PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin – March 2, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  This week:

  • Maryland legislation would counteract state high court ruling requiring counsel for defendants at bail hearings;
  • AIG’s in-house department launches pro bono program;
  • How funding constraints slow the wheels of justice in Washington State;
  • the dire funding straits of Tarheel State legal services providers;
  • pro bono in Arkansas?  There’s an app for that;
  • promoting volunteerism by professionals in Corporate America;
  • Massachusetts governor Patrick’s plan to revamp public defense program runs into roadblocks;
  • SUNY Buffalo law clinic puts the focus on harmful consequences for pets in households with domestic violence;
  • what law-firm pro bono can learn from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Here are the summaries:

  • 3.1.12 - ”the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates on Thursday passed measures to repeal a Maryland law requiring poor defendants to have a public defender present when they appear before district court commissioners, who decide bail and whether a defendant is detained after arrest….  Lawmakers are working to address a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling earlier this year that defendants must have an attorney present during appearances before court commissioners. Compliance with the ruling could cost tens of millions of dollars, if the law isn’t changed.”  The measures also try to cut down on the number of suspects who would be detained by allowing law enforcement officers to issue citations in lieu of arrests for some minor crimes.  Still, the issue of the constitutionality of some defendants not having counsel at bail hearings will likely be litigated again.  (Story from the Washington Post.) 
  • 2.29.12 – Multinational insurance company AIG, which has about 500 in-house attorneys, is launching a pro bono program.  AIG general counsel Thomas Russo spoke to Corporate Counsel: “ ‘You want to give people the opportunity to contribute to the community, and you want to be supportive of that in a lot of different ways,’ says AIG general counsel Thomas Russo. ‘We wanted to do it right, and that took time.’  With the wholehearted blessing of Russo—who used to defend, pro bono, New York City street musicians accused of violating city ordinances—AIG joins a growing pro-pro bono trend among corporate law departments. But establishing the program is also a big part of how Russo conceives of the company’s comeback, after receiving the largest government bailout in U.S. history during the 2008 financial crisis.”
  • 2.29.12 – from the Seattle Times: “Guest columnists Richard McDermott, presiding judge of the King County Superior Court, and Barbara Madsen, chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court, voice concern that at a time of increasing legal needs for low-income residents, legal aid resources are facing cuts.”  McDermott and Madsen highlight both the financial woes confronting courts (even as more and more pro se litigants seek help navigating the system) and the legal services community.
  • 2.28.12 – the Public News Service looks at the dire financial straits of North Carolina legal services providers: ”In the last 10 years, there’s been a 60 percent increase in the number of people eligible for free legal aid…. Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont saw a 25 percent state funding cut, as well as a serious reduction in contributions from lawyers who are also struggling in this economy…. Another free legal nonprofit, Legal Aid of North Carolina, had to close four offices and lay off 30 lawyers after last year’s budget cuts. 
  • 2.28.12 – pro bono in Arkansas?  There’s an app for that.  From the Arkansas Business Journal: A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law recently developed a mobile app for Arkansas pro bono attorneys.  According to a news release, Stewart Whaley graduated from the law school in 2008. He and his team created the free app, called iProBono, and released it on the iTunes app store…. The program lets licensed Arkansas attorneys view pro bono cases representing low-income Arkansans. Attorneys can sort the cases based on legal topic and county. Cases can be requested through the app.
  • 2.27.12 – speaking of the pro bono, Senator Mark Warner (D – VA) writes on the value of volunteerism in Corporate America.  From the Huffington Post: In tough times, when reaching for the checkbook isn’t as easy as it once was for individuals or businesses, we need to find more creative ways to help. And for a growing number of American businesses, the answer is clear: many have agreed to partner with their employees to donate pro bono services, leveraging the extraordinary talents of their workforce to help support community needs.” 
  • 2.26.12 – “The state agency that oversees legal representation for the poor is raising some serious doubts about Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s legislation to overhaul the state’s system of indigent defense.  Saying he wants to save costs in a tight budget, the governor submitted legislation last month to hire 240 additional full-time state lawyers at the agency in order to replace some of the work currently done under contract by 3,000 private lawyers for the poor across the state.” In a battle of dueling reports, the executive branch and the Committee for Public Counsel services differ on whether Gov. Patrick’s plan is s money-saver or not.  (Story from The Republican.)
  • 2.26.12 – an interesting new legal clinic out of SUNY Buffalo.  From a news release: “Domestic violence victims often remain in abusive relationships to prevent their partner from harming or killing their pets. The University at Buffalo Law School Women, Children, and Social Justice Clinic’s new project, Animal Shelter Options for Domestic Violence Victims, is designed to remove this barrier to safety for individuals and their pets.  With funding from Verizon and collaboration from the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), law school faculty and students are working to provide individuals seeking emergency shelter with resources to help protect their pets as well as raise awareness about barriers escaping domestic violence faced by victims who have animals.”  

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