PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 13, 2017

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

Happy Friday the 13th!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Connecticut legal aid hires new director;
  • A new way to fund legal aid;
  • University of Connecticut School of Law launches new incubator;
  • Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas gets new CEO;
  • D.C. creates legal defense fund for illegal immigrants;
  • British Columbia Law Society ends paralegal access-to-justice initiative;
  • Idaho Supreme Court hears arguments on public defense reform;
  • Equal Justice Works receives grant to launch New Mexico Immigration Corps;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 5, 2017 – “New Haven’s legal aid agency has hired a new executive director. The State Street-based agency, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, announced that its Board of Directors has chosen Alexis H. Smith of Hamden as its next executive director.  She replaces Susan Garcia-Nofi, who departure was announced in late October. She has been serving as the interim chief.” (New Haven Independent)

January 6, 2017 – Interest on IOLTA has been the second largest source of funding for civil legal aid for years.  But in recent years, with falling interest rates, that funding has been significantly curtailed.  “Into this breach emerged a new program, equally as compassionate and as effective. In Massachusetts and Ohio, several banks have launched programs where law firms can choose to donate to IOLTA programs some or all of the ‘cash back’ benefits generated by millions of dollars of credit card transactions. Genius. Citizens Bank has taken the lead and is one of the first financial institutions to get involved. They have announced that law firms in both Massachusetts and Ohio have the opportunity to sign-on and direct their cash-back rewards to the local IOLTA distribution system. ‘The Citizens team has listened to the needs of their clients in the legal community and done a great job coming up with an innovative solution that helps law firms ensure the fairness of our legal system by contributing to civil legal aid for low-income and vulnerable Ohioans,’ said Angela Lloyd, Executive Director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.” (Above the Law)

January 6, 2017 – “UConn School of Law is launching a new Hartford-based incubator in February to provide affordable legal services to people who need it and help lawyers establish solo practices. Dubbed the Connecticut Community Law Center, the incubator is an initiative of the law school and the Hartford County Bar Association that aims to help people traditionally underserved by the justice system. That typically includes low- and moderate-income clients who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford standard legal fees. The center and the Justice Legal Center at the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, also scheduled to open early this year, will be the first in Connecticut.” (Hartford Business Journal)

January 6, 2017 – “After a thorough national search, the Board of Directors of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas named Maria Thomas-Jones as the new chief executive officer, effective immediately. The board met last month for its quarterly meeting, during which board members unanimously voted to select Thomas-Jones, who has served as interim CEO since February 2016. ‘On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to officially welcome Maria Thomas-Jones as the new CEO of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas,’ says Jan Langbein, board chair. ‘Maria has served LANWT effectively in many different capacities during her 17-year tenure with the firm.'”  (My San Antonio)

January 9, 2017 – “The nation’s capital is joining several other heavily Democratic cities in pledging to spend tax dollars to defend illegal immigrants against efforts by the incoming Trump administration to deport them. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday she plans to award grants to defense lawyers and nonprofit organizations to represent any of the District’s estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants who are faced with deportation. The $500,000 fund will also help illegal immigrants in the District apply for asylum and will provide representation for those residing in the city legally with green cards to obtain permanent U.S. citizenship. In a statement, Bowser said the District is ‘doubling down’ on its status as a sanctuary city, where D.C. police have already been instructed to not cooperate with federal authorities working to deport residents.” “Bowser will launch the initiative by shifting funds from the Office on Latino Affairs to a new Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program. City officials said that the fund would also accept donations from individual residents or groups. Nonprofits, private organizations and law firms in Washington will be eligible to win the grant money. Groups can begin applying Jan. 23, the first Monday that Trump will be in the White House. Although the funds are coming through the Latino affairs office, groups that serve immigrants from any region are eligible for grants, aides to the mayor said. The aides also said they envision nonprofit immigrant groups pairing with law firms to win grants, harnessing pro bono work of big firms and creating a network of new legal services for illegal immigrants.” (Washington Post)

January 9, 2017 – “Rose Singh, vice-president of the B.C. Paralegal Association, said hopes for a robust provincial system of less expensive legal services similar to Ontario’s 10-year-old paralegal scheme have been doused.” “In January 2013, a two-year pilot project was launched in the B.C. Supreme Court and the Provincial Court allowing paralegals under the supervision of a lawyer to appear in select locations on some family-law matters. The project ended in the Supreme Court in December 2014; the Provincial Court soldiered on until October 2015. Of the province’s roughly 13,000 lawyers, three participated, not enough data for the Law Society to conclude that paralegals provided a benefit.” The article is a good overview of the program, the shortcomings of the pilot, and other potential access-to-justice programs. (Vancouver Sun

January 11, 2017 – “Idaho’s Supreme Court will soon decide whether to revive an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state over its faulty public defense system. Attorneys on both sides told the high court Wednesday that they agree Idaho’s public defense system has serious deficiencies. But the state’s attorneys say the blame should lie on the counties, not Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the state’s Public Defense Commission. ‘The plaintiffs have identified serious issues,’ Idaho Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore said. ‘But they have named defendants who are not responsible for providing the services.’ The ACLU sued the state in 2015 on behalf of Idahoans who rely on court-appointed public defenders when they face criminal charges. They contend that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system is broken, and that by not fixing the problems the state is violating the 6th Amendment rights of its citizens. Indeed, Idaho Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter, many legislators and legal experts who have studied the issue on behalf of the state have all acknowledged that Idaho’s patchwork public defense system is deficient at best, and likely unconstitutional. But last year a lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, partly because the judge said he believed a court ruling requiring the state to adequately fund the public defense system would violate the separation of powers. The ACLU promptly appealed.” (The Daily Progress)

January 11, 2017 – “Equal Justice Works has received an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan to launch the New Mexico Immigration Corps, a partnership between Equal Justice Works, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), and University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL). The program will deploy attorneys and paralegals to provide critically needed civil legal aid to immigrant communities throughout New Mexico from September 2016 through August 2020.” “Beyond filling the immediate void in legal representation, this program will expand the pipeline of pre-law students, current law students, and young attorneys committed to serving New Mexicans. Over the grant period, Equal Justice Works will partner with UNMSOL to share best practices, promote public interest curricula, present internship and postgraduate employment options, and counsel students on debt relief.”(PR Newswire)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Greensboro Four – Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil. Read about these amazing men, and what individual conviction can do for a nation. (

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

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