PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 8, 2016

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

Happy Friday! We are very excited to see everyone at the 2016 Annual Education Conference next week.  Since we will be sharing news with so many of you in person, the Digest will return on April 22nd.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • British Columbia Chief Judge to hold Twitter town hall;
  • Iowa inmates facing added time have right to counsel;
  • Ontario raising legal aid eligibility threshold by another 6 percent;
  • L.A. County reconsiders reliance on flat-fee juvenile defenders;
  • New report finds South Carolina indigent defendants routinely denied counsel or not informed of their 6th Amendment rights;
  • Georgia Bar’s incubator for new lawyers launches;
  • Boston University School of Law alum creates endowment to fund pro bono service trips;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 31, 2016 – “Members of the public are being invited to participate in a Twitter ‘town hall’ being organized by provincial court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree. Anyone who has a question for Crabtree can contact him through the hashtag #AskChiefJudge on April 14, B.C. Law Day. Topics being encouraged include access to justice, the future of the justice system and specialty courts, including First Nations court. ‘The Provincial Court wants to engage members of the public in their justice system,’ Crabtree said in a statement. ‘Our recent consultation on online access to criminal court information demonstrated the valuable contribution the public can make to policy decisions. The Twitter Town Hall is another way the Court can engage with the public. I’m looking forward to the conversation on April 14.'” (The Vancouver Sun)

April 1, 2016 – “Iowa inmates have a right to a lawyer when fighting Department of Corrections decisions that can add time to their sentences, a judge has ruled in a case that the state is appealing. If upheld, the ruling would help inmates challenge department rulings about treatment they must complete or disciplinary violations, which can tack on months or years to their incarceration. The outcome could have major implications for the prison system and the state-funded public defender system. The Department of Corrections filed notice Thursday that it would appeal the decision Judge Scott Rosenberg issued last week. The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether to take the case or send it to an appeals court for review.” “The expense of any change could be significant. State Public Defender Adam Gregg said that spending by his office for lawyers in simple misdemeanor cases has shot up 45 percent, a $352,000 increase, after last year’s court ruling and that he’s asked lawmakers for a supplemental appropriation. Gregg said he was watching the inmate case closely. ‘It could have a major impact on both the right to counsel in Iowa, and on the indigent defense budget,’ Gregg said.” (The Des Moines Register)

April 1, 2016 – “Ontario is giving more people access to affordable legal services by increasing the financial eligibility threshold for Legal Aid Ontario by six per cent, effective immediately. Legal Aid Ontario provides low-income Ontarians with access to legal services in areas such as criminal, family, immigration, mental health and poverty law. Ontario’s 2014 budget committed to increasing the eligibility threshold by six per cent each year over three years, and today’s increase is the third. This year’s investment amounts to over $48.8 million and as a result of these three combined threshold increases, nearly 400,000 more people will have access to legal aid services. Enhancing legal aid for Ontario’s most vulnerable is part of Ontario’s plan to create a justice system that is modern and responsive to the needs of the people it serves. A simpler, faster and more accessible justice system helps to create a fair society, encourages investment in our communities, and makes life easier by lowering costs and improving convenience and choice.” (Ontario Newsroom)

April 3, 2016 – “In the wake of a new report, Los Angeles County juvenile justice advocates and policymakers are calling for oversight of juvenile defense attorneys to address disparities in legal counsel provided to youth in the juvenile-justice system. Earlier this month, the county received a long-awaited report from the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at University of California, Berkeley School of Law that analyzed representation for juvenile defendants in the county’s Superior Courts whose families are not able to afford private attorneys. The ‘Los Angeles County Juvenile Indigent Defense System’ report highlighted several areas of concern about the use of county-contracted panel attorneys, who are paid a flat fee to represent youth.” “Indigent youth are most often represented by the county’s Public Defender’s Office, but when there is a conflict of interest, the county must use an alternative option. However, Los Angeles County is the only county in the state to use a flat-fee system, a process that many believe discourages panel attorneys from spending suitable time and effort on a youth’s case.” “‘Los Angeles is the only county with no centralized mechanism for quality control and oversight over those panel attorneys, and the results [of the Warren report] show disparate treatment and outcomes,’ said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week.” “As the Board of Supervisors considers a way to change the system, many advocates point to the use of the county’s Alternate Public Defender’s Office as the best way to move on from panel attorneys.” “On Tuesday, the board will consider a motion presented by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that will propose oversight of panel representation and explore the cost of alternatives, including an expansion of Alternate Public Defender’s Office.”  (The Chronicle of Social Change)

April 4, 2016 – “In South Carolina’s lower courts—called magistrate, municipal, or summary courts—low-income defendants are routinely denied access to an attorney or not informed of their Sixth Amendment rights, according to a new report published Monday by the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. ‘When you go to a summary court in South Carolina, you find yourself in a judicial netherworld where the police officer who made the arrest acts as the prosecutor, the judge may not have a law degree, and there are no lawyers in sight,’ said Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, in a statement.” (takepart)

April 5, 2016 – “The State Bar of Georgia’s new incubator program for young lawyers has recruited its first class of participants and hired a pro bono director. Seven lawyers started work Monday at the incubator, called Lawyers for Equal Justice. Sarah Babcock, the pro bono director, has joined from Alston & Bird, where she was an associate for six years in the environmental practice. Lawyers for Equal Justice’s aim is to help young lawyers get their legal careers started, while also providing legal services to people of moderate to low means. The inaugural class members are: Greg Clement and JoAnna Smith, both Emory University graduates, Alicia Mack and Candice Sneed, both Georgia State University graduates, Charles Wardlaw, an Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School graduate, Tamorra Buchanan-Boyd, a Mercer University graduate, and Chris Bruce, a University of Georgia graduate.” “Lawyers for Equal Justice participants receive training and office space for 18 months and are paired with a solo practitioner who serves as a mentor. The incubator is sharing a floor at Peachtree Center with the Atlanta Bar Association. There is no fee to participate for the first six months, then it’s $500 a month for six months, and $750 a month for the final six. Part of the deal is that participants put in 40 hours a month of pro bono service for six months and then 30 hours a month for the following year.” (Daily Report)(subscription required)

April 7, 2016 – “Boston University School of Law graduate Thomas Smith created an endowment to further fund the School of Law’s Spring Break Pro Bono Service Trips, according to a Monday release. Inspired by the spirit of the program, Smith and his wife Sharon established the Thomas Royall Smith and Sharon L. Smith Crisis Advocacy Fund in order to allow School of Law students to ‘help communities in crises,’ the release stated. ‘We were moved by the idea of creating a crisis advocacy fund,’ Smith, a 1970 alum, stated in the release. ‘In this way, we can support BU Law students helping to respond to crisis situations, the most recent being the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.’ The support and vision of the Smiths’ fund will provide future School of Law students the opportunity to respond to nationwide crises situations, such as providing a ‘much-needed legal assistance,’ the release stated.” (The Daily Free Press)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

It is with great sadness that we convey the news that Esther Lardent, founder and former President of the Pro Bono Institute, has died.  She was a force of nature, and the driving force behind pro bono in large law firms and corporate legal departments. It may seem commonplace today, but in the late 90’s, it just wasn’t on many people’s radar. The National Law Journal has a very nice article about Esther and her amazing dedication to serving.  The loss to our community is profound!

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

The comment form is closed.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL