PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 16, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  It is with both great sadness (for us) and joy (for her) that we say goodbye to our PSJD Fellow Ashley Matthews.  She has been such a wonderful part of our staff, and I am sad to say goodbye.  However, she is going on to much greater things, and we wish her all the best!  Thank you Ashley for all your contributions.  Good luck at LSC.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • The Partnership for Public Service releases report calling for overhaul of federal government civil service system;
  • CT budget averts $4.5 million cut to legal aid;
  • OK governor vetoes check off for domestic violence fund;
  • Senate Democrats propose plan for refinancing student debt;
  • OPM wants to help agencies’ HR;
  • 40% of LA’s PD offices ran a deficit;
  • Defenders organizing to give ‘Gideon’ teeth;
  • Canadian lawyer speaks to the self-represented;
  • Legal aid for youth for detention hearings expected to be signed into law in CO;
  • SallieMae must compensate troops for overcharging on student loans;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Law enforcement;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 9, 2014 –  “In the new report, “Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework,” the Partnership for Public Service calls for major reforms to the federal government’s decades-old civil service system and lays out a plan to modernize areas that include the outdated pay and hiring policies.”  You can download the report and view the panel discussion.  “The report calls for overhauling the entire civil service system, including pay, performance management, hiring, job classification, accountability and workplace justice, and the Senior Executive Service, the nation’s career leadership corps.”  (Partnership for Public Service)

May 9, 2014 – “Connecticut lawmakers have averted a looming $4.5 million cut to legal aid services that lawyers for the poor say would have forced them to turn away hundreds of low-income people seeking help with court cases involving domestic violence, eviction and health care.  The General Assembly approved a plan to continue using increased court filing fees to fund legal aid, as part of a massive budget bill adopted just before the legislative session ended Wednesday and sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for his signature. The increased fees approved in 2012 to stabilize legal aid were set to expire next year.”  (SFGate)

May 10, 2014 – “Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill Friday that would set up an income tax checkoff to help pay for legal aid for victims of domestic violence. She said the fund would be redundant.  There is already a checkoff on income tax forms for taxpayers who wish to contribute part of their tax refund to a fund for victims of domestic violence, said Alex Weintz, her spokesman.  Having two similar funds in the checkoff program could cause one or both to fail to reach donation requirements needed for a fund to stay in the program, Weintz said.”  (NewsOK)

May 12, 2014 – “Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his plan, backed by Senate Democrats, would allow borrowers who have undergraduate student loan rates locked in at high interest rates to refinance at the rate currently offered for new student loans — 3.86 percent.  The plan is expected to be brought to the floor of the Senate in June, Schumer said. The new legislation has bipartisan support, Schumer said, but has yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives.”  (Newsday)

May 12, 2014 – “The Office of Personnel Management is pursuing various strategies that focus on the individual needs of agencies, as well as human resources challenges common across government, to improve federal hiring and employee retention, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said on Monday.”  “We are drilling down in agencies to find the knots in the hiring process, and to untie them,” Archuleta said during a speech to federal workers at Government Executive’s annual Excellence in Government conference in Washington.  OPM wants to help agencies hire and cultivate talent, especially in the midst of tight budgets.  (Government Executive)

May 12, 2014 – “More than 40 percent of Louisiana’s public defender offices ran deficits last year as they struggled to come up with enough money to handle the cases of people too poor to afford their own attorneys, according to an annual report released Monday.  The Louisiana legislative auditor’s office found that 17 public defenders’ offices out of 40 spent more money than they brought in for the budget year that ended June 30, 2013.  To continue operating, districts dipped into reserve funds, a solution the report described as a temporary fix that “seriously depleted most of the local districts’ fund balances.” Public defenders had to do the same practice in 2012, forcing some to restrict services.  The offices have had similar problems for several years. The auditor’s office notes that the Louisiana Public Defender Board requested more money than it received during the budgeting process last year.”  (Daily Journal)

May 12, 2014 – “During the past six months, more than 6,000 state and federal public defenders from around the country have accepted the invitation to join a new organization formed to “own” the problems and future of indigent defense, as one of its founders put it. The catalyst was the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the justices held that the Sixth Amendment required states to provide counsel to poor defendants charged with serious crimes.”  “The organization, the National Association for Public Defense, arrives at the ‘right time,’ said Stephen Hanlon, chairman of the indigent defense advisory group of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.”  “Unlike those organizations, which view indigent defense as a subset of the criminal justice system, Young said, the new organization’s sole focus is indigent defense. ‘We want to address training and workload relief for lawyers on the line in the courtroom every day, and all of the support staff that gets us to the courtroom every day.’  To that end, the organization’s education committee is providing training webinars for public defenders and staff, and is blogging and writing articles about the justice system.”  The organization is also seeking to bridge the gap between federal and state defenders.  So far, more than 6,000 members are on board.  (National Law Journal)

May 13, 2014 – “Record numbers of Canadians are appearing without a lawyer in family court all across the country. University of Windsor law professor Julie Macfarlane estimates that as many as 80 per cent of family court cases in Canada involve Self-Represented Litigants; that’s up by half from 1993.  Judges, however, still hold Self-Represented Litigants to the same standard of work quality and following court processes as they would expect from a lawyer.”  That’s where Family lawyer Andrew Feldstein comes in.  He has launched “FamilyLawHelp.ca, an information-packed website designed specifically for Self-Represented Litigants (also called Unrepresented Litigants or Do-it-Yourselfers) who are thinking of ending their marriages or common-law relationships.”  “The site offers ‘unbundled legal services’ where instead of providing comprehensive services to a client, a lawyer only handles the aspects that a client chooses. For example, clients can get any one of these, or a combination of these written:  applications, answers, notices of motion, affidavits, and offers to settle. And the spouse handles the balance, to the best of his or her abilities.”  Unbundled services is certainly a trend that is gaining momentum in Canada and the US.  (Mississauga News)

May 14, 2014 – “Juveniles in criminal proceedings in Colorado will be guaranteed defense counsel at hearings where judges determine whether they should be released while their case is pending, under a bill expected to be signed into law next week.  The legislation comes in response to concerns raised by youth advocates who maintain that many juveniles with cases in state courts don’t get legal representation, and they sometimes resolve their cases without ever getting legal advice. The advocates argued that this situation often leads to juveniles and their parents settling cases without realizing the long-term consequences, including having trouble getting jobs or housing because of their records.”  “Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill next week. On Wednesday, he signed a companion measure that requires the public defender’s office to hire social workers to assist in juvenile cases.”  (Washington Times)

May 14, 2014 – “Sallie Mae must pay $60 million in refunds to troops for violating a law, called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, that ensures members of the U.S. military pay no more than six percent interest on student loans.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said not only did Sallie Mae charge an illegal interest rate to some troops, but in some cases the lender obtained default judgments against members of the military who fell behind on their student loan payments.”  “In addition to the $60 million in restitution paid to military members, NBC reports, Sallie Mae must also make amends to troops whose credit scores were damaged by the student loan company.  Finally, Sallie Mae has been ordered to pay about $37 million in penalties to the FDIC, according to Boston.com.”  (KPBS)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  This week is National Police Week.  We have been fortunate in DC to host tens of thousands of officers honoring the fallen and celebrating those who serve.  “In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  The Memorial Service began in 1982 as a gathering in Senate Park of approximately 120 survivors and supporters of law enforcement. Decades later, the event, more commonly known as National Police Week, has grown to a series of events which attracts thousands of survivors and law enforcement officers to our Nation’s Capital each year.”  Please take a moment to thank a cop.  It’s a hard job, and those who do it are special kinds of heroes.  (PoliceWeek.org)

Super Music Bonus! In honor of Ashley – her favorite song right now.  Good luck in the next chapter!

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