PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 29, 2015

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

Happy Friday! I feel like we’ll never dig out of this snow. But, it reminded me that not everyone is as fortunate to have a warm place to sleep. Check out resources in your area for folks who may be out in the cold so that you know how to help if an opportunity arises.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • 2016 National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List;
  • West Virginia Public Defender Services to no longer cut court-appointed attorneys’ fees;
  • Bloomberg BNA announces support of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia;
  • Texas Civil Rights Project announces Veterans’ Rights Program;
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law to create a human trafficking law clinic;
  • Idaho judge dismisses ACLU lawsuit over public defense;
  • State of Utah and Washington County sued over public defender system;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 18, 2016 – The 2016 National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List is out.  The work was varied and far-reaching and required thousands of hours and teams of attorneys working to solve complex problems. Check out their amazing work. (National Law Journal)

January 21, 2016 – “[West Virginia] Public Defender Services rescinded its emergency guidelines that were set to go into effect this week. Dana Eddy, the Executive Director of Public Defender Services, said the budget office was able to scrape together enough money to be able to withdraw the emergency guidelines. ‘I give full credit to the budget office,’ Eddy said. ‘They were able to scrape together $15.7 million, which made it possible to remove the emergency guidelines.’ Eddy said even if the emergency guidelines had gone into effect, they would’ve only lasted until the next fiscal year.” (West Virginia Record)

January 21, 2016 –  “Bloomberg BNA today announced it will provide Bloomberg Law, a leading all-in-one technology platform for the legal industry, at no cost to the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia (D.C. Legal Aid). Washington, D.C.’s oldest and largest civil legal services organization, D.C. Legal Aid provides pro bono representation to clients living in poverty on matters involving domestic violence/family, housing, public benefits, and consumer law.” (PR Newswire)

January 21, 2016 – “The Texas Civil Rights Project recently announced a new Veterans’ Rights Program aimed at assisting the 40,000 or so veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley. ‘Veterans not only have the challenge of re-acclimating to civilian life – seeking health, education and other benefits to which they are entitled – but also often have the added challenge of navigating that process with physical or mental disabilities that they acquired during service,’ said Emma Hilbert, the program’s attorney, in a statement to Equal Voice.” “Any veterans or family members of veterans having trouble gaining access to public resources or residences will find themselves heard and represented at TCRP.” (AFBA)

January 22, 2016 – “Case Western Reserve University School of Law recently received $131,169 to create a human trafficking law clinic. The money came from the Crime Victims’ Fund, which was established by the Victims of Crime Act and provides a base amount of $500,000 to each state. In Ohio, the Attorney General’s Office distributes this money to Crime Victims Assistance Grant applicants who will support victim assistance and/or compensation programs. The focus of the human trafficking law clinic will be on providing advocacy and educating people on the issue of human trafficking. Students in the law school will be involved in the representation of human trafficking victims when they face criminal charges related to their victimization and will work with the courts to identify victims of human trafficking. Although they will not be involved in the prosecution of any human traffickers, students will also help victims who act as witnesses in such trials by providing information and support. The educational component will involve preparing educational materials for the community. All of this will be done with the oversight of Co-Directors and Professors Maureen Kenny and Judith P. Lipton, and students who become involved will be focusing on criminal law.” (The Observer)

January 22, 2016 – “An Idaho judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the state seeking to improve the public defense system in Idaho, saying the case did not merit judicial action because it is not up to the courts to legislate standards. ‘The court is sympathetic with plaintiff’s plight. However, the case invites the court to make speculative assumptions regarding the outcomes of individual cases,’ 4th District Judge Samuel Hoagland said in his ruling. He said the lawsuit asks him to presume ‘that all indigent criminal defendants in all counties are receiving the same ineffective assistance of counsel, and then issue blanket orders halting all criminal prosecutions until the issues are resolved.’ The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued the state in June contending that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system was broken and prevented defendants from receiving adequate legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Though the ACLU has brought similar cases over public defense systems in parts of Michigan, Washington state and other regions, attorneys on the Idaho lawsuit say it’s the first such case against an entire state. ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Leo Morales said the organization would appeal the ruling.” (Idaho Statesman)

January 22, 2016 – “A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed Friday against the state of Utah and Washington County on behalf of thousands of criminal defendants who are represented in court by public defenders. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, claims the county’s current public defender system is broken, and that the attorneys who work those contracts are overworked, underpaid and are not given the proper support to defend their clients. The lawsuit claims this is violating the accused’s constitutional rights — which requires states to provide an attorney for those who can’t afford them. ‘[The county] enters into fixed-price contracts with local attorneys to provide indigent defense services to those charged with criminal wrongdoing in the district court,’ the lawsuit reads. ‘The contracts are structured and administered in a manner that impede the ability of the attorneys to provide constitutionally adequate legal representation to their clients.'” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has given its 2016 Louis M Brown Award for Legal Access to Suffolk University Law School in Boston for its program uniquely combining course work and clinical opportunities.

Suffolk’s Accelerator-to-Practice Program enables graduates to effectively and creatively provide personal legal services within the law firm setting. Courses include “Legal Problems in Everyday Life” and “Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines,” along with an array of substantive law topics. Students spend their final year representing clients in fee-shifting cases in a law firm within the school in which they learn practice skills, client retention and service, risk management, and other skills necessary for efficient delivery of legal services.

The committee also recognized the Lawyer Entrepreneur Assistance Program, an incubator consortium of law schools in Orange County, California, with Meritorious Recognition. The program trains new lawyers to create solo or small firm practices that serve people who do not qualify for free legal services but are unable to pay prevailing market rates. Law schools in the partnership are the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Chapman University School of Law, Whittier School of Law, Western State College of Law and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.  (ABA News)

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

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