PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 2, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  Happy 4th of July!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York State legislature resolution supports civil Gideon;
  • Major law firm giving to legal aid declining;
  • State marijuana laws complicate federal government hiring;
  • Boston Bar Foundation awards $950,000 in grants;
  • Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor creates wrongful conviction unit;
  • Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. receives grant;
  • First federal reentry program underway in Alaska;
  • Legal incubator programs growing;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 29, 2015 – “While the Legislature’s just-completed regular session included bills expanding efiling and refining pre- and post-divorce maintenance guidelines, court administrators say a symbolic gesture by the Senate and Assembly will have lasting significance as well. ‘It does establish a statewide policy of providing legal assistance for persons in need of the essentials of life,’ chief administrative judge A. Gail Prudenti said in an interview Friday. ‘While it is aspirational, it allows us to work with our access-to-justice partners knowing that they are as committed as we are to providing this assistance.’ Each house adopted a concurrent resolution (C776/B2995) declaring that the ‘fair administration of justice’ obligates the state to ensure that all New York residents have ‘adequate’ and ‘effective’ legal representation for matters pertaining to the essentials of life. Essential matters are defined as housing, family matters, access to healthcare, education and subsistence income. Legislators also pledged to continue working toward the ‘ideal of equal access to civil justice for all.'” (New York Law Journal)(free subscription required)

June 29, 2015 – “While major law firms are enjoying record revenues — more than $100 billion last year — they are donating only a tenth of 1 percent of their proceeds for legal aid to low-income people, according to a new analysis released by The American Lawyer. Such institutional giving now accounts for only 7 percent of total legal aid funding, which comes from federal, state and private sources, the publication said. Law firm giving is under pressure to give to clients’ charities and to law school alma maters, the analysis found. Five law firms said they had given more than $1 million each last year to organizations that provide legal aid, but most firms were unwilling to disclose the exact amounts.”  The analysis provides interesting reasons for the decline, and points to ways in which more firm pro bono can offset the decline.  (The New York Times)(The American Lawyer)

June 29, 2015 – Marijuana possession is legal is some states, but not under federal law.  This is a recruitment development I’ve been tracking, and one we may touch on at the Public Service Mini-Conference.  This article provides an interesting perspective on the issue.  Suffice it to say, it’s still best to counsel students to steer clear of any drug use if they are considering a career in the federal government.  “For all the aspiring and current spies, diplomats and F.B.I. agents living in states that have liberalized marijuana laws, the federal government has a stern warning: Put down the bong, throw out the vaporizer and lose the rolling papers. It may now be legal in Colorado, in Washington State and elsewhere to possess and smoke marijuana, but federal laws outlawing its use — and rules that make it a firing offense for government workers — have remained rigid. As a result, recruiters for federal agencies are arriving on university campuses in those states with the sobering message that marijuana use will not be tolerated.”  (The New York Times)

June 29, 2015 – “The Boston Bar Foundation has awarded $950,000 in grants to 23 community organizations that work to provide legal services to low-income people. The organizations administer legal aid to the homeless, domestic violence survivors, at-risk children and veterans.”  (Daily Journal)

June 29, 2015 – “Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor has created a unit, headed by three experienced prosecutors, to review credible claims of wrongful convictions by criminal defendants. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said on Monday that the vast majority of the more than 71,000 felony cases filed by her office each year were upheld on appeal but that the unit was designed to catch those instances where the system failed. ‘In a few instances, new evidence is discovered and, on rare occasions, mistakes are found,’ Lacey said in a written statement. ‘Whenever we receive new credible information that may exonerate a person, the responsibility is on us, as prosecutors, to re-examine the facts and, if appropriate, to seek to vacate a wrongful conviction,’ she said.”  (Yahoo! News)

June 29, 2015 – “Sunday’s Child awards a total of $66,250 to two Escambia County nonprofits. Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. and Arc Gateway each won a grant for $33,125. Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. (category of Family & LGBT) will use their grant to hire a staff attorney for one year to develop enhanced advocacy and education tools to support victims of violence and bullying in the community.”  (Pensacola Today)

June 30, 2015 – “Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley and federal public defender Rich Curtner stood inside a courtroom together as part of the team that makes up the Alaska Hope Court. The Hope Court is a project that has been in the works for a few years. Chief Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith and Curtner were advocates for bringing a reentry program to the state. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism rates for federal offenders, keeping them out of prison once they reenter society. The Hope Court is also designed to help lower the costs associated with having criminals return into the system. Smith says reentry programs can save the judicial system about $2.21 for every $1 they invest in rehabilitating a criminal.”  (KTVA)

June 30, 2015 – “Law schools in California and other states have started up incubator programs. These projects, sort of training law firms, aim to help students prepare for life as lawyers by teaching them about the basics of law practice. At the same time, these programs provide affordable access to legal services for people of modest means. There are now about two dozen of these start-up firms across the country. Next year, five law schools in the San Francisco Bay Area will launch their program. Its objectives will be to provide long-term employment for graduates and increase access to legal services. Tiela Chalmers, CEO of the Alameda County Bar Association, discusses the initiative in this report.”  (Legal Broadcasters Network)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Kathleen Moccio, Hennepin County, Minnesota assistant public defender.

As public defenders nationwide scrambled to deal with the aftermath of a major court ruling on immigration in 2010, Kathleen Moccio was ready to help Hennepin County take it head-on. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that noncitizens have the right to legal advice on immigration consequences. Moccio immediately developed a plan for her office to ensure that her clients would get help in holding onto the American dream. Now, with five years under her belt as a Hennepin County assistant public defender, Moccio has been honored for her efforts by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, which chooses one lawyer a year for the award.  Congratulations!  (Star Tribune)

Super Music Bonus!  https://youtu.be/KSrvulzNb4k?list=PL3QK-FeOu2ceTmYVjx45NQmr2minjaNqG

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