PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin – February 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday Monday, dear readers. This is a special “72 Hours Late” bulletin edition.  The reason, of course, is that I spent the better part of last week preparing for the sublime glory of the Academy Awards.  I simply need to know whom Joan Rivers adores as Hollywood’s most glamorous promenade upon the red carpet.  This week we’ll return to the every-Friday schedule.  While we’re running with the movie theme, here’s a list of the all-time 10 best legal movie lines (from the people at Bloomberg Law).  And as for the public interest news:      

  • A  proposal in the Buckeye State to move toward more state funding of the indigent defense program;
  • Large-scale public defender layoff in NOLA forces legal luminaries into indigent defense roles;
  • In Washington State, a class action alleging unconstitutionally overburdened indigent defense programs goes forward;
  • Pay raises for Wisconsin prosecutors (and maybe public defenders) to support attorney retention;
  • Yale Law School clinic files a federal suit challenging Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers;
  • the boom in pro bono work by corporate counsel offices;
  • plumbing the depths of Florida’s legal services funding crisis;
  • continuing a national trend, a new veterans diversionary court in PA;
  • to address swelling demand for legal services, stakeholders in Tennessee are serving clients by answering legal questions online;
  • a Baltimore legal services provider partners with a social work school to provide more holistic services to clients.    

The summaries:

  • 2.26.12 – a move to change the Buckeye State’s indigent-defense funding system.  From the Columbus Dispatch: “The County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio again has on its legislative agenda the issue of transferring the responsibility of providing indigent defendants with legal representation from the counties to the state…. Currently, counties set up their own ways of providing lawyers for indigent defendants, and they allocate money. The state then reimburses all counties at the same rate, which last year was about 35 percent. That’s down from the 50 percent the state promised when the system was set up in the early 1970s.
  • 2.23.12 – from the AP: “A federal judge in Seattle says a lawsuit challenging the public defense systems in the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington can proceed. Judge Robert Lasnik also granted the case class-action status Thursday.  The American Civil Liberties Union alleges that two part-time attorneys contracted by the cities fielded more than 2,100 cases in 2010. That’s although Washington state Bar Association guidelines specify full-time public defenders shouldn’t surpass 400 cases a year. The lawsuit alleges the cities fail to provide adequate resources to the public defender system.”
  • 2.22.12 – from the State Bar of Wisconsin: “A bipartisan bill intended to retain experienced prosecutors by improving their compensation…advance[s] in the Legislature….  The legislation, 2011 Senate Bill 394 and Assembly Bill 488, establishes a pay progression program for assistant district attorneys (ADAs), but does not fund it in the current biennium, leaving that issue for a future Legislature to address in the next state budget….  On Feb. 15, legislators introduced a bill to create a similar pay progression system for assistant state public defenders.”  The public defender bill is not out of committee yet.
  • 2.22.12 – “An immigration law clinic at Yale Law School has filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the use of detainers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and asked Wednesday that the suit be expedited now that ICE is rolling out Secure Communities in Connecticut statewide.”  (Story from the New Haven Register.)
  • 2.20.12 – a Miami Herald editorial plumbs the depths of the Sunshine State’s legal services funding crisis.  The state government does not fund legal services, so programs have long been dependent on IOLTA funds.  With the real estate market collapsed and interest rates at historic lows, IOLTA funding has been gutted by 80%.  This will lead to lawyer layoffs – “…some 120 of Florida’s 410 Legal Aid attorneys are expected to lose their jobs…” – and fewer clients served unless action is taken now to shore up funding.
  • 2.17.12 – continuing a national trend, a suburban Philadelphia county is creating a veterans court to adjudicate some cases involving vets who run afoul of the law.  “Congressman Pat Meehan (R-7) hosted a roundtable discussion to iron out the details of Delaware County’s Veterans Justice Initiative. With representatives from the Veterans Administration…it was announced that a Veterans Treatment Court was ready to go in Delco…. The goal [is] the creation of a diversionary court track for non-violent offenders who served in the military.”  (Story from the Delco News Network.)
  • 2.16.12 – “More than 100 low-income Tennesseans are receiving free legal assistance every month through the OnlineTNJustice.org website, but backers of the project want to serve more….  The initiative is a joint project of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association. The site allows clients to request advice about specific civil legal issues from volunteer lawyers and get their questions answered online.” (Story from the Tennessean.)
  • 2.16.12 – a legal services office pairs with a graduate social work school to provide more holistic services to clients.  From the Public News Service: “The downtown Baltimore [Maryland Legal Aid Bureau] office has been trying something new: teaming up with social workers through the University of Maryland School of Social Work….  Legal Aid offices around the state want to replicate the Baltimore program, but it does require resources, and regular Legal Aid funding cannot be used for the social workers.”

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