Public Interest News Bulletin – December 30, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  2011: the end is nigh.  At the close of every year the Washington Post publishes a “what’s going out?/what’s coming in?” piece about cultural trends, the changing zeitgeist, etc.  The piece seems perfeclty designed if the goal is to remind me how out of touch I am.  For instance, “Ovaltine nostalgia” is out while a “Tang renaissance” is coming in.  I love Ovlaltine!  How did I miss that!?  And, while seemingly crass but otherwise a mystery to me, “Pippa’s bum” is losing in favor of “Kate’s uterus.”  Sorry, Pippa.  Greek yogurt, which I had noticed was all the rage in 2011, is being pushed out by something called Icelandic skyr.  I hope Pippa’s not Greek.  That would be a double-whammy for her.  Anyway, as we turn to 2012 I wish you a happy and safe New Year’s holiday.

Here’s what we’ve got in the public interest department:

  • it’s a revolving employment door for Wisconsin’s assistant prosecutors;
  • lots of news about how LSC cuts will affect Virginia legal services providers;
  • Michigan Community Resources expands to provide more than legal assistance to its nonprofit clients;
  • DC’s LRAP program is coming up dry (boo!!);
  • study shows that a homicide defendant with a public defender will fare a lot better than with court-appointed counsel;
  • prosecutors and defenders square off, but this time everybody wins;
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma bracing for the LSC funding cut pinch;
  • a good idea for raising legal services funding from law firm associates.

This week:

  • 12.28.11 – Wisconsin struggles to retain its prosecutors, according to a new study.  Here’s a report from WISC-TV: “They carry much of the workload in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, and a study found that many assistant district attorneys, or ADAs, are leaving their posts at an alarming rate.  The study called “Public Safety and Assistant District Attorney Staffing in Wisconsin” surveyed past and present ADAs and found that while an overwhelming majority of these state workers went into the field to perform a public service, for several years most are leaving for better paying jobs with better benefits in the private sector….”
  • 12.28.11- three stories about how LSC cuts will impact Virginia-based legal services providers:
    •  From WVIR: “Legal aid groups across the commonwealth are preparing to lobby the Virginia General Assembly for losses in funding. That funding has decreased by $8 million since 2008, affecting the services available to more than a million Virginians that cannot afford other legal help.  For some, it could mean job cuts. That is why groups across the state plan to ask the General Assembly for increased funding when its session begins in January.”
    • The News-Leader reports on how Blue Ridge Legal Services, in central/western Virginia, will be impacted: “Congressional action in mid-November reduced federal funding for civil legal services to low-income residents by 15 percent. This cut came on the heels of an earlier 4 percent cut in federal funding in April, sparking Blue Ridge’s first round of cuts, halving the number of attorneys at its Harrisonburg office, which serves Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County, said John Whitfield, executive director and general counsel for the organization.”
    • Here’s a statewide look at the potential for cuts, from the Northern Virginia Daily: “A statewide agency that gives legal aid to the poor faces layoffs as a result of congressional funding cuts.  Representatives with Legal Services Corp. of Virginia said Friday they plan to ask the General Assembly to help restore funds lost this fall when Congress reduced grants by 15 percent, according to a news release.  The agency provides funding and oversight of the state’s legal aid system — nine direct-service programs in 38 offices statewide and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which assists with advocacy, education and litigation support.  Statewide the agency faces losing 20 attorneys and 10 support staff, according to legal services group’s executive director, Mark D. Braley. 
  • 12.27.11 – Michigan Community Resources, formerly known as Community Legal Resources, outgrew the “Legal” in its name.  MCR used to provide legal assistance to under-resourced nonprofit organizations.  Now it offers a broader range of services, and works with an expanded circle of client organizations.  From the Huffington Post: “MCR now services the entire state and offers planning, technical and educational support in addition to legal aid. Its clientele has expanded, too. Many of the groups MCR assists are 501(c)3 nonprofits, but the organization also helps groups like block clubs and neighborhood associations.”  I used to work with a transactional pro bono program that served nonprofits in need of legal help.  Often times, they would also require technical assistance that was not directly legal in nature.  Taking a more holistic approach to client services makes a lot of sense to me.  Congrats, MCR.  
  • 12.25.11 – the LRAP program for DC-based poverty lawyers is short on the cash to meet demand from debt-laden lawyers.  From the Washintgon Post: “For the first time in its five-year history, the privately funded program that helps lawyers at Washington nonprofits repay law school debt — the Loan Repayment Assistance Program — fell short of covering the majority of lawyers’ eligible monthly loan payments. In past years, the program managed to cover at least 90 percent of those monthly loan repayments; this year, they only have enough money to cover about half.  That’s because the need for aid is outpacing the money coming into the program. In 2007, the first year of LRAP, 14 percent of lawyers applying for the grants had debt of more than $150,000, and their average debt was $92,000. Today, 27 percent have debt of more than $150,000, and their average debt has jumped to $119,000.”
  • 12.24.11 – here may be our data points of the week.  A study of indigent homicide defendants that took place in Philly found a sharp difference in outcomes based on whether they had a public defender (on staff w/ the Defender Association of Philadelphia) or a court-appointed lawyer.  An NY Times editorial summarizes the RAND study: “The study examined murder cases of indigent defendants with similar profiles in the city from 1994 to 2005. The conviction rate of clients represented by staff lawyers working for the public defender association…was 19 percent lower than those represented by court-appointed lawyers working alone. Their expected time served in prison was 24 percent lower, and they were far less likely to get a life sentence.”   
  • 12.24.11 – on a lighter note, prosecutors and defenders in Alaska engaged in some non-hostile combat to generate a whole bunch of food donations for the needy.  From the Peninsula Clarion: “A friendly competition between the Kenai’s District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender Agency helped people in need this holiday season. The two offices, which generally compete toe-to-toe at the Kenai Courthouse, collected food last week as part of a private food drive. The public defenders won the competition, donating 1,547 pounds of canned and dried foods. The district attorneys donated 978 pounds of food.”
  • 12.23.11 – on the heels of the LSC funding cut, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is bracing for impact.  From the Express-Star: “Oklahoma’s statewide nonprofit law firm providing free civil legal services to elderly and low-income persons who are about to lose their children, housing, health care or income or who are victims of domestic violence, is preparing for a federal funding cut of approximately $700,000 for the coming fiscal year.”  ($700,000 represents about 10% of LASO’s budget.)  “No decisions have been made by LASO’s Board of Directors regarding implementation of LSC’s funding cut.”
  • 12.22.11 – a good legal services fundraising idea.  Here’s some information on the “One Hour of Sharing Associates’ Campaign, which encourages Minnesota-based law firm associates to make a cash donation, in the amount of their hourly billing rate, to the Fund for the Legal Aid Society.  The JD Rising blog has more detail

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment