PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin – March 9, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Along with teaching us to embrace and cultivate a sense of searing guilt for the remainder of our earthly days, the nuns in my Catholic elementary school imparted to their pupils much common-sense wisdom.  One such bit of wisdom is “fall back, spring forward”, a phrase which reminds me what I’m supposed to do with my clocks twice a year.  So, a reminder to spring your clocks forward by one hour tomorrow night.

Speaking of our earthly days, this afternoon I’m joining my family at Arlington National Cemetery to bury a great aunt and uncle, the latter having been a retired Air Force pilot.  This will be a solemn, but not a sad, event.  Aunt Kay and Uncle Jim, who were married, died late last year after long, happy lives together.  Uncle Jim was one unique cat, and his life story offers an object lesson in cherishing every waking moment.  I knew him as an older man who sky-dived, scuba-dived, and bungee-jumped into his 70s.  My dad knew Uncle Jim as his mom’s gregarious younger brother who, on holiday leave from the military, would sweep into their house like a hurricane - showering gifts on the kids and ribbing my grandfather, a Philadelphia fireman whose German-American roots left him wanting quieter, more sedate family interaction.

Uncle Jim knew what sacrifice in life meant, and he endured hardships.  But I can truthfully write that only once did I see him without a smile on his face for any more than a few seconds.  That was at his wife’s funeral last October.  He died weeks later.  Throughout his life Uncle Jim seemed to know better than most that, come what may, our clocks spring forward faster than we may wish.  So we must seize every single moment as they try to pass us by.   

This week:

  • Maryland’s public defender law getting a rewrite, but litigation about the right to counsel still likely to follow;
  • Kentucky prosecutors and public defenders might need a stiff bourbon to deal with the next state budget;
  • Badger student pro bono gets a boost;
  • why mandatory pro bono ain’t the solution;
  • in the U.K, proposed legal aid cuts run into a House-of-Lords buzz saw (a phrase that is fun to write and not often written, I’d wager); 
  • chickens coming home to roost in battle between U. Md. legal clinic & state lawmaker;
  • pardon this! A proposed law school clinic on executive pardon power;
  • Presidential Management Fellows application snafu draws attention of lawmakers;
  • show me more funding! LSC cuts will impact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri;
  • juvenile justice developments in the Buckeye State. 

The summaries:

  • 3.9.12 – “Lawmakers have reached a compromise to rewrite Maryland’s Public Defender Act to accommodate a Court of Appeals decision that found criminal defendants weren’t given proper access to attorneys.  The consensus amendments, if passed early next week, would not require judges to work weekends and would dramatically reduce the number of people arrested for crimes with shorter jail terms.  Lawmakers are looking at changing the law ahead of a mandate from the Court of Appeals that would require public defenders to be available within 24 hours after an individual is arrested.”  (Story from the Gazette.)
  • 3.8.12 - in the “just because it could have been worse doesn’t mean it’s now good” department,” Kentucky’s next biennial budget isn’t likely to please local prosecutors or public defenders.  From Gannett: “The proposed state budget pending in the General Assembly has local prosecutors…concerned.  The House of Representatives in the Kentucky General Assembly passed a proposed budget…that would cut most state agencies by 8.4 percent… The Senate will take up the budget next week and will likely make some changes.  The House’s budget opted not to make the further cuts proposed by Gov. Steve Besher to prosecutors and public defenders but also won’t restore their funding cut out of this year’s budget. If this budget passes…it will mean a further backlog of cases and potential reduction in staff, prosecutors said.”
  • 3.7.12 – the University of Wisconsin Law School will bolster pro bono programs through two grants from the state bar.  One grant will help launch a free, law-school staffed legal clinic for veterans.  The second will support the law school’s new Pro Bono Society, which will engage law students and alumni pro bono efforts.  Here’s more from the State Bar of Wisconsin.  
  • 3.7.12 – the Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent makes the “pragmatic and philosophical” case against mandatory pro bono as a solution to our country’s access-to-justice crisis.  Here is Lardent’s blog post on the Association of Corporate Counsel website.  
  • 3.7.12 -House of Lords = Radical Progressive Revolutionaries(?)  Civil legal aid advocates in the U.S. are not the only ones facing waves of government funding cuts.  The present UK government is trying to push through measures that would considerably slash legal aid funds.  But the House of Lords, which hitherto I’d thought was a legislative body preoccupied mainly with things like croquet and ascots, is pushing back.  They are dealing blow after legislative blow to the government’s justice bill, as reported by the Independent
  • 3.6.12 – a Maryland lawmaker opposed to the work of the U. of Md.’s law school environmental clinic has thrown down the funding gauntlet.  We’ve covered the particulars of this ongoing battle before (see my colleague Kristen’s great summary here, and more here).  This is the latest from the Nat’l. Law Journal: “State Sen. Richard Colburn has proposed a budget amendment that would pit the state’s two public law schools against each other, transferring $500,000 from the University of Maryland, which houses an environmental law clinic that has angered some Republican lawmakers, to the University of Baltimore School of Law, to start a law clinic that would represent farmers.   Colburn and state leaders including Gov. Martin O’Malley have spoken out against the environmental law clinic for representing plaintiffs in a pollution lawsuit against a local chicken farm that supplies Perdue Farms Inc. They contend that publicly funded law clinics should not file suits that hurt state businesses.”  It’s a fascinating story raising questions around academic free expression, use of state education funds, combating pollution, and the power of local business interests large and small.    
  • 3.5.12 – Pardon this!  A novel idea for a law school clinic. From Pro Publica and the Wash. Post: “For years, lawyers, faith-based groups and students have helped file petitions for inmates seeking to cut short lengthy prison sentences. But there have been no comparable resources for felons who sought pardons after serving their time.  That may soon change. In response to stories published in December by ProPublica and The Washington Post, former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) plans to launch the nation’s first law school clinic and training program devoted to pardons.  Ehrlich’s proposal takes aim at the inequities identified by ProPublica’s investigation into the dispensation of presidential pardons over the past decade.”  [The investigation showed disparities in pardons granted based on race and whether a petitioner had congressional support.]    
  • 3.5.12 – a snafu with the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program application process has raised larger questions for Republican lawmakers.  From Government Executive: “The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked Office of Personnel Management officials to explain a recent [PMF] program mishap.  In a March 1 letter to OPM Director John Berry, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla….sought more information related to a Jan. 23 incident when OPM mistakenly sent acceptance emails to 300 semifinalists who hadn’t qualified for the [PMF] program. About a quarter of the 1,186 semifinalists received the erroneous letters. Later that day the same applicants received another email informing them there was an error in the system.  In the letter, Issa and Ross expressed concern that the notification mistake was ‘indicative of larger IT failures at OPM,’ including the agency’s recent troubles with retirement processing and USAJobs.gov.”  A Washington Post commentator wonders if the PMF issue is a mole hill rather than a mountain
  • 3.3.12 – juvenile justice developments in the Buckeye State.  From the Dispatch: “Juveniles in Ohio who are arrested for offenses that could land them in a detention center or youth prison can waive their right to legal representation without ever speaking to a lawyer.  That will change if a proposal by the Ohio Supreme Court goes into effect. The new rule would require juvenile defendants to meet with a lawyer before choosing not to use one.”

And since we’re closing with Ohio, I leave you with Mark Kozelek’s achingly beautiful Carry Me, Ohio.

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