PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 20, 2015

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

Happy Friday! This week I had the great pleasure to award the 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award to Lark Mulligan of DePaul University College of Law.  What a great project and wonderful event!  Thank you to everyone at DePaul, and especially Shaye Loughlin and Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea for being such gracious hosts.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Bill urging free legal aid for domestic violence victims passes U.S. Senate;
  • Pinellas (Florida) legal aid program receives $600,000 grant to fight human trafficking;
  • New Orleans Chief Public Defender announces furlough schedule;
  • New student debt report looks at Class of 2014;
  • University of Calgary law school opens Public Interest Law clinic;
  • Napa, Bay Area legal aids to merge;
  • New York Office of Victim Services granted $1 million to build legal assistance tool;
  • Nevada Attorney General launches program to help veterans;
  • Alberta Justice plans review of legal aid system;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 12, 2015 – “The U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday night aimed at bolstering free legal resources for victims of domestic violence. The so-called ‘POWER Act’ is the first bill to pass the Senate sponsored by Alaska’s freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan. Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, hopes that the bill’s bipartisan support will grant it success in the House and that it will extend his efforts to increase the number of attorneys doing pro-bono work for domestic violence victims across the country. Sullivan co-sponsored the bill with North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who is also a former state attorney general, he said in an interview. The bill passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote. If the bill passes the House and is signed into law, it will require every U.S. attorney to hold at least one event every year urging private attorneys to take on free work for domestic violence victims.” (Alaska Dispatch News)

November 14, 2015 – “A Florida group that helps human trafficking victims will receive a $600,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to continue its work, Democratic US Rep. Kathy Castor announced Friday. ‘This grant will provide more tools to Gulfcoast Legal Services and local law enforcement to aid victims of human trafficking,’ Castor said. ‘Gulfcoast now will be able to serve more than double the number of clients than previous years and will spur on the important work of the Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.’ Gulfcoast Legal Services, part of the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, was one of 10 grantees nationwide that received part of $5.6 million in Justice Department grants. Gulfcoast’s director, John Dubrule, said without the grant money Gulfcoast would not be able to maintain or expand its staff. Now, the group expects to expand services over the next three years.” (Florida Politics)

November 16, 2015 –  “Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton on Monday announced a 10-day furlough plan for 2016, a move he foreshadowed last week during his office’s annual budget hearing before City Council. Although Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 2016 budget proposal bumps the office’s funding $150,000 – or 13.5 percent – above its current level, Bunton warned council members he needed an additional $250,000 to avert furloughs. City Council will decide the office’s funding when it adopts a budget on Dec. 1. But Bunton’s decision to establish a furlough schedule in advance of a final determination seemed to serve notice that his threat was not a budget-season bluff tactic.  ‘This is real. It’s very serious,’ said Lindsey Hortenstine, spokeswoman for the Public Defenders Office. ‘Ideally we will have a different outcome at the completion of this process and won’t have to go forward with it at all.’ Bunton says the furlough days will cost the city $113,000 or more for additional time that defendants stay in jail without access to attorneys. The Public Defenders Office, which represents indigent defenders, claims to represent approximately 85 percent of Orleans Parish defendants. No public defenders will be available for court dates during furlough days, according to a news release from Bunton’s office.” (The Times-Picayune)

November 16, 2015 – Former PSJD Fellow and current Program Manager for Equal Justice Works Ashley Matthews summarizes The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) tenth annual Project on Student Debt report.  It focused on recent graduates of four-year colleges. Like previous TICAS reports, “Student Debt and the Class of 2014” provides a comprehensive overview of the student debt crisis by combining a bird’s eye view of the national scope of educational debt with state-by-state data. (Huffington Post)

November 17, 2015 – “With a gift of $1 million from the Peacock Family Foundation, the Faculty of Law has opened a new Public Interest Law Clinic, which will provide pro bono legal services to clients, facilitating access to justice and providing law students with experiential learning opportunities. Molly Naber-Sykes, has taken up the role of executive director of the clinic, and will be responsible for overseeing all clinic operations.” “Law students will work in the clinic on precedent-setting cases affecting Alberta’s vulnerable communities and the environment, allowing them to learn public interest advocacy and litigation skills. The clinic will train and inspire a new generation of lawyers to advocate in the public interest in Alberta and beyond.”(Benzinga)

November 17, 2015 – “Legal Aid of Napa Valley will become part of a wider backstop for Northern California’s less fortunate. The Napa-based agency said it will merge with Bay Area Legal Aid, effective Dec. 31. Napa will become the seventh county served by the Bay Area group, itself the product of a merger involving three county-based Legal Aid groups 15 years ago. Bay Area Legal Aid spokeswoman Linda S. Kim said the regional provider will keep the Napa agency’s office at 575 Lincoln Ave., and local clients will be able to draw on the regional group’s roster of more than 70 lawyers. Attorneys working with the not-for-profit provider represent low-income clients pro bono. ‘We have partnered on large grants and projects in the past, our staffs have worked alongside one another, and our respective boards share a common goal of equal access to justice,’ Michael Holman, co-chairman of the Legal Aid Napa Valley board, said in the statement. ‘We believe Bay Area Legal Aid will continue our core mission with the additional benefit of a larger organizational structure and sustainability.'” (Napa Valley Register)

November 17, 2015 – “A new online tool aimed at aiding crime victims in finding legal assistance in civil matters could be available after nearly $1 million in federal funding was awarded to the New York State Office of Victim Services. The Crime Victims’ Legal Network will allow individuals to determine the type of legal help they need and connect them with resources. Matters could include housing and immigration cases and family court cases involving custody, support and orders of protection, according to a release. The office received two grants totaling $999,940 from the federal Office for Victims of Crime, part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The agency is also working with the Empire Justice Center, University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research and Pro Bono Net. The tool will be designed to help individuals outside of New York City, as there are fewer civil legal services available in those counties. ‘This grant will allow us to expand our reach, especially to rural areas of the state. Our goal is to create a comprehensive, collaborative network to provide holistic legal assistance to better assess the needs of, and ultimately serve, victims of crime,’ Elizabeth Cronin, director for the Office of Victim Services, said. The project is expected to be completed in two, 18-month periods.” (The Auburn Citizen)

November 18, 2015 – “Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on Wednesday formally launched a program to provide free legal assistance to members of the military, pointing to a service gap that arises because military lawyers are limited in their ability to help with civilian court matters and private attorneys are often too expensive for service members. At a news conference in Carson City, Laxalt marked the debut of the Office of Military Legal Assistance, which is believed to be the first attorney general-led program in the country that connects military members and veterans to pro bono legal services.” “More than 100 lawyers have pledged to donate at least 10 hours to service members seeking help through the program. Applicants will be able to get help with civil matters including landlord/tenant disputes, consumer fraud problems and immigration issues. Military personnel seeking assistance should contact their local JAG for a referral, while veterans should contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.” (The Washington Times)

November 18, 2015 – “Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley told a budget estimates committee Wednesday she will launch a review into how legal aid is funded, the governance model of the program, and how much lawyers are compensated, since Alberta rates are almost half what their counterparts make in Ontario. ‘Legal Aid has been experiencing a number of challenges and they have actually come forward with respect to some of those challenges,’ Ganley said. Ganley said the Alberta government has more than doubled its funding to legal aid since 2005, covering 80 per cent of the total funding of the program. The federal contribution has remained relatively constant at $10 million, while the amount offered by the Alberta Law Foundation has dwindled, since it funds the program through lawyers’ trust funds, which are earning less and less interest. ‘This year, the increase in demand for service has already hit unprecedented volumes and more people than ever are qualifying for representation,’ Jan Archbold, with Legal Aid Alberta, wrote in an email.” “The program’s governance model ends March 31, 2016. While Legal Aid Alberta is an independent organization in charge of its own operations, the program is governed jointly by Legal Aid, the province and the Law Society of Alberta, which can cause some consternation. ‘Sometimes there can be a perception of influence,’ Ganley said, since the province both governs the society, but also sits across from Albertans in the court system as prosecutor. ‘We think that Legal Aid is doing a great job acting as they are, but certainly there is a certain amount of oversight and arguably, there is a little bit too much interaction.’ She said the governance model will likely be extended until the review comes up with a solution.” (Edmonton Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

The Greensboro Bar Association has stepped up and offered to help the Greensboro branch of The Legal Aid of North Carolina give residents another shot at life with the stigma of a criminal record through the Legal Aid’s Second Chance project. The association committed to taking on 50 cases from Legal Aid to assist them in their endeavor.

“The Greensboro Bar Association wanted to do a signature pro bono project. Something that we could get several of our members involved in regardless of their practice area,” said Afi Johnson-Parris, president of the Greensboro Bar Association and attorney at Ward Black Law Firm in Greensboro. “We choose the expungements because it was one of those things that has bipartisan support, is very formulaic and doesn’t take a lot of time to do so all of our members who have a bar license would be able to participate and it’s one of those type of projects that will make a big impact.”

The Second Chance project addresses the civil consequences of having crossed paths with the criminal justice system by helping individuals overcome barriers to employment or housing due to past arrest and conviction records. This includes helping to get criminal records expunged pro bono so it will be easier for residents to get housing, occupational and driver’s licenses, and obtain employment. Those looking for assistance would need to participate in the Legal Aid intake process before being referred to a volunteering lawyer. Legal aid is also reaching out to nonprofit and community organizations for referrals and letting them know the opportunity is available to their clients.

With Legal Aid agencies losing staff attorneys across the state, Johnson-Parris felt this was a good way for the Greensboro Bar Association to step up and help their community.

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

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