PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 21, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  The snow continues for many of us, so stay warm out there.  Are you finding watching the Olympics as inspiring as I do?  Now it’s your turn.  Get out there and inspire.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Private attorneys can keep pay rate for federal indigent defendants;
  • Audit of LA Public Defender Board found poor monitoring of attorneys;
  • Unclaimed judgements in OR may fund legal aid;
  • Study finds DE indigent defense constitutionally deficient;
  • Legal Aid Ontario pilots independent legal advice for mediation clients;
  • BC government increases legal aid funding;
  • Public defender system could change in ID;
  • LA Public Defender’s Office turns 100 this year;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Marty Needelman;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 13, 2014 – A judicial committee has reversed a sequester-related pay cut for lawyers in private practice who represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases. Starting March 1, those “panel attorneys” will generally make $126 an hour, while lawyers in capital cases will earn $180, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement issued Feb. 13. Last August, the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States had chopped the standard fee from $125 to $110 an hour in response to the across-the-board budget cuts. As part of a final fiscal 2014 spending plan approved this week, the committee restored the higher hourly rate and an added one percent inflation-related increase to push it to $126. The decision follows the signing of a full-year appropriations bill that partially rolls back another round of budget cuts scheduled for this year. Under the bill, the judiciary will get about $6.5 billion, or roughly equal to its pre-sequester funding level for last year, the news release said.”  (Federal Times)

February 17, 2014 –   The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report Monday finding the Louisiana Public Defender Board does a poor job of monitoring attorneys that defend clients accused of first-degree murder and facing the death penalty.  “The audit says the board hasn’t reviewed the work as required under its contracts and hasn’t established any performance standards for lawyers.  The board disagreed with some findings, saying it does more monitoring than the audit suggests. But it also said it would make improvements.”  (SFGate)

February 18, 2014 – “The Oregon House on Monday approved a controversial bill that would change what happens with the unclaimed money damages from class action judgments or settlements in state court.  Under House Bill 4143, those unclaimed funds would be used to bolster legal aid services for low-income Oregonians, rather than automatically being returned to the company that lost the lawsuit, as they are now.  Unclaimed funds are a common occurrence with class actions, either because people entitled to funds fail to claim them or can’t be found, or because the individual claims are so small that the cost to disburse them exceeds their value.”  The bill now heads to the State Senate.  (The Register-Guard)

February 18, 2014 – “An independent review of Delaware’s legal defense system for the indigent concludes it is “constitutionally deficient” and effectively denies many poor Delawareans their right to adequate representation.  The 200-page report by the nonprofit Sixth Amendment Center was commissioned by Delaware Public Defender Brendan O’Neill and paid for with a $120,000 federal grant.”  The study determined that while the state does a good job for indigent defendants facing felony charges, it fails to provide adequate representation for lesser, misdemeanor charges.  (delawareonline)

February 18, 2014 –  Under a new pilot aimed at reducing unrepresented family litigants and improving outcomes, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) will cover the cost of a family lawyer to support clients who choose mediation and to transform those agreements into legally-binding documents. “In looking at expanding access to justice for low-income Ontarians, mediation is a good alternative to having a judge or a third party step in to resolve family relationship issues,” says John McCamus, Chair of LAO. “This voluntary process empowers people to resolve their family legal issues for themselves – and with this pilot, they can be assured that the end result is legally binding.”  (Digital Journal)

February 18, 2014 – The government of British Columbia today increased the budget of the Legal Services Society (LSS) in 2014-15 by $2-million. The funding will be maintained for the next three years.  (Digital Journal)

February 20, 2014 – “Legislation has been proposed that would establish a permanent public defender in counties across Idaho. This would abolish the current system of contracting law firms to perform those duties.”   “If the bill passes both houses and is signed into law by Governor Otter, because of the emergency clause on the bill, it would become effective immediately, but would not be enforced against attorneys with contracts until July 1. Effective that date, lawyers would no longer be able to negotiate the terms of their contract, but they would be honored until expiration.”  (TetonValleyNews)

February 20, 2014 – “This year marks 100 years since the establishment of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office. The founding of the nation’s first such office occurred nearly half a century before Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1963 US Supreme Court case that established the right to counsel for indigent defendants in all criminal cases.”  “Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first female attorney in California, became the principal advocate for the creation of a public defender.”  “In 1913, with a now greatly expanded voting franchise, Los Angeles voters approved a Foltz-sponsored amendment to the Los Angeles County Charter to establish a public defender’s office.  In January 1914, pursuant to this recently enacted charter, the nation’s first public defender’s office was formed. Walton J. Wood was appointed Public Defender, and his original staff consisted of four deputies and a secretary. (Today, the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office employs more than 700 attorneys.)  Congratulations on 100 years of great work.  (WSWS.org)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: As Chief Counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services, Marty Needelman aims to keep Williamsburg’s most vulnerable safe from the bullies who sabotage their homes. He advocates with the people, not for them.  While less dangerous than it used to be, the neighborhood’s very trendiness creates many of the problems Mr. Needelman fights against.  Just one example of the problem is rent control.  As warehouses shut down and luxury condos moved in, landlords attempted to capitalize by driving out the working class and immigrant populations in very underhanded ways.  Marty Needleman worked to stop them.  To those he fights with, he is a local hero – a celebrity.  Thank you Mr. Needleman for your tireless fight to give hardworking individuals a chance to grow and prosper.

Super Music Bonus!    Go Team USA!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCqUESCoB1w

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