PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 23, 2013

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

Happy Friday!  Lots of news this week.  Enjoy.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Idaho lawmakers looking at systemic changes to indigent defense system;
  • WVU law students create business to resolve landlord-tenant issues;
  • Canadian Commissioners urge access to justice in both official languages;
  • IL Governor signs Access to Justice Act;
  • British Columbia Legal Services facing further cuts to service;
  • Access to justice abysmal in Canada new report says;
  • IL lawyers may “unbundle” services creating greater access to justice;
  • Federal courts will also slash private attorney salaries for indigent defense;
  • More news on student loans and bankruptcy discharge;
  • NY closing in on plan to allow in-house counsel to do pro bono;
  • VA certifies William & Mary clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington;
  • Super Video Bonus!

The summaries:

August 16, 2013– “A committee of Idaho lawmakers has begun the complicated task of trying to bring the state’s public defense system in line with constitutional requirements.  Members of the Public Defense Interim Committee met in Boise on Thursday to hear from state and national experts who warned that Idaho’s system is so inadequate that it’s likely unconstitutional, and as a result, it’s only a matter of time until a lawsuit forces the state to make major changes.”  “The interim committee is expected to present its recommendations and any proposed bills to the full Legislature next year.”  (SFGate)

August 16, 2013– In a college town, there are bound to be countless landlord-tenant issues at the end of every lease year.  West Virginia law student Jordan Loomis learned about these issues the hard way.  After losing his security deposit for not documenting issues that were present when he moved in, he and another WVU law student decided to do something about it.  They created Morgantown Security Deposit to help others with similar problems.  In a partnership with student legal aid, they can also provide legal services should the need arise.  This is a great example of law students identifying a need and filling it.  (The Daily Athenaeum)

August 16, 2013– “The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and his counterparts from Ontario and New Brunswick are recommending that the federal Minister of Justice take 10 measures to ensure Canadians have access to justice in both official languages. These recommendations are the result of a joint study on the bilingual capacity of Canada’s superior courts, which was released today by the three commissioners.”  The Commissioners found the judicial appointment process provided an insufficient number of judges that could hear matters in the minority official language.  “The study recommends 10 concrete and pragmatic courses of action that will improve the bilingual capacity of the judiciary of superior courts. The commissioners are urging the federal Minister of Justice to ensure a quick and collaborative implementation of these recommendations.”  (Digital Journal)

August 16, 2013 – “Governor Quinn today signed the Access to Justice Act, a new law to support veterans and active duty servicemembers across Illinois. The new law is designed to provide meaningful access to legal information and representation to the military, veterans and the disadvantaged.”  “In addition to helping veterans receive access to legal representation, the law also creates a task force to review the fees on criminal defendants and civil litigants, making sure the court fees are both efficient and just. The task force will consist of 15 members and is required to submit a report with their findings to the General Assembly by June 1, 2014.”  (eNews Park Forest)

August 17, 2013 – “B.C.’s Legal Services Society is facing a dramatic budget shortfall, and its already-threadbare services face further threat unless the provincial government antes up more cash.”  Options are limited if more funding is not allocated.  The Legal Services Society will either have to cut services by either reducing the amount of fees it pays lawyers or further tighten eligibility requirements.  So far, the Justice Minister has said she’s happy to discuss the situation, but that the province has been more than generous.  (The Vancouver Sun)

August 18, 2013– “Access to justice in Canada is being described as ‘abysmal’ in a new report from the Canadian Bar Association, which also calls for much more than ‘quick fix’ solutions.  The summary report, released Sunday at the association’s conference in Saskatoon, says there is profoundly unequal access to justice in Canada.”  “Inaccessible justice costs us all, but visits its harshest consequences on the poorest people in our communities,” the report says.   “Among other things, the report calls for more federal funding for civil legal aid.  Another goal is to have all law schools in Canada have student legal clinics to help low-income people by 2020. All 31 targets in the report are expected to be completed by 2030.”  (CTV News) (CBC News)

August 19, 2013 – The Illinois Supreme Court, in June 2013, amended its rules so that attorneys could provide limited scope representation.  This allows lawyers to provide services to the segment of the population that makes too much for legal aid but not enough to afford an attorney at traditional market rates.  Unbundled services allow clients to receive legal services on only a portion of a their matter thereby making the legal fees more affordable.  (The National Law Review)

August 19, 2013 – “The federal courts say that private lawyers paid to act as federal public defenders will have their salaries slashed as part of an attempt to survive government cost-cutting measures.  The Judicial Conference of the United States announced Monday that it would reduce by $15 an hour the pay of “panel attorneys.” The year-long cuts start in September.”  The conference decided not to cut staffing, but had to make cuts somewhere.  Federal defenders and panel attorneys represent the vast majority of defendants in federal courts.  (Washington Post)

August 20, 2013– A new report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., released on Tuesday urges Congress to take another look at whether some student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy.  The report proposes a classification of “‘Qualified Student Loans,’ essentially loans that would remain protected from bankruptcy but would offer reasonable repayment terms for students in college programs with positive employment outcomes.”  “Non-qualified student loans in CAP’s model — like those with unaffordable repayment plans for students who enroll in ineligible education programs — could be discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy after a specified waiting period.”  (The Huffington Post)

  • August 20, 2013 – Another student loan discharged in bankruptcy.  “The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri entered an Order on May 29, 2013 approving a settlement for a Missouri woman owing more than $400,000.00 in student loans. Per the settlement the woman, Maria Seedorff, is entitled to receive a bankruptcy discharge of up to $325,000.00 of student loans.”  (The Wall Street Journal Market Watch)

August 20, 2013 – (subscription or free trial required)  “New York is closing in on a plan to allow nonadmitted, in-house counsel to do pro bono work, Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo said Tuesday, but she also issued a plea for lawyers who fall into that category to fill out the papers required to make them eligible to help close the ‘justice gap.'”  (Law 360)

August 21, 2013–  Senator Mark Warner, speaking at the College of William & Mary Law, announced that “the Department of Veterans Affairs has certified W&M’s Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic as a national ‘best practices’ program for expedited submission of disability claims.”  “It will be only the third certified program,” Warner said. “The American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans are the only other two.”  Through the clinic’s work, the VA can process fully developed claims, cutting down on processing time.  And there are as many as fifteen other law schools that plan to open similar clinics.  (The Virginia Gazette)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  On August 28, 1963, some 250,000 marched on Washington, DC for jobs and freedom.  Not knowing what to expect and fearing more of the violence they had been experiencing for years, thousands traveled from all over the country to be part of one of the greatest events in US history.  On August 28, more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars converged on Washington.  All regularly scheduled modes of transportation to DC were filled to capacity.  For many, this would be the first time they interacted with members of another race in a peaceful and respectful way.  For the movement, the March is credited with propelling the U.S. government into action on civil rights, creating political momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Unfortunately, many of the March’s goals regarding economic equity have not been realized, and there is much more work to be done.

At the commemoration next week, President Obama is expected to confer a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom on Bayard Rustin (one of the organizers of the march) and 15 others.  To read stories from those who were there and see what events are planned, see the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.

Super Video Bonus! From the mind of Christina – Always inspiring and a good reminder that we aren’t yet done making strides for equality-

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