PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 13, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  It’s Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day weekend. There’s a lot of public interest love this week in the news.  Enjoy!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • EEOC joins federal partners to produce resource guide on disability hiring for employers;
  • Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid raise more than $1 mil;
  • Mobile legal aid office to help homeless youth;
  • NYLAG head resigns amid allegations of financial wrongdoing;
  • New Jersey State Bar begins efforts to lower legal services costs for middle class;
  • Madison, Wisconsin non-profits uniting to develop free legal clinics for undocumented;
  • Idaho panel tries to ease load of public defenders;
  • Chicago legal aid names new Executive Director;
  • Idaho Appellate Defender seeks to close wage disparity;
  • Hogan Lovells introduces mandatory community service requirements for all employees;
  • LA School Board oks attorneys to offer free legal aid to students at risk of deportation;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 6, 2015 – “On Tuesday, Feb. 3, at a Summit on Disability and Employment, the White House announced a new guide for employers that compiles key federal and federally funded resources related to the employment of people with disabilities. The resource guide, Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining, and Promoting People with Disabilities, provides employers with plain language technical assistance tools in an easy-to-use question-and-answer format.  The guide was produced by the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative — a federal interagency effort working to increase equal employment opportunities and financial independence for people with disabilities. ”  The guide is a central repository of information and resources to increase employment opportunities for candidates with disabilities.  (JD Supra Business Advisor)

February 8, 2015 – “The Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas set a record this year, raising $1,100,415 in their Equal Access to Justice Campaign. The fundraiser supports the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, which offers free legal assistance to more than 4,000 low-income families each year. The campaign raises money from Dallas lawyers to fund pro bono legal services for the poor.”  (The Dallas Morning News)

February 8, 2015 – “A new legal aid office on wheels will hit the road this month and begin reaching scores of youngsters who are homeless or in danger of landing in the streets, advocates said.  ‘Most of the youths who are moving around and experiencing some level of homelessness don’t know they have legal rights,’ said Stacey Violante Cote, a lawyer who directs the Teen Legal Advocacy Project for the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford.  This new endeavor of ours is to literally use a vehicle to reach out to this population.'”  “The project is believed to be the second of its kind in the country, said Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, which secured about $50,000 worth of grants and donations to buy the van and get it retrofitted. The first such mobile legal clinic focused on youth homelessness is in Chicago, she said.  ‘It’s bringing legal services to where the kids are,’ Stone said, ‘because the kids aren’t going to come to us.'”  (Hartford Courant)

February 8, 2015 – The head of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) stepped down amid a federal investigation into his alleged “accounting irregularities.”  “We are confident the matter involving our former CEO will not interfere with the important legal services our dedicated team provides New Yorkers on a daily basis,” NYLAG spokeswoman Camilla Jenkins said in a statement.  Yisroel Schulman will be replaced by Beth Goldman, who was appointed as New York City’s commissioner of finance in 2013 by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Goldman will start her new position at NYLAG on Feb. 17.  (Jewish News)

February 8, 2015 – “The New Jersey State Bar Association is working on a way to make legal services affordable for the middle class.  The group has begun studying methods to hook up those who can’t afford the traditional retainer for a lawyer with attorneys in their price range.”  The group hopes to replicate the program involving Rutgers Law School.  “A blue ribbon panel that includes a pair of retired state Supreme Court Justices will look to create a commercially-viable model of that program, with elder lawyers supervising younger ones.”  The Bar hopes to present suggestions within 6 months.  (CBS Philly)

February 9, 2015 – Several Madison, Wisconsin nonprofit organizations are uniting to develop free legal clinics for undocumented immigrants who qualify for new immigration programs announced last November.  “The Madison City Council also approved $30,000 in assistance from the city’s contingent reserve last week to go toward the effort.  Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said that funding will go to a half-time staff member at Centro Hispano to coordinate information about the clinic’s hours, train volunteers and get responses from people wanting to go to the clinic.”  (The Cap Times)

February 9, 2015 – “In an effort to cut down on the use of public defenders in Idaho, a legislative panel introduced several bills that would change some misdemeanor charges to lesser infractions.  Republican Rep. Lynn Luker says the bills also try to match an appropriate penalty for the crimes.”  (Times-News)

February 9, 2015 – “The Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services (LAS), the second oldest legal aid organization in the nation, has announced that Karina Ayala-Bermejo, Executive Vice President of Human Resources & General Counsel at Metropolitan Family Services, will become Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society (LAS), effective April 1, 2015. Ayala-Bermejo also will continue to serve as Metropolitan’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President.”  LAS is part of Metropolitan Family Services, which has been empowering Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities since 1857.  (Chicago Tribune)

February 10, 2015 – “Idaho’s appellate public defenders make nearly $16,000 less than the state’s Attorney General’s deputies, who often represent the other side while arguing the same case in court.  State Appellate Public Defender Sara Thomas asked legislative budget writers Tuesday for an additional $91,900 in fiscal year 2016 to raise salaries for her appellate public defenders.  Thomas says the amount still falls short compared to how much private attorneys charge. However, the income boost would close the disparity gap between her office and the lowest-paid counterpart in the Attorney General’s office.  State appellate public defenders currently make an average of roughly $56,000 a year. The average Attorney General deputy in the appellate unit makes more than $71,000.”  (KHQ)

February 11, 2015 – “Hogan Lovells has put in place a new broad-reaching policy that will require each of the firm’s more than 5,000 employees in about 25 countries to devote 25 hours per year to community service.  Employees will be able to count the 25 hours as part of their workday, according to Hogan Lovells CEO Stephen Immelt, with the expectation that the approximately 2,500 lawyers who work at the firm will spend their time on pro bono legal services.  While mandatory or highly encouraged pro bono work at Am Law 100 firms is hardly unique, Hogan Lovells’ requirement that nonlawyers participate appears to be the first of its kind. Another ambitious component of the policy is that it applies equally to employees in the firm’s offices outside the United States.”  (American Lawyer)

February 11, 2015 – “Staff attorneys with the Los Angeles Unified School District will be allowed to voluntarily provide free legal services to unaccompanied minors who live within the district and are facing the threat of deportation.”  “Under the program announced last month, 10 LAUSD attorneys will be expected to take on individual cases for an average of one to three hours a week. They will make up their work hours by working late or on weekends, according to the district.”  (CBS Los Angeles)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: 

A Hall County public defender will receive an award Tuesday for work in community service.  Public defender Nicki Vaughan is the recipient of the 16th Annual Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service.  The award, which is presented by the State Bar of Georgia, honors members of the bar who “have made significant contributions to their communities and demonstrate the positive contributions of members of the Bar beyond their legal or official work,” according to a news release.  Vaughan is one of the co-founders of Georgia CASA, a group of court-appointed special advocates who assist children in foster care.  She is one of 10 recipients.  Congratulations!  (

Super Music Bonus!

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