Public Interest News Bulletin – April 20, 2012

Credit: TrailerFoodDiaries

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Greetings from Austin, TX, where NALP’s Annual Education Conference will adjourn manana.  Over 1400 people, all told.  I’ve spent much of my time this week wandering about in a state of sleep deprivation with the law-school public-interest career advisors and clinicians who comprise NALP’s Public Service Section.  I realized once again how fortunate I am to work with a group of such selfless folks. Big high-five to Jessica Kitson, who’s just stepped down as the section chair.  Big Warning to incoming chair Leeor Neta: you’re stuck with me for a year.

Yesterday, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney (and Equal Justice Works fellow) Adriana Rodriguez keynote-ed our public service luncheon.  Adriana’s doing impactful work, in an under-served area, at a time when low-income client needs are swelling.  If the next generation of access-to-justice advocates is anything like Adriana…well…I’ll rest easier.      

This week on the access-to-justice front:

  • ABA on AtJ;
  • Senate bill would boost LSC funding; House bill would slash LSC funding;
  • Veto of legal services funding in Florida;
  • Cornhuskers!  Omaha prosecutors and defenders to get salary bump;
  • Asking legal services clients to pay it forward;
  • Access-to-justice news from England;
  • Florida’s high court to weigh in on public defender caseload woes;
  • Maryland legislature scales back court ruling on right-to-counsel in criminal matters;
  • Pro bono news from DC, Denver and North Carolina.

The summaries:

  • 4.18.12 – ABA president William T. Robinson, III weighs in the importance of promoting access to justice.  (Op-ed in The Hill.)
  • 4.18.12 – Good news/bad news.  Good: Senate appropriations committee pushed forward a bill that would fund LSC at $402 million in FY13.  This would basically bring the appropriation back to the level it was at before an FY12 cut slashed it to $348 million.  Bad: a house subcommittee bill would slash funding further, to $328 million.  (LSC announcements about the Senate and Housebills.)
    • On a related note, earlier in the week the Maryland State Bar Association’s president made the case for LSC (writing in the Baltimore Sun).
  • 4.18.12 – state funding for legal services in Florida falls victim to Gov. Rick Scott’s veto.  “A $2 million veto by Gov. Rick Scott will mean fewer attorneys to represent low-income residents through foreclosure proceedings, domestic violence hearings and consumer fraud cases, legal aid officials and a top Democrat lamented Wednesday. A day after the governor vetoed $142 million from the budget, officials at an organization that provides legal help for low income Floridians said Scott’s decision will mean a 25 percent reduction in the number of attorneys available for legal assistance in the coming year. A year later, the number of available attorneys will drop even further.” (Story from the News-Press.)
  • 4.17.12 – Legal Aid Services of Oregon’s Roseburg office is asking clients to pay it forward.  “Legal Aid provides Douglas County with a vital service. They have a mission to give legal services to as many people as possible, but they knew they couldn’t do it alone.  So, they’ve started a new program. ‘The pilot program was our answer to the question of how to achieve justice for the low income communities we serve, with the resources we already have,’ said Sharon Lee Schwartz, the LASO Regional Director.  For every hour those at…LASO put in on a case, they’re asking the clients to do the same.  But not necessarily with legal work.  Those in the program can donate their time to non-profits, help someone with yard work, basically put their skills to work for the community.”  (Full story from KPIC.)
  • 4.17.12 – a pair of stories from Blighty:
    • in the UK, a reversal by the government should open up legal aid access to more domestic violence victims. (Story from the UK Press Association.)
    • 4.17.12 – “The annual LawWorks & Attorney General Student Awards were held recently, in the elegant surrounds of the House of Commons, to recognise the outstanding pro bono achievements of students and law school staff throughout the United Kingdom.” (Story from LawCareers.net .)
  • 4.16.12 – “The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments June 7 in a dispute about whether the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office can refuse to represent some clients because of excessive caseloads.”  (Story from the News-Press.)
  • 4.13.12 – from the Baltimore Sun: “The Maryland General Assembly passed bills this month that effectively reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that would have required public defenders for indigent defendants at thousands of initial bail hearings held before court commissioners each year. The legislation instead requires lawyers for poor people at reviews of those hearings, which occur less frequently and take place in front of a judge — sometimes days later. That means some of those arrested and denied bail or unable to afford it could spend a weekend or longer in jail awaiting representation.”
  • 4.13.12 – not sure if this was a pro bono conspiracy or not, but the local Business Journal publications in DC, Denver, and North Carolina ran articles on pro bono work in their respective communities.  They’re all password-protected, though.  Boo.

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