PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 27, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • York County, Pennsylvania gives $50k to civil law fund for low-income residents;
  • Tennessee funding law could mean changes for prosecutors/defenders;
  • Funded Justice allows people to crowdsource funds for an attorney;
  • University of Michigan Law School working with University of Brazil to create human trafficking clinic;
  • Grant helps more veterans get assistance in Florida;
  • Settlement reached in MFY Legal Services strike;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 20, 2015 – “A new initiative by the York County Bar Association received a funding boost Wednesday when the county commissioners agreed to contribute $50,000 toward its program to help low-income residents involved in civil litigation.  There are more than 50,000 county residents who qualify for civil legal services, but there are only four full-time attorneys employed by Mid-Penn Legal Services who provide such assistance in the county, said Victoria Connor, CEO of the bar association.  The bar association is providing a 2-to-1 match — or $100,000 — to the county’s contribution because it’s such a ‘critical area of need,’ said Steve Feldman, president of the bar foundation’s board of directors. The foundation is the charitable arm of the bar association.”  (York Dispatch)

February 22, 2015 – “A law meant to ensure Tennessee counties fund their prosecutors and public defenders offices at roughly the same rates is on the legislature’s chopping block, a move touted as long overdue by prosecutors behind the movement but lamented by public defenders as a potentially dangerous blow to justice. Shelby County would see by far the greatest impact from any changes to the 23-year-old law, nicknamed the ’75 Percent Rule,’ which requires Tennessee counties to give public defenders at least 75 percent of whatever funding they give to prosecutors. The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office released a statement Friday strongly condemning House Bill 241 and Senate Bill 1324, saying they ‘would dismantle fiscally sound legislation’ that ‘helps ensure fairness’ in an adversarial justice system.”  (The Daily Herald)

February 23, 2015 – “Chicago attorney Michael Helfand noticed a fundamental problem in American courtrooms: the average American can’t afford proper legal representation.  Determined to address this disparity, Helfand founded Funded Justice, a crowdfunding platform for people struggling to pay attorney fees. Targeting people who don’t qualify for government-subsidized legal support but can’t afford to pay out of pocket for a private attorney, Funded Justice allows users to call on friends, acquaintances, and strangers for financial contributions.”  While in the very early stages, this is a trend to watch.  (Built In Chicago)

February 24, 2015 – “The University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic is working with a university in Brazil to create a similar legal clinic there in which law students will represent people who have been forced into slave labor in South America’s largest country.  U-M and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais-UFMG School of Law have developed a memorandum of understanding that paves the way for the creation of the new clinic, which will begin operating on March 2, 2015.  ‘Unfortunately, Brazil is a source, a destination, and a transit point for men, women, and children subjected to human trafficking and slave labor,’ said Carlos Henrique Haddad, a federal judge in Brazil and a member of the law faculty at UFMG. ‘I think the new clinic will help victims of slave labor in Brazil, and also that this is our opportunity to collaborate on international and cross-border cases.'”  (Michigan Law press release)

February 24, 2015 – “Thanks to a hefty new grant, a few more Broward County veterans may soon get some needed help.  Mission United Veterans Pro Bono Project, which provides free legal assistance to local veterans, recently received a $50,000 grant from the NBCUniversal Foundation.”  “Recently word came that NBCUniversal Foundation’s 21st Century Solutions awarded Legal Aid Service the $50,000 grant in recognition of the service’s ‘new and innovative programs.'”  Legal Aid Service will use the money to hire an additional attorney.  (Sun Sentinel)

February 25, 2015 – “A settlement was reached Tuesday in the 22-day-long strike by attorneys and support staff at MFY Legal Services in New York.  The Legal Services Staff Association, a unit of the United Auto Workers, overwhelmingly ratified the three-year contract.  Union spokesman Brian Sullivan said the contract provides for 40 paid childbirth leave days, along with salary increases of 2.75 percent, 2.5 percent and 2.25 percent in each year.  Staff attorney Nahid Soroofhyari, 31, who joined MFY two years ago, said the new contract would bring ‘family friendly’ policies to the organization that will ‘encourage people like me to stay and become better lawyers for our clients.’  MFY Executive Director Jeanette Zelhof said the contract ‘expands on an already generous compensation package, and gives MFY administrative changes that we need to run our nonprofit more efficiently’ and will ‘allow MFY to continue to expand much needed legal services to underserved communities.'”  (New York Law Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Deborah Templer, a commercial litigation partner in the Gowlings Lafleur Henderson LLP Toronto office, has been named the winner of the Canadian Bar Association’s 2015 Young Lawyers Pro Bono Award. “Deborah is an outstanding lawyer with a steadfast commitment to access to justice,” said Scott Jolliffe, Gowlings chair and CEO. “Pro bono legal service forms an essential part of both her practice and her contributions to our firm and profession. We’re tremendously proud of Deborah, and are delighted to see her efforts recognized through this prestigious award.”

A long-time supporter of Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO), Templer was behind the formation of a unique partnership between Gowlings and PBLO to launch a medical-legal clinic at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Under her leadership, Gowlings has delivered free legal advice and information sessions to over 100 low- and moderate-income families on tax, employment, insurance, and estate matters.  Congratulations and well-deserved!  (Gowlings press release)

Super Music Bonus!

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