PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 18, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  We are back!  I hope you learned as much as we did at the Conference.  Now it’s time to put that knowledge and energy to good use.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  •  Idaho’s new Public Defense Act not going to fix the problems?;
  • Endowment funds Touro law students working with veterans;
  • Greenberg Traurig launches nationwide pro bono effort with KIND;
  • GA Government signs Executive Order to establish conflict defender;
  • Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid receives grant funds to assist seniors;
  • CT examines way to provide low-cost legal aid;
  • Legal Aid Society of Louisville gets grant to help clients in IRS disputes;
  • Legal Aid Alberta faces funding crunch;
  • Group wants TX High Court to review court fee rules for the poor;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Emily Ward;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 5, 2014 “Idaho’s public defender system has been called a deficient, unconstitutional patchwork and a magnet for lawsuits, and a new law addressing the problems won’t accomplish much, critics say.”  “The Public Defense Act, signed into law last week by Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter, is intended to to solve some of these problems. But critics say the law will burden counties with higher costs and doesn’t go far enough to fix the flawed system.  The law bans fixed-fee contracts that pay attorneys a lump sum to tackle all of a county’s cases. That could increase costs in counties that will need to hire more lawyers.”  “The new law will replace the Public Defense Subcommittee with a state Public Defense Commission consisting of one member each from the state House and Senate; four gubernatorial appointments from the Idaho Association of Counties, state Appellate Public Defenders Office, the Idaho Juvenile Justice Commission and an experienced defense attorney; as well as a representative appointed by the Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.  That Public Defense Act sets aside $300,000 to establish the commission, pay members’ travel and provide training for public defenders statewide.”  This is not enough say critics, and many groups are watching closely to see if the Act provides any reforms to the system.  (MagicValley.com)

April 6, 2014 – A $200,000 endowment will fund students at Long Island’s Touro Law Center who are studying legal challenges facing veterans.  The program is sponsored by the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.  The endowment, announced last week, includes $90,000 for an annual scholarship awarded to a Touro student focusing on veterans’ mental health, disabilities and other issues. A separate $90,000 fund will sponsor an annual summer fellowship. And $20,000 will pay for a conference on veterans’ mental health as related to their legal problems.  That includes keeping veterans who commit nonviolent crimes from ending up behind bars, instead providing them with behavioral evaluations and treatment.” (Daily Journal)

April 7, 2014 – “International law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP has announced a new pro bono initiative involving 150 of its attorneys in seven offices as well as the creation of a full-time fellowship position. Greenberg Traurig is partnering with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organization founded by the Microsoft Corporation and Angelina Jolie, to provide pro bono legal services to unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings.”  “In addition to devoting significant pro bono work to this project, Greenberg Traurig is funding a full-time fellowship position at KIND through Equal Justice Works, a non-profit organization that facilitates two-year fellowships for recent law school graduates pursuing careers in public service. This position is part of a broader fellowship program.”  (Digital Journal)

April 8, 2014 –  “Georgia’s governor signed an executive order Tuesday to provide $4 million to cover costs associated with providing lawyers without conflicting interests for poor defendants.  The order signed by Gov. Nathan Deal moves money from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council.  The allocation comes after the state Supreme Court ruled last year that lawyers in the same public defender’s office cannot represent co-defendants in a criminal case if doing so would create a conflict of interest. The ruling effectively meant that many cases must be referred to outside lawyers.”  (Enquirer-Herald)

April 10, 2014 – “The St. Cloud office of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has received a grant of Older Americans Act funds from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging to provide legal services for seniors residing in Cass County.  The funds will be used to provide legal advice, counseling and representation in court and administrative hearings. There is no cost for these services.”  (Pilot-Independent)

April 10, 2014 –  “A Judicial Branch work group is looking into how the state might provide low-cost legal representation for people who lack the resources to pay standard legal fees but who have too many assets to qualify for legal aid.  The Workgroup on Modest/Moderate Means was created in January at the recommendation of the Judicial Branch’s Access to Justice Program. According to Chief Justice Chase Rogers, the group’s goal is to assess ‘the feasibility of establishing a voluntary statewide modest means program’ with the support of state bar associations and the 26,000 licensed lawyers in the state.”  The group held it’s first meeting in March, and expect to submit a plan for creating a statewide program to the chief justice by this fall.  (Connecticut Law Tribune)

April 12, 2014 –  “The Legal Aid Society of Louisville has received a $50,000 grant from the Internal Revenue Service to expand the free legal services society lawyers provide to low-income taxpayers involved in disputes with the IRS.  The society’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic provides legal help for income-eligible taxpayers with disputes with the IRS that involve such issues as: unpaid tax debt, non-filings, lack of a Social Security number, incorrect claiming of dependents, help in obtaining the Earned Income Tax Credit, and debt relief for some spouses in specific circumstances.”  (The Courier-Journal)

April 12, 2014 – “Groups representing Alberta’s defence lawyers lost a bid this week to restructure Legal Aid Alberta, but the head of the program says it can’t avoid drastic changes if someone doesn’t step in with more money.  ‘There’s no question we’ll have to consider what changes we’ll have to make — and very shortly — to our programming, given the static funding situation,’ said Suzanne Polkosnik, president and CEO of the publicly funded agency, which provides lawyers for low-income Albertans and other legal services.”  “While funding has remained the same, demand for legal aid has gone up: the group provided service 227,600 times last year, a jump of 33,000 cases since 2010.”(Calgary Herald)

April 14, 2014 – “Advocates for the poor are asking the Texas Supreme Court to revise a rule regarding indigency court affidavits following concerns about inconsistencies in how it is being enforced throughout the state.  The Texas Access to Justice Commission issued a report in May calling for an overhaul of what is known as Rule 145 when questions were raised about how court officials were collecting fees from the poor even after their cases had been resolved.”  Access to Justice hopes that modifying the rule it would clarify procedures for court officials while allowing those who are indigent to access the courts.  (Star-Telegram)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Emily Ward, a 3L at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, dreams of a career in the public interest.  She’s started early by advancing a pro bono program to help the homeless.  “Building on research and draft materials done by former students Heather Hoechst, 2012 graduate, and Maren Miller Bam, 2013 graduate, Ward brought the concept to fruition by completing the volunteer manual, recruiting volunteers, and conducting student training sessions. The 33-page manual includes interviewing techniques, forms and resources available to qualifying mission guests.”  Read more about here amazing work here.  Congratulations!

Super Music Bonus! Is it Spring yet?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tkqdOB5bEw

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