By: Steve Grumm
Friday Summer, dear readers.
The summer solstice occurred on Wednesday evening. As if on cue, a week in DC that began at 70 degrees and rainy is ending at 95 degrees and infuriatingly humid. Hurrah, or whatever.
Seeking comfort in northern climes, I’m about to leave for some business in Ottawa City. My hosts have asked for a briefing about the public interest legal job market here in the U.S. That’ll be a lot of fun news to deliver: legal services layoffs, layoffs on the state and local levels. Etc.
But some good news emerged during my research. Intrepid PSLawNet intern Maria Hibbard looked at the change in the number of federal attorney jobs from 2007-11. Lo and behold, the number has increased. In September, 2007, there were 29,845 positions classified as “General Attorney” in the executive branch agencies. The figure has grown steadily, and in September 2011 there were 35,614. If you need proof, here’s a table. And we all know that tables on the Internet are always unassailable proof of the proposition asserted. (The data is available on the Fedscope database.)
Completely unrelated: it’s been a good week for history buffs. A lot of old came back to be new(s).
- Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in which led to the downfall of the Nixon presidency and the rise of Woodstein-style investigative journalism. (Imagine: without Watergate, there may be no Anderson Cooper 360. And where would we be then, people?)
- June 18 marked the 62nd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s - he the savior of Britain and cigar-chomping curmudgeon - famous Finest Hour Speech. (Yeah I know a 62nd anniversary is not a huge deal but I heard about it on BBC so let’s just pretend it’s a round number.)
- And even further back – I’ll let you do the math – the War of 1812 broke out on June 18. This war was confusing and draws little attention in popular history circles. But it did provide us with very hard-to-sing national anthem. Ever tried? If you have you’d cut Carl Lewis a break.
The week in short:
- A little pushback on the state AG’s decision to give $1m to Legal Aid of West Virginia
- In Illinois, neither the state AG nor the Cook County (Chicago) state’s attorney will enforce the state’s gay marriage ban;
- $32 million in grants to California DAs’ offices to fight insurance fraud;
- The DC Bar Foundation awards $685K in grants, down from last year b/c they didn’t draw from reserve funding;
- Court fee boost will fund public defense in Louisiana;
- Back to Illinois: maybe some salary boosts for prosecutors & defenders in suburban Chicago;
- Good legal services funding news in the Old Line State;
- Cleaning up a public defense program in PA;
- There’s such a place as Sarpy County, Nebraska, and its public defenders are getting a raise;
- (Kudos x 4) to the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School;
- Legal Aid of NW Texas is using technology to cover a geographically huge service area;
- In short supply: Louisiana lawyers certified to defend capital cases;
- Legal Services of New Jersey’s attention-grabbing report about the Garden State’s justice gap;
- Washington State’s high court lays out caseload limits for defenders;
- Filing fee increases in Connecticut will benefit legal services providers;
- A PA county judge rules that the defender’s office must be better funded (partly b/c of an ACLU lawsuit);
- NPR looks at the funding shortages facing civil legal services programs (quote from LSC prez Jim Sandman);
- An op-ed calls for more state funding for legal services in Massachusetts;
- A pro bono record in the Treasure State (and my memory of driving along the Gallatin River);
- Washington State loosens rules to allow non-lawyers to do some legal work;
- LSC’s draft strategic plan is open for public comment (tip of cap to Richard Zorza for this).
- Groovin’ musical bonus.
- 6.21.12 – In West Virginia, there’s been a little bit of pushback on state attorney general Darrell McGraw’s decision to divert $1m of the state’s national foreclosure settlement share to Legal Aid of West Virginia. Some have argued that the decision about how to use the funds is the province of the legislature. The A.G.’s office says that the federal court which apportioned the settlement funds provided some direction as to their use. (Story in the West Virginia Record.)
- 6.21.12 – “Twenty-five Illinois couples were prepared for a long legal fight when they joined lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage. Turns out they won’t get one — at least not from the attorneys who would normally be responsible for defending the state’s laws. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have refused to defend the 16-year-old ban, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, saying it violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The decision has raised eyebrows among some legal experts who believe prosecutors are legally bound to defend Illinois law, and sets up a scenario where a judge could quickly strike down the marriage statute.” (Here’s the full AP story, which fleshes out the arguments on both sides.)
- 6.21.12 – “The California Department of Insurance announced $5.9 million in grant money today to help the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation insurance fraud. The Orange County District Attorney will receive $3.6 million as part of $32 million in grants awarded statewide by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.” (Full story in the Long Beach Press-Telegram.)
- 6.20.12 – good news: the DC Bar Foundation awarded $685,000 in grants to legal services providers. Bad news: this was off by about 30% from last year, and the Foundation had to stop dipping into reserve funds to bolster its annual disbursement. Katia Garrett and her colleagues at the DCBF are great people, and like folks at a lot of bar foundations they’ve done the best they can with miserable IOLTA revenue figures. Tough times. (Story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
- 6.20.12 – we covered the Louisiana indigent defense funding boost last week, but this article in The Town Talk adds more detail: “Lawmakers are funneling more money into public defenders’ offices, keeping some from shuttering the programs that provide lawyers to those who can’t afford their own. A bill by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, will increase criminal court fees by $10 in most district courts to help shoulder the costs of defense attorneys who are required by law. Louisiana Public Defender Board chairman Frank Neuner estimates the increase could bring in as much as $7 million a year.”
- 6.20.12 – a push for higher defender and prosecutor salaries in suburban Chicago. “Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress said this week she plans to ask the county board next month for raises for her staff. Last week, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said he wants raises for his prosecutors, who have been in a salary freeze since 2008. Childress and McMahon are tired of seeing their young talent leave to work in surrounding counties that pay more…. Childress said assistant public defenders in her office have a starting yearly salary of $39,399, and 2007 was the last time her entire staff received a raise. McMahon wants the county board to boost starting pay for prosecutors from $40,000 a year to $53,000 a year, a move he says will make Kane competitive with starting salaries in other counties. Childress also plans to ask the county to increase assistant public defender pay to around $53,000, but she wants the raises to be implemented in phases…” (Story from the Daily Herald.)
- 6.19.12 – some good legal services funding news from the Old Line State. Courtesy of the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation the “…[Maryland] Legal Aid Bureau got $850,000 over two years, for free legal services and educational material for low-income adults.” (Story from Bmore Media.)
- 6.18.12 – in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Washington State, ACLU lawsuits targeting allegedly weak indigent defense programs have caused change, as states have considered providing more indigent defense funding and/or establishing caseload limits to avoid overburdening defenders. Allegheny County, PA, of which Pittsburgh is the county seat, is one of two PA counties where ACLU action prompted change. This Tribune piece profiles new county public defender Elliot Howsie, who seems quite comfortable with the idea of shaking things up to improve the office.
- 6.18.12 – some healthy competition is leading to bumps in public defender pay in a few Nebraska counties: “County governments are facing tight budgets and revenue shortages, but they still want to show their lawyers some love. Back in April, the Douglas County Board approved $455,000 in pay raises for assistant public defenders and deputy county attorneys. Board members said the increases were needed to keep pace with salary levels in Sarpy and Lancaster Counties and to retain good lawyers. Now Sarpy County is answering with pay hikes of its own. And officials in Douglas County, with larger staffs of attorneys on both the prosecution and defense side, are watching. Salaries for Sarpy public defenders will jump by 7 percent in the new budget year.” (Story from the Omaha World-Herald.)
- 6.18.12 – since 2008, the Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law School has aided in the release of four wrongfully convicted inmates. “[A]bout a dozen students each quarter participate in the…Exoneration Project, a clinic that gives students hands-on experience representing prisoners seeking post-conviction relief. Students do it all — from voting on which cases the clinic should accept to writing briefs to standing before a judge — under the supervision of experienced, licensed attorneys.” (Story from the University of Chicago News Service. Well, tooting our own horns a bit, eh, University of Chicago? JKLOL!)
- 6.18.12 – using technology to serve a huge swath of Texas. “Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has been approved for a grant of $22,550 by the Texas Bar Foundation. The grant is for a project designed to improve the delivery of legal services to low-income Texans. The Pro Bono Mobility Project will allow pro bono staff to offer “virtual” legal assistance at legal clinics throughout the agency’s 114-county service area. ‘This project will allow our clinic staff and private attorney volunteers the ability to create, scan and print documents from even the remotest of locations,’ said Jane Fritz, director of Pro Bono and Bar Relations.” (Story from the Amarillo Globe-News.)
- 6.17.12 – there’s a dearth of Lousiana lawyers who are certified to handle capital cases. “The shortage of death penalty-certified attorneys and the lack of adequate defense funding means even more delays for death-penalty cases, which already take years to come to trial, says Mike Mitchell, chief public defender with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defenders.” But the head of the state’s district attorneys’ association thinks that the fuss about a representation crisis is really a tactic toward ending capital punishment. Story from The Advocate.
- 6.17.12 – Legal Services of New Jersey has released its 2012 report on access to justice in the Garden State. (Here’s a link to the report, New Jersey’s Civil Legal Assistance Gap…) As noted in The Record, the gap exists not only because of increased client need, but decreased resources for LSNJ: “Essentially, as the extent of poverty in New Jersey has reached its highest level in at least 30 years, the opportunity for the poor to get free legal help from funding-squeezed Legal Services and other organizations has narrowed. Overall funding for New Jersey’s Legal Services programs has dropped from $72 million in 2008 to $44.7 million today. That includes the state budget appropriation being reduced from $29.6 million in the 2008 fiscal year to $14.9 million currently. The funding reductions have led to Legal Services’ total staffing going from 720 in 2007 down to 415 at the beginning of this year. That includes a crucial loss of 130 attorneys.”
- A Philly Inquirer editorial laments the situation, endorses a court filing-fee increase to generate funding for LSNJ, an calls upon the private bar to do more.
- A Record editorial supports in increased state appropriation and more private bar support. “An entire stratum of American society is left to muddle through [legal processes] that very literally could mean the difference between life and death, as Legal Services notes in its report. This is not justice.
- And here’s a column from The Record explaining that charitable donations from the private sector haven’t been of much aid to LSNJ as its state appropriation and IOLTA funding have dwindled.
- 6.16.12 – Big news from Washington State: “For the first time, the state Supreme Court is setting limits on the number of cases public defenders can handle — an effort to improve the quality of legal representation for some of the 200,000 poor people prosecuted in the state every year, but one that could increase costs to local governments at a time of tight budgets. By a vote of 7-2, the justices said lawyers who represent indigent defendants generally should handle no more than 150 felony cases per year, or 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases, and even fewer when the cases are complex. The caseload standards will take effect in September 2013.” (Here’s Seattle Times coverage, and here’s Peninsula Daily News coverage.)
- 6.16.12 – “Connecticut is increasing court filing fees in certain civil and family cases, a change intended to raise extra money to help the state’s [legal services programs]. Legal aid to the poor has taken huge hits across the country because a main source of revenue, interest from lawyers’ trust accounts, dried up amid the recession and low interest rates…. In Connecticut, trust account interest revenue for legal aid for the poor plummeted from $20 million in 2008 to only $1 million this year, according to the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which administers funding for the state’s legal aid programs. The result has been reductions to staff and services at the three legal aid providers in the state.” (Here’s Stamford Advocate coverage, and here’s AP coverage.)
- 6.16.12 – in Pennsylvania, “[a] senior county judge ruled Friday that Luzerne County must provide adequate funding to the public defender’s office. Five full-time vacancies will be filled, more office space will be set aside, and more employees are expected to be hired.” This comes in the wake of lawsuit which filed by the ACLU and county public defender to compel the county for more support. (Story from the Pocono Record.)
- 6.15.12 – NPR looks at impact of funding shortages plaguing civil legal services programs: ” ‘The legal services system in the United States today is in a state of crisis,’ says Jim Sandman, president of the national Legal Services Corp., which gives money to 135 aid programs all over the country. The traditional funding streams, from Congress and state governments, are under attack. Aside from government dollars, there’s another important source of financing for legal aid: interest that collects on trust accounts that lawyers set up for their clients. But because of record low interest rates, that money has hit record lows, too. Over the past couple of years, Sandman estimates, more than 1,200 people who work for legal aid programs — 1 in 7 — have lost their jobs. Offices in rural Arkansas and North Carolina have closed outright. But Sandman says more than 60 million people now qualify for civil legal aid. (Here’s the NPR story.)
- 6.15.12 – in the Bay State, an op-ed from former legal aid lawyer and current law professor Justine Dunlap argues for more state funding for legal services: “The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering how much to allocate to Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which helps fund organizations like South Coastal Counties Legal Services. The House budget recommended $12 million while the Senate recommended $11.5 million; those differences are now being worked out in the Legislative Conference Committee. It is important that the commonwealth adopt the higher of these two numbers and pass a budget of $12 million for MLAC for fiscal year 2013.” (Here’s the piece 0n South Coast Today’s website.)
- 6.15.12 – ”[a] report by the Montana Supreme Court and the State Bar of Montana said more than 2,000 Montana attorneys contributed more than 150,000 hours of free legal services to low-income Montanans last year. The value of that work is nearly $20 million. That’s an increase of nearly 9,000 hours from 2010 and 38,000 hours from 2009.” The 2011 tally is an all-time record in the Treasure State. (Story from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.)
- personal aside: one of my life’s most peaceful experiences occurred while driving out of Yellowstone Park and north into Montana. Just after dawn, and after being caught in the equivalent of a Yellowstone rush hour – dozens of bison crossing the road – I left through the park’s west exit and paralleled the Gallatin River on a state highway, winding through gorgeous pine forests. I didn’t see another car for miles. Just myself, a newly risen sun, the occasional deer, and Son Volt’s Trace in my tape deck. Three months later I started law school and became the cynical, curmudgeon-in-training that I am today. Heh.
- 6.15.12 – “With a goal of making legal help more accessible to the public, the Washington Supreme Court has adopted APR 28, entitled “Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Technicians”. The rule will allow non-lawyers with certain levels of training to provide technical help on simple legal matters effective September 1, 2012…. Under the new rule, persons who are trained and authorized by a newly-established Limited License Legal Technician Board will be able to provide technical help to the public on civil cases.” The announcement from the Washington Courtsincludes some detail on what kinds of work non-lawyers will be doing.
- 6.14.12 – the Legal Services Corporation has opened up a draft, 5-year strategic plan for notice and comment from the public. So take notice and get your comment on! (Tip of cap to Richard Zorza, from whose Access to Justice Blog I picked this up.)
And now some seasonally appropriate music from my hometown.