Public Interest News Bulletin – May 25, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Earlier this week I participated in a one-day conference focused on the role of New York State’s 15 law schools in addressing the civil justice gap.  Much discussion centered on the recent announcement by NY Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that 50 hours of pro bono service will be required for admission to practice law in New York.  Most of this blog’s readers will have been aware of how much buzz this announcement has generated.  Ink has been spilled.  Articles and opinion pieces have run in legal and mainstream media.  The old debate about making volunteer service mandatory has been revived. 

Letting alone the “mandatory v. voluntary” policy debate, I think this requirement will prove fairly easy to satisfy.  Pro bono performed in law school satisfies the requirement.  Fifty hours of pro bono over three years is just less than 17 hours per year.  Frankly, that’s easy for any law student.  That said, there are two noteworthy considerations:

  1. There will be some burden on law schools (both inside and outside of NY State) to make sure worthwhile pro bono opportunities exist for their students.  Two of the law school deans who attended this week’s program made the point over and over that pro bono also has to mesh with law school’s larger mission of training tomorrow’s lawyers.  So pro bono programs should be efficiently administered, and should offer skill-development chances for students.
  2. The pro bono work itself must effectively serve client communities.  And public interest law offices should not be overly burdened in offering pro bono opportunities for students.              

But given that so many schools already have some infrastructure in place for student pro bono, I think the 50-hour requirement will not be too much of a burden on students, schools, or the public interest community.

This week:

  • more on NY State’s 50-hour pro bono requirement;
  • $300K in grant funding divided among NV legal services providers (and my thoughts on the Las Vegas bachelor party);
  • mandatory pro bono in the Caymans;
  • addressing legal needs long after Hurricane Irene struck NC;
  • fewer death sentences in Ohio, tracking a national trend;
  • tracking wrongful convictions nationally;
  • for reasons of efficiency and expediency, an early intervention court program for nonviolent offenders in one county courthouse;
  • the justice gap, and legal services funding shortages, in Cleveland;
  • a 2012 law grad on why he’s chosen a career in indigent defense (hint: it’s not the money);
  • a special master appointed in the PA lawsuit over an underfunded indigent defense program;
  • one Maryland prosecutor, under the weight of an overwhelming caseload, is pushing hard for $ to hire new attorneys.

The summaries:

  • 5.24.12 – more on the recent announcement in NY State about requiring 50 pro bono hours from all bar license applicants.  While the larger policy debate about mandatory vs. voluntary pro bono will continue both in the context of this announcement and more broadly, New York’s top jurist is moving into the implementation stage: “Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday announced the creation of an advisory committee that will make recommendations on how to implement a new pro bono service requirement set to become a prerequisite in 2013 for admission to the New York bar.”  (Story from Corporate Counsel.)  And here’s more coverage from the New York Law Journal and the Lower Hudson Blog
  • 5.23.12 – in Nevada, the state bar is divvying up about $300K in grant money among legal services providers.  (Story from KLAS in Las Vegas.)  As a personal aside, I have never told you about the bachelor party I attended in Las Vegas last year.  There are many good reasons for this.  Suffice to say I am still angry with the erstwhile bachelor for deciding that, at 35 years of age, we’d be able to contend with Las Vegas’s many attractions and excitements.  We were not.  The Vegas bachelor/ette party is a young person’s game.  What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas if “soul-crushing physical exhaustion” can be said to happen in Vegas.  Rather, soul-crushing physical exhaustion flies home on the plane with you and stays in your place for a week.  Never again.
  • 5.22.12 – more mandatory pro bono, this time with a tropical-tax-shelter theme.  “All practicing attorneys in the Cayman Islands would be forced to work a certain number of hours for free or pay an annual fee of $2,500, according to a draft of the Legal Aid and Pro Bono Legal Services Bill, 2012.  The draft bill was made public by the attorney general’s office
last week.  According to a summary of the proposal, every attorney-at-law in the Islands to whom a practicing certificate has been issued “shall render pro bono legal services to persons in accordance with this legislation”, or face discipline under the territory’s Legal Practitioners Law.”  (Story from the Cay Compass.)
  • 5.21.12 – legal woes caused by a natural disaster can exist long after the disaster itself has dissipated: “A Raleigh law firm is working with Legal Aid of North Carolina to find what problems people still have from Hurricane Irene.  [Irene struck North Carolina in August, 2011.]   The Daily Reflector of Greenville reported that Womble Carlyle and Legal Aid are asking individuals who may be struggling with recovery problems from last August’s storm to call a toll-free hotline. Such issues could include insurance claims, construction scams and mortgage-related problems.”  (Story from the Associated Press.)  
  • 5.21.12 – a trend in Ohio which basically tracks national developments: far fewer death sentences as lawmakers, prosecutors, and court officials contend with the high cost of administering capital punishment programs along with changing sentiment about the death penalty’s effectiveness and propriety.  (Here’s the article from the Columbus Dispatch.)  And here’s some related follow-up…   
  • 5.21.12 – ….of course one of the long-running criticisms of capital punishment stems from the risk of executing an innocent person.  Here’s an AP report on wrongful convictions: “More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.  There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.  The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.” 
  • 5.20.12 – “One of the initiatives that Bibb County commissioners are considering for next year’s spending plan is a $600,000 request designed to expedite the legal process in local courts.  The request, made jointly by the Bibb County District Attorney’s Office and the Macon Circuit Public Defender’s Office, would allow each office to hire two additional attorneys as part of an Early Intervention Program. The program, officials say, would reduce the number of cases in the court system by allowing for a quicker disposition of nonviolent crimes.”  (Full story in the Macon Telegraph, a newspaper with an oddly Tolkienesque tagline: “Middle Georgia’s News Source.”)
  • 5.20.12 – in Cleveland, the local bar president and board president of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland make it clear just how much the organization’s funding situation has worsened, and explains how vital a service legal aid is in preserving justice.  (Op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.)   
  • 5.20.12 – more Cleveland!  Jeffrey Stein, a 2012 NYU Law grad, explains his decision to pursue a career in indigent defense in the pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “It’s hiring season for public defender offices, which means it’s also the time when law students pursuing jobs in indigent defense enjoy the privilege of justifying their chosen career to skeptical — and, inevitably, disappointed — relatives (“You’re sure you wouldn’t rather make $160,000 as a first-year associate at a firm?”), friends (“But what if you know they’re guilty?”) and professors (“Ah, that’s . . . great.”).  Like the populations we serve, we who devote our professional lives to defending poor people are not a monolithic group. But, to answer your questions, here are some of the reasons I have chosen to commit my life to public defense….”  
  • 5.19.12 – in the Pennsylvania lawsuit about alleged underfunding of indigent defense, a special master has been appointed to help sort things through.  (Story from the Citizens Voice of Luzerne County.) 
  • 5.18.12 – in Charles County Maryland, the state’s attorney is pressing hard for funding to hire new attorneys.  “…[P]rosecutors are so overworked that they soon will have to pick and choose which cases to pursue in court, State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington warned the Charles County commissioners Tuesday.  He asked the commissioners to give his office a $989,000 budget increase, or 41 percent, which would include enough to hire five new prosecutors in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. Over three years, his office will require a $1.7 million increase, enough to hire a total of eight new attorneys and at least one researcher, he said. (Story from Southern Maryland News Online.)

1 Comment »

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