PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 21, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal aid failing in Alberta says Justice Minister;
  • California moves to provide interpreters in all court cases;
  • St. Tammany Louisiana Public Defender’s Office gets new office and new management strategy;
  • St. Lawrence County, New York District Attorney cuts services;
  • Washington Attorney General cracks down on unauthorized legal assistance to immigrants;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 14, 2015 – “Legal experts, politicians and Canada’s top judge are saying it’s increasingly difficult for low- and middle-income Canadians to get access to the courts. Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who was attending a Canadian Bar Association convention on Friday, told reporters there needs to be a review of the province’s legal aid since it appears to barely be getting the job done. ‘We’re sort of rapidly moving toward a crisis point and we need to start considering what it is we can do to solve that,’ Ganley said. Ganley said a review is to be done, but it’s still too early to say when it will be conducted and what the parameters will be.” (CBC News)

August 16, 2015 –  “Legal advocates say throughout [California], litigants in divorce, child custody, eviction and other civil cases who have difficulty with English are going into court without qualified interpreters. Instead, many are forced to turn to friends or family members — or worse yet, the opposing party — for translation. That’s because California only guarantees access to an interpreter in criminal cases, not civil cases. But the state is looking to change that. Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, California’s Judicial Council this year approved a plan to extend free interpretation services to all cases by 2017. ‘You can’t have a court hearing without having your client understand it correctly,’ said Protima Pandey, a staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid.” “Some courts have been extending the provision of interpreters. Los Angeles County, which was part of the Justice Department’s probe, has been among the most aggressive in expanding access to interpreters, legal advocates say. In addition to domestic violence restraining orders, the court now provides interpreters to anyone who needs them in other family cases, as well as eviction, child guardianship, conservatorship, civil harassment and small claims cases. The rollout has faced challenges. The court has found it difficult to find certified interpreters in some languages with origins in South America, said Carolyn Kuhl, the court’s presiding judge. And travel times for interpreters needed in more than one courthouse on the same day can be a challenge. But so far, the court has been able to meet the needs, and judges are pleased, according to Kuhl.” (ABC News)

August 17, 2015 – The public defenders for the St. Tammany and Washington Parishes move into their new offices with a new outlook. They have spent the better part of a year in cramped, borrowed offices at City Hall while their offices had been modernized.  “The move affords [Chief Public Defender John] Lindner and his roughly three dozen staff members the opportunity to make something of a new start after a year in a poor physical environment and, perhaps more important, a work environment riven with division and strife, problems compounded by poor management. Those problems prompted a raft of complaints from current and former employees to the Louisiana Public Defender Board, which oversees all of the state’s public defenders. An ensuing investigation found an office crippled by the perception of favoritism for some employees and lack of support for others. The situation was exacerbated by Lindner himself, who admitted referring to a black employee as a ‘Negro.'” Intensive training and staff changes have followed. “Louisiana Public Defender James Dixon said things seem to have settled down at the office but that he intends to take inventory again in the coming months.”  (The New Orleans Advocate)

August 20, 2015 -“St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain has announced she will be cutting services due to low staffing levels and the county Legislature’s refusal to fill a vacant position in her office. In a letter to county justice courts dated Aug. 17, Ms. Rain said she is instituting the ’emergency measures’ to continue giving attention to her office’s caseload. That includes prosecutors no longer attending normal court calendars for town, village and city courts, effective Monday, except to conduct scheduled hearings and trials, Ms. Rain wrote. ‘All other physical appearances will be temporarily suspended for a period of six months, at which point the office will re-evaluate its position,’ Ms. Rain wrote.”  (Watertown Daily Times)

August 20, 2015 – “Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday that he has taken action against four companies accused of offering fraudulent legal services to immigrants. Ferguson, speaking at a news conference in Seattle, said his office has stepped up enforcement against the companies and owners of companies in Lakewood, Tacoma and Everett. He said that unlicensed immigration consultants who refer to themselves as ‘notarios’ or ‘notarios publicos’ are misrepresenting themselves to consumers as having advanced legal training. Victims face losing their immigration status if a deadline is missed or paperwork is filled out incorrectly, he noted.”  (The Lewiston Tribune Online)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Pro Bono Institute (PBI) announced today that it will present Sidley Austin LLP with its 2015 John H. Pickering Award at its Annual Dinner on November 5 inNew York. The Pickering Award is presented annually to a law firm that has demonstrated outstanding commitment to pro bono service.

Sidley’s longstanding commitment to pro bono and public service is underscored by its robust and innovative pro bono program. A Signatory to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and a Founding Member of PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project, Sidley continually demonstrates its core values by working on behalf of pro bono clients around the world to enhance their clients’ quality of life and improve their communities.

Super Music Bonus!  Our first pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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