PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 9, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  This month we’re talking about service projects.  Do you have a great Law Day program planned?  Let us know!  Today, we feature spring break projects from Denver.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Denver Sturm College of Law give back during spring break;
  • Ontario budget allows more people to qualify for legal aid;
  • First Sanford Heisler Public Interest Diversity Fellow announced;
  • MA adds access to justice question to Bar exam;
  • HUD provides grant to help Brooklyn organizations advocate for affordable housing;
  • BARBRI names first Public Interest Fellow;
  • Grant to John Marshall clinic for foreclosure work;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: San Francisco Public Defender Legal Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP);
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 2, 2014 –  From Alexi Freeman, Director, Public Interest & Lecturer/Legal Externships, University of Denver Sturm College of Law –  This year, a number of Denver Law students skipped out on beach and mountain vacations to provide much-needed legal support to a number of different organizations and individuals over spring break.

Alternative Spring Break:  For the fifth year in a row, Sturm College of Law students traveled to El Paso, Texas and Window Rock, Ariz. to take part in the school’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB)program. Six students spent the week volunteering at immigration and civil rights legal clinics in El Paso including the Texas Civil Rights Project and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Another 4 students ventured to Window Rock, Ariz. where they assisted non-profit organizations providing legal assistance to American Indian tribes, including DNA-People’s Legal Services and the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The ASB program offers Sturm students a unique opportunity for short-term exposure to a professional legal environment. This is especially helpful for many first-year law students seeking to jump-start their professional development. The trip also is a great way to give back as    students help make legal services more readily available to people of modest means. ASB was developed by students in the Chancellor’s Scholar program.

Tribal Wills Project:  If members of recognized Native American tribes die without a will, the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 requires that all trust property go to the one eldest descendant. For some, this Act has become problematic, as it doesn’t allow for flexibility and personal choice.

Enter the Tribal Wills Project. Initiated by Professor Lucy Marsh and John Roach, the Fiduciary Trust Officer for the Southwest Region of the Department of Interior, the Tribal Wills Project allows Denver Law students to spent their spring break drafting wills, powers of attorneys, and burial instructions for members of two Native American tribes, the Southern Utes and the Ute Mountain Utes. The project is in its second year and the demand for these services has increased. This year, 21 law students traveled either to Durango or Towaoc, Colo., or White Mesa, Utah. Supervised by Prof. Marsh and three attorneys, Molly Barnett, Beth Bryant, and Paul Padilla, all Denver Law grads, the law students served approximately 70 clients. “We ran like a ‘micro firm’ out of these conference rooms,” Ryan Cusick remarked. “We worked together in teams, picked up each’s other slack, and really got along well.”

The legal work that was done could have easily cost $75K, but instead, it allowed students to fulfill their Public Service Requirement and provide a much-needed service. Overall participating students shared that it was one of–if not the best– experiences they had in law school.

May 2, 2014 – “The threshold to qualify for legal aid in Ontario will rise for the first time in 18 years, the government announced in its budget, though to what level it did not say.”  “The Liberal government’s budget, tabled Thursday, revealed that raising the criteria would allow an additional one million low-income Ontarians to qualify for legal aid ‘when fully implemented.’ It did not specify a timeline for full implementation.  Ontario’s legal aid eligibility criteria have not changed since 1996.”  (Global News)

May 2, 2014 – “The California-based Foundation for Advocacy Inclusion and Resources (FAIR) today announced selection of the first Sanford Heisler Public Interest Diversity Fellow in partnership with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) and Sanford Heisler LLP, a leading national public interest law firm.  Giselle N. Olmedo, a 2013 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, bested a talented pool of applicants to earn the 2014 Sanford Heisler Public Interest Diversity Fellowship.” “FAIR will provide Olmedo’s salary and benefits during the year-long Fellowship period, which is comprised of two consecutive six-month terms, based upon a grant received from Sanford Heisler. Olmedo will spend the first half of her Fellowship at the LAS-ELC and the second at a firm affiliated with the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), an organization of more than 1,000 workers’ rights advocates statewide.”  (Digital Journal)

May 3, 2014 – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court approved an amendment to Board of Bar Examiners Rule III, effective July 1, 2016 to include Access to Justice as field in which test takers should be familiar with the law.  “The law to be tested in the field of Access to Justice may include the following topics: Landlord-Tenant, including evictions, affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and fee-shifting statutes; Foreclosures; Divorce, including child custody, support, visitation; Termination of Parental Rights; Domestic Abuse; Guardianship and Conservatorship; Consumer Matters, including debt collection, predatory lending and unfair or deceptive practices; Health Care Proxies, Power of Attorney, Advance Directives; Due Process doctrines related to fair hearings, civil commitment and civil right to counsel; Representation of nonprofit organizations; and Ethical rules including Massachusetts Rules of Professional Responsibility 1.2, 1.5, 1.14, 1.15, 4.3, 6.1, 6.5 and Limited Assistance Representation.” (Massachusetts Law Updates)

May 6, 2014 -The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided a grant to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation and South Brooklyn Legal Corporation, two organizations that advocate for affordable housing in New York. The two organizations will share the $975,000 and use the money to continue providing legal and other services to working families in Brooklyn.  (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

May 6, 2014 – George Mason University School of Law student Catherine Wauters has been named the first-ever BARBRI Public Interest Fellow competition. She will spend a year as a legal fellow at the global nonprofit Save the Children.  “BARBRI designed the Public Interest Fellow program to promote social responsibility and increase awareness of alternative legal career paths. Contestants submitted resumes, writing samples and short videos expressing why they wanted to work for the nonprofit dedicated to affecting immediate and lasting change for children in need across the country and around the world.

In Wauters’ video, she speaks passionately about how her Peace Corps service solidified her decision to ‘pursue the law as a vehicle for greater social change.’ In Benin, West Africa, she worked to improve nutrition for infants and children by helping mothers incorporate locally available but nutritionally dense foodstuff into their diets.  Wauters, a third-year law student, said the experience proved that even small changes can make a big difference in children’s lives and can have an aggregate positive effect on entire communities. She believes that ‘promoting the general welfare of all children is the best investment we can make in our tomorrow.'”  Congratulations! (Digital Journal)

May 7, 2014 – “Struggling homeowners on Chicago’s north side may now get legal help thanks to a grant from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The grant will enable law students from the John Marshall Law School, partnered with Northside Housing Cooperative (NHC), to provide additional legal assistance to home buyers in the city’s northern communities.  The Pro Bono Clinic at the John Marshall will provide expert legal assistance on homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention and employer-assisted housing, thanks to an agreement with Madigan.  The $800,000 grant to NHC comes from a national settlement involving the nation’s five largest bank servicers that were cited for fraudulent practices while servicing loans of struggling homeowners.”  (Digital Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:   “A unique San Francisco Public Defender program that pairs legal advocacy with social work to keep at-risk teens in school has been selected as 2014 Program of the Year by the California Public Defenders Organization.

The Legal Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP) works directly with San Francisco youth on probation, making regular court and school appearances and training parents and caregivers to advocate effectively for their children. Of the youth who have gone through the program, fewer than 13 percent reoffend six to 12 months after exiting.

The 3-year old program, funded through a federal grant, continues to work toward the greater goal of reducing the disproportionate number of youth of color in the justice system overall. It is comprised of Juvenile Unit Attorney Manager Patricia Lee, Social Worker Marynella Woods, Education Attorney Lauren Brady Blalock and Youth Advocate Marc Babus.”  Congratulations on their outstanding work!  (San Francisco Public Defender)

Super Music Bonus!

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