PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 6, 2014

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

Happy Friday!  We’ve welcomed our summer project assistants this week.  Check out the PSJD blog all summer for their insights on job searching and other fun topics.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Public defender system for immigrants facing deportation would pay for itself study finds
  • House passes funding for LSC;
  • Victoria Legal Aid welcomes fines reform;
  • Stetson students respond to President’s clemency initiative;
  • TN legal aid takes initiative in helping vets;
  • FL courts implement new Family Law Guardian ad Litem pilot program;
  • Pacific Legal Foundation opens DC office;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Breck Hopkins;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 29, 2014 – “On Friday, the New York City Bar Association plans to release a study contending that cost should not be an obstacle to the creation of a public defender system, paid for by the federal government, for indigent immigrants facing deportation.  The 37-page study estimates that a system that provided legal counsel for every poor immigrant facing deportation would cost about $208 million per year.  But the program would pay for itself by saving about the same amount in reduced government expenditures to detain and remove immigrants and in other savings associated with the overburdened enforcement system, the study says.”  The the study makes the argument for the first time that appointed counsel is cost-effective.  The study is based on federal data, academic studies and interviews but acknowledges the available data is “incomplete.”  (NY Times)

May 30, 2014 –  “The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation early Friday that provides $350 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in Fiscal Year 2015. The measure passed by a vote of 321-87.  The Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies (CJS) FY 2015 Appropriations bill would cut current funding by $15 million but is $50 million more than the House voted to allocate last year.”  “The Senate will mark up the FY 2015 CJS Appropriations bill in subcommittee on Tuesday and in full committee on Thursday.  The vast majority of LSC’s funding is used to support local nonprofit organizations via grants for the delivery of civil legal assistance to low-income Americans.”  (LSC)

May 30, 2014 – “Sweeping recommendations for further reform of the fines system have been welcomed by Victoria Legal Aid.  Following today’s release of a Sentencing Advisory Council report into the fines system, Victoria Legal Aid Social Inclusion Program Manager Joel Townsend said the recommendations, if adopted, would address concerns that the fines system is severely affecting the most vulnerable in the community.  ‘The current system has had a disproportionate impact on people affected by disability, mental illness, homelessness or poverty,’ Mr Townsend said. ‘We agree with the Council that people who can’t pay their fines for these reasons should be treated differently to people who can afford to pay but deliberately avoid payment.’ ”  “The Bill’s introduction of work and development permits as a way of dealing with fines is also welcomed by Victoria Legal Aid. These permits allow people with mental illness or intellectual disability, drug or alcohol addiction, or financial hardship, to undertake treatment or counseling, or to build their life skills through voluntary work, courses or mentoring, instead of paying a fine, and have been successful in New South Wales.”  (Victoria Legal Aid)

May 30, 2014 – “The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced a new clemency initiative, designed to prioritize clemency applications for certain non-violent offenders who would likely receive lesser sentences if they were sentenced today. To date, more than 35 Stetson Law students have signed on to assist the Office of the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Florida in identifying former clients who may qualify for the new clemency initiative. The Stetson Law students will help gather information relevant to the clemency criteria as part of a new pro bono project on campus.”  (Digital Journal)

June 1, 2014 – “Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Tennessee’s largest non-profit law firm, has partnered with Operation Stand Down Nashville and drawn on its Volunteer Lawyer Program to ensure at-risk veterans are receiving the resources they need. With more than 20 referrals from Operation Stand Down Nashville (OSDN) since the start of the year, Legal Aid Society has provided low-income veterans vulnerable to homelessness the legal counsel needed to maintain or secure permanent housing. This is possible because of a Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. SSVF is a homeless-prevention and rapid re-housing program which provided funding to OSDN in October 2013.”  “The Volunteer Lawyers Program staffs monthly clinics at OSDN that provide general advice and legal counsel to veterans. The clinics have helped veterans on a wide range of topics, including custody, drivers’ licenses, divorce and landlord-tenant issues. Many of the volunteer attorneys who staff the clinics are veterans themselves.”(Murfreesboro Post)

June 2, 2014 – “More than two dozen lawyers from the Icard Merrill law firm have signed up to be guardians ad litem as part of a new Family Law Guardian ad Litem pilot program backed by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.  The program, directed by judges Lee Haworth and Charles Williams, will provide children caught in the middle of contentious cases in the Circuit’s Family Law Division with guardians ad litem.” For Williams, the program is an added tool in the judges’ toolbox to assist in making the right decisions. “There are always money issues and property issues,” Williams said, “but really the issues that keep us judges up at night are children — those are the real difficult decisions to make.”  (Bradenton Herald)

June 5, 2014 – “The conservative nonprofit law firm Pacific Legal Foundation has opened a Washington, D.C., office in an effort to expand its congressional and media outreach.  The office will be operated by Todd Gaziano, a new hire and former staff to the Heritage Foundation, and will advocate on issues related to federal health care reform and the impact of environmental protection laws.”  (Sacramento Business Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Breck Hopkins, longtime Arkansas Department of Human Services’ legal chief is retiring after more than three decades with the state agency.  Among many accomplishments, he developed the first computer-based case management system for the agency’s chief counsel office and wrote the child custody chapter in the Arkansas Bar Manual.  Thank you for your service!  Read more here.

Super Music Bonus! What summer movie are you excited to see?

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment