000 between 2006 and 2009 are making roughly the same as the nine hired within the last year.”  The $57K starting salary is actually a solid figure, comfortably over the median, national starting prosecutor’s salary of $50K that NALP reported in 2010.  Nevertheless, the attrition of mid-level attorneys is double trouble: not only is the office losing folks who should move into leadership positions, it is also losing on the investment it made in training those attorneys.
  • 5.23.11 – Las Vegas-based KLAS has a brief story about apparent underfunding in the local District Attorney’s Office: “While crime is at 2011 levels, the number of Deputy DA’s [is] at 2000 levels…. The DA’s Office handles all the cases coming through the Regional Justice Center, while the Public Defender’s Office handles around 40 percent. The DA’s say they’re concerned budget cuts prevented them from hiring new attorneys over the past three years, while the Public Defender’s Office continues to grow.”  Leaving aside the fact that a straight-up comparison of prosecutor and public defender funding is apples and oranges, we do hope that the District Attorney can address staffing problems.

 

  • 5.20.11 – Yoder to the Associated Press: “Mistaken your views on funding cuts are!”  (World’s worst Star Wars reference?  Very, very likely.)  Dave Yoder is the executive director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.  In a letter to the editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, Yoder takes issue with an AP article that seemed to minimize the impact of recent federal budget cuts, particularly as regards programs helping the poor: “The article fails to point out that the cut in LSC funding was more than 5 percent…. The article fails to recognize that current federal funding is less than half of what it was, when adjusted for inflation, in 1981.  The article fails to point out that funding to LAET from Department of Housing and Urban Development for unlawful foreclosure and eviction prevention and from Department of Justice for domestic violence prevention has also been cut either directly or by the elimination of stimulus funding. The personal, social and economic short and long-term impact will be much greater on low income citizens and on our communities than suggested.”
  • 5.18.11 – the Shelby County Star reports on potential funding cuts for indigent defense programs in the Tarheel State: “The state House recently approved the 2011-12 budget which reduces funding for court-appointed private counsel by nearly $11.3 million.  That reduction could mean a difference of as much as $30 per hour [in payments to appointed counsel, which one attorney estimated could fall from $75 to $45.]  Some legislators are also talking about establishing and staffing public defenders’ offices in some counties as a means to save money.

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