PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 10, 2016

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

Happy Friday! I’m so sad to be saying goodbye to our PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang this week.  She has been such a pleasure to work with, and has contributed so much to PSJD.  We will miss her very much!  In very good news for all of us, she has made sure we have music for the Super Music Bonus to sustain us through the rest of the summer. So we will have a piece of her for a bit longer. We wish her well at the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.  We know she will be doing great things!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Toronto judge rules legal aid qualifying threshold too high;
  • Boston Bar Foundation grants support assistance to homeless and others;
  • Bill to reimburse counties for indigent defense passes New York Assembly;
  • Missouri public defense system to see budget increase;
  • Free women’s legal aid clinic opens in British Columbia in partnership with law school;
  • Ottawa commits an extra $30 million for legal aid;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 3, 2016 – “A Toronto judge has criticized the income cut-off for legal aid funding in Ontario as ‘not realistic’ given the face of poverty in Canada. Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer was presiding over the case of Tyrell Moodie, charged with a number of drug offences, who was denied funding by Legal Aid Ontario because he made more than the organization’s threshold income level for a single person — about $12,000. Moodie, 23, works part time and earned about $16,000 in 2015. Nordheimer put a halt to the charges against Moodie until the government picks up the tab for his lawyer, which the court heard could cost a minimum of $11,000. ‘It should be obvious to any outside observer that the income thresholds being used by Legal Aid Ontario do not bear any reasonable relationship to what constitutes poverty in this country,’ Nordheimer wrote in a ruling last week.” “A spokesperson for LAO said demand for legal aid for low-income individuals remains high. ‘Although the province has recognized this and has made a multi-year commitment to raising the legal aid financial eligibility thresholds, Legal Aid Ontario has a yearly budget it must adhere to and it must prioritize, in accordance with its legislation, the cases it is able to fund,’ said Feroneh Neil in an email. There have been three 6-percent increases to the financial eligibility thresholds since 2014, Neil noted, with the most recent this past April.” (The Hamilton Spectator)

June 3, 2016 – “Housing Families of Malden will get a share of $1 million in grants from the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), the charitable affiliate of the Boston Bar Association. The grants will go to 21 community organizations that work to provide legal services to those in need. Approximately 55 percent of the funding comes from proceeds from BBF’s annual John & Abigail Adams Benefit and BBF reserves, with the remainder derived from Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) funds. The grantee organizations administer legal aid to the most vulnerable and underprivileged members of the population, such as the homeless, domestic violence survivors, at-risk children and veterans. ‘I am thrilled that the Boston Bar Foundation’s grants program has reached the million-dollar mark,’ said BBF President Lisa Goodheart, a partner at Sugarman Rogers Barshak & Cohen. ‘The tremendous success of the John & Abigail Adams Benefit, as well as the year-round support of the BBF’s mission by lawyers, law firms, and area businesses has allowed us to assist these 21 important organizations in providing access to justice for those in need.'”  (Wicked Local Malden)

June 3, 2016 – “The New York State Assembly passed legislation [last week] that would fully reimburse counties for the costs of providing public defenders to poor defendants by 2023. The legislation, which passed with 132 yes votes, and 0 no votes, would reimburse counties an increasing percentage of public defense costs, starting at 25 percent in 2017 until it reimbursed 100 percent of counties’ costs by 2023.” “The legislation is in response to new guidelines released by the state’s Office of Indigent Legal Defense that drastically increase the number of criminal defendants who would qualify for a free public defender by doubling the income cutoff from 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold to 250 percent. The new 250 percent income cutoff means a single defendant would need to earn less than $29,700 a year to qualify for a free lawyer, double the $14,850 or less they’d have had to earn under the 125 percent cutoff. The new guidelines, announced in April, are set to go into effect October 3.” “An identical bill is currently pending in the Senate’s Finance Committee.” (Livingston County News)

June 6, 2016 – “Missouri’s public defenders will see a $4.5 million cash infusion in the coming fiscal year, after studies and experts have described the office as chronically underfunded. Under the state budget that takes effect July 1, the State Public Defender System could begin chipping away at caseloads that have raised questions about whether poor defendants are being adequately represented. While it likely will mean the hiring of an additional 10 employees, the bulk of the money is going to be used to hire private attorneys on a contractual basis, allowing the office’s 370-plus attorneys to focus on their cases, said system director Michael Barrett. ‘This targeted funding will allow us to contract out co-defendants to the private bar, significantly reducing the amount of time attorneys spend on the road and replacing it with time spent working on cases,’ Barrett said. ‘It makes an already efficient defender system all the more so.'” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

June 7, 2016 – “A new center for women, the first of its kind in British Columbia, opened its doors May 24 to provide legal help for free or a reduced-cost. ‘We are incredibly proud to announce that, today, the doors open to an historic new service in B.C.,’ said a spokesperson for the charity responsible for setting up the service. ‘We couldn’t be more thrilled that BC women will now have greater access to legal assistance.’ The charity, West Coast LEAF, partnered with the law school at the University of British Columbia to open a full service storefront legal clinic that will serve low income women. Rise Women’s Legal Centre, will provide a full range of legal services with a focus in family law. It will be staffed by upper-year law students who are closely supervised by onsite attorneys. Services will include filing documents in court and representing clients in their hearings.” (GoodNewsNetwork)

June 8, 2016 – “Ottawa plans to give the provinces more money for legal aid programs to help improve access to the justice system. ‘All Canadians — no matter their means — should have the right to a fair trial and access to a modern, efficient justice system,’ Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in a statement issued Wednesday. The federal government committed $88 million over five years in the federal budget this year. Wilson-Raybould now has announced another $30 million a year in ongoing funding to boost legal aid services for people who cannot afford to pay for lawyers. But that additional funding will not begin until 2021.” “The money will go to the federal Legal Aid Program, which is then distributed to the provinces for delivery of services. Each province and territory sets its own policies and priorities when it comes to legal aid. The government said the money will also come with performance measures to ensure it is doing what it is supposed to do.” (Winnipeg Free Press)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Pro Bono Innovator of the Year – Suffolk Law School

One of two Pro Bono Innovator of the Year honors goes to Suffolk Law’s Institute on Law Practice Tech & Innovation (LPTI), the school’s parent organization of legal technology programs, and its Accelerator-to-Practice Program. The program teaches students how to use legal technology, practice law, and give legal services to low and middle income clients. LPTI is also training students on how to use high-tech tools that make lawyering more efficient and lower the costs per client. Law students learn about project management, process improvement and document automation, as well. (Legal Tech News)

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

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