By: Steve Grumm
Happy Friday, dear readers. The presidential election season, quite like law school on-campus interview programs, no longer waits until late summer to shift into fifth gear. Oh, what unmitigated joy. I find it a challenge, amidst minute-by-minute coverage of campaign tiffs over tax returns, allegations of cronyism, and the like, to keep an eye on what the truly important news is. Lately I’ve been focused on economic matters. The global economy is humankind’s most complex creation. And we live in a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty. Two evolving news stories seem highly important to me.
First, Congress and the Obama Administration face a serious decision on what to do about expiring tax cuts and the prospect of drastically reduced federal spending. As is explained in this Washington Post piece, we are approaching the so-called “fiscal cliff”: “Economists say the automatic actions slated to take place at the end of the year — an increase in payroll taxes and in income tax rates, as well as large cuts in domestic and defense spending — would tip the country back into recession. Congress could prevent that outcome, but lawmakers are pledging to do so only on their terms, creating fears of more partisan gridlock. Democrats insist that taxes rise for higher-income earners; Republicans want to include the affluent in any renewal of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. Meanwhile, the prospect of a government-induced recession is already taking a toll on the economy.”
Second, PBS’s Frontline series “Money, Power, & Wall Street”, which aired this spring, provides excellent insight into the evolution of American investment banking, its role in 2008 global financial crisis, and present state of the Wall Street investment sector. As to the latter, the question of whether or not appropriate systemic checks are in place to avoid a future financial bubble-burst is an open one. And of course opinions differ as to whether and how regulatory safeguards can keep up with rapid investment-market innovation. Upshot: the Frontline reporting on these aspects of a very tumultuous past five years, which have left us looking into an uncertain future, is excellent.
On to public interest news. This week in very short:
- joint military/civilian pro bono initiatives to benefit servicemembers;
- the public defender caseload limits in Washington State are a victory for the justice system;
- in NY, nonprofits can now get their bail-posting on;
- more attorney support for an understaffed PA defender’s office;
- an NYC task force convened to look at the poor legal job market includes several public service lawyers;
- eleemosynary sentiment benefits a Vermont Law legal clinic;
- the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says “no” to a cy pres proposal;
- the Chicago Bar Association and Foundation say “congrats!” to pro bono award winners;
- impact of legal services funding cuts in northeastern New Jersey;
- a glass ceiling shatters in the Ocean State;
- legal services funding news from Down Under;
- a look at insufficient indigent defense funding in several states;
- Washington State’s public defenders are uncertain about implementing the state’s new caseload limits;
- more stringent standards to determine eligibility for a public defender in the Bay State;
- the Pro Bono Institute’s report on Biglaw pro bono in 2011 is a mixed bag, with overall good news but some trouble spots;
- cy pres funding allows two Peach State law schools to create new public interest scholarships.
- 7.19.12 – the Navy JAG’s blog looks at the ABA Military Pro Bono Project: “The…Project, established in 2008, is an innovative collaboration between the military and civilian bars designed to expand legal support for active-duty enlisted service members nationwide. The Project accepts case referrals from military legal assistance attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families regarding civil legal problems; working to place those cases with qualified civilian attorneys ready to provide free (pro bono) assistance beyond what can ordinarily be provided by military counsel. The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, an ABA clearinghouse designed to link military attorneys with local civilian attorneys who may provide guidance and expertise in specific subject matters to best serve military clients.
- 7.18.12 – an op-ed in the Seattle Times voices support for the newly imposed public defender caseload limits in Washington State. The piece notes that King County’s (Seattle and vicinity) well-respected indigent defense system has operated with caseload limits for some time, and those limits have contributed to high-quality defense work.
- 7.18.12 – “Non-profit groups can post bail for poor defendants charged with minor crimes under new legislation signed Wednesday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Supporters say the law creates more fairness in the bail system for indigent defendants facing low-level offenses. Some defendants frequently languish in jail, unable to afford even low bail amounts, according to public defenders. The bill exempts “charitable bail” organizations from the licensing requirements imposed on for-profit bail-bond businesses, which typically charge interest or require collateral when hired to post bail for criminal defendants.” (Story from Thomson Reuters.)
- 7.17.12 – some progress in resolving an understaffed-public-defense-office problem in PA – one that spawned an ACLU lawsuit. “Indigent defendants who were denied representation by the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office earlier this year will be represented by a pool of 10 attorneys employed by the county to handle cases in which the office has a conflict. Deputy Court Administrator Mike Shucosky said the attorneys, known as conflict counsel, agreed to take on the cases in order to assist the county in resolving its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. Hundreds of defendants were left without representation after Chief Public Defender Al Flora announced in December that his office, due to a lack of staffing, was limiting the types of cases it would accept to serious felonies, with certain exceptions.” (Full story frm the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.)
- 7.17.12 – the NYC Bar has convened a task force to explore the anemic lawyer job market. The task force includes several attorneys from the nonprofit and government arenas. “The Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys; New York City’s Corporation Counsel; Deans and leaders of Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, CUNY and Cardozo Law Schools; law firm leaders from Paul Weiss, Simpson Thacher, Skadden Arps and Freshfields; the chief in-house counsel from BNY Mellon, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Xerox and Con Ed; and the heads of The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services of New York are among those convening at the New York City Bar Association to address what City Bar President Carey Dunne has described as the ‘plight of young lawyers’…. The New York City Bar Association’s ‘Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession’ will be led by City Bar Vice President Mark Morril, who said, ‘The group we have assembled has the depth and breadth of experience necessary to assess the problem and the leadership position to be heard on significant recommendations for change if they are warranted’.” (Full story in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.)
- 7.17.12 – a $100K gift will support a Vermont Law School clinical program. “Alden Fiertz [widower of a former Vermont Legal Services attorney] has given $100,000 to strengthen the social justice partnership between Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC) and the Upper Valley Haven, which provide a range of legal, housing, food and other services to needy families. The two institutions have had an informal partnership for years, but the Fiertz family’s donation will allow the SRLC to expand its free legal services for people in poverty.” (Full story from Vermont Business.)
- 7.17.12 – (Full disclosure: I love Frosted Mini-Wheats.) A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has cy pres implications. Essentially, the court rejected the idea that cy pres funds could go to charities that support feeding the poor in a case involving a false advertising claim against a cereal maker. “The Ninth Circuit found that the cy pres provisions bore no resemblance to the claims in the case, which were about false advertising to consumers, not food for the indigent. The court cited its own precedents in Six Mexican Workers v. Arizona Citrus Growers, issued in 1990, and Nachshin v. AOL LLC, issued on Nov. 21. Both rulings struck down settlements because no nexus existed between the cy pres provisions and the class members. ‘The gravamen of this lawsuit is that Kellogg advertised that its cereal did improve attentiveness,’ [Judge] Trott wrote. ‘Thus, appropriate cy pres recipients are not charities that feed the needy, but organizations dedicated to protecting consumers from, or redressing injuries caused by, false advertising’.” (Full story from the National Law Journal.)
- 7.17.12 – the Chicago Bar Association’s and Foundation’s joint pro bono awards were presented at a luncheon ceremony on Tuesday. Good to see my friend Bob Glaves of the foundation smiling in the group photo. Pro bono awards and a streaking Chicago Cubs baseball franchise will do that.
- 7.16.12 – this Jersey Journal piece looks at the impact of legal services funding cuts in the Garden State’s northeastern counties: “[F]unding for Northeast [New Jersey] Legal Services, which represents Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties, has been cut in half in the last three years. The staff has been reduced from 40 to 20, with the number of attorneys slashed from 22 to 11, [according to NNJLS's director].
- 7.16.12 – a glass ceiling shattered in the Ocean State: For the first time in Rhode Island, a woman is leading the Office of the Public Defender. Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday swore in Mary McElroy to head the office, which he says critical to the state. (Full story from WPRI.)
- 7.16.12 - for those whose interests know no borders, here’s some legal services funding news from kangaroo country: “COMMUNITY lawyers are calling for a doubling of federal spending on legal assistance services to help the estimated half a million Australians who miss out on legal help each year. Community Law Australia, a coalition of community legal centres from across the nation, says the federal government must inject an extra $330 million a year into the system to ensure all Australians can access a basic level of legal assistance.” (Full story in the Sydney Morning Herald.)
- 7.16.12 – the Take Part website looks at the issue of insufficient public defense funding and its affect on several states’ criminal justice systems.
- 7.15.12 – this short piece notes that Washington State’s public defenders are still sorting through the impact that the state high court’s recently imposed caseload standards will have on their offices. (Full story in The Daily News.) [Editor's note: the article refers to the court's "ruling" and "decision." Strictly speaking the new rule is an order of the high court. The order did not stem from a case that the court heard, but rather from the court's authority to govern law practice in the state.]
- 7.13.12 – more stringent standards to determine eligibility for indigent defense in Massachusetts: “Criminal defendants in Massachusetts must prove that they can’t afford their own attorney before a judge can appoint a lawyer to represent them at taxpayer expense, the state’s highest court ruled Friday. In a series of rulings, the Supreme Judicial Court tightened rules governing when defendants can get court-appointed lawyers. The SJC also found that retirement account funds can be considered when calculating whether a defendant is indigent.” (Full story from the Associated Press.)
- 7.12.12 – “The Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project has released its report on the 2011 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® data. One hundred thirty-four participating firms reported in 2011, performing a total of 4,476,866 hours of pro bono work – a slight increase over 2010. This is the third highest year since the inception of the Challenge in 1995…. A particular point of concern is that service to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means decreased by 9.7 percent from 2010. Challenge firms donated 2,578,958 hours to this group in 2011. Charitable giving by firms, however, was strong.” http://www.probonoinst.org/newsroom/press-releases/law-firm-pro-bono-performance-remains-steady
- 7.12.12 – two Georgia law schools, the University of Georgia (Bulldogs!) and Mercer University (Bears!) are benefitting from hefty cy pres residual awards which will go to funding public interest scholarships. (Full story in the National Law Journal.)
Music! How about Boise, Idaho’s finest, Built to Spill, with “Center of the Universe”?