PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 22, 2016

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

Happy Holidays! Big news this week – the ABA has filed suit against the Department of Education regarding the retroactive denials of some previously qualified employers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  Coverage is below.

We here at PSJD thank you for your support and wish you the happiest of holiday seasons.  The Digest will take a holiday next week and return in the new year.  Happy New Year!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Deficit forcing Legal Aid Ontario to scale back services;
  • LA Justice Fund will offer legal help to potential deportees;
  • ABA sues government over retroactive denials to lawyers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • Indigent defense bill finally goes to New York governor’s desk;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 16, 2016 – “Potentially thousands of Ontarians who can’t afford a criminal lawyer will have to represent themselves at trial, as a deficit at the provincial agency that funds legal aid means it has to cut back dramatically on services. While Legal Aid Ontario will still issue legal aid certificates — which cover a person’s legal fees — for criminal defence lawyers in cases where there is a ‘substantial likelihood of incarceration,’ it will generally no longer do so in other matters. That means that impoverished individuals who may not be facing jail time but could be deported, fired or slapped with a hefty fine if they are convicted — and get a criminal record in the process — will be left to fend for themselves in courtrooms across the province. The news was announced in a memo from LAO president and CEO David Field, issued Friday afternoon and obtained by the Star. ‘Despite our best efforts to predict client demand for expanded services, our forecasts were well below actual demand,’ he said in the memo. ‘The end result was that we provided more services for clients than we had available funding for. We now need to take steps to bring client services in line with our funding.'” (The Star)

December 19, 2016 – “A new fund will provide $10 million dollars to provide legal help for immigrants in Los Angeles County who face deportation proceedings without a lawyer. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of  the L.A. Justice Fund, which he said is a direct response to President-elect Donald Trump’s threat to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants and other ‘dangerous rhetoric.’ The fund is a joint effort between the City and County of Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation, the Weingart Foundation and the California Endowment.” “The fund will focus on helping immigrants in the county under temporary status such as the Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, military families, refugees and unaccompanied minors. It will not provide aid to immigrants with a serious criminal history, Garcetti said. A press release from the Mayor’s office said the fund will begin serving immigrants early in 2017, after the funding partners decide how the funds will be best allocated.” (KCET)

December 20, 2016 – “The American Bar Association and a group of individual public interest lawyers sued the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday claiming that the agency illegally walked back a loan-forgiveness program meant to encourage attorneys to take low-paying public-sector positions. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, claims that the department has arbitrarily tightened its definition of what sorts of organizations qualify as providers of “public interest law services” under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The moves, the lawsuit contends, have illegally trimmed the ranks of lawyers who qualify for the program enacted in 2007 by President George W. Bush, which forgives student loan debt for full-time public interest lawyers. To be eligible, attorneys must work in the public sector for 10 years and pay down their loans. According to the suit, some lawyers have gotten word recently that their work doesn’t qualify for the program years after being told the exact opposite by representatives of the Education Department. The department’s eligibility decisions apply retroactively, meaning that years of work that lawyers assumed would apply toward loan forgiveness may not be recognized.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)(ABA)

December 21, 2016 – “A decades-long movement to the make the state responsible for the cost of providing counsel to indigent criminal defendants has reached a critical point with the transmission to Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a bill providing for a state takeover of all defense costs.After a seven-year phase-in period, the bill (A10706/S8114) would provide for the state to relieve New York City and the 57 upstate counties of the entire financial burden for the adequate defense of individuals charged with a crime that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a constitutional right in its 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. A full takeover would take effect on April 1, 2023, under the bill. Currently, the state provides about $80 million for indigent criminal defense services and the counties and New York City provide $360 million. Cuomo has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the bill, which was approved unanimously by each chamber of the state Legislature in June. His spokeswoman, Dani Lever, repeated on Wednesday the response his office has given to inquiries about the bill for months, which is that the governor is continuing to study the measure. Cuomo has until Dec. 30 to decide.” (New York Law Journal)(registration required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Happy Holidays!
History of Christmas
History of Hannukkah
History of Kwanzaa
History of Boxing Day

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


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