PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 3, 2015

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

Happy Friday and welcome to April!  We’re a little over two weeks away from the Annual Education Conference.  I’m looking forward to seeing you all there.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • British Columbia opens new legal center for child protection service;
  • Panel proposes cuts to Alaska public defender agency;
  • Philadelphia lawyer creates app to help homeless;
  • Canadian federal government must pay law society fees of its articling students;
  • Free Legal Aid Clinic, Inc. in Detroit celebrates 50 years;
  • New York bill would add oversight of NYC Legal Services;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 27, 2015 – “The B.C. government is hoping to reduce the number of child-protection cases going to court by opening a new legal centre for parents.  The Parents Legal Centre is a pilot project that will be located in the Vancouver law courts and will be staffed by a lawyer, an intake worker and an advocate.  Parents or guardians involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development or an aboriginal agency will be able to access information, advice, referrals and some legal representation at the centre.  The Legal Services Society will operate the $300,000 centre, as one of several pilot projects funded by the Ministry of Justice’s previously announced injection of $6 million over three years.  Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Friday the government hopes early intervention will resolve disputes in child-protection cases before they make it to court.” (Times Colonist)

March 27, 2015 – “Alaska’s top public defender says there will be delays in criminal trials and appeals if a proposed $1.2 million cut to his agency goes forward.  A Senate subcommittee on Thursday proposed the cut to the public defender’s agency.  The cut to the public defender’s agency was cast by lawmakers as being commensurate to a cut for prosecutors. But Public Defender Quinlan Steiner says his agency has costs that prosecutors don’t and a caseload that traditionally has outpaced staffing.”  (News Miner)

March 30, 2015 – “A Philadelphia lawyer who experienced homelessness as a child has created an app that makes it easy to donate to groups that help local poor people.  Nikki Johnson-Huston says she created and funded the app, Donafy, with her husband, Shawn Huston.  Donafy is intended for those who wonder how they can help the needy in their area, and for those who need assistance themselves.  None of the donated funds will go to Donafy itself; the app functions only as a conduit. Those who need help can find food, housing, legal aid and other resources through a map showing nearby services. Users who want to reach an outreach hotline for help for themselves or others can connect with a ‘notify’ option.” (ABA Journal)

March 30, 2015 – “The federal government must cover the law society membership fees for its articling students, a labor relations adjudicator has ruled.  Since 2013, the Association of Justice Counsel has been battling to have the government cover the fees for all of its articling students after finding a patchwork of practices across the country.  In a decision this month, adjudicator George Filliter found in part in the union’s favor.  In 2013, the government denied the union’s grievance on the issue, arguing articling students don’t have to maintain a professional qualification as they’re in fact candidates rather than members of a law society.  While Filliter ruled in favor of the union on the issue of law society membership fees, he rejected the proposition that the government should also cover the costs of bar courses and examinations.”  (Canadian Lawyer)

April 1, 2015 – “The Free Legal Aid Clinic Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing free legal services to metro Detroit residents.  More than 150 Wayne State University Law School students, alumni, faculty and staff, as well as local lawyers, judges and other clinic supporters, attended the anniversary celebration.  The clinic is the only student run, 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal aid organization in the nation.”  (Wayne State University News)

April 2, 2015 – “A bill was introduced to New York’s City Council on Tuesday to create an office to coordinate civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers who need housing, consumer protection and immigration assistance.  City Councilman Mark Levine, of Manhattan, said the office would serve an important role in coordinating increased city spending on civil legal services. Spending is set to grow from about $35 million to about $50 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, he said, to increase access to legal services for low-income and underserved populations.  The new Office of Civil Justice would issue progress reports identifying the civil legal needs of low-income residents and the availability of free and low-cost legal services in the city to meet those needs. The office would also identify obstacles to the delivery of legal services and serve as a liaison between the city and providers of civil legal services.”  The bill is expected to receive a hearing this month before the council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services and could go before the full council in May.  (New York Law Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: “Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motelin Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.”  (  I take this as a reminder that we have made great strides toward equality in this country.  We have had great men and women show us the way.  In a time when it seems like we are taking some steps backward, ask what can we do to take up the mantle and move us toward a state of equality?

Super Music Bonus!   In honor of the Annual Conference location – Chicago, we bring you music from or about that great city all month.

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