Archive for March, 2014

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 7, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  I hope the weather isn’t getting  you down.  Whether it’s drought or blizzard, it’s got to end soon, right?

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Government of Canada adopts new pro bono policy for Justice lawyers;
  • DOJ launches language access tool;
  • MA SJC Justice leading push to expand housing court statewide;
  • NYC Mayor fills poverty post with critic;
  • Suffolk Law launches new public interest scholarship;
  • SCC tackles challenge to court fees;
  • John Marshall Law School receives grant to research/help with predatory lending;
  • Orleans Bar Association urges assigned counsel for indigent defense;
  • White House honors LegalCorps for patent pro bono work;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Tom Hillier;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 28, 2014 “Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced that the Department of Justice has adopted a new Policy on Pro Bono Legal Services by Justice Lawyers. The policy was developed in response to a widespread desire among Justice lawyers to participate in pro bono legal services as a way to directly give back to their communities.”  “Justice lawyers can now volunteer their personal time at specified pro bono clinics that offer free legal services to Canadians living with limited means. The Department is proud to support its lawyers in their personal goals and professional obligation to increase access to justice for Canadians who might otherwise not be able to afford legal advice.”  (Digital Journal)

February 28, 2014 – “[T]he Justice Department released a new tool to help state and local courts assess and improve their language assistance services for limited English proficient (LEP) litigants, victims and witnesses who need access to court services.”  The Language Access Planning and Technical Assistance Tool   (Planning Tool) will be able to assist courthouses and administrative tribunals across the country to self-assess their court systems to determine how effectively they are providing language assistance services and how these services can be improved.  The Planning Tool prompts courts to examine their court rules, the quality and competency of interpretation and translation, the level of their engagement with LEP communities and the implementation of language access plans.  The tool was created by the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS) of the Civil Rights Division and provides courts with a tailored checklist of recommended steps towards achieving equal access to justice for all.”  (Imperial Valley News)

“Lisa Wood, Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants made clear that ABA’s commitment to stay involved with the issue, as part of the follow up to the issuance of the comprehensive Standards that are the bedrock on which the DOJ tool is built.” (Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog)

February 28, 2014 – Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants is pushing a plan that would expand the housing court system to cover the entire state by July 1, 2015.  “The expansion proposal is based on the recommendation of the Access to Justice Commission, which Gants co-chairs. The specialized court was created in 1978 to handle residential housing matters, including landlord-tenant issues, and to enforce the state’s building, fire and sanitary codes.”  Legislators will now consider the plan.  (Waltham News Tribune)

February 28, 2014 – “The top attorney at the nonprofit Legal Aid Society who for three decades has been a hard-charging advocate for poor New Yorkers will take the reins of New York City’s welfare agency, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.  Over the years, the society’s attorney-in-chief, Steve Banks, has spent many an hour on the steps of City Hall assailing mayors and policies that he contended unfairly treated the homeless and other low-income New Yorkers. And the Legal Aid Society—which represents people who can’t pay for attorneys in criminal and civil court—has challenged a number of city policies in the courts, from homelessness to food stamp eligibility.  Now, for the first time, Mr. Banks has been invited inside City Hall to play a role in developing city policy on poverty.”  (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times)

February 28, 2014 – “Suffolk University Law School will launch a scholarship and lecture series named for Harry H. Dow, a 1929 Law School graduate who, although he was the first Chinese-American admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, faced racism that eventually drove him out of practice.”  “The Harry H. Dow scholarship award will supplement tuition costs for a current Suffolk Law student who has demonstrated interest in public interest and/or immigration law.”  (Sampan)

March 3, 2015 – In April, the Supreme Court of Canada “is expected to tackle a challenge over court hearing fees, which the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia and the Canadian Bar Association B.C. branch say are unconstitutional because they impede access to justice for the middle class.”  The suit stems from a custody case involving a self-represented common law couple in which one party asked to be relieved of the $3,600 bill for the court hearing fees. The B.C. Supreme Court Civil Rules allow an “impoverished” person to apply for exemption.  There is a split in the lower courts regarding the constitutionality of the fees.  “Now the SCC must decide if the fees are valid. Interestingly, only B.C., Saskatchewan, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories have fees yet attorneys general from Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and the federal government are intervening.”  (Canadian Lawyer)

March 3, 2014 – “The John Marshall Law School is expanding its work in the area of predatory lending and fair housing education using nearly $454,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Chicago.  A $324,966 HUD grant allows the law school to continue educating students on predatory lending issues, as well as undertake research on the ongoing predatory lending trends in the Chicago area.  The HUD-financed Fair Lending Home Preservation Program includes a Predatory Lending course giving students a review of the mortgage lending crisis through information from private attorneys, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, and Circuit Court of Cook County judges dealing with mortgage foreclosures.  Students also intern four hours each week at a number of government offices and nonprofits researching or working on-hands to help agencies fix various problems.”  (Digital Journal)

March 6, 2014 –  “The Orleans County Bar Association is recommending significant reforms to how indigent defense is managed through an assigned counsel plan that will streamline and organize assignment procedures.  The plan, outlined to legislators Wednesday by Bar Association Vice President and Public Defender Sandy Church and Shirley Gorman, who chairs the legal group’s assigned council committee, is part of a statewide push to improve the systems used to find attorneys for criminal defendants and family court participants who are unable to afford legal services.”

“The Orleans County Public Defender’s Office would continue to be the primary resource for impoverished residents to receive legal counsel under the plan. However, a new conflict coordinator recommended by the Orleans County Bar Association and appointed annually by the Orleans County Legislature would step in for cases where a previous conflict, or multiple defendants prevent the Public Defender from acting as a resident’s representative.  The new administrator would continue to rotate cases between lawyers, but the proposed plan would also seek to match the workload and difficulty of a case to attorneys’ qualifications and experience.”  (The Daily News)

March 6, 2014 – Minneapolis firms Patterson Thuente and Lindquist & Vennum were honored at the White House in February by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker for establishing the three-year-old Inventor Assistance Program at Minnesota LegalCorps as the first “patent pro bono program in the country.”  “The inventor program is part of 10-year old LegalCorps, the Minneapolis-based organization that connects volunteer lawyers with low-income entrepreneurs, innovators and small nonprofits.” (StarTribune)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  “Tom Hillier, Seattle’s hell-raising, hippie federal public defender who built an office considered a model for indigent defense nationwide, is retiring after 38 years in the office, an unprecedented 28 of them as its chief.”  Now if that isn’t a ringing endorsement of a professional life well-spent, I don’t know what is.  Read more about his invaluable contributions at the Daily Reporter.  Congratulations to Mr. Hillier and good luck with the next chapter of your life.

Super Music Bonus!  Sometimes you just have to let it go.


Today, Canadian Legal Services Orgs are ‘Flipping Their Wigs’ for Access to Justice!

March 6th is officially “Flip Your Wig for Justice” Day in Canada! Members of the justice community and public are sparking dialogue about Canada’s access to justice funding crisis by wearing traditional judicial or wacky wigs and making donations to participating non-profit agencies. This is the awareness campaign’s first year, and most of the activity is taking place in Ontario.


From Pro Bono Students Canada:

  • Of the 12 million Canadians who will experience a legal dispute or injustice in a given three year period, 65% believe nothing can be done with respect to their legal problems.
  • Almost 40% of people with one or more legal problems reported having other social or health related issues that they directly attributed to a justiciable problem.
  • Statistics indicate that individuals who receive legal assistance are between 17% and 1,380% more likely to receive better results than those who do not.

How to Flip Your Wig

  1. Wear a traditional judicial or wacky wig on March 6, 2014, marking the day Ontarians took action for access to justice. Visit to register as a participant or team and begin collecting donations.
  2. Make a direct donation to a registered participant or team on the website or offline. Donations are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.
  3. Join the conversation on Twitter (, #FlipYourWig), Facebook ( and Instagram (

The seven founding non-profit organizations are: Association in the Defense of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC);Canadian Civil Liberties Association Education Trust (CCLA); Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO); The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC); Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN/ROEJ); Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO); and Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC).

Check out the Flip Your Wig website for more information.

Photo: Ontario justice leaders and community prepare for ‘Flip Your Wig for Justice’, an awareness campaign in support of access to justice on March 6, 2014. Left to right: Treasurer Thomas G. Conway, Law Society of Upper Canada; Executive Director Wendy Komiotis, Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children; and Dean Lorne Sossin, Osgoode Hall Law School (CNW Group/Flip Your Wig for Justice)