PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 7, 2014

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

Happy Friday and welcome to February.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New federal defender named for New Orleans;
  • MA attorneys mobilize for legal aid;
  • ME AG and Legal Services for the Elderly team up;
  • NALP now accepting applications for the 2014-2016 StreetLaw Fellow – must be a law school graduate to apply;
  • IN Legal Services to get additional funding;
  • OR Innocence Project forms;
  • Hackathon for access to justice planned;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Katy Sorenson;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 30, 2014 – Claude Kelly was appointed federal public defender for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which spans 13 parishes including Orleans and Jefferson.  “Kelly, 52, replaces Virginia Schlueter, the longtime federal public defender who resigned in October after the office was forced to make deep budget cuts.  When budget negotiations stalled last may, the judiciary took a $350 million hit that quickly began to trickle down. As a consequence, Schlueter last year reduced her staff from eight attorneys to five and fired both staff investigators.  That will present challenges for Kelly, who is set to start work later this year, following an FBI background check.”  “I think in all of law, there’s nothing more honorable than criminal public defense work,” Kelly said this week following his hiring, which is done by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Although the office has suffered tremendous budget cuts this year, the staff that remains is superb. And those eight years I spent as an assistant federal public defender, those were the best years of my life.”  He takes office just as the US Attorney’s Office is ramping up under new leadership.  (The Times-Picayune)

January 31, 2014 – “Hundreds of Massachusetts attorneys joined forces and visited the state capitol in Boston last week to lobby for increased state funding for civil legal aid programs. This funding has been hard hit in the last six years; according to the Equal Rights Coalition, it has dropped 85 percent since the 2008 fiscal year. Funding for legal aid is an issue about which all nonprofits should care deeply, since it provides civil justice that would be otherwise unavailable to low-income people on issues like housing, benefits, and domestic violence. As such, it complements and advances the work of many types of community groups.”  (Nonprofit Quarterly)

February 1, 2014 – “Maine Attorney General Janet Mills is teaming up with Legal Services for the Elderly to start a task force to combat financial exploitation and other crimes against elderly residents.  The task force will address barriers to prosecuting these crimes and examine issues like whether law enforcement and prosecutors may need more training to work with elderly witnesses or victims. Other questions include whether elderly victims are reluctant to come forward if the perpetrator is a family member and what the state can do to bolster law enforcement’s ability to pursue and prosecute these crimes.” “The task force will be chaired by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin and include prosecutors, court personnel and members of the Department of Health and Human Services.”  (Daily Reporter)

February 3, 2014 – NALP is now accepting applications for the 2014-2016 StreetLaw Legal Diversity Pipeline Project Fellow postion.  For a complete description of the position and application details, check out PSJD.  This position is a postgraduate fellowship.

February 3, 2014 – “After watching its federal appropriation sink to $4.7 million during the economic downturn, Indiana Legal Services is set to receive a boost in funding for the 2014 calendar year.  The extra money is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014 which was approved by Congress in mid-January.”  ILS is funding by Legal Services Corporation.  The funding will enable ILS to increase services to their clients.  (City-County Observer)

February 5, 2014 –  Lewis and Clark Law School and the Metropolitan Public Defender, a Portland-based nonprofit law firm, are getting together to create the Oregon Innocence Project.  The Project’s “mission is to exonerate the innocent, educate and train law students, and promote legal reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions.”  (OPB)

February 5, 2014 – “The ABA Journal and Suffolk University Law School are planning to host a “hackathon” in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting this Aug. 7-12 in Boston.  There’s been no formal theme selected. But there’s a general consensus that the project should further access-to-justice efforts in some way.  During the hackathon, lawyers and law students will work alongside developers and graphic designers in teams. Each team will work to plan and develop a Web application or mobile app over the course of the hackathon. At the end of the hackathon, the participants and our panel of experts will rate each of the teams’ work, and a winning team will be chosen.  At this stage, we’re soliciting ideas for problems that the teams can work to resolve with a tech solution as part of the hackathon.  If you have a problem you think we should tackle, or a data set that we can work with, please take this quick survey here and share your ideas.  (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:   Thank you so much to Sharon Booth, Assistant Director-Public Interest Programs for the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center at the University of Miami School of Law for sending in this week’s spotlight.  Katy Sorenson is the founder, president and CEO of The Good Government Initiative at The University of Miami (and former 16-year member of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners).  The Good Government Initiative is a program to educate elected officials at the state and local level about the important issues of governance, to cultivate leaders of excellence through development and training, and to engage the community through outreach and education.  Find out more about the project itself and about Ms. Sorenson (who has a really interesting story!).  So many dedicated and good-hearted individuals go into public service as an elected official with little relevant experience and/or no background in governance.  Thank you to Ms. Sorenson and the Initiative for giving these folks the guidance they need to accomplish their goals.
Super Music Bonus!  Does anyone else feel like this?  Thank you to Anna Strasburg Davis, Director of Public Interest Programs, UC Irvine School of Law and Rachel Kronick Rothbart, Career Services Office, University of Southern California Gould School of Law for this gem.

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