PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 16, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  We’re looking forward to the 2015 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference next week.  There is still time to register. Since we’ll be sharing the news in person, the Digest will take a break next week and return on October 30.  And don’t forget National Pro Bono week is October 25-31, 2015.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Alameda County (California) wins grant to staff PDs at arraignments;
  • Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project wins exoneration of client;
  • Grant funds new legal aid help at Massachusetts hospital;
  • New Welcome House in Vancouver to provide comprehensive services to immigrants;
  • Greenberg Traurig, LLP names Caroline J. Heller as head of firmwide Pro Bono Program;
  • Grant will bring more legal aid to northeastern New York;
  • New York firms contribute nearly $2 million to new low bono effort;
  • Montana’s Access to Justice Commission seeks feedback in a series of forums;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 8, 2015 – “The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has won a $400,000 competitive grant that it says will allow it to staff defense attorneys in arraignment courtrooms and thereby better serve its clients. ‘I think it’s critically important to have an attorney at someone’s first court appearance, but we’ve never had the funding,’ Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said. ‘The arraignment is the first point of contact with the court, when bail is set, and sometimes the client spends a day in custody for no reason.’ The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has 103 staff attorneys serving approximately 27,000 clients a year. The National Legal Aid & Defender Association announced last week that Alameda County was one of five entities in the country that it was awarding grants under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Defense Initiative.” (San Jose Mercury News)

October 8, 2015 – “The Tehama County Superior Court in northern California has overturned the wrongful conviction of Larry Pohlschneider, a client of Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project, after nearly 15 years of wrongful imprisonment for child molestation charges based on flawed medical evidence. The Oct. 7 decision marks the 18th victory for the NCIP since its inception in 2001. Attorneys for Pohlschneider, 46, and the Tehama County District Attorney agreed that his 2000 conviction should be vacated and the charges dismissed due to the ineffective assistance of Pohlschneider’s trial counsel. The true perpetrator has pleaded guilty and been imprisoned. NCIP Assistant Legal Director Maitreya Badami, Pohlschneider’s lead attorney, commended the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office for its willingness to look at this case with fresh eyes when presented with evidence from NCIP’s investigation.” (Santa Clara University Press)

October 11, 2015 – “The Legal Services Corporation has awarded a grant valued at more than $200,000 to Community Legal Aid so that it can partner with UMass Memorial Health Care and develop a clinic-based program to provide legal services for low-income and minority communities. The partnership is based on a new primary care model at three UMass Memorial Medical Center clinics that serve a high number of Medicaid patients. The goal is better health outcomes. The framework integrates medical care and behavioral health and adds legal services providers, including volunteer (pro bono) private attorneys. They will help address legal barriers to good health such as substandard housing and access to benefits.”  (

October 12, 2015 – “When the $24.5-million Welcome House in Vancouver is completed in March 2016, it will form a new housing concept in providing shelter and support systems, including legal advice, for refugees and immigrants. ‘This is the first building of its kind in the world,’ says director of settlement service Chris Friesen for the Immigration Services Society of British Columbia. There is a similar facility in Lisbon, Portugal, but it does not provide short- and long-term housing for refugees. The Vancouver ISS facility has 16 housing units which can accommodate up to 138 beds. The 58,000-square-foot Welcome House, designed by Vancouver’s Henrique Partners Architects, is being billed as a one-stop shop for all refugee and immigrant needs. It consists of six floors with the first two providing services such as a pro bono legal clinic, Van City banking services, primary medical care, multilingual trauma support and treatment, multilingual settlement support staff for finding permanent accommodation, employment services, and volunteer services in the community, food bank and second-hand clothing outlets. The building will also house educational services with seven classrooms for ESL, a computer lab plus child-care facilities. It will also have meeting rooms for seminars. Friesen says it will provide office space that pro bono lawyers can use to work with new immigrants and refugees.” (Canadian Lawyer Magazine)

October 13, 2015 – “Caroline J. Heller, Litigation Practice shareholder in the New York office of international law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP, has been named head of the Pro Bono Program. Heller has been doing pro bono at Greenberg Traurig since 2004, when she joined the firm as an associate. She has dedicated over 3,000 hours to the pro bono representation of, among others, parents of children with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings, as well as supervising the firm’s associates on their pro bono cases.” (Benzinga)

October 14, 2015 – “Low-income people in Columbia and Greene counties will have more access to legal aid, thanks to a recent grant to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY). The grant will allow the society to ‘build a technological bridge between urban pro bono volunteers and clients in Columbia and Greene counties and other counties,’ said society Executive Director Lillian Moy. The society received a $362,559 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant from the Legal Services Corp., a non-profit that describes itself as ‘the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation.’ The grant ‘will allow lawyers to conduct online interviews and share documents so they can help review and prepare pleadings for self-represented litigants in housing and consumer law matters,’ according to a press release from the society. ‘People will be able to do it from their computers at work or home,’ Moy said. ‘The client would be interviewed by a pro bono volunteer in Albany.’ Also included in the grant are Legal Assistance of Western New York and the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County.” (The Daily Mail)

October 14, 2015 – “Nineteen major law firms have pledged $1.9 million to help provide affordable legal services to people in the New York City area with modest incomes who make too much to qualify for free legal aid. The effort, dubbed the Court Square Law Project, marks the second ‘low bono’ project announced this year by firms attempting to address the pressing need for legal services for limited-income clients. Davis Polk & Wardwell partner Carey Dunne, who sits on Court Square’s executive committee, said the project aims to address a fundamental paradox in the legal profession. ‘In some years 50 percent or more of law school graduates are not getting legal jobs. Some are working as baristas,’ he said. ‘At the same time, there’s a huge unmet need for legal services for people of moderate means.’ Each firm is contributing $100,000 to the project, to be located at the City University of New York School of Law in Long Island City. A partnership between the the New York City Bar Association, CUNY and the firms, Court Square plans to accept clients next year. It will be staffed by 10 recent law school graduates, who will be enrolled in a special CUNY graduate law program and receive a $44,000 annual stipend. The project is not limited to hiring CUNY alumni. Most, but not all, of these 19 contributing firms are based in New York, while the rest have major Manhattan offices.” (American Lawyer)(subscription required)

October 15, 2015 – “The Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission is looking for help assessing what is and isn’t working as the state’s judicial caseload continues to grow at a fast clip. Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker says there’s been a big increase in people coming to Montana’s courts without a lawyer. ‘What we’ve learned from our judges and court staff is that when people do need a lawyer’s help, many of them aren’t able to get it and don’t really even know where to go.’ The commission is asking people and organizations with a stake in Montana’s courts to come to their public forums to talk about solutions.” (Montana Public Radio)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Golden Gate University School of Law (GGU Law) Associate Dean Cynthia Chandler was selected by California Women Lawyers to receive the prestigious Fay Stender Award for her advocacy for the rights of women in prison. “The annual award is given to a feminist attorney who, like Fay Stender, is committed to the representation of women, disadvantaged groups and unpopular causes, and whose courage, zest for life and demonstrated ability to effect change as a single individual make her a role model for women attorneys.”

Chandler, an adjunct professor and interim Associate Dean of Law Career Development at GGU Law, is a champion of public interest law in the Bay Area. Her work includes founding and co-founding several women’s legal rights organizations, including the Women’s Positive Legal Action Network and Justice Now, which advocate for the rights of imprisoned women. Chandler’s advocacy has been transformative, shaping numerous prison reform bills that ended California’s coercive sterilization of women in prison, as well as the establishment of the nation’s first compassionate release programs for terminally ill inmates.  Congratulations to Dean Chandler! (Market Wired)

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

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