PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 28, 2013

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


Happy Friday!  Can it be the end of June?  I’m not sure where the time is going.  So, here’s what’s going on in the world of public service.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • NYC expected to shift funds away from 18-B panel attorneys to legal services nonprofits;
  • Tennessee using faith-based approach to access to justice;
  • Indiana lawmakers boost funding for indigent defense;
  • Lay-offs begin at federal defender offices;
  • Legal Services NYC strike is over!;
  • Get inspired – “Gideon’s Army” – the new HBO documentary premiers July 1;
  • Sarasota County (Florida) to sever ties with Gulfcoast Legal;
  • Utah State Bar program aims to expand access to legal services;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants – Holly Skolnick, prominent Greenberg Traurig attorney and pro bono champion dies at 59;
  • Super Music Bonus featuring Ashley Matthews, PSJD Fellow!

The summaries:

June 24, 2013 – ” Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget, which the City Council was expected to tweak and adopt in late June, shifts $14 million away from the 18-B panel toward legal-services nonprofits. At least some of the work will likely go to the Legal Aid Society, which generally handles less complicated cases.”   Critics say this move may cause some veteran criminal defense attorney’s offices to close and may impact the level of representation for more complex cases.  The City says the move is about improving indigent defense.  (Crain’s New York Business)

June 24, 2013 – Tennessee is taking an unusual approach to legal aid with it’s faith-based access to justice initiative.  “People show up every day at churches and synagogues and mosques, and they may not ask for legal help. They may need food assistance. But often there is an underlying legal problem,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, who helped the faith-based initiative get off the ground. “We realized we can help more people by going to where they are already going for help.”   Other initiatives have included changing the rules to make it easier for retired attorneys to provide free services, developing a toll-free legal hotline and posting online videos about navigating the justice system.  There is much national interest in creative ways to help those who need legal services.  (Times Daily)

June 24, 2013 – Lawmakers in Indiana have increased the appropriation for the Public Defense Fund.  The Legislature had previously adopted a statute giving the “right to counsel” in CHINS (Children in Need of Services) and TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) cases.  The additional monies would in part help offset the increased costs associated with these cases.  (Indiana Courttimes)

June 25, 2013 – Federal budget cuts have been responsible for many federal defender offices having to do more with less.  Now, the first lay-offs are happening.  The newly created Northern District of Alabama Federal Defender’s Office will be forced to lay off three workers, including one attorney, of its 15-member staff.  A second attorney may need to be cut if other ways to trim the budget are not found.  The lay offs will begin October 1, 2103.  (AL.com)

June 25, 2013 – Legal Services NYC goes back to work!  Attorneys, paralegals and support staff went back to work Tuesday after accepting an agreement that everyone is happy with.  Thus ends the 40-day strike of one of the largest legal services provider in the country.  (New York Law Journal) (WNYC)

June 26, 2013 – While this news digest is generally about news items, every once in a while we need to re-energize and celebrate why we’re so dedicated to public service.  To that end, I wanted to point out the premier of the HBO documentary “Gideon’s Army.”  Not only is this significant for it’s subject matter, but also for the young defenders who are out there struggling with and for their clients.  Their stories are equally as compelling and certainly inspiring.  (The Village Voice) (gideonsarmythefilmcom)

June 26, 2013 – “The Sarasota County Commission has notified Gulfcoast Legal Services it intends to terminate its contract with the troubled nonprofit and transfer the remaining funds to Legal Aid of Manasota.”  Commissioner Christine Robinson sent a letter to Gulfcoast Legal Services Executive Director asking how she planned to handle the caseload and staffing concerns.  The response, which did not address the question posed, prompted the Commission to terminate their contract.   (Herald-Tribune)

June 28, 2013 – “The Utah State Bar has introduced a new program to expand access to legal services for Utahns with ‘modest means.’  The Modest Means Lawyer Referral program will make legal assistance available for reduced rates to those whose incomes are up to three times above the federal poverty guidelines. The program comes after the Pro Bono Commission was created last year to offer legal services to those who are unable to pay.”  (Deseret News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Holly R. Skolnick, a veteran attorney at the Miami-based firm Greenberg Traurig, died on Saturday of melanoma. She was 59.  In an email to the firm, co-President Hilarie Bass, said that Skolnick “will be remembered as a close friend to so many of us. A brilliant lawyer, a wonderful friend, and someone who was always committed to finding justice for those who needed her help.  Whether as the leader of [the firm’s] pro bono efforts, the chair of the country’s most important organization for providing legal assistance to immigrants, or her involvement with Equal Justice Works Fellows, Holly will be remembered for her passion for our legal system and helping all of us to try to fulfill it’s promise for everyone.’’  (Miami Herald)

Super Music Bonus! From PSJD Fellow Ashley M. – this is Christina again – this reminds me of summer from back in the day.  Enjoy!

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