PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 16, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • FAIR Canada and Osgoode Hall Law School launch investor protection clinic;
  • Kansas becomes newest state to allow military spouses to practice law without taking bar exam;
  • Legal Aid Nebraska launches online service for low-income Nebraskans;
  • Montana task force recommends cabinet level position for head of public defense;
  • Maryland legal aid develops app for record expungement;
  • New York bar associations announce joint initiative to assist domestic violence survivors;
  • California governor vetoes bill to help military members find legal aid;
  • K&L Gates’ Fourth Annual Global Day of Service focuses on investing across generations;
  • Albany Law School launches small business clinic;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 9, 2016 – “Investor rights group FAIR Canada and Professor Poonam Puri of Osgoode Hall Law School are founding an investor protection clinic. It will provide legal assistance to those who believe they have been cheated by their financial advisors or institutions. On August 8, FAIR Canada and Puri revealed that they had received start-up funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice Fund and are now preparing to launch Canada’s first investor protection clinic. Staffed by law students, it will help investors who think they have been harmed or wronged.” (Insurance & Investment Journal)

September 10, 2016 – “A rule adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday will allow attorneys living in the state who are spouses of military members stationed here to temporarily practice law without taking the state-administered uniform bar exam. Rule 712A allows an attorney who has been admitted to practice law in another state or the District of Columbia, and who is married to a military service member stationed in Kansas, to be admitted to practice law in Kansas without a written examination. The rule takes effect Thursday.” “Eighteen states have already passed similar rules, and 13 more have proposed or are investigating admission of military spouses, according to a press release from the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration.” (The Hays Daily News)

September 11, 2016 – “Legal Aid of Nebraska has officially launched an online service for low-income Nebraskans, addressing questions about collections faced by debtors, and housing issues faced by tenants. The website/program, Law Help Nebraska, is available in all 93 counties. It provides a user-friendly virtual self-help system for quick assistance, organizers said. ‘Law Help Nebraska addresses a major gap in rural areas lacking physical lawyer presence. It also helps to unclog court systems and simplifies the process of answering questions and generating legal forms for low-income Nebraskans,’ said spokesperson Paige Piper. Law Help Nebraska serves as a virtual attorney that will ask a series of questions to address legal concerns, help generate forms that may be filed, or direct users to next steps, including applying for an attorney.” “Law Help Nebraska is available at public access computers in county courts statewide, though it may also be accessed from home. This program was made possible by generous funding from the Legal Services Corporation.” (North Platte Bulletin)

September 12, 2016 – “A panel of lawmakers and lawyers forwarded to the Montana Legislature a set of bills on Monday that would reorganize the Office of the State Public Defender by creating a cabinet-level director to oversee the agency. The Task Force on State Public Defender Operations, created by the state Legislature to review the agency that represents poor criminal defendants, recommended removing agency oversight from the Public Defender Commission and giving it to the governor. The change, if approved by the Montana Legislature when it meets in January, would amount to creating the 17th department of state government.” “State lawmakers created the task force to examine how the agency operates and to recommend changes in the form of bills to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.” “The task force also recommended creating a ‘holistic defense pilot program’ that would look at the underlying causes that bring people into the criminal justice system, and seek to reduce recidivism. The program calls for a team to include a public defender, a social worker, an investigator and support staff to provide defendants with both legal and social support services. In addition, the task force advanced a bill requiring the state Department of Revenue to collect costs imposed by courts for public defender services. It also recommended that the state Department of Public Health and Human Services make the determination now made by the public defenders’ office of whether a defendant is eligible to receive the agency’s services.” (Missoulian)

September 12, 2016 – “Maryland Legal Aid has developed a new app for expunging criminal records. ExpungeItMD.org is a free, user-friendly app that enables legal professionals to easily search Maryland criminal records and generate documents to file expungement petitions with the Maryland Courts on behalf of low-income citizens. ” (Southern Maryland Online)

September 13, 2016 – “On Sept. 8, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) announced a joint initiative to enhance access to legal services by victims of domestic violence.” “The Domestic Violence Initiative will work to raise awareness of domestic violence and offer training to pro bono and legal service attorneys; collaborate with bar associations and others in the legal community to recruit more pro bono attorneys and develop pro bono programs for underserved communities across the state; and consider and make recommendations about possible legislation to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence. Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families in New York City, and Amy Schwartz-Wallace of Rochester, leader of Empire Justice Center’s statewide domestic violence practice, are co-chairs of the Initiative and its membership will include representatives of legal services providers, bar associations, law firm pro bono programs, the court system and law schools.” (Spotlightnews.com)

September 14, 2016 – “Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin’s bill to help active military members find pro bono legal help in California appeared to be one of the least controversial of the year. Facing no registered opposition, the measure cleared committee hearings and floor votes without dissent. It was supported by officials at the U.S. Department of Defense. But Irwin’s bill would have cost money Gov. Jerry Brown was not inclined to spend. The fourth-term Democrat on Wednesday vetoed Assembly Bill 2085, which would have created a state office to coordinate free legal assistance for military members, saying the measure should instead be considered in budget deliberations. The proposal by Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, would have cost the state about $800,000 annually to staff a new Office of Military Legal Assistance within the California Military Department, according to a legislative analysis. ‘I believe this type of bill is more properly considered during budget deliberations,’ Brown said in a veto message.” (The Sacramento Bee)

September 14, 2016 – “The New Mexico Public Defender’s Office said in a legislative hearing Tuesday that it may soon have to start declining criminal cases if it doesn’t get properly funded to meet growing caseloads. The Public Defender’s Office has underscored its lack of funding for years, and today it acknowledged that it’s at a tipping point. In budget documents, officials say they’re dealing with a shortage of attorneys and support staff which results in, ‘many indigent clients in the state not receiving effective assistance of counsel.’ They add that in almost every county in New Mexico, ‘defenders cannot represent clients at arraignments and felony first appearances.’ Those officials also said that many indigent defendants are not even represented during grand jury proceedings. The office is working with a $49 million budget according to budget documents, and is asking for nearly $5 million more in emergency funds for the next fiscal year to help fund 125 additional attorneys and 62 additional support staff positions. In budget documents, officials said that if the Public Defender’s Office isn’t adequately funded then the state can expect the office to begin declining requests to represent indigent clients across New Mexico.” (KOAT)

September 15, 2016 – “For the fourth consecutive year, global law firm K&L Gates LLP will carry out its annual Global Day of Service, an immense, week-long volunteer effort by firm lawyers and staff focused on serving charitable organizations in cities and regions across the five continents in which the firm has offices. This year, personnel from each of the firm’s offices worldwide will volunteer with more than 70 community organizations and charities, many focused on elderly or youth services, throughout the week of September 19-23 around the theme of ‘Investing Across Generations.'” “Launched in 2013 based on an idea from the firm’s Global Associate Liaison Committee, the Global Day of Service provides a way for lawyers and staff at the firm to volunteer and make a difference in their local communities around the world”  (Business Wire)

September 16, 2016 – “A new business development clinic at Albany Law School will provide free legal services to current or future small business owners in the region, said Alicia Ouellette, president and dean. It will open in January. Albany Law students will provide free legal services associated with opening a small business. They will help with obtaining business loans, writing contracts, auditing employment policies and protecting intellectual assets.” (Albany Business Review)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Two years ago, Kay Trapp and Dinetia Newman set out to provide free legal consultations for guests who came for breakfast through All Saints’ Episcopal Church’s Saints’ Brew in Tupelo, Mississippi. Over biscuits and coffee in the parish hall, Trapp, a retired lawyer, and Newman, a lawyer with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm, answered questions from those in need about child custody, divorce, name changes and driver’s licenses. Now, they are being awarded the 2016 Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award from the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. The award, presented annually, recognizes “outstanding pro bono legal services.” With the statewide recognition from the award – which the two said they were honored to receive – and more volunteers, Trapp and Newman want to become more mobile in their services. “We thought, ‘Is there a way to be mobile?’ Because we’re in the parish hall,” Newman said. “We want to take the legal services more where the people are because the lack of transportation is a big issue.” (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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