Archive for July, 2011

Public Interest News Bulletin – July 29, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

This week: continued concern over drastic state funding cuts to Legal Services of New Jersey; five new appointees to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and one of them is named “Gator”; speaking of under-resourced public defenders, there’s a new Justice Policy Institute report on just that topic; the debate over city funding to help Jacksonville Area Legal Aid; Jack McCoy is giving his troops a raise!; the brand-spanking-new Houston public defender’s office (How could a city that big wait so long?); a Florida legal services provider is one of the Sunshine State’s best companies to work for (Were salaries a criterion in this contest?); heavy stuff: legal services as a bridge connecting low-income communities to society; Connecticut public defenders feeling the pinch of strained resources; rockin’ out to benefit Lone Star State legal services providers (But why is my favorite Texan band, Centro-matic, not in the mix?); the Wake County, NC prosecutors pull double duty as receptionists; and an interview Keith Findley, founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which has 16 exonerations under its belt.

  • 7.28.11 – the Philadelphia Inquirer covers hearings across the Delaware about state funding cuts which will have a serious impact on Legal Services of New Jersey:  “Two-thirds of those who contact Legal Services of New Jersey and qualify for its help are not being assigned lawyers because the agency doesn’t have the money to meet the demand, its president told legislators Wednesday. Melville Miller Jr. told an Assembly Judiciary panel examining state budget cuts that he expects to lay off 100 staff members, close at least three offices, and serve 10,000 fewer clients than last year because Gov. Christie cut the agency’s appropriation by $5 million for the budget year that began July 1. The cut comes atop a $9.7 million reduction last year. The total state appropriation for legal services for the year is $14.9 million, down by about half from two years ago.”
    • The Press of Atlantic City’s editorial board chimed in on the funding cuts, and they’re not happy: “Christie didn’t just cut the $5 million for Legal Services that Democrats added to the $5 million in aid Christie had proposed in his own budget. The governor cut it all – $10 million – including the $5 million he was previously willing to give the agency. The only explanation for that, folks, is pure vindictiveness toward the Democrats, who had the gall to propose their own budget….  The deep cuts that Legal Services have endured over the last three years raise the question of what kind of nation we are. Do we want to create a nation where only the wealthy get legal representation?”
  • 7.28.11 – Georgia’s Public Defender Standards Council, oft the subject of controversy, is getting five new members.  One of them is named “Gator.”  Yes!  Here’s a blurb from the AP: “Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed five new members to join the board overseeing the state’s public defender system.  Deal announced the appointments to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council on Wednesday.  The appointees are Donna Avans Seagraves, G.S. “Gator” Hodges, Lamar Paris, Ron Cross and David Sims.  Seagraves is a veteran public defender who lives in Athens.  Hodges is a Butts County commissioner and veteran police officer.  Paris is a Union County commissioner, and Cross chairs the Columbia County Commission.  Sims is a veteran trial lawyer who has worked in Savannah and Atlanta.”  Here’s a bit more background on the five GPDSC appointees, courtesy of The Weekly.
  • 7.26.11 – an update on the newly created public defender’s office in Houston.  KUHF reports: “After being one of the last major cities without one, the Harris County Public Defender’s office was created for the purpose of representing mentally ill defendants facing misdemeanor charges, and appeals cases for the indigent….  The county launched the office with a $4 million dollar state grant, but with plans to eventually fund it for about $7 million dollars a year…. The public defender’s office should expand its caseload to include juvenile and felony cases within two years.”
  • 7.26.11 – congrats to Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida!  The organization has been named by the Florida Trend magazine as one of the Sunshine State’s best companies to work for. Here’s some coverage from theDaytona Beach News-Journal: “Agency Executive Director Bill Abbuehl, said ‘a committed and dedicated staff, one that will meet the demanding needs of nonprofit legal aid’s challenges, needs to be consistently made aware that they are needed and wanted and valued.’ The firm has 90 employees throughout Central Florida, including about 45 in Daytona Beach.”
  • 7.21.11 – Corey Shdaimah, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, has authored Negotiating Justice: Progressive Lawyering, Low-income Clients, and the Quest for Social Change.  On the American Constitution Society’s website, Shdaimah previews Negotiating Justice, in which he interviewed 11 legal services lawyers and 30 clients: “Perhaps as important as [direct representation of clients’ interests] is the need for solidarity at a time when our societal divisions are growing. The interests of an ever-smaller group at the top are set against those who struggle as more people lose their jobs, their homes, and their savings…. Legal services programs sit on that divide; legal services lawyers, most of whom graduated elite law schools, choose to work directly with communities in need. Providing day-to-day legal services requires interactions between lawyers and clients. For clients, this means not feeling entirely abandoned by government agencies and society at large.”
  • 7.21.11 – Connecticut public defenders, facing deep cuts, are concerned that they may not be able to meet ethical and constitutional obligations with ever-growing caseloads. Boston.com reports on the growing fears of state public defenders. “If the caseloads are too big, our people cannot spend the time they need to spend on a case and with their clients,’’ said Deputy Chief Public Defender Brian Carlow. “Our biggest initial concern is cases not moving as quickly as they can when people are locked up.’’
  • 7.24.11 – Business News reports that legal aid providers in Texas have come up with a loud and fun way to raise funds for legal services. Seven bands, composed exclusively of area judges and lawyers, will rock out on August 20th in Dallas. Ticket information and more details are available here.
  • 7.19.11 – In Raleigh, NC, WRAL reports that attorneys in the Wake County DA’s office are pulling double duty- as lawyers and secretaries- as a result of budget cuts that have forced drastic reductions in staffing. ” ‘I have some of the most skilled lawyers in this county who are answering telephones on a daily basis, because somebody has to answer the phones – and we have to share that duty,’ said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby. ‘We’re pinched. Each day, it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul’.”
  • 7.24.11 – From Madison.com, an interview Keith Findley, founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. Since 1998, the initiative has helped free 16 people who were wrongly imprisoned, and today has expanded to issues such as improving compensation for public defenders.

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Thursday Blog Round Up: Our Favorites from Around the Public Interest Blogosphere

By Jamie Bence

Howdy, folks! Every Thursday, the PSLawNet Blog posts a compilation of some of our favorite posts from the public interest blogosphere. Here’s what looks good this week:

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System Overload: Justice Policy Institute Releases Report on Stressed Public Defense System

By Jamie Bence

Yesterday, the Justice Policy Institute  released a report which takes a comprehensive look at the economic, social and ethical costs of underfunded public defense systems. From JPI’s press release:

System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense found that public defense systems across the country are overburdened, and considers how the busting-at-the-seams systems affect state and county budgets, the lives of those behind bars, the impact on their families, and the challenges of re-entering communities after serving time. The study further looks at why dedicated public defenders do not have enough time to conduct thorough investigations, or meet with and provide quality representation for their clients – many of whom are low-income earners and people of color – contributing to disparities in the criminal justice system.

The report goes on to make several recommendations about how the system can be improved:

  • Integrate a holistic and community-based approach to public defense. Community-based and holistic approaches to defense can help address the root causes of justice system involvement and prevent future involvement by treating the whole client. This can improve public safety, save money on corrections and have a positive impact on people and communities.
  • Collect better data and conduct more empirical evaluations on the impact of public defense systems on people, communities and criminal justice. Rigorous research and data collection on all justice policies and practices, but especially public defense, can help policymakers make informed decisions on policies that impact public defense.
  • Involve public defenders and affected communities in the policymaking process. As people who are directly involved with the laws and policies in a state or locality, defenders are in the unique position of being able to offer insight on the impact these policies have on people, on their law offices, and on the justice system. As such, defenders should be actively engaged in the policymaking process for criminal justice policies as equal partners in the justice system.
  • Actively seek out the voices and perspectives of people who have used defender services to gain a better understanding of the realities of various systems and the implications for people. Nobody knows better the impact of criminal justice policies and practices than people who are involved in the justice system. Involving people directly impacted by the justice system will provide crucial information on making better and more effective and just policies.

To read the full report, click here. For a summary fact sheet, click here.

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Job o' the Day: Fly Like an Eagle/Attorney

By Lauren Forbes

Sad news that 2,700 post offices are closing their doors, but…

The United States Postal Service has the following excellent and challenging employment opportunity for highly motivated and innovative individuals. The selected attorney will provide advice and legal analysis of high-profile initiatives related to service change, pricing and classification, annual reporting, rulemaking and international postal policy. The selected attorney will defend the Postal Service in federal district court and provide representation in interagency meetings, U.S. delegations to international organizations and before the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Qualifications
The successful candidate must demonstrate through a combination of education, training, and experience the following requirements: A minimum of 3 years of experience primarily practicing complex federal administrative litigation, including either: (1) litigation before administrative agencies or federal courts of highly complex or large-scale matters; or (2) advising senior officials, legislative staff and regulators on matters related to international policies and treaties, interagency agreements, products and service requirements, customs and security.

For complete job listing, visit PSLawNet (login required).

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Thrifty Law Student on Life

By Jamie Bence

In my last post, I talked about back to school shopping for the thrifty law student. Today’s topic deals with all the day-to-day stuff.  The more you can lower your monthly base expenses, the less stress you will feel when your car breaks down, your computer crashes, or you have a medical emergency. In law school as in life, these things happen, so it’s important to pace yourself during a time when you might not have any income.

Food:  Before law school started, I thought the grocery store was the only store I could go to and get anything I wanted without thinking much about it. After all, food is essential! However, there are many things you can do to save, including thinking carefully about where you shop. Law school might be the time in your life where you shop at a less exclusive store, clip coupons and watch sales for items that you really like. It’s hard to think about these things when you’re cramming in assignments, but once you get the hang of it, coupon-ing can be pretty easy.

Lunches during the week are another opportunity to save. You probably won’t have time for a nice lunch anyway, and most cafeteria options aren’t exactly healthy. I ate a lot of sandwiches and leftovers. It wasn’t always delicious or fun, but I saved a lot of money by packing. On the downside, it takes time in the morning or evening, but if you’re making dinner anyway, it’s not too hard to box up some leftovers. However, sometimes law school feels like a long time without much to celebrate. So it can be fun to mark special achievements- the end of a semester, procuring the summer job- with a nice meal out.

Utilities:  It was not my favorite way of cutting back in law school, but I did not subscribe to cable. I don’t have enough free time to justify paying for it, and when I had free time, I wanted to spend it out with my family and friends, not sitting around more than I already was. When I want to watch something, I just use Netflix, which is considerably less expensive. Think about how much free time you really have before committing to costly subscription services, from magazines to online subscriptions.

Staying healthy is incredibly important law school, so I make this suggestion with the caveat that if you need a gym membership to work out, then you should probably keep it. However, while your membership fees might have just seemed like normal monthly expenses before, on a fixed income they are a substantial cost. You will probably get membership to your school’s gym with your law school tuition, and if it’s feasible to use it, you might try to use that. There are also home work out options that are far less expensive than a monthly membership.

Also, when thinking about the cost of rent in your building, don’t forget to check whether utilities are included or not, and whether there is a suitable gym on site.

Travel: Car pool can be a great way to get to law school. If your school is near where your spouse works, you might also consider commuting with them. Gas and transit costs are incredibly high right now, and even if it’s only a few days per week, getting up early or staying late at school might be worth the savings. Plus, it might help make you more accountable- if you know you have to leave the library by 6pm to commute home, you may be more likely to finish your assignment.

You should also consider the cost of your commute with reductions in rent. While it might seem smart to take a long commute in favor of a cheaper apartment, the cost of getting to and from your destination each day might outweigh the reduction in rent. As boring and tedious as it is, when you consider apartments, also look at the transit costs you will incur each day.

Fun: When I started thinking about my law school budget, I felt like it would be three years where I wouldn’t be able to enjoy much. However, you will have time and money to go out and have fun, especially if you plan well. It could be as simple as looking for inexpensive happy hours, or nurturing an interest in free activities, like hiking. Today, there are also mass discount deals that are available on everything from movie tickets to salon services.

As long as you know your budget and choose your purchases carefully, you will be able to enjoy life, even without the benefits of a full time job.

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Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Named One of "Florida's Best Companies to Work For" in 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Seven months into the year and Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, headquartered in Daytona Beach, has sewn it up.  The organization was listed by the Florida Trend magazine as one of the Sunshine State’s best companies to work for.  Impressive.  Times have been tough in the legal services community, particularly in the recession’s wake as funding streams have run dry.  So it’s great news to learn that morale is high at

Orange you glad you work at CLS of Mid-Florida?

Community Legal Services.  Congrats!

Here’s coverage from the Daytona Beach News Journal:

Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida was named one of Florida’s best companies to work for by a statewide business magazine.

The third annual rankings appear in the August issue of Florida Trend and online at FloridaTrend.com.

Agency Executive Director Bill Abbuehl, said “a committed and dedicated staff, one that will meet the demanding needs of nonprofit legal aid’s challenges, needs to be consistently made aware that they are needed and wanted and valued.”

The firm has 90 employees throughout Central Florida, including about 45 in Daytona Beach.

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Job o'The Day: Mediation Services in Chicago

Are you the type to always solve problems and help others get along? Well then we’ve got a job for you!

Looking for an opportunity to enter into the field of mediation? Want to receive mediation training and gain dispute resolution experience? Join our team-oriented, friendly and professional staff at the Center for Conflict Resolution and get a head start in the world of Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The Organization: The Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) is an independent, not-for-profit organization, whose funding comes from public and private sources. CCR provides mediation services throughout Cook County, focusing on people of limited means and organizations supporting the public interest. CCR’s programs are run by a staff of 14 and more than 120 volunteer mediators. For more information about the organization, see www.ccrchicago.org

Position Responsibilities:

  • Coordinate mediation sessions at CCR’s office and at various court programs.
  • Schedule mediation sessions and mediators.
  • Maintain case records.
  • Supervise and monitor mediator performance.
  • Manage CCR’s various mediation programs including the following: Juvenile Court of Cook County, Daley Center, Rolling Meadows, Markham, Bridgeview, Skokie and Maywood Courthouses.
  • Mediate periodically at the above-described sites upon successful approval through CCR’s 40-hour mediation training.

For complete job listing, visit PSLawNet (login required).

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American Constitution Society on Proposed Cuts to LSC Funding

By Jamie Bence

Today on the American Constitution Society’s Blog, more information about the probable impact of proposed cuts to LSC funding. Corey Shdaimah writes, based on his experience interviewing legal services attorneys and clients:

In the flurry of budget discussions and funding cuts, money to the Legal Services Corporation is again on the chopping block, estimated to result in turning away 235,000 people across the country. This comes when estimates already show that for each eligible client served, another is turned away from LSC-funded programs and at least 80% of civil legal needs go unmet. Legal services for low-income clients are no luxury; they are often necessary to ensure basic survival. Funding cuts such as these always come at a time when such services are most needed. If we can shore up corporations and financial institutions, why can’t we shore up people, communities, and their faith in our legal system? In the U.S., access to justice without lawyers is largely a hollow promise.

For the complete post and more information on Shdaimah ‘s Negotiating Justice, please click here.

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Wisconsin's Innocence Project Takes On…

By Lauren Forbes

In 1998 law professors Keith Findley and John Pray founded the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School.   Madison’s Capitol Times reports that since then, with the help of law students, the project has reviewed thousands of cases, helping to free 16 people who were imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

Aside from freeing the innocent, Findley, a former public defender, is  working with the state Legislature to improve compensation and services for those freed after spending years, sometimes decades, behind bars. Currently, Wisconsin offers $5,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment with a cap of $25,000. One bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Richard Spanbauer with bipartisan support, would raise that to $15,000 a year with no cap. Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan is preparing another bill that would increase monetary compensation to $50,000 a year, the federal standard, and provide an array of housing, education, workforce development, mental and physical health care and other services.

In an interview with Keith Findley, the Capitol Times delved into the core issues that lead to wrongful convictions and the work they’ve been doing for thirteen years.  Here’s a teaser…

Capitol Times:How much does DNA factor into the cases you take on?

Keith Findley: We don’t rely only on DNA, but DNA is what made the whole innocence movement possible, because before that there was sort of a general sense both in the legal community and in the broader community that while mistakes were inevitable occasionally, they were truly aberrant and anomalous and, as such, of little concern.

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Webinar: Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 5 Easy Steps

Our good buddy Heather Jarvis is hosting a webinar this Thursday, 7/28, at noon Eastern.  “Public Service Loan Forgiveness in Five Easy Steps,” will offer a step-by-step review of how public interest and government lawyers can take advantage of the College Cost Reduction & Access Act’s Public Service Loan Forgivenes provisions.

Short version: Work in public interest for 10 years, get your loans forgiven.  Yay!

Go to Heather’s webinar page for registration info.

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