Public Interest News Bulletin – March 23, 2012

Photo Credit: ChicTraveler website

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  The Spring Equinox has…equinoxed, and with it come Washington DC’s cherry blossoms.  The annual explosion of cherry blossoms, tulips and other cheerful-looking flora has become one of my favorite observances in almost six years of DC residency.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the planting of two cherry trees just off the tidal basin which sits between the National  Mall and Potomac River.  As for the public interest funding news… 

This week:

  • private seed funding for a new diversionary program serving at-risk offenders in Philly;
  • a group antagonistic towards LSC enters the appropriations debate;
  • Florida’s family lawyers fork over $ to support legal services for children;
  • indigent defense funding in Maine needs a boost;
  • some judges in Houston aren’t referring cases to the newly created PDs office;
  • fiscal woes for Pelican State public defense offices;
  • LSC president talks about funding, using technology, and his career path while speaking in NY;
  • the DC Bar Foundation awarding over $3 million in grants to local providers;
  • the importance of boosting state funding for legal services in Florida;
  • a new federal defender’s office in the W. District of Arkansas will open….whenever it gets funding;
  • UVA law students volunteered about 10,000 hours over the recent winter break.

Here are the summaries:

  • 3.22.12 – a public-private partnership including the Philadelphia DA’s office, the local defender’s office, and two charitable foundations has launched “The Choice is Yours,” a diversionary program that will offer education and other supports for at-risk offenders to help them avoid future criminal activity and offer opportunities to better their education and income prospects.  No tax dollars are used to fund the program.  The story notes that participants in a similar program in San Francisco have a recidivism rate of 10%, compared with a 54% recidivism rate for other offenders.  (Story from the Philadelphia Inquirer.) 
  • 3.21.12 – the Florida Bar’s family section donated $75,000 to support legal aid for Children in the Sunshine State.  (Story from the Sunshine State News.) Between IOLTA revenue shortfalls and other funding cuts, Florida’s legal services programs have been among the hardest hit in the Great Recession’s aftermath.


  • 3.20.12 – from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network: “The state commission that provides legal services to the poor may run out of money for court-appointed lawyers six weeks before the fiscal year ends June 30. The latest projected budget shortfall for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services may delay payments to the lawyers who represent low-income clients.  The commission requested $1 million in the state’s supplemental budget, an amount that was reduced to $400,000 in the budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.”
  • 3.20.12 – Houston launched a public defender’s office for the first time in 2011, but some local judges are still referring cases through the old appointed counsel system rather than using the defender.  Is this force of habit?  A form of protest at the decision to move away from the appointed counsel system?  Are politics involved?  It is alleged that the local Republican Party sent a letter to judges urging them not to use the defender’s office.  (Story from Fox 26.)
  • 3.19.12 – while in Rochester, NY, Legal Services Corporation president Jim Sandman praised New York’s Chief Judge’s efforts to promote access to justice, looked at the state of legal services funding generally, highlighted the effective use of technology in serving clients, and talked about his motivation for leaving law-firm practice for the “best job in American law.”  (Story from the Daily Record.) 
  • 3.19.12 – some good AtJ news on the local front.  The DC Bar Foundation is awarding over $3 million in grants to local service providers, according to the Blog of the Legal Times.  This amount is slightly up from last year’s awards.  The Bar Foundation administers funds appropriated by the DC city council, runs the District’s IOLTA funding program, and conducts other fundraising initiatives to raise money for the legal services community. 
  • 3.18.12 – the go-ahead’s been given to open a new federal defender’s office that would operate in the Western District of Arkansas.  But this development has to wait for funding to materialize.  From the AP: “Available funding from the government will determine when the federal court system’s western Arkansas district can establish its own federal public defender office.  The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August approved a request from then-Chief Judge Jimm Larry Hendren that the Western District be allowed to open such an office.”  
  • 3.17.12 – UVA Law students did some serious volunteering between semesters.  From the Daily Progress: “Students at the University of Virginia School of Law volunteered a record number of hours of pro bono work over winter recess. More than 200 students donated their time and legal services, logging about 10,000 hours in less than a month.” 

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