Archive for October, 2015

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 2, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Community Legal Aid (Massachusetts) to receive pro bono grant;
  • Kansas indigent defense system potentially reaching crisis;
  • Western Michigan Cooley Law School Innocence Project receives DOJ grant;
  • New York City Mayor announces expansion of legal aid to low-income tenants;
  • White House establishes Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable;
  • Legal Aid of North Carolina struggling with budget cuts;
  • Legal Aid Society (New York) to sue over cameras in courthouse interview rooms;
  • Advocates of civil legal services point to collateral benefits;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 24, 2015 – “The federal Legal Services Corp. has announced that Community Legal Aid in Worcester will receive a 24-month $209,524 pro bono grant to develop a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center. The model will address legal needs that can impact the health of low-income and minority communities. ”  (Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly)(subscription required)

September 27, 2015 – “In Kansas, where the state pays only $62 per hour, up to a cap of only a few thousand dollars in most cases, officials say they may have to start looking out of state to find attorneys who will take assigned cases because there just aren’t enough qualified, experienced attorneys in some Kansas counties who are willing to work for that rate. Patricia Scalia, executive director of the Kansas Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, told a legislative committee Monday that the problem is especially severe in some of the state’s smaller counties. ‘And because of the lack of qualified attorneys willing to accept appointed cases at the hourly rate that the board pays, we’re having to call in attorneys at a distance,’ Scalia told reporters after the hearing. ‘We have about exhausted the number of attorneys who are licensed in Kansas, and if this continued, it wouldn’t be too much longer before we were having to bring in attorneys from other states, Oklahoma or Missouri,’ she said.” “The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services is proposing to raise the payment rate through a regulatory change. Lawmakers raised no objections Monday to the proposed change. The board estimates the increased rates would cost about $200,000, which Scalia said could be funded through savings the agency realized in a set of resentencing cases earlier this year. A public hearing on that change is scheduled for Nov. 10th in Topeka.” (Lawrence Journal-World)

September 28, 2015 – “A federal grant is helping to boost the efforts of a southwestern Michigan legal clinic that works to exonerate people convicted of serious crimes. Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School announced Monday that their Innocence Project has received a $418,000 Justice Department grant. The money will help pay for case review, evidence location and DNA testing, as well as investigators, experts and a full-time attorney. Officials say in a news release the schools’ Innocence Project is investigating several dozen cases. It recently received roughly 200 more from a similar project in New York that’s no longer handling Michigan cases. The Michigan clinic has screened about 5,300 cases and exonerated three men who spent years in prison.” (Associated Press)

September 28, 2015 – “New York City will spend $12.3 million to expand a program providing legal aid to low-income tenants facing eviction at the hands of ‘unscrupulous landlords,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. He called the initiative an effort to prevent homelessness, saying free legal representation can help families fight harassment and eviction and stay in their homes.” “The city will target 15 neighborhoods where people are most likely to enter the homeless shelter system, including booming real estate markets such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Crown Heights in Brooklyn and Central and West Harlem in Manhattan.” “Adriene Holder, of the nonprofit Legal Aid Society, said the anti-eviction program and others like it are ‘about stabilizing communities and keeping people in place.'” (News Day)

September 28, 2015 – “What do 20 federal agencies, the United Nations, and civil legal aid have in common?  Plenty, according to President Obama who recently issued a presidential memorandum formally establishing the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR).  The presidential memorandum was announced by Roy Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity as well as Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at an event held on the eve of the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit in New York.  The event highlighted the inclusion of Goal 16 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Goal 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, for access to justice for all and for the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.  With Goal 16, the international community has recognized that access to justice is essential to sustainable development and necessary to end poverty.” “The Roundtable brings together 17 participating Federal partners to inspire new collaborations to jointly serve the Nation’s poor and middle class, and to better engage civil legal aid providers as Federal grantees, sub-grantees, and partners. Since the inception of the Roundtable, participating agencies have worked with civil legal aid partners, including non-profit organizations and the private bar, through outreach calls, webinars and other strategies to identify areas in which legal services can advance various Federal program objectives, and have been developing legal services-specific language as appropriate new grants and projects come on-line. They also have been working closely with Federal grantees to educate them about the value of collaborating with civil legal aid partners, and several are encouraging and inviting research proposals about the civil justice system.” The Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable “Toolkit” is an online tool designed to provide a roadmap to the ways in which legal services can enhance Federal strategies for serving vulnerable and underserved populations.  (DOJ Justice Blogs)

September 29, 2015 – “Officials with the Legal Aid of North Carolina say that state and federal budget cuts are crippling the agency, resulting in layoffs statewide.” “George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, said the agency is in the process of eliminating 45 positions from out of about 300 statewide. The agency lost about $1.4 million in state and other financing last year, Hausen said. Legal Aid could lose another $2 million from the federal government, based on the proposed U.S. House budget, he said. That would be a total of $3.5 million, he said. If the agency loses the $2 million in federal financing, that could mean that Legal Aid would have to cut another 50 positions, Hausen said.” “Hausen said that Legal Aid does not plan to reduce services.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

September 29, 2015 -“Some lawyers on Monday gave the new Staten Island Courthouse glowing reviews, but don’t count the Legal Aid Society among them. The nonprofit group, which represents those who can’t afford an attorney, will file a lawsuit later this week to remove video cameras from interview rooms for lawyers and criminal defendants awaiting arraignment, contending the cameras trample on their clients’ rights.” “‘It is a blatant violation of the attorney-client privilege and doesn’t happen in any other part in the city,’ Justine Luongo, the society’s attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice told reporters at the new $230-million courthouse just hours after its doors opened to the public for the first time. ‘Potentially, what we have here is an evidence-gathering mechanism that violates our clients’ rights.’ Luongo said the society would seek an injunction asking the court to stop the cameras from recording until a ruling is made on their legality. The brief is expected to be filed Wednesday, in either state or federal court. She said the city Correction Department said the cameras were installed for security reasons – a point Legal Aid vigorously contests.”  Many other groups share Legal Aid’s concerns, and will monitor the situation going forward. (Staten Island Live)

September 30, 2015 – “Providing civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers not only benefits the clients directly but benefits society as a whole by reducing spending on social programs and bringing more federal funding into the state, witnesses said at a hearing Tuesday held by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in Manhattan. The hearing at the Appellate Division, First Department, was the first of four—one in each of the state’s four judicial departments, that will be held over the next few weeks. Among the speakers was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said that by investing in legal services to address evictions, homelessness and domestic violence, the city can save money on shelter costs. Additionally, providing services can reduce the cost of litigation and increase the efficiency of the courts, he said.” “This is the sixth year in which Lippman has held hearings to address the ‘justice gap.’ Funding for civil legal services in the Judiciary budget is $85 million in the current fiscal year, up from about $12.5 million in 2011. Lippman will conduct the hearings alongside Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, New York State Bar Association President David Miranda and the presiding justice for the judicial department where each of the hearings are being held. On Tuesday, the panel included First Department Presiding Justice Luis Gonzalez.” (New York Law Journal)(free subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

“Since 2009 Attorney Richard S. Ravosa has been helping Massachusetts residents who need to file for bankruptcy, but cannot afford the cost. Ravosa, a native of Springfield, recently won the Paul H. Chapman award given to only five recipients a year from a national pool of nominations by the Atlanta based, Foundation For Improvement of Justice. The award recognizes those whose work improves the local, state, and federal systems of justice in the United States. Ravosa was selected due to his pro bono debt relief program, the Massachusetts Debt Relief Foundation, which he founded in order to represent residents free of charge who cannot afford to hire an attorney to file bankruptcy, but without bankruptcy relief, would be living in poverty or dangerously close to it.”  Congratulations! (Mass Live)

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


Job(s)’o’th’week (Fellowship Edition) – Center for Constitutional Rights

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is looking for four fellows for the Bertha Fellowship, a two year fellowship starting in September 2016. CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Fellows will be assigned to work alongside lawyers in one of CCR’s three docket areas: the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, Government Misconduct/Racial Justice, and International Human Rights.

If this sounds like something for you, check out the full post on PSJD. (Application Deadline: October 16, 2015)