PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 20, 2013

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

Happy Friday!  Autumn begins this weekend with the cooler air (I hope), spiced cider and football!  This time of year is also the start of the career fair season.  Check out PSJD for a list of public interest career fairs.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • NY defers mandatory reporting of pro bono;
  • Nonrent fees for Bronx Tenants are focus for Advocates’ report;
  • Legal Aid Justice Center has a new advocacy director;
  • Federal funding to aid sexual assault victims in NY;
  • Panel established to improve access to justice in VA;
  • Student Press Law Center sponsoring “Tinker Tour”;
  • NY modifies pro bono requirements for foreign LL.M.s;
  • One great idea for how to help the rising number of veterans who need legal advice;
  • BC legal aid told not to book any trials for early 2014 due to funding;
  • Federal courts exhaust indigent defense funding;
  • Law students may work as unpaid interns at firms on pro bono matters;
  • 140 groups urge Ontario legislature to make public advocacy bill a top priority;
  • Michigan Legal Help assists 200,000 in first year online;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: QLaw Foundation’s LGBT Legal Clinic;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 13, 2013 – New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti announced that the Administrative Board of the Courts has decided to defer until April 2015 “the public disclosure of information regarding the pro bono hours and financial contributions of attorneys registered to practice in New York.”  New York State Bar Association President David M. Schraver has responded favorably stating the requirement is of concern and the Bar looks forward to continuing dialogue on the issue.  (readMedia)

September 13, 2013 – “[A] new report by Community Action for Safe Apartments, a project of New Settlement Apartments known as CASA, and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center charges that some Bronx landlords are using so-called nonrent fees — for having certain appliances as well as for late rent payments and apartment damage, among other things — as a way to drive up rent bills and push out longtime residents, who often pay far less than newcomers.  The report, which [was] released on Saturday, found that one major Bronx landlord, Chestnut Holdings, charged some tenants in rent-stabilized apartments hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in fees. It calls for the state to take steps to ensure the fees are being properly charged.”  (The New York Times)

September 13, 2013 – “A federal grant from the Department of Justice will help victims of sexual assault.  Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. received the grant in partnership with six local nonprofit service providers to help victims of sex abuse in an 11-county region.”  The grant seeks to make legal services more available to these victims.  (WETM News)

September 14, 2013 – “The Virginia Supreme Court’s chief justice signed an order Friday creating a commission to recommend ways to improve legal services for low-income residents in civil cases.”  “The commission, led by co-chairmen, will report its progress to the court on a quarterly basis for the first two years and annually after that.  According to the court, the commission will coordinate justice access activities among various groups, encourage lawyers to represent low-income people, identify barriers to legal services and develop solutions. It also will promote development of additional resources — simpler court forms and easy-to-understand legal information, for example — for underserved populations.”  (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

September 15, 2013– “The Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville has a new advocacy director.  Mary Bauer has taken the helm after overseeing the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. She says the center will always be a place where low income individuals can walk through the doors for help. But Bauer brings state wide goals as well.  ‘We have a sophisticated staff that’s really looking proactively at what are the barriers that poor people face in our community and across the state and what can we do as lawyers to get rid of those barriers,’ she said.  The center focuses on offering legal help to vulnerable individuals. Groups of children, immigrants, the elderly, and people in institutions also benefit.”  (NBC 29 News)

September 15, 2013– “Mary Beth Tinker was just 13 when she spoke out against the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband to her Iowa school in 1965. When the school suspended her, she took her free speech case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Now 61, she’s quit her part-time job as a nurse and will travel the country telling her story.”  Ms. Tinker begins in Philadelphia and will travel to 18 states and log between 10,000 and 15,000 miles.  She encourages students to use their voice and stand up for what they believe in, just like she did.  (USA TODAY)

September 16, 2013 – We now know that NY requires 50 pro bono hours to be completed before being licensed in NY.  Previously, all those looking to be licensed in NY had to complete these hours either while a law student or between graduation and licensing.  What about foreign LL.M. students who typically only have a year program?  Well, the concerns have been heard, and NY is modifying the requirements for those students. “Trevor Morrison, the dean of New York University, praised the pro bono committee for ‘listening to the law schools’ concerns and addressing them so constructively.’ Morrison said his predecessor, Richard Revesz, argued before the committee to give LL.M. students more time to fulfill the requirement.”  “A number of law schools were concerned about the proposed pro bono service requirement for LL.M. candidates, because many of these students would have had difficulty in meeting the requirement during the eight months or so when they are here and not taking exams,” Morrison said Friday.  (New York Law Journal)

September 16, 2013 – What is perhaps THE hottest practice area out there – veteran’s issues.  This encompasses so many areas of law, and is a great area for student pro bono.  There are so many schools out there taking up this work and Syracuse Law is one of them.  The school will host another Valor Day (don’t you love the name?).  “The services are totally free, and there are no ‘hidden catches’, said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Josh Keefe, a third-year law student and an organizer of the event. ‘Most of the students involved are veterans or have military connections, and many of the lawyers are veterans, too,’ Keefe said.”  (

September 16, 2013 – “Lawyers for the government-funded agency have been told not to book any trials for the early part of 2014.  It specifically impacts criminal and child protection cases.”  “In a note to its lawyers, the Legal Service Society says it’s facing a $2.5 million deficit in the criminal tariff and a $500,000 deficit in the child protection tariff.”  “The province has been under fire for not committing to further funding. The LSS says it will continue to try and work with the Ministry of Justice to try and find an alternative way.”  (News 1130)

September 17, 2013 – “The federal court system has temporarily run out of money to pay court-appointed lawyers who represent indigent defendants, officials said Tuesday.”  “The $20 million shortfall for the last two weeks of this fiscal year had been expected, but it means that the courts will start fiscal 2014 on the hook for the same amount, David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said at a news conference.”  With no new money on the horizon, it’s the “worst case scenario.”  So, courts are looking to cut costs any way they can including reducing the fee for private attorneys appointed by the court, and cutting back on training and continuing the current hiring freeze.  This will impact representation in a number of ways including perhaps good attorneys no longer taking these cases.  (Federal Times)

September 17, 2013 – The ABA has received a response from the Labor Department to its letter seeking clarification on unpaid internships in the legal realm.  The response is about what we expected.  Here’s what the Labor Department said.  Law students may work as unpaid interns on pro bono matters at law firms, provided certain conditions are met.  The conditions are:

• The internship involves exclusively non-fee-generating pro bono matters.

• The internship is structured to provide the student with professional experience in furtherance of his or her education.

• The hiring of unpaid law student interns does not displace regular employees.

• The law student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

• The law firm and the law student agree that the student is not entitled to wages.

The analysis only applies to current law students.  Law grads would be judged under a different structure.  (ABA Journal)

September 19, 2013 – “Over 140 groups, including environmental organizations, unions and freedom of expression advocates, are calling on the Ontario legislature to adopt strong legislation to prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) from being used to limit freedom of expression, public participation and prevent the abuse of libel laws.” “In May, Attorney General John Gerretsen submitted Bill 83, the first government-sponsored anti-SLAPP bill in Ontario. This follows a 2010 report by the Ontario Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel which found that SLAPPs deter people from speaking out against what they see as social wrongs.”  (The Sacramento Bee)

September 19, 2013 – “The Michigan Legal Help website was created to provide free legal information to people who cannot afford to hire an attorney and need to represent themselves in simple legal matters. It makes legal information easier to understand and shows self-represented people how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently. The website contains information on many areas of law in the form of articles, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists to help prepare people who represent themselves in court.  The website can help users look for a lawyer in their area if they need more assistance, and includes information about legal self-help centers and local community services as well as details about the court where a website visitor’s legal issue may be handled.”  (PrideSource)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Marriage equality is just one issue the LGBT community faces on a regular basis.  There are many organizations who help in many ways big and small.  Today, we congratulate the QLaw Foundation’s LGBT Legal Clinic on work very well done. The Clinic, at the Seattle Counseling Service’s location, provides a 30-minute legal counseling session from the simple to the complex.  In addition to aiding gay and lesbian couples in various issues, the clinic has also made great strides for people in the transgender community, helping to leverage the legal resources available for transgender and trans-identifying people to give them the legal voice they need.Now, with approximately 70 lawyers volunteering their time and over 400 people assisted by the clinic, the Washington State Bar Association is honoring the center with the Pro Bono Award.  To see why, check out this article on their great work.  (the capitol hill TIMES)

Super Music Bonus!  Just a little Fall color for your viewing pleasure.  The music is really relaxing as well.  Enjoy!

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