by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships
Happy New Year! And if you resolved to take on a new challenge this year, why not look into pro bono? Law students have – to the tune of 2.2 million hours in 2016.
Here are the week’s headlines:
- Montana Access to Justice Commission releases recommendations;
- Public defender lawsuits;
- New York governor vetoes indigent defense bill;
- Connecticut Task Force releases access to justice recommendations;
- Legal Aid of Roanoke celebrates 50 years of service;
- Federal funding in New York for domestic violence and sexual assault victim programs;
- Supporters of New York indigent defense bill consider lawsuit;
- New Mexico judge refuses to dismiss suit against public defender’s office;
- Missouri judge suspended over dispute with public defenders;
- Michigan Indigent Criminal Defense Commission may continue its work;
- Law students performed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work;
- Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
- Super Music Bonus!
December 30, 2016 – “The Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has spent several years working to expand opportunities for low- and moderate-income people to get legal help. Now it’s releasing its conclusions on how to make sure Montanans in need can receive that help. The commission announced four major recommendations this week:
- Making and publicizing a statewide list of legal resources for people in need.
- Finding ways to link people with the programs or attorneys that can help with their specific legal problems.
- Addressing the links between legal needs and other issues, like health, housing and employment.
- Securing long-term funding to support legal aid services, from self-help programs for people who go to court to mediation and other ways of resolving issues outside of court.
The recommendations are based on more than a year of public testimony. The commission held seven listening sessions around the state to hear from attorneys, service providers and advocates.” “Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker says the commission will work with other organizations and agencies to achieve some of its recommendations. It will bring others to the state legislature during the upcoming session.” (KPAX)
January 1, 2017 – The ABA Journal has an excellent article on the wave of lawsuits filed by public defender offices, and how it is shaping the funding debate. (ABA Journal)
January 1, 2017 – “Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill Saturday that would have would have required the state to pay the full costs of public defenders for low income people facing charges. Currently, most counties pick up the tab for it. Counties are mandated by the state to offer representation to indigent defendants. The bill that was voted for unanimously by both the state senate and assembly, would have shifted the costs for these services from the county to the state over a seven year period.” “In 2014, the state assumed the indigent defense costs for five counties after a lawsuit known as Hurrell-Herring. Governor Cuomo said in his veto message that he feels the ‘groundbreaking advances in those five counties’ should be there for the rest of the state, but he didn’t think the bill reached that goal.” (WWNY)
January 2, 2017 – “The Task Force To Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters found that ‘many Connecticut residents cannot afford the legal assistance they need to protect essential human needs or face other barriers to accessing available legal services.” The four flagship legal services offices turn away thousands of income-eligible residents seeking representation, according to the task force report, because those offices are constrained by their own finances or those seeking assistance have incomes slightly above what’s necessary to secure the services.” Click here for the full recommendations. The Connecticut Bar Association was supportive of the task force’s recommendations. ‘The recommendations offer a series of steps that can be taken immediately to help civil litigants most at risk of being denied adequate legal assistance,’ CBA President Monte Frank said. ‘The focus on restraining orders, child custody and evictions targets the state’s most vulnerable citizens. The task force responsibly addresses the added societal cost of offering these additional legal services with a series of funding recommendations and by laying out a multi-year strategy for wider implementation,’ continued Frank.” (CT News Junkie)
January 2, 2017 – “The Legal Aid Society of the Roanoke Valley, which offers representation and advice to low-income families and others, opened its doors in mid-December 1966. It was headed by two lawyers — Charles Carrington and William Weinberg — with a small support staff that worked out of the basement of a Total Action for Progress building on Shenandoah Avenue. The first nonprofit of its kind in the state, it almost immediately proved divisive. ‘A blessing or a bane?’ wondered the headline of a Roanoke Times column that assessed the agency during the first week of February 1967, just two months after the office had taken on more than 90 initial clients. One of those cases — the defense in civil court of the welfare-supported father of seven children, a man whose in-laws were formally accused of neglect — served as the column’s resolutely unsympathetic centerpiece. ‘I don’t think it’s needed,’ a Roanoke judge said of Legal Aid in the piece. ‘I think that the overall point-of-view is the creation of a society to do everything for everybody rather than the individual doing all he can for himself. To put it in a nutshell, the government can go too far in trying to have a Utopia,’ the judge argued. Looking over that old clipping in December, senior staff attorney Henry Woodward chuckled. ‘I think that was a bit out of touch even then,’ he later said. Half a century has passed since then, and still Legal Aid remains, busy as ever. ‘The fact that it was difficult was often just a reflection of prejudices toward our clients. ‘People who are poor are poor because they deserve to be and shouldn’t be helped,’ Woodward said. ‘I think there’s a much wider base of understanding today.'” But there is still work that needs to be done. Congratulations on 50 years providing access to justice. (The Roanoke Times)
January 3, 2017 – “Efforts to help victims of domestic assault in Livingston County will see a more than $70,000 boost courtesy of federal funds provided to New York State. Chances and Changes Inc. was awarded $35,600 to partially fund three domestic violence victims’ advocates. The Livingston County District Attorney’s Office will also receive $35,600. The money will partially fund an assistant district attorney, investigator and probation officer to partner with Chances and Changes to provide domestic violence services and civil legal services. ‘The federal funding will allow local and statewide programs that have proven to be successful in helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to continue,’ state Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said in a statement. ‘By supporting these various community based services and law enforcement efforts, we can better protect victims and prosecute perpetrators of these despicable crimes.’ The funds were part of $7.7 million in federal funding announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The funding will allow the state to fund 11 new programs and support 117 existing programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Funding through the federal Violence Against Women Act was increased by nearly $662,000 to support programs offered by non-profit organizations, hospitals and law enforcement agencies across the state.” (Livingston County News)
January 3, 2017 – “Supporters of providing uniform representation to indigent criminal defendants in New York are trying to regroup following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Saturday night veto of a bill that would have required the state to take over all defense costs by the middle of next decade. Cuomo cited the costliness of the phased-in, seven-year takeover when vetoing A10706/S8114 on New Year’s Eve. He said the bill’s eventual cost of $800 million or more a year is so large that it could undermine the state’s finances in many other ways. Members of a disparate coalition which had pushed for Cuomo’s approval since the Legislature unanimously approved the bill in June 2016 tried to find some positives in the governor’s decision. But they insisted they would try to resume their campaign for a unified approach to providing adequate defense for criminal suspects unable to afford a lawyer, as decreed by the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). While saying they wanted to find another legislative solution to create a statewide indigent defense system, several supporters said Cuomo’s veto has advocates discussing litigation. Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said several leaders of the 52 counties not covered by the 2014 settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York contacted him Tuesday to discuss initiating a new lawsuit. Their aim, he said, would be to have the assistance that Albany is providing to the five counties covered by the Hurrell-Harring settlement—Schuyler, Suffolk, Onondaga, Washington and Ontario—extended to the other 52 counties. ‘A dozen counties have approached us with a strong desire to sue the state. We are going to review that possibility. If there is going to be an action, it would be a multi-county joint action,’ Acquario said Tuesday.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)
January 3, 2017 – “A state District Court judge ruled Tuesday it wasn’t a normal job duty for a state public defender to ask that his employer be held in contempt of court for failing to provide an indigent defendant with an adequate defense. Sarah Singleton made the ruling in refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Damian Horne, a Santa Fe public defender for more than 15 years, against the Law Offices of the Public Defender. Horne’s lawsuit touches on the larger issue of whether the state is providing adequate counsel for defendants who cannot afford attorneys. Citing a budget crunch, the public defender’s office in November declined to provide lawyers for indigent defendants in Hobbs, leading a judge to hold the state’s chief public defender in contempt of court. In the whistleblower lawsuit he filed in January 2016, Horne said the public defender’s office placed him on paid administrative leave, removed him from 83 cases and required him to undergo a psychiatric examination and release his medical records. He alleges the office’s actions were in retaliation for him raising concerns about the defense of William Kalinowski, a Horne client and former homebuilder charged with fraud and embezzlement. Horne filed a motion asking a judge to hold the public defender’s office in contempt of court for failing to properly finance Kalinowski’s defense, including providing as much as $350,000 for forensic accountants. A judge declined to hold the public defender’s office in contempt but appointed a special master to oversee the case.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)
January 4, 2017 – “The Missouri Supreme Court suspended a Lincoln County judge accused of delaying the assignment of public defenders in probation cases Tuesday. The court suspended Judge Christina Kunza Mennemeyer without pay for six months starting Feb. 1. The action comes in response to a 2014 complaint filed by the director of the Missouri State Public Defender System, who said Mennemeyer deliberately waited to assign public defenders until after the deadline for requesting a new trial judge for a case had passed. Court documents say Mennemeyer also threatened to file complaints against attorneys who tried to represent defendants before she assigned them to the case. The dispute was over a Missouri law dictating when a public defender can appear in court or file on behalf of a defendant charged with a probation violation. Mennemeyer argued that no public defenders can represent a client before they are appointed by the court. After a request for a meeting with Mennemeyer to settle the disagreement was ignored, the public defender’s office filed a complaint with the Missouri judiciary’s Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline. The commission found that in all of the cases with a delayed appointment, the defendant had no money or valuable assets, and Mennemeyer had violated the judicial code of ethics. On Tuesday, the court accepted the commission’s recommendation. Missouri Supreme Court Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote in a concurring opinion that Mennemeyer ‘purposely subverted the rights’ of some defendants in her ‘feud’ with the public defender and was therefore in violation of judicial ethics.” (Springfield News-Leader)
January 4, 2017 – “The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission will be able to continue its work. Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation Wednesday reestablishing the commission. It was established in 2013 when Snyder signed legislation that set statewide standards for court appointed public defense attorneys. The commission, among other things, collects data about indigent defense services in Michigan, creates standards for effective representation, and creates requirements for who qualifies for a public defender.” “The legislation would also move the commission into the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.” (WMUK)
January 5, 2017 – “The law class of 2016 performed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work while on campus, which is valued at more than $52 million. That’s according to new figures compiled by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), which polled all American Bar Association-accredited law schools in November to find out how much pro bono work their recent graduates did. It’s the first time a nationwide student pro bono survey has been conducted, according to AALS Director of Communications James Greif.” “The actual number of law student pro bono hours is likely much larger than the 2.2 million reported by the AALS. Its figure is based on responses from only 80 of the 205 ABA-accredited schools, and represents just 45 percent of the law student population. The comprehensive number could be more than double what was reported. Some law schools said they don’t currently track student pro bono hours, but will do so in the future, Greif said. The AALS plans to conduct the pro bono survey annually. Performing pro bono even before officially launching their legal careers can have a lasting impact on students’ lifetime commitment to such work, several pro bono advocates said.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)
Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:
A school field trip to the Wyandotte County Courthouse was a life-changing experience for 13-year-old Rhonda Mason. It set her on a career path that now, some 30 years later, has been realized with her appointment as a judge. And when Mason is sworn in in January, she will make history as the first African-American judge in Johnson County, Kansas. After she is sworn in, Mason will likely take over the civil court docket. She said she is eager to take on her new duties and looks forward to serving the community. “I am just really honored and humbled,” she said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.” Congratulations Judge Mason. (The Kansas City Star)