PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 27, 2013

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

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope everyone is doing well.  It’s a doughnut kind of day here.  I hope you have an equally delicious treat this Friday.  You’ll likely need it if you’re following the government shutdown debate.  Should the unthinkable happen, we will keep you posted with all the news that affects our public sector.  Until then, enjoy!

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Wake Forest Law forms pro bono partnership to help cancer patients;
  • MA Bar Foundation awards grants to 11 area organizations;
  • PA House OKs legal defense bill;
  • NY holds meetings on legal services for the poor;
  • While US law schools shrink in size a Canadian looks to increase enrollment;
  • Ontario Legal Aid lawyers demand collective bargaining rights;
  • Jacksonville Legal Aid gets HUD grant;
  • MD Court of Appeals restores right to public defenders at bail hearings;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Pro Bono Students Canada Tax Advocacy Project;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 23, 2013 – “Wake Forest University School of Law’s Pro Bono Project has partnered with Winston-Salem-based health system Novant Health and law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to help cancer patients with their legal needs.”  “The students will help cancer patients understand how important it is to complete advance directive forms, which formalize end-of-life care decisions ahead of time. Students have participated in specialized training before beginning their work with patients.”  (The Business Journal)

September 23, 2013– “Newly announced grants for agencies throughout the state include $241,500 to 11 agencies in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.”  “These grants support projects that either offer civil legal services to people who cannot otherwise afford them or improve the administration of justice in the state.  Funds for these grants are provided by the state Supreme Judicial Court’s Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts Program.”  (masslive.com)

September 23, 2013 – “The first in a series of public hearings to be held on meeting the legal needs of low-income New Yorkers took place last Tuesday in the Third Judicial Department.  Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann — along with Presiding Justice Karen Peters, Third Department; Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti; and New York State Bar Association President David Schraver — heard testimony from six panels for the purpose of assessing the resources needed to close the justice gap.”  Law students can and should play a critical role by volunteering and in clinics – not just in New York.  (Legislative Gazette)

September 24, 2013 – “On Monday the state House voted 198-0 to approve Toohil’s bill that will increase the fees placed on civil court filings by $1 to help support the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network. The fees had totaled $3 and generated $11 million in revenue in fiscal 2011-12, [Tarah] Toohil, R-Butler Township, noted. The additional $1 is expected to generate $2.5 million annually.”  “The passage comes on the heels of another year in which the number of low-income individuals seeking legal assistance is increasing while funding has declined. Last fiscal year, Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network programs have reduced the number of cases from 100,000 just a couple of years ago to about 85,000 this past fiscal year, due to cuts in staffing and offices.”  The Bill now moves to the Senate, where there is hope for a speedy passage.  (Wilkes-Barre TimesLeader)

September 24, 2013 – While the headline seems sexy – The Faculty of Law at Queen’s University seeks to increase enrollment – it’s not really so.  The School has not increase enrollment since the 1970’s and tuition is still low ( approximately $16,000 in tuition, while the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall charge approximately $28,000 and $23,000, respectively).  Faculty of Law Dean, William Flanagan is confident the increased enrollment will not hurt “student placements in articling opportunities.”  “In 2011, three graduates of the Faculty of Law went unplaced.”  Maybe US law schools should be taking note.  (The Journal – Queen’s University)

September 25, 2013– Ontario Legal Aid duty counsel lawyers are seeking the right to collective bargaining.  Jillian Rogin, a criminal lawyer duty counsel, said Tuesday that the LAO board has ignored their requests to discuss this demand.  “Unlike the Crown attorneys — a majority of whom are men — we do not have the right to collectively bargain recognized. In light of this, we believe that Legal Aid lawyers are being treated differently than other provincial public sector lawyers,” Rogin said. “We are simply asking for the same rights as Crown attorneys and other public sector lawyers.”  LAO is an arms-length body of the Ministry of the Attorney General but Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen said he will have a discussion with the organization about this and other issues.  (Sun News)

September 25, 2013 – “Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc. is one of six organizations in Florida set to receive funds totaling more than $2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce housing discrimination.  The Jacksonville group will get a total of $774,750 for three programs — private enforcement of federal fair housing complaints, a lending discrimination fund, and public education campaigns.”  (wjct News)

September 25, 2013 – “Maryland’s highest court ruled Wednesday that poor suspects should have access to counsel at all bail hearings, overturning the General Assembly’s attempt to spare already-stretched public defenders from attending hundreds of thousands of proceedings each year.”  “After a similar court ruling in 2012, lawmakers passed a law making clear that free representation would be available starting with bail review hearings, at which judges review commissioners’ decisions.”  The court ruling has made clear the Constitution requires representation beginning with the commissioner hearings.  (Baltimore Sun)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  In an attempt to level the playing field in tax court, Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) and Dentons Canada LLP partnered in 2011 to pilot the innovative Tax Advocacy Project (TAP).  The only pro bono project of its kind in Canada, TAP enables law students, with the assistance of a team of highly regarded tax litigators from Dentons Canada LLP, to gain practical experience representing low-income taxpayers before the Court.  The PBSC-TAP currently operates in several Canadian law faculties, including McGill, Université de Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke, as well as the University of Toronto where the program originated.  All of the projects are run in partnership with Dentons, which has developed and delivers a rigorous training program for the students, and provides supervision to the students on all aspects of the files.  Most recently, PBSC-Dalhousie teamed up with the Atlantic law firm McInnis Cooper LLP, and a Halifax TAP will launch this Fall.  Check out the great work being accomplished!  Congratulations.

Super Music Bonus!  A nice country tune from a Canadian artist today.  Fun!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySxLyzgVFZ0

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