PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 7, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to October and the official start of pumpkin spice everything.  We are also looking forward to the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference for NALP member public interest career counselors, pro bono program managers, and other public-service career professionals from the law school and employer communities. Register now!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Oregon School of Law receives grant to expand domestic violence clinic;
  • Legal Services Corporation announces 11 Pro Bono Innovation Grant recipients;
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders adequate funding for public defense;
  • Gulfcoast Legal Services Executive Director retires after federal audit finding deficient record-keeping;
  • University of Hawai’i Mānoa law school breaks ground on new clinical building;
  • Senate subcommittee holds hearing on hiring in federal government;
  • Indiana Legal Services receives grant to aid seniors;
  • Federal funding for fair housing initiatives in Massachusetts;
  • Georgia State University College of Law establishes Center for Access to Justice;
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law opens new tax clinic;
  • Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey detailed results are out;
  • Technology CLE’s now required in Florida;
  • University of Michigan Law School receives grant to examine shaken-baby cases;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 28, 2016 – “The Domestic Violence Clinic at the University of Oregon School of Law has been awarded $300,000 by the Oregon Department of Justice to continue and expand its office of Student Survivor Legal Services.” “The new grant will permit the office to offer legal services to students at Lane Community College and Northwest Christian University, in addition to the UO.  Professor Merle Weiner, faculty director of the Domestic Violence Clinic and writer of the grant from the Department of Justice, said, ‘Legal services are vitally important to student survivors on all types of campuses. It is incumbent upon us all to think of creative ways to offer such services when they are not available. This grant will allow the Domestic Violence Clinic to offer a post-graduate fellowship to a graduate of the law school while also serving survivors on other campuses.'” (University of Oregon School of Law News)

September 29, 2016 – “The Legal Services Corporation announced today that 11 legal aid organizations will receive grants to support innovations in pro bono legal services for low-income clients. The grants from LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund are intended to encourage new and robust pro bono efforts and partnerships to serve more low-income people.” The full list of grantees is available here. (Legal Services Corporation)

September 30, 2016 – “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting ruling, found Friday that county governments have a constitutional responsibility to provide counsel to poor criminal defendants and ensure that their defense is adequately funded. The ruling came in a lawsuit by the former head of the Office of the Public Defender in Luzerne County and several criminal defendants, who alleged that funding cuts by the county commissioners had severely hampered the ability of the office to provide adequate representation in criminal cases.” “Typically, criminal defendants who assert that they have been represented by ineffective counsel do so after a conviction and on a case-by-case basis. Friday’s decision permits lawsuits alleging inadequate criminal defense when a local government fails to adequately fund its public defender’s office, effectively creating a new cause of action. The ruling did not provide financial guidelines to local governments. But it said public defender’s offices should be able to engage in timely consultation with clients, adequately investigate matters, and take other steps to test the prosecution’s case.” (The Inquirer Daily News)

September 30, 2016 – “The executive director, John Dubrule, of Gulfcoast Legal Services has retired in the wake of a critical federal audit report that said the agency failed to properly document how it spent $753,158 in federal grants.” “In its report, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice rapped Gulfcoast for failing to conduct a required audit of how it spent money from two grants it received to help victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. ‘While we found no evidence of fraudulent reporting involving grant funds,’ the report said, ‘in our judgment Gulfcoast’s records provide no assurance that grant funds are being paid only for grant-related activities.’ Among other problems, the report said, Gulfcoast did not require its staff members to track their time. It also submitted ‘inaccurate financial reports’ to the Justice Department offices that awarded the grants, and was slow to respond to the inspector general’s ‘repeated requests’ for information. In his response to the report, Dubrule blamed Gulfcoast’s failure to comply with grant requirements on ‘significant turnover,’ the temporary outsourcing of bookkeeping and financial reporting, and accounting software that ‘was not as robust as needed for efficient grant reporting.’ ‘While we cannot undo past transgressions,’ he wrote, ‘we have put protocols in place to prevent future issues. Gulfcoast also conducted the required audit.'” Dubrule served as executive director since 2014. (Tampa Bay Times)

September 30, 2016 – “The groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Clinical Building at the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa. The new building will serve as space for the growing clinical care offered by law school students and faculty as part of course work for graduation. This clinical service provides thousands of hours of free legal help to some of Hawai’i’s most vulnerable people, including the elderly, troubled and incarcerated youth, veterans, and families living at or near poverty levels. It will also provide much-needed space to develop practical trial and advocacy skills.  Students are required to serve a minimum of 60 hours of pro bono work in order to graduate.” (University of Hawai’i News)

September 30, 2016 – “The New Jersey State Bar Association is launching a Pro Bono Month e-campaign with the aim of getting attorneys to volunteer to help your clients. Lawyers Helping New Jersey will run Oct. 1-31. It will allow attorneys to volunteer to handle a matter for one of the state’s many pro bono providers. Attorneys can browse the categories of cases each provider handles to volunteer for one that best suits their interests or practice areas. All of the providers are on the Madden exemption list.” Visit njsba.com to learn more. (New Jersey Law Journal)

September 30, 2016 – While the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management’s hearing focused on bringing in new, millennial talent to replace the retiring federal workforce, the hearing did paint a bleak picture of overall federal hiring.  There have been several new initiatives in the past few years designed to make the time for hiring window smaller.  The exact opposite has been the result, with an increase from an average of 90 days in 2013 to 99.6 days in 2015.  While most attorney positions are excepted service (and thus not representative of most of the hiring discussed) the articles provide a good overview of hiring authorities and demonstrate how government is going in the wrong direction with the hiring reform efforts. The bottom line is there may now be too many ways into the federal government, and hiring managers are having trouble using them.

“And this year, OPM began the Hiring Excellence Campaign to better educate hiring managers and human resources specialists about the existing authorities they have to bring in new talent. But persistent, repeat challenges are preventing agency chief human capital officers from hiring new talent — particularly candidates under age 40— more quickly. And removing those barriers will likely take many debate-filled proposals to shift the status quo. ‘It seems like every year or two there’s a new initiative,’ Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. ‘I understand some of those are for different people groups as well, and those are all strategic areas. My challenge is … when we come back to the data … in 2013, it took about 90 days to do a hiring. In 2014, it took 94.4 days to do a federal hire. In 2015, it now takes 99.6 days. Our length of time to actually get there is getting longer.'” (Federal News Radio)

“Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) read a list of government projects that once promised to bring new life to the federal hiring process, only to then show it in steadily declining health.” “Mark Reinhold, OPM’s chief human capital officer and associate director for employee services, defended the latest endeavor, saying the Hiring Excellence Campaign is designed to bring all the others together. ‘We’re attempting to take a more holistic approach,” he said, ‘so that we don’t over-emphasize any of those important aspects of hiring.'” (Washington Post)

And in related news: “President Barack Obama is directing America’s national security agencies to promote more diversity in their ranks, arguing that inclusiveness is an ‘imperative’ in a still-dangerous but increasingly interconnected world. Obama lays out his instructions in a Presidential Memorandum released Wednesday.” Read more about the directive here and the companion blog post here. (Politico)

October 2, 2016 – “A nonprofit law firm that aids low-income Indiana residents has won a $400,000 federal grant to help seniors who’ve fallen victim to neglect, battery or financial scams. Indiana Legal Services says the two-year grant will allow it to help about 400 seniors age 60 or older who’ve been victimized by helping them avoid eviction, seek protective orders against abusers and arrange other assistance for them. The grant was awarded through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to the nonprofit legal firm that provides free civil legal assistance to eligible low-income people through eight regional offices. Executive Director Jon Laramore says senior abuse has risen along with Indiana’s growing senior population. He says more safeguards are needed to protect seniors, particularly those who are ill or live on small, fixed incomes.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

October 3, 2016 – “Worcester’s Community Legal Aid has received $300,000 out of $1.9 million in federal funding to bankroll fair housing initiatives in Massachusetts. The grant is through the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) to assist victims of housing discrimination. ‘Community Legal Aid in Worcester and fair housing organizations across Massachusetts play a vital role in our communities by working to prevent discrimination in housing,’ Congressman Jim McGovern said in a statement. ‘This new federal funding will help so many families by supporting the great work local organizations are doing to protect equal access to housing for everyone in Massachusetts.’ Other organizations in Massachusetts receiving awards were:

  • Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston (Boston) – $300,000
  • HAP, Inc. (Springfield) – $125,000
  • Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, Inc. (Holyoke) – $300,000
  • SouthCoast Fair Housing, Inc. (New Bedford) – $425,000
  • Suffolk University (Boston) – $423,778″

(WBJournal)

October 3, 2016 – “Georgia State University College of Law has established the Center for Access to Justice, a regional and national base for the study of issues relating to access to criminal and civil justice for those with limited financial means. Similar centers exist across the United States, but there are none in the Southeast region. ‘There is a critical need in this area to ensure that the justice system functions fairly and effectively,’ said Lauren Sudeall Lucas, assistant professor of law and the center’s faculty director. ‘The experience of lower-income civil and criminal litigants is often fundamentally different from those with financial means. There are a lot of problems endemic to that system and not a lot of information available to understand the full scope of the problem or to find effective solutions.'” “Lucas will work with Darcy Meals, the center’s assistant director, and student fellows to generate, highlight and disseminate research that helps identify and better understand the problems people have in gaining access to justice, as well as inform potential solutions.” (Newswise)

October 3, 2016 – “A new tax clinic at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law aims to provide legal services to low-income families in need of tax law help while providing law students a unique educational opportunity to gain on-the-job experience before graduation. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program is a matching grant program from the Internal Revenue Service that provides federal funds to organizations so they in turn can provide services to taxpayers who are low income or who speak English as a second language. The University of Utah this month joins the list of several clinics across the country who help clients in need.” (University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law News)

October 3, 2016 – “The agency-by-agency results from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are out, and most agencies improved on their scores from last year. In 2016, overall satisfaction among federal employees improved one percentage point government-wide for the second consecutive year. The two major indices measure ’employee engagement’ (employees’ feelings about their job, organization and pay) and ‘global satisfaction’ (how satisfied they are with their leaders and the work experience). The average employee engagement score was 65 percent, and the average global satisfaction score was 61 percent. Just 6 of 37 large agencies experienced declines in their engagement scores, and 7 of the 37 saw dips in their satisfaction scores. Generally, small agencies performed better than large ones.” (FCW)

October 4, 2016 – While the technology CLE requirement has implications for more than just public interest attorneys, legal technology is a particularly important tool in bridging the justice gap. “[L]ast week Florida adopted new language into its Bar Rules which requires lawyers to stay abreast of legal technology advancements while also mandating that lawyers complete 3 credits of legal technology CLE per biennial cycle. In an opinion issued on September 29th, the Supreme Court of Florida changed the number of bennienial CLE credits required from 30 to 33 and mandated that 3 of those credits must be ‘in an approved technology program.'” (mycase)

October 5, 2016 – “The law school at the University of Michigan is receiving a $250,000 federal grant to develop expertise to challenge certain child-abuse convictions. The school’s Innocence Clinic will use the money to work on convictions in so-called shaken-baby cases. In 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously overturned a murder conviction in Calhoun County. The court said Leo Ackley’s rights were violated by a defense attorney who did a poor job in failing to vigorously challenge the evidence. The death involved a young girl. The court said the prosecutor produced no witnesses who said Ackley was abusive. The Innocence Clinic believes there are other people who have been wrongly convicted on flawed shaken-baby evidence.” (The Washington Times)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:
Shearman & Sterling LLP partner Linda Rappaport was selected by The Legal Aid Society of New York as one of the recipients of the 2016 Pro Bono Publico Awards for outstanding service to the Society and its clients. Every year, the Society recognizes the outstanding work of volunteer lawyers, law firms, corporations and other professionals who participate in the Society’s pro bono program by providing exceptional legal services to low-income New Yorkers. (Shearman News)

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

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