PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 2, 2016

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

Happy Friday and welcome to December! Access to justice is on everyone’s mind this week with multiple articles on grants, reports, and the use of legal tech to bridge the justice gap.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Massachusetts receives access to justice grant;
  • UK Labour Party commissions access to justice commission – interim report published;
  • Real-world examples of tech bridging the access to justice gap;
  • Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section launch Youth on Solid Ground Pro Bono Project;
  • USC Gould School of Law offers new public interest law certificate;
  • An interview with Upsolve’s founders;
  • New Mexico judge finds public defender in contempt amid funding crisis;
  • White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable issues first annual report;
  • Articling students at Legal Aid Ontario vote to unionize;
  • Michigan program allows people to resolve some legal issues online;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 24, 2016 – “Massachusetts has been awarded a $100,000 grant to develop a strategic plan for improving access to justice for people who cannot afford attorneys.  The grant will be used to identify gaps in services currently offered and to design programs to address the unmet civil legal needs of indigent people on housing, consumer debt and family law issues. The grant is being provided through the Justice for All project of the National Center for State Courts. Massachusetts is one of seven states to receive a Justice for All grant. Earlier this year, the National Center for Access to Justice ranked the Massachusetts court system second in the nation for services provided to people without lawyers.” (Boston Herald)

November 25, 2016 – “Deficient public legal education, high court fees, and the failure to embrace technology have deprived a growing number of people access to justice, a new think tank has said as it unveiled a set of proposals intended to fill the gap left by the near-disappearance of legal aid. In its interim report published this morning, the U.K.’s Lord Bach’s Commission on Access to Justice proposes to enshrine minimum standards in law, along with the introduction of legal education in the school curriculum and a central online portal for claims. Other proposals include the reform of legal aid eligibility criteria, a ‘polluter pays’ scheme to fund court fees, the integration of legal advice across public services and increased funding for legal advice centres.” “While not formally adopted as Labour policy, the report, overseen by the former justice minister Lord Bach, was commissioned by Jeremy Corbyn and the previous shadow justice secretary, Lord Falconer. Aimed at developing future policy for the Labour party, the authors hope to build a broad consensus for improving access to the courts. The report quotes the current lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, as saying: ‘Our justice system has become unaffordable to most.'” The report has some interesting ideas that transcend a particular country. (Solicitors Journal)(The Guardian)

November 28, 2016 – Above the Law has a regular series called “This Week in Legal Tech.” This week, contributor Robert Ambrogi has a nice summary of the ways in which LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants are making a difference in the real world. He also highlights the LSC, Pro Bono Net and Microsoft supported state access to justice portal pilot project. RFPs are being accepted now for the project. (Above the Law)

November 28, 2016 – “The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section have launched the Youth on Solid Ground Pro Bono Project to assist children and their families. Temporary relative custody and guardian advocacy are the two legal mechanisms that can help ensure Florida children can enjoy the stability of having committed family members authorized to act on their behalf. They provide family stability for children and make a positive difference in their lives and – equally important –  these opportunities provide attorneys who volunteer time and expertise practical training in the courtroom and experience in uncontested matters. Due to limited budget resources, legal services staff attorneys must focus on more critical and complex legal matters, such as cases involving domestic violence, foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, housing and discrimination. The project provides assistance for families that are unrepresented in the areas of guardian advocacy and temporary relative custody.” (Jacksonville Daily Record)

November 28, 2016 – “The USC Gould School of Law offers a new public interest law certificate for students with social justice aspirations and interest in working in the nonprofit or government sectors after graduating. Students can choose courses focusing on key 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. ‘Our students have a long history of commitment to public service, but now they can direct their interests to an organized curriculum and leave law school with a certificate on their transcript that shows that commitment,’ said Professor Clare Pastore, a member of California’s public interest community who oversaw the development of the certificate. Alumni serving as mentors will help students navigate a career path, offering connections to public service opportunities or summer jobs, along with advice about postgraduate fellowships and courses. A speaker series and events focusing on public interest law, nonprofit and government sector jobs, postgraduate fellowships and building community will round out the year.” (USC News)

November 28, 2016 – Forbes has a good piece on Upsolve and an interview with its founders.  Upsolve is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that improves consumer access to Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection through an online platform that guides users with routine cases through the bankruptcy process.  (Forbes)

November 30, 2016 – “A district attorney in southern New Mexico is petitioning the state Supreme Court to order public defense attorneys back to work on behalf of criminal defendants who cannot afford legal representation. District Attorney Dianna Luce on Wednesday confirmed her request for the Supreme Court to intervene, citing more than 200 instances in which the Law Offices of the Public Defender has sought to withdraw its attorneys in magistrate and district court cases in Lea County. ‘What we’re seeking is for the public defenders to do their statutory duty,’ she said. ‘The public defenders have selected only Lea County to stop accepting new felony cases … claiming a lack of attorneys and a lack of funding.’ Chief Public Defender Ben Baur said his agency’s attorneys previously declined to accept cases and continue to ask to withdraw in some instances because increased caseloads and limited funding are making it impossible to provide effective legal assistance. In October, the agency’s annual budget was reduced by 3 percent amid far reaching state spending cuts. Earlier this week, a New Mexico judge fined Baur and found him in contempt for failing to provide lawyers to defendants who couldn’t afford them. Lea County District Judge Gary Clingman imposed a $1,000 fine in each of five criminal cases in which the public defender’s office failed to make an appearance. Clingman told Baur that he could purge the contempt finding by following his statutory duty to represent defendants.” (The Washington Times)

November 30, 2016 – “The Justice Department today issued the first annual report of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) to President Obama.  The report, entitled ‘Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs,’ documents the significant steps that the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into programs designed to serve low-income and vulnerable people.  The Attorney General and the Director of   the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) co-chair WH-LAIR.” “‘The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable has become indispensable in helping the federal government establish partnerships with legal aid providers that push federal programming forward and ensure that essential services reach the communities that need them most,’ said Cecilia Muñoz, White House DPC Director and WH-LAIR Co-Chair.” (Justice News)

November 30, 2016 – “Articling students employed by Legal Aid Ontario have voted to unionize with The Society of Energy Professionals. LAO articling students become the second group of legal professionals to join The Society following the October vote of LAO staff lawyers. Articling students are excited to have representation in the workplace that understands their professional obligations and can help them achieve better working conditions.” (CNW)

December 1, 2016 – “If you’ve ever gotten a traffic ticket, you know it’s a hassle if you decide to fight it. Getting to court, waiting for your case to be called and presenting your side can take hours. You may even need to miss a day of work. But if you live in some parts of Michigan, you might be able to go to court without actually going. A growing number of courts have adopted a software program called Matterhorn, which enables individuals to resolve a handful of legal issues online, at any time, even the middle of the night. Ohio has started using the technology, and other states are looking into it as well.” “Courts using Matterhorn determine what types of legal issues will be resolvable online and what types will require an in-court appearance in their jurisdictions. Some Michigan courts have opted for online traffic ticket resolution only, while others have ventured into misdemeanors and warrant resolution.” (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Deepa Mattoo is the latest recipient of the Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from the Law Foundation of Ontario, a non-profit organization that funds other groups to provide education and initiatives on access to justice. Mattoo, the current director of legal services at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, says that while she’s very excited for this opportunity to conduct research around the relationships between race, gender and immigration status under this year-long fellowship, she also feels “very humbled.”

During her time as a fellow, Mattoo’s research will specifically focus on racialized women who have precarious immigration status, as they face violence and barriers in accessing supports and legal services. She’ll team up with the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, academics from the law and sociology faculties and the Rights of Non-Status Women Network for this undertaking. “The goal of this project is to create a network of individuals who would work with me in reviewing the intersectionality, but to also create solid tools for service providers to provide services and assistance to the women who are going through these experiences of violence and going through the experiences of precarious immigration,” she says. (Legal Feeds)

Music Bonus! 

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