PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 3, 2017

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

Happy Friday! This week’s news is dominated by the recent executive actions of President Trump and the legal community’s response. Law school clinics and local legal aid organizations are mobilizing, and can use the help.  If you wish to get involved, PSJD has attorney and law student pro bono opportunities.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Two New York immigration legal services merge;
  • New York State Bar opposes Cuomo proposal to raise lawyer fees to pay for indigent defense;
  • Employers extend legal aid to employees caught in President’s aggressive immigration reform;
  • New York governor offers legal aid to airport detainees;
  • Hundreds of lawyers offer free legal aid at airports;
  • Law school clinics stepping up to provide immigration legal aid;
  • Big Law responds with immigration legal assistance;
  • Federal judge dismissed ACLU suit over indigent defense funding in Louisiana;
  • Protesters seeking money for indigent defense block Governor Cuomo’s office;
  • Greater Waco Legal Services opens;
  • Study finds civil legal aid yields seven fold return on investment in Florida;
  • Legal clinic pilot launched in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island;
  • Bill seeks to include juvenile defendants under Utah’s Indigent Defense Commission;
  • HackJustice brings together multiple disciplines for access to justice solutions;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 26, 2017 – “At a time of uncertainty and anxiety in immigrant communities here and across the nation, a merger between Neighbors Link in Mount Kisco and the Pace Community Law Practice in White Plains will formalize a partnership between two nonprofit service organizations with overlapping missions. Neighbors Link focuses on helping immigrants integrate into communities in Westchester County through efforts that include educational and employment programs. Pace Community Law Practice, founded in 2012, employs a staff of two lead attorneys, student fellows and volunteers to provide low-cost legal services. The two organizations began working together in 2014 on immigrant legal services, including naturalization and deferred action on cases involving undocumented juvenile immigrants to exempt them from deportation. By merging the Pace practice into the operations of the immigrant community center in Mount Kisco, Neighbors Link Executive Director Carola Bracco said the organization can add an additional component to its offerings. ‘We have a very holistic approach to the services we offer and legal services was the last thing missing,’ she said. The legal service has been renamed the Neighbors Link Community Law Practice, though its office will remain at 33 Crane Ave. near the Pace law school campus in White Plains. The practice will also continue to work on cases taken outside of the Neighbors Link partnership.” (Westchester County Business Journal)

January 27, 2017 – “The president of the New York State Bar Association said Jan. 27 her group will ‘vehemently oppose’ Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to raise biennial lawyer registration fees in New York by $50. Claire Gutekunst, speaking at the state bar’s annual meeting in Manhattan, told the group’s policy-setting House of Delegates Jan. 27 that the 74,000-member organization’s executive committee will oppose the governor’s proposal. Lawyers currently pay a $375 fee to re-register as attorneys with the state every two years. The fee was last increased in 2010, when it rose to $375 from $350 under a proposal by then-Gov. David Paterson to help boost state aid for civil legal services. Cuomo’s proposal calls for the new $50 charge on lawyers to go directly toward paying for legal representation of indigent criminal defendants, as required under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright.” (New York Law Journal)

January 28, 2017 – “On Friday President Donald Trump signed an executive order that is temporarily halting the admission of refugees, indefinitely banned the admission of refugees from Syria, and stopping citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. The order also includes any green card and visa holders from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, meaning if you were a citizen of these countries and you are outside of the U.S. at the time the order went into effect, you’re now barred from entering the country for at least the next 90 days. Employees from many tech companies who are visiting or on holiday in their home country have been affected by the ban, with an estimated 500,000 legal employees of foreign nationality affected. Microsoft is providing legal assistance to its employees affected by the issue, saying in a statement, ‘We share the concerns about the impact of the executive order on our employees from the listed countries, all of whom have been in the United States lawfully, and we’re actively working with them to provide legal advice and assistance.'” (MSPowerUser Blog)

Another company story: “Uber says it will create a $3 million defense fund to help cover legal, immigration and translation costs for drivers affected by Trump’s immigration and travel ban, which Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick calls ‘wrong and unjust’ in a new note shared to Facebook and Uber’s newsroom. The post outlines in more detail Uber’s commitment to assist drivers impacted by the executive order, which Kalanick made Saturday in a prior post.” “Meanwhile, rival Lyft has committed $1 million to the ACLU, and its founders came out strongly in opposition to the measures by Trump’s White House.” (techcrunch)

And another company: “Amazon chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has pledged the full legal resources of his company to fight the travel ban instituted by Donald Trump against seven Muslim-majority nations. In an email to employees sent on Monday afternoon, Bezos said that Amazon would be putting its legal and lobbying efforts behind the fight against the ban. A key avenue of opposition involves supporting the attorney general for Washington state, where Amazon is headquartered, in his lawsuit against Trump – the first confirmed legal action from a state against one of the new administration’s policies.” (The Guardian)

January 29, 2017 – “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dispatching lawyers from his office and the Port of Authority to aid persons detained at airports by federal authorities enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive morder on immigration. In addition to providing legal counsel to detainees, the governor announced during a news conference Sunday that he is proposing legislation to protect transportation workers against physical assault perpetrated by anyone on the basis of race or religion. The proposed bill was sparked by an attack against Rabeeya Khan, a Muslim airline employee in her office in the Delta Sky Lounge. A Massachusetts businessman, 57-year-old Robin A. Rhodes, is accused of mocking her religion and kicking her in the leg. He is being charged with hate crimes, prosecutors said. Anyone convicted of assaulting an airport worker or other state transit employee would be guilty of a class D felony and subject to a maximum sentence of seven years in prison under the new law, dubbed the Transportation Worker Protection Act.” (metro)

January 29, 2017 – “Hundreds of attorneys descended on U.S. airports all over the country this weekend to offer free legal help to the travelers and family members of loved ones detained under President Trump’s executive order. By Saturday afternoon, arrival terminals in airports from Dulles, Va., to Chicago to San Francisco were being turned into makeshift hubs for legal aid. Lawyers assembled conference-style tables in restaurants and gathered around electrical outlets with their laptops awaiting work. Some held signs near arrivals gates introducing themselves to families in need.” (Washington Post)

January 30, 2017 – “New York University is among the growing number of universities looking to their law schools to help protect and guide fellow students, faculty and staff in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The order led to chaos and protests at airports around the country and sparked concern and confusion at colleges and universities that draw faculty and students from around the globe. The Institute of International Education, a nonprofit organization that promotes international educational opportunities, estimates that 17,000 students from the seven banned countries were studying in the United States in 2015. The majority of those are from Iran. Harvard Law School; Cornell Law School; Yale Law School; and Stanford Law School are also pitching in to assist affected students and university employees.” (

January 30, 2017 – “It’s a busy time to be a pro bono lawyer. After President Donald Trump issued an executive order Friday to severely limit immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, lawyers across Big Law jumped in to help travelers, visa and green card holders, who faced uncertainty and deportation in the wake of the order that was soon followed by federal rulings staying parts of the action. Akin Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Davis, Polk, Hogan Lovells, and Mayer Brown represent just a sliver of the firms that had lawyers on the ground at John F. Kennedy International, Dulles and other airports assisting clients. To find clients, they have partnered with non-profits such as IRAP [International Refugee Assistance Project], which organizes law students and lawyers to offer legal aid for refugees, while tapping their existing client networks, and resorted to holding signs in airports.” Click on the link for more information about the firm programs. (Bloomberg Law)

January 31, 2017 – “A federal judge in Baton Rouge on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit seeking court enforcement of poor criminal defendants’ right to counsel in Orleans Parish, ending a bid by the American Civil Liberties Union to force the state to address what even U.S. District Judge James Brady agreed is a crisis in public defense funding in Louisiana. ‘It is clear that the Louisiana Legislature is failing miserably at upholding its obligations’ under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which required states to provide lawyers for defendants unable to hire their own, Brady wrote. ‘Budget shortages are no excuse to violate the United States Constitution.’ But in a 13-page ruling, Brady raised concerns over federalism, writing that ruling in the ACLU’s favor ‘would inevitably lead (the court) to become the overseer of the Orleans Parish criminal court system’ in a way that would fly in the face of prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The court ‘sees no way to enter this funding fray without intermeddling in state criminal prosecutions,’ Brady wrote. The ruling puts an end to an unusual lawsuit in which the ACLU sued Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton’s office, while also targeting the state Public Defender Board, in an effort to force the state to fund both agencies better.” (The New Orleans Advocate)

January 31, 2017 – “Eight protesters were arrested outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office Tuesday, as they demonstrated for more money for legal aid services for New York’s poorest. Protesters chanted “What do we want? Lawyers,” and blockaded an entrance to Governor Cuomo’s suite of offices at the Capitol. After years of what critics say was under-funding legal aid for New York’s lowest income people, the Senate and Assembly passed a bill in 2016 to create a state funded system to ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive legal representation, as is their right under the U.S. Constitution. Currently, most  individual counties pay the costs of legal defense. Governor Cuomo held the legislation until New Year’s Eve, then vetoed it, saying it would be an $800 million cost shift to state taxpayers and that reform is needed first to bring the price down. Cuomo has proposed a new plan in his budget that he says will offer more accountability. Terrell Jones, with VOCAL New York,  says he’s tired of waiting, and accused Cuomo of favoring the wealthy over the poor. Demonstrators blocked the entrance to the governor’s offices, and eight were arrested.” (WAMC)

January 31, 2017 – “A legal service for low-income residents that incubated under the wings of Mission Waco is striking out on its own. Greater Waco Legal Services kicks off this week as an independent nonprofit organization, headed by attorney Kent McKeever, who started Mission Waco Legal Services in 2012. ‘I think it opens new doors for us to really strategically structure ourselves for growth,’ McKeever said. ‘Our mission is the same: to provide compassionate, affordable legal services for our community.'” (Waco Tribune-Herald)

January 31, 2017 – “With funding for civil legal aid in Florida at its lowest point in 10 years, a new study shows that every dollar spent on civil legal services for the state’s low-income residents yields more than $7 in economic impacts. With total funding of $83 million from all sources, 33 Florida civil legal aid organizations made $600 million of economic impact in 2015, according to the study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation. The detailed results and implications of the study will be the topic of three press conferences Feb. 2 and 3.” (citybizlist)

January 31, 2017 – “Starting next week, the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island will launch a pilot project to provide free legal advice. It’s a response to a trend seen in courtrooms around the Island and across the county, where many people try to represent themselves in court without the help of a lawyer. According to P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice David Jenkins, it’s part of ‘crisis’ in access to justice across the country. ‘In a majority of family law matters we see in our courts, there’s at least one participant who is self-represented,’ he said. The pilot project will allow people to meet privately with a qualified lawyer. The 45-minute sessions, by appointment only, are free of charge. The clinics are for family law and civil matters only.” “The volunteer lawyers who will be providing the free advice are all qualified members of Law Society of Prince Edward Island. The Community Legal Information Association (CLIA), based in Charlottetown, will help people arrange appointments for the weekly sessions.” (CBC News)

February 1, 2017 – “Juvenile defendants may soon benefit from a state-funded commission created last year to tackle problems with Utah’s public-defender system. A bill introduced this week would amend a legislation enacted last year that created the Indigent Defense Commission, which distributes state funds and oversees indigent defense services statewide. But bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the bill he passed a year ago did not include juvenile defendants. This meant the commission could only grant money to counties for use in providing attorneys to those charged in adult court, who can’t afford their own attorneys and face the possibility of jail time. SB134 proposes that the commission be expanded to include juvenile defense, and also proposes an additional $150,000 a year to hire a staffer who has experience in juvenile crimes.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

February 1, 2017 – “Students, legal professionals, computer programmers, computer scientists, software developers, members of the public and professionals of various disciplines will come together Feb. 3 and 4 for a two-day ‘hackathon’ designed to create technology applications that will improve access to justice. HackJustice, which is organized by the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Cyberjustice Laboratory at Université de Montréal – will run simultaneously at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and the Cyberjustice Laboratory in Montréal. Over the course of the two days, participants will compete for prizes as they work in teams to create and code either a mobile phone or software app, a website, or other technological solution that will make justice more accessible. Each team will then present their tech solution to a panel of judges who will choose the hackathon winners based on the originality and usefulness of the tech developed. ‘HackJustice is a great competition for anyone who is interested in technology and improving access to justice,’ said Nicole Aylwin, Assistant Director of the Winkler Institute. ‘The challenges that the teams will be taking on reflect a desire to help build public engagement and participation in the justice system and policy-making.'” (York University Media Relations)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Lawyers – for those of us with the training and expertise to make a difference, it is more important than ever that we do so.  We have seen a incredible response to the call to action by our profession.  Lawyers on both sides of the issues will be asked to do extraordinary things.  Please support them as you can, and thank you to those who have already stepped up.

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

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