PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 10, 2017

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

Happy Friday! More pro bono efforts in the news this week. We’re also seeing a rise in contributions to organizations that provide legal assistance. Did you see the ACLU Amazon Dash button? Let’s keep the money (and assistance) flowing.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Canadian law students take part in a research-a-thon to help people affected by the U.S. refugee ban;
  • Applications open for The Massachusetts Bar Foundation’s Legal Intern Fellowship Program;
  • Virginia Legal Aid Society receives $20,000 grant;
  • Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee awards Serving Tennessee’s Seniors grants;
  • New Arizona website gives court information and more;
  • New indigent defense lawsuit filed in Louisiana;
  • Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice seeks critical funding;
  • Atlanta office of public defender receives grant;
  • University of Virginia School of Law launches new pro bono clinic;
  • Lawyers help create website to coordinate legal aid to immigrants at airports;
  • $25 million donation boosts University of Minnesota Law School’s legal services for immigrants and refugees;
  • Community Legal Services receives $3.1 million Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant;
  • Sen. Booker, Rep. Maloney renew effort to fix America’s strained public defender system;
  • Montana officials may take novel approach to overhaul of indigent defense system;
  • Coder turns Amazon Dash button into ACLU donation tool;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 3, 2017 – “Students from 22 Canadian law schools from coast to coast joined a ‘research-a-thon’ Saturday to help with possible legal challenges stemming from U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban and suspension of the country’s refugee program. The focus of the research was on what is known as the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and U.S., which mandates that a person seeking refugee status must make the claim in the first country in which they arrive — the understanding being that both countries are considered ‘safe.’ But in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, advocates have been calling on Ottawa to immediately suspend the pact, arguing the U.S. is no longer safe for refugees.” “Kim Veller, a second-year student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and chair of the local chapter of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said each school had been given a different question to work on by the Canadian Council for Refugees, which she said is building a proposal to suspend the bilateral agreement.” (The Star)

February 3, 2017 – “The Massachusetts Bar Foundation’s (MBF) Legal Intern Fellowship Program was established in 1996 to give talented law students the experience and encouragement they need to pursue careers in the public interest law sector while providing legal aid organizations with much-needed additional staff capacity for the summer. The MBF awards at least three (3) stipends of $6,000 each to law students who intern during the summer months at nonprofit organizations providing civil legal services to low-income clients in Massachusetts. These awards are supported by generous contributions to the MBF from lawyers and judges statewide and by the Smith Family Fund.” Application materials available at the link. (MBF)

February 3, 2017 – “The Virginia Legal Aid Society has received a $20,000 grant to help support low-income families in Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. The money comes from the Beazley Foundation Inc., a supporter of many organizations serving South Hampton Roads for nearly seven decades. The grant will support VLAS’s Strengthening Families with Children program to help low-income families increase and preserve financial resources, obtain and maintain safe and affordable housing, increase access to healthcare and education and increase stability for families in transition.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)

February 3, 2017 – “The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, a charitable organization dedicated to enriching our quality of life, is pleased to announce that Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is one of 121 Tennessee nonprofits and governmental organizations receiving funding as part of a one-time Serving Tennessee’s Seniors grant opportunity. Funding of Serving Tennessee’s Seniors was provided by the Chancery Court and administered by The Community Foundation through the settlement of a lawsuit initiated by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper against both SeniorTrust and ElderTrust.” “Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) has received a $25,000 grant to provide legal education to seniors in Upper East Tennessee, and give them tools to assess their individual legal problems.” “Outcomes achieved by each grantee will be reported to the Court and available to the public on an interim basis. Final results will be available in July 2017.” (The Newport Plain Talk)

February 5, 2017 – “A new website has recently launched to offer basic assistance to people of all walks of life who have legal questions or need assistance in resolving disputes in court. is organized by topic and geographical location to help people find the court locations, forms, and other information they may need. Geographical information includes court locations, maps, hours, payment terms, parking, and accessibility information.  The site also features live chat forums to assist with legal information, legal talk clinics on popular topics, and other information helpful to self-represented individuals.  Frequently asked questions are arranged by topic so users can quickly find the information that is most helpful to their situation.  The site will also include video tutorials, webinars, and a calendar of free legal workshops around Arizona.” (The Daily Courier)

February 6, 2017 – “Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and the board that oversees the state’s indigent defense services were named in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday (Feb. 6) by a group of 13 inmates who contend their constitutional rights to counsel have been denied because of an insufficient public defense system. The suit, filed in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish, asks for a court declaration that Louisiana’s system for indigent representation is ‘significantly compromised,’ and for a court-appointed monitor with the power to oversee fixes to the system. ‘This suit seeks to bring long-overdue relief to communities that have literally been left defenseless for far too long,’ said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs. The suit names Edwards, Chief Public Defender Jay Dixon, and all members of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, the agency responsible for the oversight of statewide legal services for the poor in criminal cases.” (The Times-Picayune)

February 6, 2017 – “The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is seeking $1.5 million in one-time funding to support legal defense for Utahns who can’t afford it. Joanna Landau, executive director of the Indigent Defense Commission, said that funding would build on last year’s support to fund more defense attorneys, training and oversight to local governments throughout the state. Support from the Indigent Defense Commission is done through cost sharing with local governments, and grants awarded by the commission are carefully administered, Landau told the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday. In response to questions from the committee, Landau agreed that while the commission is currently seeking one-time funding, eventually a long-term solution will need to be addressed.” (Deseret News)

February 6, 2017 – “The City of Atlanta’s office of the public defender has been chosen to join the Safety and Justice Challenge, a grant program awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to create a more fair and effective local justice system and model reforms for the nation, the city announced. The chosen sites taking part in the grant program’s Innovation Fund will get technical assistance and financial support of $50,000 each, and are eligible for future funding opportunities, the city said. The challenge is a national $100 million initiative whose aim is to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails, according to the city’s announcement. Atlanta and the other selected jurisdictions will design and test innovative local justice reforms with the purpose of safely bringing down jail usage and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice systems.” (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

February 6, 2017 – “Over winter break, nine law students from the University’s School of Law volunteered at the Legal Aid Justice Center, which will be launching a new pro bono clinic this coming semester. The Civil Rights Litigation Pro Bono Clinic is a partnership between the Law School and Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center. ‘We’re always looking to elevate our cases to make a big impact that will help as many people as we can,’ said Mario Salas, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center who is working with the Civil Rights Pro Bono Clinic. Volunteers will work on civil rights and racial justice cases pro bono, which means they don’t receive academic credit for their work, but can receive volunteer hours. Many of the topics involved in the cases can be seen in today’s headlines, such as policing and race, the criminalization of poverty and mental health.” (The Cavalier Daily)

February 6, 2017 – “A group of lawyers has tapped into technology to make sure that immigrants and families waiting for them at airports around the country have access to free legal help when they need it. A website launched Monday, called, collects information about travelers and sends it securely to volunteer lawyers near airports, who can then help clients on the ground. The site, created by Seattle-area lawyers and New York legal software company Neota Logic, was spurred by President Trump’s recent executive order, said Tacoma immigration lawyer Greg McLawsen, who was involved in creation of the website.” “The site takes in simple information from travelers’ friends or family members such as flight time and the type of visa the traveler holds. It then passes that information, with identifying details removed, on to a coordinating lawyer. Once a volunteer is assigned, that attorney can log in to a secure site to review the entire case.” “ currently has coordinating lawyers working near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Denver International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport.” (The Seattle Times)

February 6, 2017 – “A $25 million donation to the University of Minnesota Law School will solidify a unique partnership between lawyers and students to provide free legal services to immigrants and refugees.” “The center is a partnership between University law students and lawyers from the Dorsey & Whitney, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Robins Kaplan law firms, as well as the nonprofit Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and The Advocates for Human Rights. In 2015, the students and lawyers won a U.S. Supreme Court case after arguing that a Tunisian noncitizen’s conviction for hiding unspecified pills in his sock should not trigger deportation. Last year, 50 law students worked on cases.” (

February 6, 2017 – “An East Palo Alto nonprofit group that helps thousands of low-income residents with housing and immigration issues will receive a three-year, $3.1 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Initiative announced on Monday. David Plouffe, president of policy and advocacy, announced in a Facebook post that the philanthropic Initiative would begin supporting Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California, Berkeley. Both organizations help affordable housing challenges. The Initiative was founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan.” (Palo Alto Online)

February 7, 2017 – “U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) are renewing a bicameral effort to fix America’s strained public defender system from local courts all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, Booker and Maloney are re-introducing two legislative initiatives that seek to ensure America’s judicial institutions are living up to the Constitution’s guarantee of a right to counsel. The Equal Justice Under Law Act would empower indigent criminal defendants to take action against states and localities that systematically fail to provide effective assistance of counsel in felony cases. The Gideon Act would establish a federal corporation dedicated to delivering independent, uniform, and quality defense representation in criminal cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and, at times, in the highest courts in the states.” (Sen. Booker Press Release)

February 8, 2017 – “Montana officials moved forward Wednesday with an effort to overhaul the state’s public defender system, which has been long beset with sinking morale and a growing caseload that puts pressure on what officials say is an overburdened staff. The state Senate, without debate, gave preliminary support to a pilot project that is to develop a more comprehensive approach to helping repeat offenders stay out of the criminal justice system. The program, if approved, would connect defendants with social workers and services to help offenders get their lives back on track. The Senate also gave final approval to a bill stripping a requirement that automatically assigned a public defender to a parent of a child, even if that parent had not been identified or was not involved in the case. The latter change is expected to save the system at least $100,000 annually. Earlier, a legislative committee approved a plan to transfer oversight of the public defender’s office to the Department of Administration from a state commission.” “To help reduce the caseload, the state is exploring a variety of approaches, including a novel method called a ‘holistic defense pilot project’ already used by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. It is among the growing number of jurisdictions nationwide experimenting with a holistic approach that draws human support services into the criminal justice system. The project would be established for up to four public defender’s offices. The approach could eventually save millions of dollars, according to the pilot program’s lead sponsor, Rep. Kimberly Dudik, a Democrat from Missoula, who is sponsoring several bills as part of the overhaul.” (Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

February 9, 2017 – “Nathan Pryor was getting frustrated by news of Trump administration policies that he disagrees with. So he did what any a self-described designer, programmer and ‘tinkerer’ would do: He hacked into an Amazon gizmo designed to instantly order consumer goods for the home and made it donate $5 to the American Civil Liberties Union with every press, instead. OK, so maybe that’s not something anyone would do. Pryor credits his friend Katherine with the idea, but his follow-through on the execution has made donating to the ACLU as easy as, well, pressing a button.” “Amazon introduced the Dash Button in 2015 to allow frazzled consumers to reorder essential home supplies by literally pressing a button that sticks to a surface at home. The Dash Button quickly became a favorite hobby project for hackers and ‘maker’ types, who invented hacks that allowed users to control lights, build a silent doorbell and track work hours all with a single push. Amazon responded by releasing a developer kit and a customizeable ‘Internet of Things’ button called the AWS IoT. Pryor’s version looks to be one of the first Dash Buttons that donates to a charitable cause.” “He’s got a lot of ideas about how to implement a nonprofit donation button on a large scale, too. Pryor told NBC News that use of the buttons among supporters could provide ‘great feedback’ to an organization. “If 10,000 people pushed to donate within 10 minutes of a policy announcement, while another announcement brought only a trickle through the day, the organization would have a new perspective on what mattered to its donors,” Pryor said.” (NBC News)


Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“Joe Meux has been a volunteer attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid since 1994 and has since served more than 300 low-income clients. He has worked with Elder Source and SHINE and also has served as a volunteer mediator. For the past 10-plus years, nearly weekly, he has been the attorney on-site at the Mary Singleton Senior Center. On Jan. 24, Joe shared with us that he is retiring from pro bono work to concentrate his time on his family and his church.” What a wonderful legacy.  Thank you Mr. Meux for your long service. (Jacksonville Daily Record)

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

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