PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 14, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • California Chief Judge hails proposed budget increase for judiciary;
  • Orleans public defender’s office to begin refusing cases;
  • Idaho Governor proposes $5 million for public defense reform;
  • Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law launches legal incubator program;
  • Washington State Attorney General announces legislation to provide better legal assistance to veterans;
  • Elon University School of Law launches law practice incubator;
  • Teen builds UK’s first robot lawyer;
  • Maine lawmakers propose state-wide public defender office;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 8, 2016 – “California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye yesterday expressed delight over the allocation in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2016–17 budget of $3.8 billion for the Judicial Branch, including $2.8 billion for trial court operations. The total amount of the state budget is $122.6 billion. Last year, Brown proposed $3.47 billion for the courts, a $180 million boost over the previous fiscal year. The current sum proposed for the courts is a $330 million increase. Cantil-Sakauye declared: ‘We welcome the Governor’s proposed budget for the judicial branch as it would provide $146.3 million in crucial new funding for our courts. Much of the new funding would be focused on innovations to benefit court users at all levels of our court system. The proposed budget reflects a steady but cautious new investment in the judicial branch since fiscal year 2012–2013. The budget contains ‘proposals to support efforts by the Judicial Council to improve court operations and increase access.’ ‘In addition to supporting local as well as branchwide innovations, the Governor’s budget would provide funding for statewide infrastructure needs, language access expansion in civil proceedings, and funding to assist trial courts facing increased workload related to sentencing reforms.’ ‘The Governor’s proposed budget would help make courts more accessible, efficient, and equitable for court users. The Judicial Council looks forward to working with the Administration and Legislature as we seek to address state budget issues affecting access to justice for the people of California.'” (Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

January 11, 2016 –  “The Orleans Public Defenders office announced Monday that it will begin refusing certain felony cases in which defendants face lengthy or life sentences. In addition to murder cases, these can include attempted murder, forcible rape and armed robbery, said Colin Reingold, the office’s litigation director. The action, which Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton first threatened nearly two months ago, presents uncertain options for indigent defendants charged with serious violent crimes. The office either needs more funding or reduced caseloads, Reingold said. ‘Either those defendants will have to hire a lawyer, or the court will find them a lawyer, or they will wait for a lawyer until one of those things happen,’ Reingold said. ‘On a purely practical level, each judge could make their own call.’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has increased direct appropriations to the office from $831,000 in 2014 to more than $1.5 million this year, the administration said in a statement. But these increases have barely kept pace with state funding cuts, the administration said, adding that the state ‘has primary responsibility in this area.’ The additional local funding is enough to stave off mandatory furloughs, but not enough to provide representation in serious felony cases that is constitutional or ethical, Reingold said. Reingold acknowledged the possibility a judge could order the Public Defenders office to proceed with representation, adding this could ultimately harm prosecutions. ‘We would continue to do the best we can with the understanding that we are warning them it is our opinion that the representation we are providing is deficient, and the case will be vulnerable to an appeal,’ Reingold said, adding that the Public Defenders office would likely seek appellate relief if forced to provide deficient representation.” (The Times-Picayune)

January 11, 2016 – “Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s set aside $5 million in his proposed state budget for next year to address public defense reform. After a short pause, lawmakers greeted the news with applause. It followed a strong statement from Otter about the need for the move. ‘Let me say that Idaho historically has been a leader in recognizing and ensuring the right to legal counsel,’ he said. ‘It was part of our territorial law and was put in the Idaho Constitution at statehood.’ A lawsuit now pending in state court in Idaho charges that Idaho’s current public defender system is unconstitutional, its public defenders are overworked and undertrained, and the system provides a disincentive for adequate defense, Otter told lawmakers. ‘It’s not a cheap or easy fix. But I stand with the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission and the State Public Defense Commission in calling on the Legislature to address the issue this year,’ the governor declared.” (The Spokesman-Review)

January 11, 2016 – “The Shepard Broad College of Law will launch a Legal Incubator program, a new opportunity for Nova Southeastern University (NSU) law graduates to start their own solo, small firm or non-profit practices while serving military veterans and lower income individuals. The innovative program, operating in coordination with the college’s existing Veterans Law Clinic, will allow NSU law graduates to attain valuable legal and business experience while launching a practice and provide the new attorneys the affordable infrastructure and basic training to get established. ‘The integration of the NSU Law Incubator with the full-service Veteran’s Clinic provides a truly unique resource for both our graduates and the communities they serve,’ said College of Law Dean Jon M. Garon. ‘This model combines cutting-edge, post-graduate education essential for new lawyers while greatly expanding our service to the Veteran community.'” (PR Newswire)

January 13, 2016 – “State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday announced legislation to improve the delivery of legal assistance services to current and former military service members. The proposed legislation to create an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance in the Attorney General’s Office authorizes the office to facilitate access to legal assistance programs and pro bono (volunteer) legal representation for military service members, veterans and their families. The proposed legislation will create a one-stop shop for legal assistance and pro bono services provided by community organizations and private attorneys.” (Kent Reporter)

January 13, 2016 – “Elon University School of Law has launched a law practice incubator to help foster the development of attorneys looking to launch a solo practice or seeking to serve low-income residents in the community. Peter Hoffman, an Elon Law professor who focuses on trial and appellate advocacy, has spearheaded the effort and said the goal is to help attorneys leave the program after 18 months ‘with a record of accomplishment, pro bono service and financially viable, freestanding practices.’ The program launches with four Elon Law graduates who were selected through a competitive application process.” (Triad Business Journal)

January 14, 2016 – This one is just interesting.  “A 19-year-old student claims to have built “UK’s first robot lawyer” in an attempt to give the public free legal aid. Joshua Browder, undertaking an Economics and Computer Science degree at Stanford University, came up with the idea after he created a website ‘DoNotPay’ to help people appeal unfair parking tickets. Speaking to Mashable about the inspiration behind his robot lawyer, he said: ‘…users began sending me emails ranging from questions about how to use the site (‘I got a parking ticket — which appeal should I choose?’) to general questions about consumer law (‘What happens if I can’t pay my court fine?’).  Although I tried to respond to every single one, as the site gained popularity, it became harder to respond in detail to thousands of these emails a month.’ He added: ‘To solve this problem, I realised that the best way to help people would be to create a computer program that could talk to users, generate appeals and answer questions like a human.'” (Huffington Post UK)

January 14, 2016 – “A proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to create a state public defenders office to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer will be aired in a public hearing Thursday at the State House. The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators on LePage’s behalf, would replace the current system, which uses state money to hire private lawyers for indigent defense, with a hybrid system in which approved private attorneys would be under contract with the state. Currently, lawyers hired as public defenders aren’t under contract. But the bill is opposed by many attorneys who currently represent indigent defendants in Maine.” “Maine is now the only state without some form of a public defender’s office to oversee the representation of indigent criminal defendants.” (Portland Press Herald)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Four outstanding attorneys and law firms and two community partners were recognized and celebrated for their extraordinary work at the Nevada Legal Services Inaugural Elko Champions of Justice Luncheon on Dec. 10, 2015. “Nevada Legal Services created the Champions of Justice Award to give recognition to those who significantly support the cause of access to justice for all Nevadans by providing or promoting pro bono assistance,” Johnson said. “As the needs of our rural communities have increased we have reached out to our rural community volunteers and community agencies for support and assistance in addressing the increased need for legal aid.” The award recipients represent a broad cross-section of Elko and rural Nevada’s legal community and share a commitment to advancing access to justice.

Rural Pro Bono Attorney of the Year 2015: Rendal Miller, Esq.

Rural Pro Bono Firm of the Year 2015: The Gerber Law Firm

Rural Pro Bono Clinic Attorney of the Year 2015: Kriston Hill, Esq.

Andrew J. Puccinelli  Special Recognition of the Year 2015: Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, Esq.

Rural Pro Bono Collaboration Partners of the Year 2015: Elko County Library

Rural Pro Bono Community Partners of the Year 2015: Elko Office of Aging and Disability Services Division

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

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