PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 15, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to a double issue this week. Lots of funding news, and one interesting lawsuit, so let’s get to it.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New attorneys’ fees in Ohio to fund legal aid;
  • Funds for new prosecutors in South Carolina;
  • Senator and Representative propose bills to fix America’s strained public defense system;
  • New Hampshire approves $1 million in new legal aid funds;
  • New fellowship promoting public interest law names first recipient;
  • Pennsylvania Department of Aging receives legal assistance grant;
  • Ohio lawyers donated over 76,000 pro bono hours;
  • Ontario Access to Justice Challenge finalists announced;
  • State grant funds more legal services for Vermont seniors;
  • Missouri’s public defender system sues over funding cuts;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 1, 2016 – “New attorneys’ fees approved by the Ohio Supreme Court will help fund legal services for poor and disadvantaged Ohioans. The fees taking effect Friday were adopted earlier this year by the Ohio Supreme Court. Under new court rules, annual registration fees paid by out-of-state attorneys to appear in Ohio courtrooms increase from $150 to $300. The court also approved a voluntary $50 ‘add-on’ fee on top of the $350 attorney registration fee paid every two years. Money raised from the fees will help pay for civil legal aid services for poor or disadvantaged Ohioans. The court’s Task Force on Access to Justice recommended the increases last year.” (Home Town Stations)

July 3, 2016 – “South Carolina’s criminal justice system will see changes in the coming months, as millions of dollars the Legislature approved to help lighten unmanageable prosecutor caseloads start to trickle into judicial circuits. The Legislature approved $7.8 million in this year’s state budget with the goal of adding an estimated 104 prosecutors statewide. The cash is expected to lower the burden on prosecutors, especially in poorer and rural districts, where the workload discrepancy is stark.” “Legislators also approved $2.9 million to have South Carolina hire more prosecutors specifically to deal with criminal domestic violence cases and end the practice of having police officers playing the role of prosecutor against seasoned criminal defense attorneys in magistrates court.” “The extra money is expected to reduce the average caseload to 280. ‘That’s a start,’ said David Ross, executive director of the Commission on Prosecution Coordination.” (The State)

July 8, 2016 – “U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) announced the beginning of a new bicameral effort to fix America’s strained public defender system. Sen. Booker is introducing the Equal Justice Under Law Act of 2016, legislation that seeks to address the indigent defense crisis in many states throughout the country. Rep. Maloney has introduced the Equal Justice Under Law Act of 2016 in the House. The two will partner to advance the legislation through Congress. ‘The right to counsel is a constitutional right guaranteed to all Americans. Sadly, all too often our broken justice system falls short of providing this right, and the consequences of these shortcomings is felt most acutely in low-income communities all across this country,’ Sen. Booker said. ‘The Equal Justice Under Law Act seeks to fill in the glaring gaps that have left too many Americans vulnerable and without adequate legal representation. I will continue to work relentlessly to better balance the scales of justice so that we can truly be a nation of liberty and justice for all.'” “The Equal Justice Under Law Act of 2016 would: create a federal cause of action that allows indigent criminal defendants to file a lawsuit against states and political subdivisions for systemic failures to provide effective assistance of counsel in felony cases; permit litigants to file a class action lawsuit against states and localities for systemic failures to provide effective assistance of counsel in felony cases; and in the Senate version, it would require states to consult with representatives from the public defender community prior to distributing Byrne JAG funds.” (Cape May County Herald)

RELATED: “U.S. Sen. Cory Booker has also introduced the Clarence Gideon Full Access to Justice Act (Gideon Act), which would establish a federal corporation dedicated to delivering independent, uniform, and quality defense representation in criminal cases before the United States Supreme Court and, at times, the highest courts in the states.” “‘The Gideon Act seeks to support ordinary citizens in their pursuit of justice by providing access to high-quality and specialized representation at the Supreme Court.'” (Cape May Herald)

July 8, 2016 – “The [New Hampshire] Executive Council last week approved $1 million in new funding for New Hampshire Legal Assistance and two other organizations to expand legal aid services to more victims of stalking and domestic violence. Of the more than 5,000 domestic violence and stalking victims who filed restraining order petitions in the state in 2015, just 9 percent received legal help, according to the court system. ‘Victims who are unrepresented are at an enormous disadvantage in court,’ said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. With the new money, New Hampshire Legal Assistance will hire two attorneys focused solely on domestic violence and stalking cases, more than doubling the organization’s current capacity to help victims. The Legal Advice and Referral Center, which connects victims with crisis centers and lawyers, will hire an additional intake worker. And the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program will launch a new statewide program to help stalking victims and work to recruit more private volunteer attorneys. The partnership will put more effort into reaching immigrant, refugee and non-English speaking victims who may face cultural or language barriers that prevent them from seeking help.” (Valley News)

July 8, 2016 – “Lisa Hartline overcame personal obstacles with poverty and homelessness to go to law school. At age 41, she’s a year away from her degree, and she plans to turn around and help others experiencing the same struggles she did in West Virginia. This year, Hartline was the inaugural recipient of the Regina Charon Fellowship, which provides a stipend to a West Virginia University College of Law student to spend the summer working at Legal Aid of West Virginia. The fellowship was created to honor a former Morgantown lawyer and administrative judge, Regina Charon, who worked for North Central Legal Aid of West Virginia after earning her law degree from WVU in 1976. It’s one of many internships funded through the West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest. Hartline will spend 10 weeks working at the Parkersburg office of Legal Aid of West Virginia, with support from a $5,500 stipend.” (West Virginia Record)

July 8, 2016 – “Today, Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne announced that the department has received a federal grant to enhance and strengthen Pennsylvania’s senior legal service delivery systems. The grant will enable the department to further protect the rights, health, and safety of older Pennsylvanians, with a focus on victims of elder abuse and exploitation.” “The purpose of the grant is to implement a well-integrated and cost-effective legal service delivery system that maximizes the impact of limited legal resources for older Pennsylvanians with the greatest need. This entails assessing the capacity of the current legal service delivery system, developing and implementing legal service delivery standards and guidelines as well as data collection and reporting systems, creating and strengthening no-cost and low-cost legal service delivery mechanisms, and establishing new guardianship and court-based initiatives. The department will fulfill the grant requirements through a partnership with the SeniorLAW Center, a non-profit organization which improves the lives of older Pennsylvanians and protects their rights through legal representation, education, and advocacy.” (Yahoo Finance)

July 8, 2016 – “The Ohio Supreme Court says attorneys around the state donated more than 76,000 hours of legal services last year. The state’s high court and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation said Thursday that more than 4,300 attorneys voluntarily reported pro-bono services for 2015. That’s more than double the number of attorneys who reported such work last year.” (The Washington Times)

July 11, 2016 – “The Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University, in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General, announced the ten startup finalists in the Ontario Access to Justice Challenge. After reviewing the 29 applications received, 10 finalists have been chosen because of their innovative service, process, and/or solution that will challenge the status quo of legal services and enhance access to justice in Ontario. The 10 finalists are: Codify Legal Publishing, Compliance Buster, Courthouse Access, JusticeTrans, Law Scout Inc., Legale(a)se, Legally Inc., Lex Cortex Ltd, ParDONE and Small Claims Wizard. These 10 startups will pitch to a panel of judges on Wednesday July 20 at the Legal Innovation Zone. Six of these teams will be awarded working space at the Legal Innovation Zone for four months, including access to mentors, advisors and other resources.” “At the end of four months, the six startups will participate in a ‘Demo Day,’ where three of the six startups will be selected and awarded seed money totaling $50,000 and invited to stay in the Legal Innovation Zone for an additional four months.” (Legal Innovation Zone)

July 13, 2016 – “Vermont received an Administration for Community Living grant that will provide $178,500 each year for three years to expand legal services for at-risk older adults. The Model Approaches to Statewide Legal Assistance Systems demonstration grant is a cooperative grant between the Vermont Agency of Human Services’ Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) and Vermont Legal Aid. The grants are designed to help states respond effectively to legal issues affecting seniors with significant social or economic needs. In Vermont, the funding will be used to develop services specifically for seniors at the statewide legal hotline, Vermont Law Help, as well as to provide legal training, to do outreach, and to build and strengthen partnerships throughout the state with the court system, Adult Protective Services, the Office of Public Guardian, the Area Agencies on Aging, and others.” (Vermont Biz)

July 13, 2016 – “Missouri’s public defender agency is suing over what it calls Gov. Jay Nixon’s unconstitutional decision to withhold $3.5 million in funds for defending the indigent. The Missouri State Public Defender system and the state’s Public Defender Commission filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Cole County. The plaintiffs allege that Nixon has cut its budget by 8.5 percent while no general revenue was restricted from Nixon’s own budget.” (WGEM)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

For its work in providing unmet legal needs to underserved parts of the United States, the University of Georgia School of Law was awarded the State Bar of Georgia’s Law School Excellence in Access to Justice Award. The UGA School of Law was selected for the award because of its ‘Working in the Public Interest’ — UGA Law Student Access to Justice Project, a group-led, student-run conference. Public law practitioners from around the world travel to this conference held by UGA Law students to speak about public issues and provide networking opportunities to students interested in public law. (The Red & Black)

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

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