Public Interest News Bulletin – September 28, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, ladies and gents.  At the beginning of this month, I preemptively lamented the summer humidity that has stretched into recent Septembers.  The public interest news bulletin gods – and they are fearsome, powerful deities – must have been in a mood to accommodate.  While a bit muggy today, the weather this month has been beautiful.  I have this morning paid tribute to the news bulletin gods through the ritual consumption of an everything bagel.  So we’ve got that working for us.

I’ll begin this week’s bulletin by highlighting new NALP research which looks at the fluctuations in entry-level civil legal aid jobs over the past few years.  The picture is muddied by the increase in law-school-funded postgraduate placements in civil legal aid offices.  The upshot: “Based on…job counts alone, entry-level job prospects in civil legal services would appear to be doing just fine in recent years, with twice as many jobs reported as 12-15 years ago, and a far cry from a low of just over 300 jobs reported in 2000. But these figures do not…square with well-publicized reports of cutbacks in funding in general for legal services….  It turns out that law school funding played a major role in generating legal services jobs taken by the Class of 2011, with 44% of these jobs (or 324 actual jobs) reported as law school funded….  This means that, absent such funding, there would have been only about 400 legal services jobs, or about as many as in the early 2000s – coincidentally years in which the level of LSC funding, in real terms, was about the same as in 2011.”  Here’s the full article.

And while I don’t have time to weigh in on this issue, here’s an interesting blog post positing that the federal Income Based Repayment program could become the norm for how future law graduates manage their educational debt, and wondering whether that’s tenable or prudent policy.

On to the week’s access to justice and public interest news, which is bookended by law school clinical work.  The week in very, very short:

  • a UT Law children’s rights clinic involved in a new community initiative to help at-risk youth;
  • Yakima, WA officials sort out new public-defender caseload limits;
  • DOJ to issue ~$3 million in grants in support of indigent defense;
  • pushback on the much-discussed NY State 50-hour pro bono rule;
  • MO moves toward implementing public-defender caseloads;
  • LSC TIG grants, or “fun with abbreviations!”;
  • CLASP’s ED outlines the basics of the civil legal aid funding crisis;
  • butting heads over Michigan legislative proposal to bolster indigent defense;
  • civil legal aid funding news potpourri, NY State edition;
  • reauthorize state funding for legal aid in Florida;
  • APBCo hangs out with Vice President Biden;
  • lots of chefs stirring the pot in new DC-based pro bono project;
  • the funding woes of Community Legal Aid in western MA;
  • a PA county favors bigtime changes to state’s indigent defense system;
  • the strain on indigent defense resources in ND’s oil-boom territory;
  • more on Washington State’s move toward indigent-defense caseload limits;
  • the Immigrant Justice Clinic launches at Wisconsin Law;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The news in less short:

  • 9.27.12 – “The [University of Texas] Law School’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law and Children’s Rights Clinic have helped develop a multi-stakeholder pilot education reform project focused on youth entering the child welfare system in Travis County. The Education Advocacy Pilot Project, an initiative of the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families, launched last week and will continue through the 2012–2013 school year.  The Travis County Model Court for Children and Families is a multidisciplinary community initiative [to] facilitate systemic improvement of the court and child welfare systems. The Model Court works to improve outcomes for children and families…who are involved in civil suits filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a result of findings of child abuse and neglect.”  (Press release from the University of Texas.)
  • 9.27.12 – in Yakima, Washington – hey, I used to live there! – “…city leaders faced the reality of contracting up to 20 more public defenders and spending a million more of your tax-payer dollars” in order to comply with new defender caseload limits being imposed in the Evergreen State.  “But city leaders have a new plan to cut those costs dramatically.  ‘Having the prosecution unit actually do the charging versus the police officers and looking at a pretrial diversion program,’ said Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke.  This would give more discretion to city prosecutors on what cases are taken to court, without limiting the violations prosecuted.
    O’Rourke said as it stands now, Yakima police handle the majority of charging.”  (Story from KIMA’s website.)
  • 9.26.12 – the Department of Justice “announced nearly $3 million in grants to improve access to criminal legal aid services….  The announcement of grants from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) represent part of the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to ensure that all criminal defendants, regardless of ability to pay for an attorney, can be guaranteed their rights.   The grants are administered by OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ).” (Full press release on the Sacramento Bee’s website.)
  • 9.26.12 – a commentator takes issue with New York’s new 50-hour pro bono requirement.  On top of the administrative burden that pro bono supervisors may shoulder in trying to facilitate more pro bono work, writes Matt Leichter, the rule constitutes yet another practice restriction added to an already dense set of rules for admitting lawyers.  Further, “pro bono” is defined too broadly, and law schools could have to spend more money (and charge more tuition) to administer new clinical and pro bono programs.  Finally, Leichter sees the rule’s creation as a cynical approach to addressing the plight of the poor.  Hmmm.  While I have some questions about the rule’s breadth and overall effectiveness, I think it’s fairly seen as a sign of the profession acknowledging barriers confronting the poor – not a bad thing since citizens’ access to the justice system can be effectively barred without financial means.  And after all, the judge who conceived of the rule has been one of the most vocal champions of increasing access to justice.  It’s hard for me to ascribe cynical motives to the rule’s adoption.  (Full piece in the American Lawyer.)
  • 9.26.12 – “To improve access to civil legal assistance for low-income Americans, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has announced new technology grants to increase access to Web-based resources, enhance pro bono, expand websites for veterans and disaster recovery, and – a new category this year – improve data collection and analysis.  Through its Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, LSC plans to award 43 grants in 2012, totaling more than $3.4 million. The grants will fund LSC grantee programs in 25 states and the territory of Guam.”  (Here’s the LSC announcement, and here are specifics on the how awardees will use the grants.  Good to see Guam on the list.  Rock on, Guam.)
  • 9.25.12 – Alan Houseman of the Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP) looks at the crisis in civil legal aid funding.  Houseman’s blog post presents a broad look at how legal aid funding originates from various sources, and how LSC funding in particular has recently stagnated.  (Here’s the post on the American Constitution Society’s blog.)
  • 9.25.12 – in Michigan, a proposal in the state house to bring some uniformity to the county-by-county, patchwork indigent defense system has some state and local officials at odds. (Story from the Iron Mountain Daily News.)
  • 9.24.12 – civil legal aid news potpourri out of New York:
    • “Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the grantees of the Homeowner Protection Program, his office’s commitment of $60 million over three years to fund housing counseling and legal services for struggling New York homeowners. Today’s announcement covers the first year of program funding at $20 million to aid struggling homeowners across the state who are fighting to avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes. Throughout New York State, 35 legal services organizations and 59 housing counseling agencies will receive over $16.1 million to provide free foreclosure prevention services. An additional $3.9 million has been allocated for training, technical assistance, and other support services to assist homeowners in foreclosure.”  (Full post from Albany Times Union blog. And here’s a related piece from the Buffalo News looking at how the funding will be administered in Western New York.)
    • “The State Department of Aging, the State Office of Court Administration and the New York State Bar Association are teaming up to help senior citizens and state residents with disabilities afford legal services…. The collaboration will develop a strategy using existing resources, including pro bono programs, to target the needs of older adults and individuals with disabilities. The plan also calls for a “think group” of attorneys, judges, health care professionals and experts on aging and disabilities. An interactive Web site is expected to be launched to help raise awareness, provide education, and increase accessibility to low-cost legal services.” (Story from the Legislative Gazette.)
    • “Neighborhood Legal Services of Buffalo, working with Haven House and the Bar Association of Erie County’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, has been awarded a $497,847 grant through the U.S. Justice Department’s Legal Assistance to Victims Grant Program to continue in its work to aid Buffalo-area victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced….  [T]he grant will help Neighborhood Legal Services in supporting four attorneys to provide direct legal services for victims….”  (Story from the the Buffalo News.)

  

  • 9.24.12 – an editorial from Panama City, Florida’s News Herald laments the state of legal aid funding in FLA, and calls on the governor to pony up: “Funding for legal assistance for the poor and financially troubled has hit rock-bottom all across Florida.  In April, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed about $2 million in state funding for legal assistance centers. It was money that would have helped fund a lot of attorney hours for the poor. It was a relatively small budget item that could have had a significant impact on legal services for people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.  Scott should rethink the state contribution to legal aid centers, either through next year’s budget recommendations or as a request to a legislative commission with the authority to make mid-year budget changes.”
  • 9.24.12 – “On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, the Board of Directors of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (“APBCo”) and senior management from board members’ firms met with Vice President Biden and White House staff…in Washington D.C.  The Vice President convened the meeting to focus on access to justice issues and the role that pro bono counsel at law firms play in the delivery of legal services to the poor….  The participants committed to a long-term project to improve law firm efforts to expand access to justice, and the Vice President commended their commitment to increasing pro bono services.”  Here’s the full press release.  Shout out(!) to David Lash and my other APBCo friends.  Hobnobbing with the Veep, who is, I suppose, the Phillies Fan-in-Chief.  Pretty cool.
  • 9.23.12 – Skadden Arps is at the center of a new, Washington, DC pro bono project that engages three legal aid offices – the Legal Aid Society, the Children’s Law Center, and Bread for the City – as well as corporate counsel from Living Social, Northrop Grumman, and Cisco Systems.  The Impact Project ”is structured so that lawyers from the firm and the companies can join one of three teams — domestic violence, guardianship (guardians are court-appointed lawyers who look out for the interest of children in divorce, child abuse and other proceedings) or housing — and be trained by staff attorneys from legal aid organizations in those areas of the law. Skadden’s technology specialists are also building an intranet that will have training materials, relevant laws and sample documents that can be accessed at any time.” (Story from the Washington Post.)

 

  • 9.23.12 – a Worcester Telegram article looks at the funding woes of Community Legal Aid, which serves clients in Western Massachusetts.
  • 9.23.12 – “The Northampton County Bar Association last week joined colleagues throughout the state by endorsing a series of changes that would drastically alter the way criminal cases are defended in Pennsylvania.  By unanimous vote Thursday night, the bar recommended 10 principles that should be required of public defenders.  The standards, which were already approved by the American, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia bar associations, include requiring public defenders to continue to receive training after law school and to be reviewed by their supervisors, and they set limits on how many cases they can be assigned…. As of now, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not provide funding to public defenders, according to a study [from a state legislative committee] released in December.” (Story from the ExpressTimes of beautiful Lehigh Valley, PA.)
  • 9.22.12 – Three of the six Benton County public defenders who resigned earlier this month in a contract dispute have decided to keep representing poor court-appointed clients [by withdrawing their resignations]…. The resignations stem from a stalemate in negotiations with the county about new caseload restrictions mandated by the state Supreme Court.  The justices, in a 7-2 vote earlier this year, said full-time public defenders can take no more than 150 felony cases each year or 300 misdemeanor cases.  In Benton County, attorneys previously negotiated a 150-case cap on their contracts. They get paid $82,105 a year.”  (Story from the Tri-City Herald.)
  • 9.21.12 – The University of Wisconsin is stepping into a new service area, with the launching this semester of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the UW Law School.  The clinic…will provide free representation to people fighting deportation, [according to] clinic director and assistant professor Stacy Taeuber.  The students will focus on undocumented immigrants being held in detention for federal immigration authorities at the Dodge County Jail, which is where people taken into custody in the Madison area typically are sent.  (Full article from the Cap Times of Madison.)
  • Super music bonus!  One of my favorite indie rock bands was Uncle Tupelo, the now-lauded trio that combined the energy of punk rock with the songwriting and accompanying instrumentation of country-western music.  Sounds like a poor marriage, right?  It worked out remarkably well, though, and spurred the Americana musical movement of the 1990s.  What did not ultimately work out was the artistic marriage of the band’s two singer-songwriters.  Uncle Tupelo split amidst risen personal tension in 1993.  Jeff Tweedy went on to lead the critically acclaimed Wilco.  Jay Farrar hewed more closely to the singer-songwriter mold, founding his on-again-off-again project Son Volt.  Here’s one of my favorite Son Volt songs, which combines a pretty melody with some engagingly metaphorical lyrics.  Enjoy “Medicine Hat.”

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