PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 21, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Registration is closing soon for the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference. Register now! And as we will be sharing our news with you in person next week, the Digest will return on November 4th.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • PACER fees face major legal test;
  • D.C. Council to consider free legal help for poor residents in housing cases;
  • USC Gould launches new public interest law certificate;
  • Check in with Washington’s Limited-License Legal Technician program;
  • The Utah Indigent Defense Commission hires executive director;
  • Florida Access to Civil Justice Commission re-established;
  • The U.S. should have a Defender General;
  • Fordham University School of Law launches new access to justice initiative;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 14, 2016 – “The paywall that surrounds Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), an online database of papers filed by litigants in the US federal courts, is facing what may be its most serious test since the service emerged 28 years ago. Judge Ellen Huvelle of the US district court in Washington DC is expected to decide in the coming days whether a lawsuit accusing the government of setting Pacer fees at unlawfully high rates can proceed. The case, which is seeking class-action certification, is being led by three nonprofits: the National Veterans Legal Service Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Alliance for Justice. Each group says it has downloaded documents from Pacer and incurred charges alleged to exceed the cost of providing the records. All say the setup violates the E-Government Act of 2002, which authorizes the judiciary to ‘prescribe reasonable fees’—and which the plaintiffs argue should limit the government to charge users ‘only to the extent necessary’ to make the information available.” “The Appropriations Committee has not commented on the lawsuit. Nor has the Administrative Office or the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which is defending the case. But in court papers asking Huvelle to dismiss the lawsuit, the DOJ contends that the policies governing use of Pacer obligate users who think they have been billed in error to first request a refund from Pacer’s service center, an assertion that at least one federal court has rejected. The plaintiffs counter that the lawsuit has nothing to do with billing errors, but rather that the fees themselves are too high.” (Quart)

October 14, 2016 – “The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would provide free legal counsel to low-income tenants in certain housing cases, including evictions, housing code violations and rental subsidy program issues. The bill, written by council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), would create a funding stream for the D.C. Bar Foundation, the nonprofit group that provides most legal aid to D.C. residents involved in civil cases. Under McDuffie’s plan, the D.C. Bar Foundation would administer grants for lawyers to represent tenants with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The council’s Judiciary Committee, chaired by McDuffie, will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.” “The legislation is part of McDuffie’s ultimate goal of establishing a ‘right to counsel’ in all civil cases in the District. Just as indigent criminal defendants are entitled to free legal help, low-income residents should be provided no-cost lawyers for a range of legal disputes, McDuffie said.” (Washington Post)

October 17, 2016 – “USC Gould School of Law is offering a new Public Interest Law certificate for students with social justice aspirations and interest in working in the non-profit or government sectors after graduating. Gould students will hone their skills by choosing an organized set of courses exposing them to important areas of nonprofit and government law, taking on an in-depth writing project, and working on real-world problems through clinics, practicum courses or externships.” (PR Newswire)

October 17, 2016 – “Those who cannot afford a lawyer have a new resource in Clallam County in the form of Vanessa Ridgway, the first limited-license legal technician to practice on the North Olympic Peninsula. She is only the 17th such technician in the state. Ridgway was sworn in to the Washington State Bar Association as an LLLT last Wednesday. ‘It is very exciting for me to be a pioneer in this field, and it’s also very rewarding,’ Ridgway said Friday. ‘I have always had a desire to help others find justice.’ Washington is the first state in the country to offer the services of LLLTs — intended as an affordable legal support option to help meet the needs of those unable to afford the services of an attorney, according to the state bar association. The state Supreme Court, with help from the state bar association, created the category of limited-license legal technician in 2015. LLLTs are trained and licensed to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody and other family law matters in Washington.” (Peninsula Daily News)

October 17, 2016 – “The Utah Indigent Defense Commission announces that Joanna E. Landau has been hired as its Executive Director. Ms. Landau is highly qualified, and brings her experience as a public defender with the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association, where she worked for several years representing indigent criminal defendants on appeal to the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Court of Appeals. She also assisted many trial court judges while working as an attorney in the Third District Court. Pursuant to legislation sponsored by Utah State Senator Todd Weiler and passed in the 2016 General Session, Ms. Landau will work with the Commission and local governments to assist the state in meeting its obligations to provide assistance of counsel to indigent defendants, consistent with the state and federal Constitutions and the Utah Code. To fulfill that obligation, the legislation tasks the Commission with many duties, including the development of guiding principles to assess and oversee indigent criminal defense services in the state, and using legislatively-appropriated funds to make grants to local governments to assist them in providing constitutional indigent defense services. Creation of the Commission was recommended after a multi-year study of indigent defense services in Utah, conducted by a Task Force of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, local government representatives and legislators. The 11 voting members of the Commission were appointed by Governor Herbert and confirmed by the Senate over the summer. With Ms. Landau on board, the Commission can begin its work.” (Utahpolicy.com)

October 17, 2016 – “On Tuesday, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an eight-page administrative order that re-established the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice as one of the court’s standing committees. Formed in November 2014, the commission expired June 30. Thousands of Floridians struggling to make ends meet, including many residents with moderate incomes, still face barriers when they seek access to civil justice, Labarga said when he signed the order. So the work to bring down those barriers must continue, he added. The permanent commission will ‘study the remaining unmet civil legal needs of disadvantaged, low income and moderate income Floridians,’ the order states. The order directs the commission to examine the issue from all perspectives and consider the viewpoints of all entities involved in civil justice, including staffed legal aid programs, pro bono services, resources provided to help people who choose to — or must — represent themselves, technology solutions and ‘other models and potential innovations.’ Labarga will chair the 23-member commission through mid-2018. West Palm Beach attorney Gregory Coleman, a past president of The Florida Bar, will serve as chair of the commission’s executive committee.” (Daily Record)

October 19, 2016 – Dean Andrea D. Lyon of Valparaiso University Law School makes an excellent case for a Defender General, along the lines of the U.S. Attorney General and Solicitor General. “There has been no voice at the policy table for the accused, incarcerated and paroled. We have an attorney general of the United States. We have a solicitor general of the United States. The only lawyer that is enshrined in the United States Constitution is referenced in the Sixth Amendment: ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to … the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.’ Yet, the defense is not, and has not been a part of policy decisions regarding criminal justice matters. There is currently no office to represent criminal justice interests at the executive level the way that the attorney general does.” (Indiana Lawyer)

October 19, 2016 – “Judges from along the Eastern seaboard convene at Fordham University School of Law Wednesday night for a discussion on the intersection between civil and criminal access to justice and how to better handle the overlapping deficiencies in both systems. The panel marked the launch of the law school’s new access to justice initiative and the relocation of the National Center for Access to Justice—an independent nonprofit that utilizes data to improve the justice system—to Fordham from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The center had been housed at Cardozo for the past five years.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Foley Hoag LLP pro bono managing attorney Rebecca Cazabon is the recipient of the 2016 MAHA Leadership Award, given by the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (MAHA). Cazabon is being recognized for her longstanding advocacy in promoting social justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as her dedication and commitment on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable. As managing attorney for Foley Hoag’s pro bono program, Cazabon coordinates and oversees all pro bono work for the firm and facilitates pro bono training initiatives. She also represents low-income domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in abuse prevention, immigration, privacy, housing, criminal advocacy and appellate matters. Congratulations! (Foley Hoag News)

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

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