PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 20, 2013

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

Happy Friday and Happy Holidays! The News Digest will take a break until after the new year.  I appreciate all of you reading the digest and contributing such amazing content.  I love getting the heads up about great work going on out there.  Keep it coming!

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Ontario lawyers call for reforms of legal aid;
  • 2014 White House Fellows program accepting applications;
  • MA Bar forms task force to review prosecutor/defender salaries;
  • Canadian Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters releases final report;
  • Donation saves Pro Bono Students Canada;
  • NY judge sets trial on legal aid for poor;
  • Northwestern Law receives large donation for LRAP;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Tom Buckel, Kevin Harrigan, Sherry Kline, Raymond Presley;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 11, 2013– “Two groups of Ontario lawyers are calling for changes to the legal aid system that they say would make it easier for low-income Ontarians to hire counsel.  The Criminal Law Association and Ontario Legal Aid laywers offered a united front Wednesday as they put forward the Criminal Justice Protocol Agreement — their collective bid to bring the premier, the ministry of the attorney general, Legal Aid Ontario and the Department of Justice to the table to address what the attorneys say are serious problems with legal aid.  The lawyers want to see greater eligibility for legal aid, increased funding for programs, and reforms to the way Legal Aid Ontario delivers basic legal information.”  (Ottawa Citizen)

December 11, 2013 – “Applications are invited for the White House Fellowship Program, a one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. Fellows typically spend a year as full-time, paid assistants to senior White House Staff, the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. Fellows receive a salary and benefits from the agency for which they work. Fellowships are awarded on a strict non-partisan basis and encourage balance and diversity in all aspects of the program. Application deadline is January 15, 2014.”  (Scholarship Positions)

December 12, 2013 – “The Massachusetts Bar Association has formed a task force to report on salary levels for state prosecutors and public defenders and the potential effects those pay scales have on the criminal justice system.  The salaries in Massachusetts are lower than in some other New England states, according to research undertaken by the Committee for Public Counsel Services. However, the jury is still out on how Massachusetts compares nationally or whether it in fact offers above- or below-average starting salaries compared to most other states.”  “A big concern among bar members is whether Massachusetts salaries discourage many talented lawyers from seeking working in the public sector and force existing public defenders to wonder “how they’re going to pay their rent this week,” said Douglas Sheff, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.”  (Boston Business Journal)

December 13, 2013 – “Canada has a system of civil courts that would be the envy of many countries. We have a large, well- trained and dedicated legal profession. The legal aid system in Canada provides more service in civil matters than is available in many places throughout the world. Yet, with all this and all that it costs, we are not meeting the legal needs of the Canadian public. The final report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, A Roadmap for Change, tackles the difficult problem of why this is the case and lays out recommendations for what can be done to bring full access to justice to Canadians. The final report and four subcommittee reports on early stage resolution of civil justice problems, legal services, court simplification and family law are available on the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice website.”  (Slaw)

December 16, 2013 – “A $150,000 donation is bringing Pro Bono Students Canada one step closer to a fundraising goal that will allow the organization to preserve — and eventually expand — its Family Law Project.  The Family Law Project gives law students the opportunity to support low-to-middle income earners who do not qualify for legal aid. The students assist clients with court forms and help navigate the court system.  The donation is a combined gift from Toronto-based family law firm Epstein Cole LLP and its founder Philip Epstein to PBSC’s Campaign for Family Justice, which has now raised $320,000 of its $400,000 shortfall.”  PBSC is looking to expand the Family Law Project to law schools that don’t currently have the program, as well as courts that do not have student placements.  Family law is an area of greatest need, and these students are often the only help available.  The students fill the gaps and the experience gives them the opportunity to gain real experience.  (4Students)

December 17, 2013 – “A trial is needed to determine whether the state systemically provides inadequate staff and money for the constitutionally required defense of poor people charged with crimes, a state Supreme Court judge said.”  “The lawsuit was filed in 2007 on behalf of 20 defendants in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties.  The judge said the testimony from attorneys serving in the defendant counties shows indigent criminal defendants consistently are arraigned without being afforded their right to counsel.”  (The Wall Street Journal)

December 18, 2013 – “The law school announced that it has received a $15 million gift from one of its wealthiest alumni, real estate and casino magnate Neil G. Bluhm.”  Part of the grant is unrestricted, but “Mr. Bluhm instructed that another $5 million be earmarked for the law school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps recent graduates who take lower-paying government and non-profit jobs reduce their monthly payments on federal student loans for up to 10 years.” (Wall Street Journal Blog)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  A Christmas miracle.  That’s what I thought when Sam (Kasmarek at Syracuse Law) sent this to me.  People in the right place at the right time.  But, it’s the spirit of serving that makes this story so wonderful.  Several individuals, on their way to other business, didn’t think twice about stopping.  They just knew they had to help.  At 8:20 am on Monday, a pick up truck veered off the NY Thruway into a bridge at full speed, trapping its driver, Capt. Timothy Neild.  Tom Buckel, managing attorney for Legal Services of Central New York, saw it happen.  He parked on the median and raced to get the driver out.  Others followed, including Kevin Harrigan, a Syracuse adoption lawyer and his legal assistant, Sherry Kline.  They were on their way to an adoption. Raymond Presley, a truck driver and a sergeant first-class in the National Guard, who had served with Neild, would soon join them.  Flames were now shooting up from the dashboard, and all rescuers were in danger, but no one thought to leave the scene or cease pulling on the crushed door.  All anyone could think about was saving this unknown person.  What comes next is the miracle part – the door gives about 30 seconds before the first explosion;  Capt. Neild is saved; no one else is hurt.  That instinct – to help regardless of personal peril is inherent in all those who are public servants.  This holiday season and every day, let us give thanks and celebrate those who go the extra mile for someone.  And Merry Christmas to the Captain and his family (young daughter and expecting wife) who will be able to celebrate instead of mourn because there are good people in this world.  (The Post-Standard initial article) (The Post-Standard follow up article)  

Super Music Bonus!  Happy Holidays!

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