PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 18, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Pittsburgh School of Law announces incubator;
  • Hawaii State Judiciary self-help centers hit big milestone;
  • HBO comedy host John Oliver helps raise money for New Orleans public defenders;
  • Penn Law receives over $12 million for student scholarships, public interest and legal practice skills programming;
  • Florida considers automation to keep legal aid costs down;
  • Maryland public defender investigating every juvenile life-without-parole case;
  • ABA, DOJ weighs in on constructive denial of right to counsel case;
  • Pro bono in the park in British Columbia;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 14, 2015 – “The University of Pittsburgh announced plans to open the Pitt Legal Services Incubator in January 2016. The idea of assistance for young lawyers might leave some puzzled, but these aren’t your typical graduates. The Legal Services Incubator is looking for recent graduates who are interested in starting their firms to help underserved client communities. ‘There’s so much legal need out there. People say there are so many lawyers, and that’s not true,’ says Professor Thomas Ross, Professor of Law at Pitt and the Faculty Director of the Legal Services Incubator. ‘The problem is there are too many lawyers chasing the same client base.’ ‘The job market is pretty tough for young lawyers. A lot of them would like to start solo or small law firms, but they feel uncertain about their capacity to do it,’ says Ross. The incubator will assist young lawyers to get a head start by providing workspace, connections and resources to help each lawyer start a firm. Applications will open in late October after the Bar Exam results are published. For its first year, the incubator is aiming to accept a group of six to eight recent graduates to start their practices in the space.” (Next Pittsburgh)

September 14, 2015 – “The Hawaii State Judiciary’s Self-Help Centers have helped their 10,000th person. These are centers, located statewide, that are set up to provide legal consultation to people representing themselves in court. According to the judiciary, these centers are free to litigants and cost the state ‘virtually’ nothing. ‘This milestone is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of volunteer attorneys who have donated their time and professionalism to helping those who otherwise might not be able to afford a lawyer,’ said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald in a Sept. 10 Hawaii State Judiciary news release. ‘I’d also like to extend a special thanks to the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, the Hawaii State Bar Association, all county bar associations, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and its AmeriCorps program, and our partners in the community who have helped us make significant strides in providing greater access to justice.’ There are currently six of these centers located in courthouses across Hawaii.” (mauitime)

September 14, 2015 – “An unusual crowdfunding campaign launched by the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office got a boost overnight Monday from a TV diatribe launched by former ‘Daily Show’ commentator John Oliver on his HBO comedy show,’Last Week Tonight.’ New Orleans served as one of the poster children for the British comedian as he waxed indignant for 15 minutes about the thinly stretched state of public defense nationwide. Lamenting a ‘meet ’em and plead ’em system’ for indigent defense, Oliver cited a somewhat dated 2009 study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers that found bloated caseloads for some public defenders in New Orleans left them with just seven minutes per case, on average.” “The impact was seen immediately on a crowdfunding campaign that Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton’s office launched last week to try to offset a projected $1 million drop in revenue. The total amount raised jumped from $7,000 to about $14,500 overnight, with donations rolling in from as far away as Hong Kong and the Netherlands, said spokeswoman Lindsey Hortenstine.” “In an interview Monday, Bunton said Oliver’s on-air critique rang true. ‘When you’re watching it being presented in a national program, you really are struck by how absurd it is that we would depend on this kind of system to secure one of the original amendments to the Constitution,’ Bunton said. ‘We’re the only state that is so dependent on fines and fees that traffic tickets literally control their Sixth Amendment rights to counsel.’ Bunton recently announced a hiring freeze and four weeks of unpaid furlough for his staff, among other measures aimed at coping with the million-dollar budget slide.”  Due to the language in the original John Oliver piece, I will not link to it. However, it is a very insightful and intelligent piece highlighting the ridiculous state of public defense.  (The New Orleans Advocate)

September 15, 2015 – “The University of Pennsylvania Law School has received three major gifts totaling $12.1 million that will fund new scholarships and other forms of financial aid, public interest programming, and the teaching of legal practice skills.” “Robert Toll and Jane Toll, 1966 graduates of Penn Law and Penn’s Graduate School of Education, respectively, have given $2.5 million to further support public interest programs at Penn Law, through the Toll Public Interest Center. Toll, the Executive Chairman of the Board of Toll Brothers, Inc., the nation’s leading building of luxury homes, and his wife, Jane, have been longtime supporters of the Law School and its public interest programming.” (UPenn News)

September 15, 2015 – “The Florida legal system is taking inspiration from an unlikely source: eBay. The online auction website sends disputes through an automated process that doesn’t involve employees until it’s absolutely necessary, solving 90 percent of 60 million annual disputes without using manpower. The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice is considering recommending a similar process for the first steps of common legal actions such as divorces and wills, said Florida Bar past president and commission member Greg Coleman. The goal is to reduce the financial burden of legal services for low- to moderate-income Floridians. ‘The folks that work paycheck to paycheck … if they need to get divorced, they can’t hire a lawyer at $25 an hour, much less $250 an hour,’ the West Palm Beach attorney said. ‘They don’t get legal aid. They don’t qualify. They wander into a system that’s not designed for them.'” “Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga created the commission last November to come up with ways to reduce inefficiencies and the costs of civil litigation. They must submit their first report by Oct. 1.” (Daily Business Review)

September 15, 2015 -“Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender’s post-conviction division has launched an effort to investigate all cases of inmates who, as juveniles, were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, following through on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2012 that such sentences violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and illegal punishment. The Youth-Resentencing Project will look for cases it can take to court seeking resentencing based on Miller v. Alabama, in which Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in the 5-4 decision noted that such sentences for juveniles preclude consideration of ‘chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds’ defendants. Resentencing of juveniles in such cases has been permitted in at least 12 states, and the decision will affect about 1,500 people now behind bars.” (ABA Journal)

September 15, 2015 – “The government and several national legal organizations have thrown their support behind two indigent defendants who are arguing before the state Supreme Court that the low funding levels of the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office constituted a deprivation of their right to effective counsel. The U.S. Department of Justice and the American Bar Association recently filed amicus briefs in support of Adam Kuren and Steven Allabaugh, two men who have a case pending before the Supreme Court on the first-impression issue of whether they can seek prospective civil relief on constructive denial of counsel claims under the Sixth and 14th amendments ‘based on chronic and systemic deficiencies’ in Luzerne County’s Office of the Public Defender. Along with the ABA and the DOJ, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus, as did the Innocence Network and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Briefs for the indigent defendants, who are plaintiffs in Kuren v. Luzerne County, were filed Sept. 10, and briefs for the county defendants are expected to be filed within the next 30 days. The suit was launched by former Luzerne County chief public defender Al Flora Jr. when he sued the county and the county manager, Robert Lawton, in 2012, alleging indigent defendants were deprived of their right to counsel.”  (The Legal Intelligencer)

September 15, 2015 – “The Access Pro Bono Society of BC [British Columbia, Canada] held their seventh annual Pro Bono Going Public event in Kelowna, where legal advice of all varieties was provided to people of all incomes and backgrounds. ‘Primarily our client base is people with poverty-law issues who are dealing with important and serious legal matters that affect their livelihood and quality of life,’ said Jamie Maclaren, executive director of Access Pro Bono. ‘We also have a good number of people who find themselves in some kind of legal dispute or legal situation and just can’t afford to hire a lawyer to sort it out.’ Access Pro Bono has been operating since 2010, but is a product of two existing organizations that go back to 2002. The society has more than 1,000 lawyers who volunteer their time in clinics throughout the province.” (

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

A State Bar of Texas representative honored Judge Mary Lou Robinson at an induction ceremony for the Texas Legal Legends program Friday. Texas Legal Legends is a program through the State Bar of Texas that honors lawyers who have practiced within the state. Darby Dickerson, dean of the TTU School of Law, said in a statement: “Judge Robinson is truly unique. She entered the legal field at a time when very few women did so, and she has both excelled and has given back.” Robinson is currently a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Texas.  Read more about her career and contributions here.

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

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