PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 21, 2013

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships


Happy Friday!  The first day of summer is today, and I’ve been reminded often this week of events 50 years ago during a particularly volatile summer in US history.  Most would agree, that summer changed America forever.  So, we look back at those who fought the good fight and strive to help those continuing today to serve in the public interest.

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  If you know someone we should honor, drop me a line.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • CA poised to require practical skills training AND pro bono before bar admittance;
  • Massachusetts Attorney General announces new Summer Public Interest Scholarship;
  • NOLO prosecutors commended for bringing down murder rate – PD Office can’t handle indictments;
  • Michigan set to overhaul criminal indigent defense system;
  • Local nonprofits gain grant to help domestic violence victims in Georgia;
  • Could the unpaid internship be gone forever?;
  • Another way to create community practices – law school incubator programs;
  • NY mandatory disclosure of pro bono hours and contributions will be publicly available;
  • And the NY Courts broadened the definition of pro bono for the disclosure requirement;
  • DC Bar Foundation grants &700,00 to civil legal services;
  • MD Court of Appeals to decide Public Defender access to arrestees;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants – Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law;
  • Super Music Bonus featuring Ashley Matthews, PSJD Fellow!

The summaries:

June 14, 2013 – “A task force of the State Bar of California has recommended that new attorneys be required to complete at least 15 hours of practical skills training and 50 hours of pro bono service before they are admitted to practice. ”  If passed, California would be the first state to require the practical skills training.  The State Bar Board of Trustees could vote as early as October and the measure could be implemented for 2015.  (National Law Journal)

June 14, 2013 – Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley announced the establishment of the Nathaniel Downing Public Interest Internship for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s 2013 Legal Intern Program.  The internship is in honor of Nathaniel S. Downing, a third year law student and employee of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Division who died unexpectedly last April.  The first recipient is Michelle Bauer.  She will receive “a scholarship over the course of the summer to help further pursue her goals.”  (

June 14, 2013– In the last 30 days, there have been major indictments of multiple defendants to include multiple counts of murder in the Orleans Parish.  There has been a 22% decrease in homicides year-to-date over last year.  “The public defender’s office in New Orleans called group prosecutions ‘a commendable effort to address the city’s violence.’ But the office noted that effort ‘stresses an already strained public defense office and criminal justice system.'”   With large indictments comes a number of requests for public defenders.  After the PD and conflict offices are exhausted, the other defendants may qualify for contract counsel.  But, with the recent budget cuts, there are not enough contract attorneys to handle the overflow.  Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton agreed with District Attorney Cannizzaro’s policy of making the City safe, but he said, “Without resources – including stable, predictable, reliable, adequate funding – many of these cases will go nowhere. You can only prosecute as fast as you can defend.”  (The Times Picayune)

June 14, 2013 – “The Senate and House on Thursday approved identical bills, setting the stage for them to be finalized and sent to the governor as early as next week, to create the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The 16-member body would be tasked with researching, developing and enforcing minimum standards for constitutionally-guaranteed legal representation in jurisdictions around the state.”  The system is currently managed at the county level, which can lead to varying levels of representation.  The commission would establish state-wide standards.(MLive)

June 14, 2013– The Judicial Council of Georgia Domestic Violence Committee awarded an almost $1.7 billion grant that “will help bring legal services to around 4,500 people with low income around Georgia who have suffered from domestic violence and are working to bounce back.  A spokeswoman for the Judicial Council reported that the funds are given each year to develop domestic violence training and legal services for victims.”  “For the Fiscal Year 2014, the nonprofits receiving the grant include Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., Gateway House, Georgia Law Center for the Homeless, Georgia Legal Services Program, Northeast Georgia Shelter Collaborative, Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, Inc., Peace Place, Salvation Army of Central Georgia and Wayne County Protective Agency/Fair Haven.”(Mableton 11 Alive)

June 15, 2013– Not for every organization, but for for-profit employers, it could be on the decline.  A Georgetown Law Student successfully sued Fox Searchlight Pictures.  “A federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie Black Swan.”  In response to the company’s assertion that the interns gained valuable benefit, the Judge wrote, “Undoubtedly Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman received some benefits from their internships, such as resume listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works.  But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.”  This ruling may cause many organizations to rethink their internship programs. (Sun Herald)

June 17, 2013 – Even in a good market, it might be tough for law students and graduates to find their public service niche.  In a down economy, they need all the help they can get.  That is where law school incubator programs can come in.  Similar to law school clinics in structure, one big difference is the number of cases handled.  A typical law graduate in an incubator program could handle 25 cases vs the 1 or 2 in a clinical setting.  But this is not for the faint of heart.  After the term of the program, participants will open their own practices and one must have the drive to serve the community or the venture will fail.  Four schools are featured in the article, but there are about a dozen more programs if you are looking to start one.  (US News)

June 19, 2013 – The pro bono hours and contributions to groups providing legal services that New York lawyers will need to provide on the biennial registration forms will be available to the public.  “It is our responsibility to give it out,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in a recent interview. “If someone asks for the information, they can have it.”   Some lawyers don’t feel so good about the new rule.  Many are worried about what they consider a disclosure of confidential information.  Some are concerned the next step is mandatory pro bono.  The disclosure requirement has been in place in Illinois, Florida and Maryland for years.  In Maryland and Illinois the information is confidential.  In Florida, it is subject to public disclosure.  (New York Law Journal)

June 19, 2013 – Responding to a major concern that transactional attorneys who frequently advise nonprofit clients in their pro bono practice would be deterred for doing so if it didn’t count as pro bono for the rule, the NY Courts expanded the pro bono definition.   “In response to the objections, the court amended its definition of pro bono for the disclosure rule: lawyers should now use the pro bono interpretation under Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to report their hours.”  (New York Law Journal)

June 20, 2013– The DC Bar Foundation announced DC Civil Legal Services (DC-CLS) awards totaling $700,000 to support direct civil legal services for the poor and underserved in the District, as well as $7,770 in mid-year Poverty Lawyer LRAP (Loan Repayment Assistance Program) Awards, the latter funded by an appropriation from the District of Columbia Council, and awarded by DCBF pursuant to its grant agreement with the District of Columbia, Office of Victim Services. (DC Bar Foundation)

June 20, 2013 – MD Court of Appeals set to decide when indigent criminal defendants are first entitled to counsel.  The issue is whether lower-income arrestees had the constitutional right to a public defender at the initial stage of the judicial process.   Currently, public defenders are available only after an indigent client has been held as per a commissioner’s decision, and has to appear before a District Court judge for a bail review hearing. (Baltimore News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  In honor of Juneteenth and the 50th Anniversary of dedicated work on behalf of those who couldn’t fight for themselves, today we honor the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  Conceived by President John F. Kennedy on this date in 1963, it enlisted the private bar’s leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity.  And work still remains.  You can help in moving America toward justice.  Here’s how.

Super Music Bonus! From PSJD Fellow Ashley M. – If I Had A Hammer – the Trini Lopez version hit the charts in the Summer of 1963.  Enjoy!

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