By: Steve Grumm
Happy Friday, dear readers. And happy Independence Day weekend. I had an opportunity, yesterday, to live my patriotism. I had jury duty! And although I thanked them privately, I wish to give a shout-out to the staffers who run D.C. Superior Court’s jury selection program. They were kind, professional, and actually quite funny. They knew how to keep a room full of impatient people calm. Thanks, again.
New Year’s resolutions are standard fare nowadays. What I don’t understand is why folks don’t use Independence Day as a chance to lead their own, personal revolts – to declare independence from whatever in life may be hindering them. For instance, on or around July 4, 1989 I declared independence from vegetables. That didn’t stick. Turns out a prerequisite for that would have been declaring independence from my mom. But nowadays I’ve got more independence to declare my independences. This year I’ve declared independence from people who treat strangers rudely.
Twice recently I’ve had to endure an adult belittling a service worker – once in an airport and once in a coffee shop. I was behind these two people in line as they threw temper tantrums. I’m a conciliator by nature. So I’m often inclined, when these kinds of people - as they invariably do - turn around and look for affirmation from those around them, just to smile a thin-but-polite smile in hopes that it calms them down. But I was so astonished at the airport person’s behavior that I realized the last thing I should be doing, even if passively, is affirming the behavior. So I met this person with a blank stare. And when he tried to elicit my support I continued staring but didn’t reply. Ultimately he turned back around and became quiet. I no longer wish to suffer adults who behave like children. So I’ve declared independence from them. Feels good.
I’ve also declared independence from kale.
On to the access-to-justice news. This week in very short:
- NJ law school clinic not subject to state’s open-public-records law;
- Massachusetts prosecutors getting a pay bump;
- Using Groupon to pay for civil legal aid;
- when judges push plea deals, it may thin out the docket, but at what cost to defendants’ rights?;
- Legal Services of New Jersey levels criticism at a state bar pro bono blueprint;
- a kerfuffle over how indigent-defense contract lawyers are paid in Miami-Dade;
- from Michigan: should defenders working with special-needs clients be trained specialists?;
- a look at the forthcoming LSC appropriation battle;
- Wyoming Center for Legal Aid, chartered in 2010, slow to get operating;
- how funding cuts have affected indigent defense programs throughout the Sunshine State;
- Virginia legal services community rolls out a high-tech, online pro bono clearinghouse;
- state funding cuts to legal aid will continue through the Garden State’s next budget cycle;
- Massachusetts prosecutors and defenders who are benefitting from John R. Justice Act LRAP funds can re-up this summer;
- differing points of view about Washington State’s newly imposed indigent defense caseload limits;
- the AmLaw pro bono report, 2012.
This week in less short:
- 7.5.12 - law school clinic not subject to state’s open public record law: “The developer of an outlet mall in Sussex County can’t get records from a Rutgers University law clinic that represented two groups seeking to block its construction, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The ruling says the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, a training ground for Rutgers law students that handles cases for little or no cost, is not subject to the state’s public records law. The decision was praised by the law school and environmentalists who said it would combat “witch hunts” against those seeking help to protect the environment. The developer’s attorney said the developer should have been allowed to see who was behind the opposition to the project, which has won local approval but has yet to be built.” (Story from the Star-Ledger.)
- 7.5.12 – short and sweet salary news out of Massachusetts: “The $32.5 billion state budget approved last week by the Legislature includes 5 percent increases for all the state’s district attorneys…” (Story from South Coast Today.)
- 7.3.12 – using the Groupon system to support a free legal advice clinic in Maryland: “Free legal advice is being offered to low-income residents in Maryland through a partnership between the JustAdvice Initiative and Groupon Grassroots, the philanthropic arm of Groupon. JustAdvice, run by Civil Justice Inc. and the University of Maryland School of Law, has been offering low-cost legal consultations in areas such as family law, housing, employment and criminal matters since 2009 and is staffed by student attorneys and volunteer lawyers. The goal is to offer a low-cost alternative for those who do not qualify for Legal Aid but can’t afford to hire a private attorney…. Groupon subscribers can pledge support for the initiative in increments of $10 on the Baltimore Groupon Grassroots page through July 8. Each $10 donation goes toward legal advice for one person.” (Story from the Baltimore Sun.)
- 7.3.12 – an examination of conflicting justice-system values when courts try to promote docket efficiency by encouraging arraignment pleas from defendants who have limited access to counsel: “More than eight of 10 cases in Northampton County are now resolved at arraignment, through guilty pleas or applications for first- or second-offender programs. It’s an approach the county embraced two years ago to address a packed docket in which cases were being delayed month-to-month without resolution. It is heralded by court administrators for saving time and effort and easing jail crowding, and by some defense attorneys for the deals it offers. But it also has critics in the legal community who say it can trample on defendants’ rights by pushing a rush to judgment.” (Story from Pottstown Mercury.)
- 7.3.12 – some pro bono drama in the Garden State: “A New Jersey State Bar Association task force proposing to raise the roof on pro bono legal efforts is meeting opposition from an unlikely quarter — Legal Services of New Jersey, the state’s largest pro bono provider. In a…report titled “Closing the Justice Gap,” the task force recommends a raft of measures, including establishment of a judiciary commission; creation of a statewide pro bono web portal; allowance of CLE credit for pro bono work; and clarification and expansion of what qualifies for exemption from mandatory pro bono service. But LSNJ has decried the recommendations as the product of a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to assess the most pressing legal needs of the poor and the real obstacles to meeting those needs, including the economic realities at small and solo firms and the pressure at larger ones to rack up billable hours. (Here’s the story from the New Jersey Law Journal. Here’s a video clip from the state bar regarding the ”Closing the Justice Gap” report.)
- 7.2.12 – a kerfuffle over how indigent-defense lawyers re paid in Miami-Dade: “A new system aimed at limiting fees paid to court-appointed lawyers violates the U.S. Constitution and means poor defendants will get only ‘token representation’ by underqualified and overwhelmed lawyers, according to legal actions filed Monday…. The Miami branch of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an official objection and a request to the state’s Supreme Court trying to halt the ‘Limited Registry,’ a new system passed by lawmakers and set to begin July 1. The new law creates a voluntary pool of lawyers who get first crack at receiving clients who, because of ethical conflicts, cannot be represented by the Public Defender’s Office or a second state-funded defense firm. Right now, private lawyers who represent indigent clients can earn up to $75 an hour on time-consuming criminal cases. But lawyers in the new pool will only receive a flat rate of between $750 to $2,500 on cases depending on the degree of the felony — with no chance to earn more money.” (Full story from the Miami Herald.)
- 7.2.12 – indigent defense news out of Michigan: “State lawmakers are in the process of drafting legislation to make sure people who cannot afford attorneys get adequate legal representation in criminal court. One of the complaints about Michigan’s system is it does not ensure public defenders have the skills and experience they need to properly represent their clients. State Senator Bruce Caswell served on the governor’s commission on indigent defense. He says the system has to recognize the special needs of defendants who are children or people with mental health issues.” (Story from Michigan Public Radio.)
- 7.2.12 – “Once More, LSC Budget a Risk,” a piece in the National Law Journal, looks at the impending LSC appropriations battle, and highlights the impact that last year’s appropriation cut has already had on grantees throughout the country. (The article’s password-protected, but if you can track it down I recommend the read. It’s a good “where things stand now” piece. )
- 7.2.12 – in 2010, at the behest of the state’s judicially created access-to-justice commission, the Wyoming legislature enacted a measure to create the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid in order to buttress funding for legal services in the Cowboy State. While the organization was supposed to begin operating in 2011, to date it is still building an infrastructure. Critics – including the state’s LSC-funded provider, Legal Aid of Wyoming, are restless, while proponents argue that moving slowly is the best course. Story from the Casper Star-Tribune.
- 7.2.12 – here’s an overview of how funding cuts have impacted various public defense programs in Florida. (Story from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.)
- 7.1.12 – Virginia’s going high-tech with its new statewide pro bono clearinghouse system: “Virginia’s system of providing free legal services to the poor is expected to improve significantly with a new online case management system that makes a limited debut Monday. Justice Server eventually will allow lawyers throughout the state to log onto their office computer and select a free or “pro bono” case that’s fed into the system by legal aid organizations. Lawyers will be able to instantly search for the type of case they are interested in handling — uncontested divorce or landlord-tenant disputes, for example — and will have access to the entire case file with the click of a mouse. Steve Dickinson, executive director of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said the system will replace cumbersome and time-consuming procedures “based on technology that peaked sometime in the 1970s.” (Full story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.)
- This raises an interesting-but-off-topic question for me: what, if any, technology that peaked in the ’70s is still holding out today?
- 7.1.12 – state funding cuts to legal services continue in the Garden State. “Though the governor added $600,000 in the fiscal 2013 budget for clinical legal programs for the poor administered by the law schools at Seton Hall and Rutgers in Camden and Newark, he cut $5 million for civil legal services. And he vetoed a Democratic bill that would have given $10,000 and a stable funding source to Legal Services of New Jersey. The organization represents low-income residents and lost $10,000 of its funding via Christie’s veto pen last year.” (Story from the Philly Inquirer.)
- 6.29.12 – Massachusetts prosecutors and defenders who are benefitting from the John R. Justice loan repayment program should look into re-upping. Applications are due on 9/7, according to this announcement.
- 6.29.12 – “Shocking cases of inadequate public defense in Washington [State] have led the state Supreme Court to take an unusual step. The high court has imposed a mandatory cap on the number of cases lawyers for the poor can take. You might assume public defenders would be cheering – finally they’re going to get relief. But in fact some lawyers are downright offended and angry.” By “public defenders,” the piece is referring to attorneys who take indigent defense cases on a contract basis – and who stand to lose revenue because of what they see as one-size-fits-all caseload caps that they could safely exceed without diminishing they quality of their representation. (Story from Northwest Public Radio.)
- 6.27.12 – The American Lawyer’s 2012 pro bono report is out: “For the first eight years of this century, The Am Law 200’s pro bono performance traveled in one direction: up. Between 2000 and 2008 average pro bono hours per lawyer swelled by more than 65 percent. Then the recession hit, marking the beginning of a persistent decline. In 2011 average hours fell to the lowest level in more than three years, with the percentage of lawyers who did more than 20 hours of pro bono work plunging to 43.5. Today, the future of pro bono looks a whole lot murkier than it did just a few years ago. While a recovering economy could lift pro bono work back to boomtime levels, it’s just as likely that changes in law firm staffing and an increasing fixation on cost control could depress pro bono hours for years. At the same time, innovative uses of technology and partnerships with clients could amplify firms’ efforts—a textbook case of doing more with less.”
Super Musical Bonus. Given not only the recent fireworks, but also the extraordinary heat-wave so many of us are enduring, a song called ”July Flame” seems appropriate. So here’s July Flame from Laura Veirs of Portland, Oregon.