PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 18, 2013

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Celebrate Pro Bono Week starting Saturday.  Get out there and get involved!  Below you’ll find some ways to do so.  And don’t forget to check out PSJD for pro bono resources for next week and throughout the year.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • PSJD announces the Pro Bono Publico Award Winner;
  • Don’t forget to register for the NALP/PSJD Mini-Conference;
  • The Indiana Supreme Court looks to boost pro bono service;
  • Association of endorses Action Committee Report on Access to Justice;
  • MT Justice Court rejects request by public defender to be taken off new cases;
  • Federal judiciary gets extra money in last-minute budget deal;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Celebrate the outstanding public service servant in you during Pro Bono Week;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 14, 2013 –  WINNER – J. Martin Bunt, Emory University School of Law – Martin faced considerable challenges when starting the Volunteer Clinic for Veterans (VCV), but his passion for service and his perseverance in the face of many obstacles has created a lasting impact on his community.  As a 2L, Martin started the clinic from scratch, pulling together the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Bar of Georgia, a number of Atlanta attorneys, and the dedicated students at Emory.  Through Martin’s leadership, in less than a year, a new clinic, complete with a retired law firm partner and decorated veteran as the hands-on supervisor of the cases, and a professor as a co-director is up and running.  Martin is not only the “face” of the clinic, recruiting pro bono attorneys and working to get case referrals, but he is also devoted to handling cases himself.  As his nominator so eloquently said, “His passion, ability to recruit others to fill the needs of the VCV, and his professional skills have created a service organization to fulfill a great need where before there was nothing.”  Today, there are nearly 50 lawyers who have agreed to take veterans’ benefits cases and there are over 40 student volunteers, 26 of whom are working on 20 cases and a legislative initiative to create special courts in Georgia to help veterans with traumatic conditions to obtain treatment and release as an alternative to incarceration.

Martin is dedicated to making the lives of men and women who serve better.  He said it best, “When they come home, I believe it is our turn to serve them.  I will continue to dedicate my life to the VCV, knowing that I am serving those who have sacrificed so much to serve me.”

MERIT DISTINCTIONIoana E. Tchoukleva, University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Karol Ruiz, Seton Hall University School of Law

October 14, 2013 – NALP and PSJD invite you to the 2013 Public Service Mini-Conference on Thursday, October 24 in Washington, DC. If you are a public interest career counselor, pro bono program manager, or work in any public-service career role at a law school or legal employer then this mini-conference is for you. The 2013 Public Service Mini-Conference is the perfect opportunity for you to meet and network with colleagues from across the country and attend substantive and skill-based programs. Following the Mini-Conference, we will host a law school/employer reception including representatives from eight agencies and nine national non-profits registered so far.  If you are a newcomer to the public interest arena, join us for the Public Interest Advising 101 program on Wednesday, October 23.

October 15, 2013 – “The Indiana Supreme Court, along with judges and lawyers around the state, are exploring ways to provide more free and low-cost legal services to a growing number of Hoosiers that need them.”  One idea is to provide CLE credits for pro bono work.  “If a lawyer is representing a poor person in a case, they’re really getting educated themselves in the process. Why not let them get CLE hours for that and help that go toward their annual minimum?” Chief Justice Brent Dickson says.  Intriguing idea.  (Indiana Public Media)

October 15, 2013 – “The Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada applauds a new report by the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.”  “The report provides a multi-sector national approach that promotes concrete goals in the areas of innovation, institutions and structures, and research and funding. Goals include a justice system focused on the everyday legal problems Canadians face and making essential legal services available to everyone. The report also calls for user-friendly court processes, a ‘front-end’ early resolution services sector, and appropriate services for self-represented litigants.” “The Action Committee is composed of leaders in the civil and family justice community, and a public representative for each of the different parts of the justice system.  The Association of Legal Aid Plans is a voice for Canada’s Legal Aid Plans and its members provide expertise on legal aid and access to justice issues.”  (Digital Journal)

October 15, 2013 – “The Helena justice court on Friday rejected a request by the overloaded state public defender’s office to be taken off new cases.  The Office of the Public Defender told the court in September that staff attorneys have too many cases and are in danger of failing to meet their ethical obligation to properly represent clients. It said that more than 3,000 cases were assigned in 2012 to its 10 attorneys in a region that covers Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties.  Justice of the Peace Michael Swingley rejected the request Friday.  Swingley said the office is required to represent indigent defenders and must contract private attorneys if staff attorneys are overloaded. But the public defender’s office has said its budget is already strained.”  (Independent Record)

October 16, 2013 – “The budget deal Congress approved late Wednesday to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling provides $51 million in additional funding to the judiciary and to federal defenders.”  “The extra funding would primarily go to pay the backlog of attorney fees under the Criminal Justice Act, which funds court-appointed private counsel. Payments were suspended in mid-September, when funding ran out two weeks before the end of the fiscal year.”  The extra money doesn’t provide all the money needed, but is seen as a lifeline to at least continue working.  (The Blog of LegalTimes)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Starting on Sunday, we will celebrate Pro Bono Week.  I  hope all of you are able to contribute in any way that you can.  BUT, it’s important to keep in mind that the need is out there 24/7 all year round.  Here are some resources to help you get started or to steer you in a different direction so that you to can become an Outstanding Public Servant.

Find out why we celebrate!

Search 2013 Pro Bono Celebration Events on

Connect with friends to celebrate together.

Super Music Bonus! In honor of Pro Bono Week – Let’s all reach out and give someone a helping hand.

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