PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 18, 2014

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

Happy Friday everyone!

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid of Western Ohio honored for innovation;
  • Vinson Elkins providing virtual pro bono assistance;
  • Legal Aid Alberta phasing out drop-in services;
  • Alberta auditor general planning probe of legal aid funding;
  • Nova Scotia Legal Aid adding more services;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Chuck Bennett;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 12, 2014 – “Legal Aid of Western Ohio received the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Annual Conference.  The Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award was created to recognize innovative court connected or court-related programs.”  “Legal Aid was nominated for this award by all of the juvenile and domestic relations judges and magistrates in the original four of the counties served by the program.”  (Northwest Signal)

July 12, 2014 – “With cheap headsets and free Internet service, Vinson & Elkins LLP has created a “virtual” clinic that allows desk-bound lawyers to provide services to the poor — a model the firm believes could be revolutionary in providing pro bono services.  The idea for the firm’s Houston pro bono project was borne in the post-financial crisis years, said Ellyn Josef, the firm’s pro bono counsel, when the typically long lines at weekend pro bono clinics held at Houston-area community centers became even longer.”  (Law 360) (registration required)

July 14, 2014 – “Legal Aid Alberta is phasing out drop-in legal services centres in smaller cities across Alberta.  The move will cost 35 jobs in seven locations, but 16 new positions will be added answering telephones at the main call centre in Edmonton, said Jan Archbold, spokeswoman for Legal Aid. Staffing for duty counsel at courthouses and at criminal resolution offices will also increase.”  “The closures affect offices in Wetaskiwin, Medicine Hat, Peace River, St. Paul, Whitecourt, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. By reallocating resources, Legal Aid will now also have a duty counsel in every courthouse while court is in session. Those lawyers help anyone facing charges get through the first court appearance.”  (Edmonton Journal)

June 15, 2014 – “The auditor general of Alberta is planning to review funding for the province’s troubled Legal Aid program.  In a letter to NDP MLA Rachel Notley, Merwan Saher confirmed his office is planning to perform a systems audit ‘in the near future.’  Notley wrote Saher last month requesting his officer look at how underfunding for Legal Aid affects the costs of court services and prosecutions. She received his reply on Tuesday.”  This announcement follows in the wake of the earlier announcement by Legal Aid Alberta that it’s closing offices to save money.  (CBCnews)

July 17, 2014 – “Karen Hudson, QC, executive director of the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission, said in the 1970s, legal aid would offer assistance in social justice issues, but later narrowed its focus to criminal and family law.  It is now returning to its roots by offering full service in areas of Canadian Pension Plan applications, social assistance claims, Employment Insurance appeals as well as landlord and tenant disputes and housing grants.” “She said giving people proper representation in social justice is important because these issues affect their income and livelihood.  ‘When people have insecurity in their income or housing, it only worsens their intersections with family justice system and criminal justice system,’ Hudson added.”  These services are available now.  (The News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  “Chuck Bennett figured the Kenosha [WI] Office of the Public Defender would be a short stop when he took the job in 1982, fresh out of law school — but he stayed for decades.  Bennett’s last day at the office was Friday, retiring after 32 years.  The opening here was the only one for which he applied. Bennett wanted to be close to Milwaukee, and though he hadn’t ever been to Kenosha, the location looked pretty good, and the job was exactly what he wanted.”  He has gained the respect of the judges and prosecutors and says “some of the most rewarding moments, he said, are when he runs into former clients.  ‘There are the ones you helped and they never got in trouble again,’ he said. ‘I’ve never had a bad experience meeting someone I represented before.'”  Congratulations on a career well-spent on helping the voiceless.  (Kenosha News)

Super Music Bonus!

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