PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 30, 2015

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

Happy Halloween!  And Happy National Pro Bono Week.  We hope you’ve enjoyed your pro bono projects and will continue them long past this week.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Task force to review legal aid for Tennessee’s poor;
  • Workforce Recruitment Program marks 20th anniversary;
  • OPM pilots “resume mining” on USAJobs;
  • Indiana Supreme Court awards $450,000 in grants;
  • Minnesota law firm launches free online pro bono training;
  • Task force recommends state-wide oversight of Utah’s indigent defense system;
  • Iowa State Public Defender’s Office launches wrongful conviction unit;
  • App to aid migrant workers wins 3rd Hackcess to Justice hackathon;
  • Ball State University to open legal clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 23, 2015 – “The state funding system that pays for attorneys for people who cannot afford them is the subject of a special task force review. The Tennessee Supreme Court announced this week it created the Indigent Representation Task Force. The members of the group are judges, attorneys and others who work in criminal justice. They are tasked with reviewing: how attorneys are compensated for their work with people who cannot afford to pay (those who are indigent), how people are determined to qualify for legal services, how services are delivered and how the program funding is handled. The goal is to make sure the program is addressing the needs of people in Tennessee.” (The Tennesseean)

October 23, 2015 – “This month, as the Workforce Recruitment Program marks its 20th year of hiring college students and recent graduates with disabilities into the federal workforce, it highlights the Defense Department’s achievement of a more diverse workforce, DoD officials said. DoD and the Labor Department formed the WRP through a presidential executive order to increase federal employment opportunities for those with disabilities, and in doing so, the agencies added a diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture and skill, officials said. This year is also the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th anniversary. The WRP helps to break down stereotypes and barriers for disabled students, and their skill sets add to DoD’s military readiness mission, said Donald Minner, supervisor of a WRP intern at the Defense Threat Reduction Program. ‘WRP participants bring a freshness, excitement and enthusiasm,’ he said.”  (Department of Defense News)

October 23, 2015 – “The Office of Personnel Management is piloting changes to the USAJobs website that makes users’ resumes searchable by hiring managers. Called ‘resume mining,’ the tool allows hiring managers at agencies participating in the pilot to search for keywords in resumes users have agreed to make searchable. Managers can then reach out to federal job applicants and invite them to apply for certain positions. The new capability is being piloted ‘across several agencies,’ Kimberly Holden, OPM’s deputy director for recruitment and hiring, said last week in a Government Executive panel discussion. About 3 million resumes are searchable. The resume mining pilot is the latest in a series of iterative improvements to USAJobs launched by OPM’s Innovation Lab in an effort to make the site more user friendly and efficient.” (Nextgov)

October 26, 2015 – “The Indiana Supreme Court has awarded $450,000 in grants that will pay for court reforms such as helping people not fluent in English get legal aid. The funding that’s being directed to the 15 counties, five pro bono districts and one committee is intended for reforms in two primary categories. One effort will help courts in the chosen counties better manage the increasing caseload of people involved in lawsuits who don’t have legal representation. The grants’ other aim is to help people who don’t speak fluent English get legal aid. Since 2008, the state Supreme Court has awarded more than $2.4 million in grant funding to nearly 100 trial courts and judicial agencies for a wide variety of court-related improvements and reforms.”  (WLFI)

October 26, 2015 – “Lindquist & Vennum LLP has launched a free online training for effectively delivering pro bono legal services. The training features video from a discussion held at Target Corp. headquarters last year. The firm is partnering with the Volunteer Lawyers Network to offer the training online. ‘We were thrilled with the response to last year’s training – both in attendees and the quality of the discussion,’ said Cynthia Anderson, Lindquist & Vennum’s pro bono director. ‘That’s why Lindquist is so excited to partner with VLN to make the training available to a nationwide audience through this online course.’ The curriculum is available for free for any individual or organization that provides pro bono legal services to indigent clients and cannot afford to pay for the materials. Five individual modules are intended to guide the legal community toward stronger client relationships, improved communication, and better legal outcomes for people in need. ‘“Nationally, up to 20 percent of legal representation to those in poverty can fail because of unseen cultural differences between people raised in middle class and those raised in generational poverty,’ said Martha Delaney, deputy director for the Volunteer Lawyers Network. ‘Not only are the consequences for the clients devastating, but the misunderstanding of socio-economic barriers can result in volunteer attrition and reinforced negative stereotypes that perpetuate generational poverty.’ For more information visit the firm’s website.” (Sioux Falls Business Journal)

October 26, 2015 – “For four years, a state task force has been delving into issues surrounding Utah’s indigent-defense system. As part of that, the task force hired the Sixth Amendment Center to review the way the accused are represented in Utah. The Sixth Amendment Center’s report was presented to Utah’s Judicial Council on Monday. The report highlighted flaws in the current system, which mostly centered around whether Utahns were given access to attorneys. The organization found that in Utah’s justice courts — where people often connect with the courts system for the first time — over half of defendants are never provided legal representation.” “In response to the Sixth Amendment Center report, the 31-member task force — comprised of judges, county attorneys, defense attorneys and others — made three recommendations to the judicial council Monday: that the Legislature create an Indigent Defense Commission; that local governments reform their indigent services contracts so that attorneys won’t face disincentives to doing effective work; and that the judicial branch ‘enhance the ability of judges to ensure compliance with right-to-counsel obligations.'” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

October 26, 2015 – “Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender. Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called ‘junk science.’ The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence. State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.” “The Iowa cases date back to the 1980’s and early 1990’s when hair analysis was common and before investigators used DNA evidence. State Public Defender Adam Gregg warns exonerations often take years to accomplish.   He says Iowa law allows for exonerations, but up to now there has been no systematic effort to uncover wrongful convictions.” (Iowa Public Radio)

October 27, 2015 – “After two days of brainstorming and collaboration in North Carolina’s capital city, lawyers, students and coders developed legal apps to aid farm workers, streamline legal aid cases and evaluate legal aid eligibility. Five teams competed at Hackcess to Justice NC, the ABA Journal’s hackathon series to find tech solutions to access-to-justice problems. The winning submission N.C. Farmworkers’ App was created by lawyer Caroline DiMaio and developer Edward Ingram. They took home the $1,500 top prize.” “DiMaio, the co-creator of the winning app, is a legal aid attorney in Raleigh who works primarily with migrant farm workers. She said the idea for her winning app grew out of that work. Many migrant farm workers would call for help or to report complaints, but could not tell her or her colleagues in what city or county—sometimes even what state—where they were working. She recalled driving around a North Carolina town with one client trying to spot a familiar landmark so she could file a complaint on his behalf with the appropriate authorities. With the N.C. Farmworkers’ App, migrant and seasonal farmworkers can find out what their legal rights are; collect evidence such as audio recordings or GPS coordinates of a field; and submit Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints to the Legal Aid of N.C. with an email or voice mail. The app is available in English and in Spanish.” (ABA Journal)

October 27, 2015 – “Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to provide legal services to people in the county and throughout the state starting in 2017. The legal studies program received a $38,137 Academic Excellence Grant from President Paul W. Ferguson to fund the initiative. The Access to Justice (ATJ) Clinic will be fully running by Spring/Summer 2017. Students will be assigned legal cases to assist with and will stay with those cases until they are done, even if they continue after the students graduate. Students will have to apply to be part of the clinic.” “There will be a new course available for students who will work in the clinic, called Access to Justice in the Legal System. It will provide a reference point for students, showing the importance of legal system accessibility for the community. The clinic will also provide service learning assignments to legal studies students, which will be incorporated into their courses. ”  (The Ball State Daily)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

YOU!  This has been an incredible week of giving!  There were so many stories, I couldn’t pick just one.  Thank you to all of you who gave of your time and expertise this week.  Let’s keep it going. And, for more inspiration, check out Pro Bono Net’s “Volunteer-A-Day” initiative, which showcases a new volunteer profile to our national community each day of Pro Bono Week.

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

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