PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 9, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  We’re just two weeks away from the NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference.  There is still time to register. I look forward to seeing my law school and employer colleagues soon.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal aid grant will fund fair housing enforcement in Minnesota;
  • Alberta lawyers putting pressure on government to adequately fund legal aid;
  • New funding for foreclosure work in New York;
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law and USPTO collaborate on pro bono program;
  • Public defender’s office may lose some independence in new North Carolina budget;
  • Kentucky’s public defender program receives DOJ grant;
  • Lewis & Clark Law School launches new clinic;
  • New pro bono legal option opens in south Florida;
  • Proskauer Rose LLP welcomes first full-time pro bono partner;
  • Florida Justice Access Commission offers first recommendations;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 1, 2015 – “Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance has been awarded $325,000 to fight housing discrimination. The funds were awarded today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under its Fair Housing Initiatives Program. The grant will fund an effort by Mid-Minnesota and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services to improve fair housing enforcement in southern and central Minnesota.” (Minnesota Lawyer)(subscription required)

October 2, 2015 – “Alberta lawyers say they’ll stop providing free services for the poor seeking court orders for legal aid in hopes it’ll force the province to properly fund the system. It would remove their pro bono services directing court orders to access legal aid for those whose incomes aren’t quite low enough to qualify for it. The lawyers say they’ll cease that free work Nov. 1 in a system now in crisis and plagued with a growing backlog due to insufficient funds. Those free legal services have been supplied for the past year while $5.5 million in emergency funding provided by the former PC government has long expired, say the lawyers.”  (Calgary Sun)

October 2, 2015 – “[New York] Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday announced $11.5 million in new funding for more than two dozen legal services organizations statewide to help prevent foreclosures, keep families in their homes, and rebuild communities hit hardest by the housing crash. Awards will be given to 28 legal services providers with proven track records of providing services to at-risk homeowners. The new round of funding will support the Homeowner Protection Program, a network of nearly 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free, high-quality assistance to at-risk families across New York to help them avoid foreclosure.” “The grants, which are now before the New York State Comptroller for review and final approval, are for one year with a possibility of a one-year renewal. The new round of funding brings the total foreclosure prevention investment by the Office of the Attorney General to more than $70 million.” (The Journal News)

October 2, 2015 – “Chicago-Kent College of Law and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have collaborated to establish the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub, a pro bono program that will help qualified, low-income inventors and small businesses in Illinois obtain volunteer legal assistance from local patent agents or attorneys licensed to practice before the USPTO.” “The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub was created as part of a USPTO pro bono initiative to provide assistance with the patent application and prosecution process for inventors in all 50 states. The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub will coordinate services to inventors in Illinois, who are requesting assistance and who meet eligibility requirements to participate in the program. The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub will not provide legal advice. Its services are limited to screening applicants for eligibility and referring those applicants to volunteer attorneys for evaluation and possible representation.” (IIT Today)

October 5, 2015 – “The agency that oversees public defenders across North Carolina would lose independence under a change made in the state budget, Forsyth County Public Defender Paul James said last week. The change is twofold. The first change is transferring the N.C. Office of Indigent Defense Services to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. The second change, which is more troubling to James, would authorize the director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts to modify the budget of Indigent Defense Services without the approval of its board.” “‘This greatly reduces the independence of the IDS, which is supposed to be independent under all the best models for indigent defense in order to adequately protect the rights of those indigent clients we serve,’ James said in an email last week. James said the original proposed budget had put Indigent Defense Services under the Administrative Office of the Courts but still maintained IDS’s ability to make decisions about its own budget. The change giving authority to AOC’s director to modify the agency’s budget was placed into the final state budget.” “Thomas Maher, IDS’s executive director, said the last-minute change came as a surprise. ‘This is a significant change in granting some power to the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts,’ Maher said.” “Maher said he doesn’t expect the AOC director to interfere that much with his office, but the fact that he can, under the new budget, is concerning.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

October 5, 2015 – “The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance announced that the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA), Kentucky’s statewide public defender program, was awarded $374,859 under the DOJ Smart Defense Initiative program to address longstanding problems with its conflict representation system. The awarded funds will be used to implement sustainable changes to DPA’s methods of contracting conflict work including modification of DPA conflict contracts, DPA policies on conflict cases, conduct of conflict case and file review standards including documenting work done in conflict cases, time spent on cases, and client contact. DPA recruitment standards will be developed, including minimum training and experience qualifications and ongoing education requirements.” (Northern Kentucky Tribune)

October 5, 2015 – “Lewis & Clark Law School is now offering its students an innovative way to gain hands-on experience with criminal law. A new clinic called the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic is a collaboration between the law school and the Oregon Justice Resource Center and will benefit both law school students, and members of the community in need of legal resources. Students who are involved in the clinical program will have the option of being involved in three different projects, providing different ways to engage in the criminal justice system.” (Law|Street)

October 6, 2015 – “Cenacle Legal Services, a new pro bono legal option for the working poor, opened its doors Monday, following a blessing from its landlord — the Diocese of Venice — and an open house. The nonprofit will rely on pro bono work from area attorneys of all faiths and is meant to augment services offered by area organizations such as Gulf Coast Legal Services and Legal Aid of Manasota, to residents in the Englewood, North Port and Venice areas and will extend service to low-income people who make too much money to qualify for traditional legal aid.” “Attorneys affiliated with Cenacle Legal Services will take on cases in the areas of housing, elderly affairs, juvenile matters, veterans in need of public benefits and consumer rights.” (Herald-Tribune)

October 7, 2015 -“International law firm Proskauer [Rose LLP] is pleased to announce the arrival of William C. Silverman as a partner who will spearhead the firm’s global pro bono efforts. Mr. Silverman is the firm’s first partner-level lawyer who will lead the pro bono practice on a full-time basis. In his new position, Mr. Silverman, who has significant pro bono as well as extensive private and public sector experience in both the criminal and civil areas, will be responsible for identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers, ensuring widespread participation in these projects and ensuring that the pro bono work is performed at the highest level” (Business Wire)

October 7, 2015 – “The Florida Supreme Court should approve rule changes and technological development that would improve legal aid using limited resources, the state Commission on Access to Civil Justice recommended Wednesday. The commission issued its first interim report after nearly a year of work by its members, including lawyers, judges, prominent business leaders and educators. The 27-member group is looking for ways to help low- to moderate-income Floridians who can’t afford a lawyer and can’t miss work to deal with common legal issues such as divorces, custody battles, wills and landlord-tenant disputes, former Florida Bar President Greg Coleman said.” “The commission recommended at that meeting that the high court approve the continued development of a technology system that would walk Floridians through the first stages of relatively simple legal processes such as filing for divorce. The commission also asked the court to authorize the creation of a Florida Civil Legal Resources Access Site, a one-stop ‘knowledge base’ of all the resources available to Floridians involved in litigation, even if they don’t qualify for legal aid.” (Daily Business Review)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Fresno civil rights lawyer Chris Schneider is the executive director of Central California Legal Services (CCLS) and the most recent recipient of one of the highest honors given by the California State Bar: the Loren Miller Legal Services Award. Finding a passion for civil rights activism as a teenager, Chris has spent more than two decades working in civil legal aid.  Chris joined CCLS in 1993, and since then has grown the organization to house a staff of 50 who provide free legal services to immigrants and the poor throughout the central San Joaquin Valley. Under Chris’s leadership, CCLS was instrumental in getting a shopping center built in long-neglected southwest Fresno, helping the homeless in their legal fight with Fresno City Hall, and making sure poor rural residents didn’t get gouged in their utility bills. “Our mission is to advance justice and empower people,” said Chris, who will be given the award at the Bar’s annual meeting in Anaheim. Congratulations! (Legal Aid Association of California)

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

And a bonus music pick since Eulen’s previous football pick garnered some responses.  All in good fun!!

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