PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 10, 2014

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

Happy New Year!  Welcome back to the Digest.  How many of you made New Year’s Resolutions?  I hope they included giving back to your community.  This week we have a number of great stories to kick off the new year.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Grant helps legal aid reach more in East Tennessee;
  • Lawyers ask for millions after public defender suit victory;
  • Law school fellowship puts students to work;
  • Eligibility thresholds for free legal aid increase in Montreal;
  • Kansas courts look for ways to handle budget shortfall;
  • Chicago law schools join public defender project;
  • Charlottesville Legal Aid gets new leader;
  • Great annual pro bono project at UT Law;
  • Unprecedented barrister strike in UK over cut to legal aid;
  • Indigent defense vouchers in Texas;
  • Gulfcoast Legal employees vote to form union;
  • Iowa considers new rules for law students;
  • Harvard gets $10 million grant for public interest;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Duval County and 4th Judicial Circuit Judge Jean Johnson;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 21, 2013– “The Tennessee Bar Association has awarded a 2014 IOLTA Program Grant to the Legal Aid of East Tennessee, which they hope will aid in the help of low income people in need of legal assistance.  The award, totaling $95,699, will make available additional civil legal services for low-income families in the region.”  (knoxnews.com)

December 21, 2013 – “The attorneys who successfully challenged the constitutionality of the public-defender systems in Mount Vernon and Burlington are seeking more than $2.4 million in attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs over the 2011 lawsuit.  Earlier this month, after nearly two years of litigation and a lengthy trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik found that the two cities routinely violated the rights of poor defendants of misdemeanor crimes by failing to ensure they had adequate legal representation.”  (The Seattle Times)

December 25, 2013 – There is a unique fellowship program in San Francisco that’s putting attorneys-in-training to work for local governments and nonprofits.  The pilot class of fellows for Lawyers for America, which is a program conceived by Hastings professors to give law students hands-on training in the public sector, and give cash-strapped governments and nonprofits the opportunity to enhance their ranks is hard at work. “The Contra Costa District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices are the first to take advantage of the program, which commits the students to their ranks for two years — one year before and one year after graduation.”  New offices will be added to the program this year.  Brooklyn Law is also examining becoming part of or replicating the program.  (Contra Costa Times)

December 27, 2013 – The increase of 15.3% came into effect on January 1, 2014 and will bring the eligibility threshold for free legal aid to $16,306 and the maximum eligibility threshold for contributory legal aid to $26,309 for single individuals.   Single individuals represent 73% of the legal aid clientele in Quebec.  “As of June 1, 2015, eligibility thresholds will increase once again, with the minimum wage as a reference point. Thereafter, eligibility thresholds will be kept at this level through an indexation clause linking the thresholds to the minimum wage. Ultimately, the eligibility threshold increase for free legal aid will be 35.8%, which will facilitate access to justice for the portion of the population that works, but has limited income. The same is true for seniors living alone whose principal source of income is their Old Age Security benefits and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.”  (CNW newswire)

December 27, 2013 – “Kansas court employees could face 10 days of unpaid furlough in fiscal year 2015 as the state’s judicial branch tries to deal with an $8.25 million budget shortfall, a committee appointed to study the finances has concluded.  The furloughs would cut $2.5 million from the deficit, the committee said, while much of the rest would come from delayed judicial appointments, reduced training hours, the elimination of 19.5 court service officer positions and by leaving more than 100 court positions unfilled.”  “The committee also recommended reducing by $250,000 a grant to Kansas Legal Services. Employees of that agency, which provides legal help for people who can’t afford to hire lawyers, could be forced to take nine furlough days to make up for the lost funding.”   It is unknown if the Kansas Legislature will take action after seeing the report.  (The Wichita Eagle)

December 30, 2013 – “The University of Chicago Law School and Northwestern University School of Law are the fourth and fifth schools, respectively, to sign on to [Gideon’s Promise’s] Law School Partnership Project. The effort was announced in November with the American University Washington College of Law; University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; and New York University School of Law.  Each school has agreed to pay the salary of one or more new graduates in a southern public defender office, and that office in turn pledges to hire the graduate full-time within a year. The project is intended to make it easier for public defenders to hire new lawyers while creating a smoother path to those jobs for students.”  For more information, go to Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Project.  (National Law Journal)

January 1, 2014 – “Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center is getting new leadership at the top for the first time in 20 years as Executive Director Alex Gulotta leaves to take a post as head of the Oakland-based Bay Area Legal Aid. Stepping into his place is Mary Bauer, a longtime litigator known for her work on immigrants’ rights issues.”  We welcome Ms. Bauer back to the community.  (c-ville)

January 4, 2014 – The University of Texas Law Pro Bono Project is making it’s annual January trip to help those in need.  “36 law students, accompanied by alumni and law school professors, will travel to the Rio Grande Valley for the UT Law Pro Bono Program’s annual January trip to write wills, offer workshops for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and provide immigration assistance.”  The Project partners with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to provide Wills on Wheels services.  The DACA clinics will be organized by UT Law Pro Bono along with South Texas Civil Rights Project.  And or the immigration assistance services, UT Law Pro Bono will work with South Texas ProBar and South Texas Civil Rights Project.  (The Horn)

January 6, 2014 – Lawyers everywhere are standing up against cuts to legal aid.  “Thousands of barristers have chosen not to attend proceedings at courts in cities including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Winchester, Bristol and Cardiff.  The nationwide protest is the first in the history of the criminal bar.  The Government plans to cut fees as part of a bid to slash £220 million from the legal aid budget by 2018/19 – reducing them by as much as 30% in the longest and most complex cases.”  “Agencies involved in the criminal justice system will take steps to minimize any upset court disruption could cause for victims and witnesses involved in trials.”(Belfast Telegraph) (BBC News)

January 6, 2014 – After the right to counsel in criminal cases was granted, most jurisdictions tended toward a public defender model for providing these attorneys.  A new program in Comal County, Texas could change the system.  ” In Comal County, policymakers are going to try using a system of vouchers. Like the school voucher concept, the idea is to put money directly into the hands of the customers, who will then decide which attorney they would like to retain.”  “The Texas Indigent Defense Commission became aware of the voucher proposal when the Cato Institute advanced the idea in a 2010 paper.”  (Cato Institute)

January 7, 2014 – Employees of Gulfcoast Legal Services have voted to unionize.  GLS serves low-income residents in the Greater Tampa Bay area.  “According to the NLRB, Gulfcoast’s new union was certified Monday and is ready to represent its members.”  Employees voted to form a union in part due to the actions taken by the Executive Director since she took the helm in December 2012.  (Herald-Tribune)

January 8, 2014 – “The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to give law students and recent graduates more authority to provide legal services.  Several rules changes are being sought by Iowa Legal Aid and the Office of Professional Regulation as a way to serve more low-income clients.  They would expand circumstances under which students and graduates who are waiting to take the bar exam or receive results could engage in limited legal practice.  One change would allow graduates to temporarily practice on behalf of certain organizations and government agencies under supervision.  Another would make clear that students who’ve completed three semesters or more can represent clients in an administrative contested case proceeding without a supervising attorney present.  The court says it will gather input through March 10 before taking any action on them.  (WOWT)
January 9, 2014 – “Harvard Law School has received a $10 million donation from media magnate and alumnus Sumner Redstone.  The money will bolster the Sumner M. Redstone Fellowships for Public Service – a program created in 2010 with a $1 million gift from Redstone to support graduates who pursue public-interest law careers.  The inaugural 10 fellows worked in areas ranging from criminal defense and civil rights to family law and nongovernmental organizations.”  “The money comes from the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation and is the single largest donation the law school has received specifically to support public service.”  (National Law Journal)
Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  “Circuit Judge Jean Johnson, whose love for practicing from the bench and hobbies such as reading murder mysteries was trumped only by her devotion to her family, died last week after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 66.”  She became the first woman elected as a Circuit Court judge in Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit — Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.  In reading about Judge Johnson’s life and practice, I was reminded what one person can accomplish when they seek to affect change.  “Her passions for the law included promoting the importance of pro-bono work being done among the circuit’s top law firms. Among her many hats was serving as the chairwoman for the 4th Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee, which encouraged lawyers to volunteer their time to give legal advice to people in need of such help.”  Many people have Judge Johnson to thank for giving them access to justice.  Thank you for your service.  (Florida Times Union) (Jacksonville Daily Record)

Super Music Bonus!  A little Bing Crosby crooning about a cold winter.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhn5fV7zf6U

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