PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 3, 3017

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • St. Charles Parish Public Defender’s Office may cut lawyers/lawyer pay;
  • Proposal would bar North Carolina public law schools from providing legal representation;
  • Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Southern Poverty Law Center partner on scholar program;
  • Yale Law School launches six new clinics;
  • Alberta’s justice system has reached breaking point says prosecutors;
  • Montana governor signs bills addressing criminal justice costs;
  • Legal Aid Ontario offers coverage for second judicial pre-trials across Ontario;
  • Eviction Defense Project launches in Milwaukee;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 24, 2017 – “Dealing with a budget crunch, the St. Charles Parish Public Defender’s Office has put its 11 attorneys on notice of possible layoffs and salary cuts. District Public Defender Vic Bradley Jr. said the move comes with a $138,000 deficit. Without cuts, Bradley projected the figure could easily surpass last fiscal year’s $392,596 budget shortfall. ‘We can’t keep going that way,’ he said. ‘We have to cut costs. We’re spending twice what we were taking in for the last couple of months.’ Bradley said it’s possible one lawyer will be cut and the others will take a pay cut. He recently notified them by letter that their contracts have been ended and pay will be renegotiated. ‘The money is not just coming in,’ he said. ‘The court costs are not there.'” (St. Charles Herald Guide)

February 24, 2017 – “A proposal headed to the UNC system’s Board of Governors would bar public university centers and institutes in North Carolina from providing legal representation to clients in any sort of litigation. The broadly worded measure, submitted to the board’s education policy committee in a memo credited to member Joe Knott, would almost certainly affect organizations like the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights. The Center for Civil Rights has provided support, counsel or other aid in a variety of cases involving school desegregation, voting rights and compensation for victims of the state’s former forced-sterilization program. System policy currently allows that, but Knott’s cover memo said the board should decide that ‘filing legal actions against the state or city and county governments does not come within the primary purpose of centers and institutes.’ But the attached proposal, drafted in the style of the ones already included in the system policy manual, goes much farther than barring participation in the sort of civil matters that have drawn criticism from some board members previously. It forbids centers and institutes from filing ‘a complaint, motion, lawsuit or other legal claim,’ in its own name or for others, ‘against any individual, entity or government.’ Moreover, they wouldn’t be able to ‘act as legal counsel to any third party,’ employ people who do, or arrange for someone’s representation. As worded, it would apparently forbid the system’s law schools, at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University, from setting up or operating centers or institutes to help out with such things as the Innocence Project.” (The Herald-Sun)

February 24, 2017 – “The Indiana University Maurer School of Law is partnering with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center on a program aimed at attracting law students interested in social justice and equality issues. The Julian Bond Law Scholars program includes scholarship, mentoring and summer externship opportunities. The program is named after the civil rights leader, who also founded the SPLC. The university says the program will give law students an ‘affordable  pathway to a professional career; eliminate the stress and anxiety that some students feel when trying to find employment after their first year of law school; and provide unparalleled hands-on legal experience, while allowing students to make a difference in advancing social justice issues.’ IU says the program will provide one scholarship worth 50 to 100 percent of tuition each year. Julian Bond Law Scholars will also be able to take part in a formal mentoring program and will be offered summer externships after completing their first year of law school. The externships will include a $4,000 stipend to cover living expenses and a research assistantship during the scholars’ second or third years.” (Inside Indiana Business)

February 27, 2017 – “This semester six new clinics launched as part of a growing experiential learning program at Yale Law School. The clinics provide students with hands-on experience in a number of fields, including immigration, reproductive rights, environmental law, consumer protection, domestic violence, and human rights.” The new clinics are the Arbitration Project, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), the Environmental Justice Clinic, the Reproductive Rights and Justice Project, and the Rule of Law Clinic. (Yale Law School)

March 1, 2017 – “The justice system in Alberta is facing a crisis, according to Crown prosecutors. The Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association took the unusual step of calling a news conference Wednesday after Edmonton’s chief Crown prosecutor stayed 15 separate criminal prosecutions on Feb. 28 because of a lack of resources. Those charges included impaired driving, assaulting a police officer, and weapons charges. The choice to stay charges because of a shortage of prosecutors is affecting the whole province, said James Pickard, assistant executive director of Specialized Prosecutions with Alberta Justice. ‘Since January 2017, all across Alberta, we are confident in stating that approximately 200 significant charges have been stayed due to a lack of resources,’ he said. In Edmonton in December 2016 alone, 20 charges were abandoned because there were too few Crown prosecutors to see them through, he said. Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley acknowledged the short staffing to be a problem. ‘We’re concerned as well,’ she said.” “Criminal defence lawyer Kelly Dawson said although the situation appears politically charged with the provincial budget coming down this month, the Crown prosecutors raise real issues. ‘The government has been receptive to meeting with us, consulting with us,’ he said. ‘But at some point you wonder if they’re really listening to anything other than public pressure.'” (CBC News)

March 1, 2017 – “Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a package of bills that seeks to cut costs for the state public defender’s office and help reduce recidivism. One bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to establish a pilot project in up to four regions that would put clients in touch with social workers and other services that might help address the reasons they got in trouble with the law.” “Bullock held a ceremonial signing for the pilot project bill on Wednesday while also signing a bill that would allow jail inmates free phone calls to their attorneys. The law is expected to save the public defender’s office about $35,000 a year in collect calls as well as time public defenders spend visiting clients in jail.” “Another bill signed Wednesday eliminates the requirement to appoint a public defender for an unknown parent in child abuse and neglect cases, which could save the state about $100,000 annually, said sponsor Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula.” “A fourth bill, requested by the Department of Corrections, allows criminal records for juvenile offenders to be shared electronically, rather than on paper, and calls for sealing most formal and informal youth court records when the youth involved turns 18. That bill takes effect immediately.” (Missoulian)

March 1, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is working to decrease criminal court delays and better support its clients by providing coverage for mandatory second judicial pre-trials to courts across Ontario. A second judicial pre-trial is a substantial meeting between Crown and defence with a judge to determine options for resolving a case, or to examine the evidence and outstanding issues before a case goes to trial. This proceeding is often effective in either settling many criminal matters or reducing delays help to spare the expense of time and money on a needless trial. For eligible matters legal aid clients receive additional coverage on their legal aid certificates for the second judicial pre-trial. Over the last ten months LAO has worked with the Ontario Court of Justice, criminal defence bar and the Ministry of the Attorney General on a project to fund second judicial pre-trials or substantially similar events in several Ontario Court of Justice locations as a pilot project. This pilot has been successful in increasing the number of early resolutions to criminal cases, while also improving how cases are managed if they need to come to trial. LAO will now provide coverage for lawyers representing eligible clients to participate in these second case management events across the province as of March 1, 2017. The roll-out of coverage for second judicial pre-trials across the province follows from an initiative by both the Ontario Court of Justice and the Ministry of the Attorney General to decrease criminal court delays.” (CNW)

March 1, 2017 – “Legal Action of Wisconsin has successfully launched its new Eviction Defense Project (EDP), which seeks to reduce housing instability for low-income Milwaukee County families, especially those with children. Housed at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, EDP provides tenants facing eviction with access to free civil legal aid and on-site, limited scope, representation.” “A close collaboration between Legal Action and others made the EDP possible:  The Legal Services Corporation, the Milwaukee Justice Center, Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, Marquette University, the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Community Advocates, Quarles & Brady LLP, and many volunteer attorneys.  The support of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court was also critical in allowing Legal Action to launch the project.” (Urban Milwaukee)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

A lesson from the past that is relevant today.  On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signs a bill creating the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, this federal agency oversaw the difficult transition of African Americans from slavery to freedom. The Freedmen’s Bureau, born out of abolitionist concern for freed slaves, was headed by Union General Oliver O. Howard for the entire seven years of its existence. The bureau was given power to dispense relief to both white and black refugees in the South, provide medical care and education, and redistribute “abandoned” lands to former slaves. The latter task was probably the most effective measure to ensure the prosperity and security of the freedmen, but it was also extremely difficult to enact. Many factors stymied the bureau’s work. White Southerners were very hostile to the Yankee bureau members, and even more hostile to the freed slaves. Terror organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan targeted both blacks and whites and intimidated those trying to help them. The bureau lacked the necessary funds and personnel to carry out its programs, and the lenient policies of President Andrew Johnson’s administration encouraged resistance. Most of the land confiscated from Confederates was eventually restored to the original owners, so there was little opportunity for black land ownership. Although the Freedmen’s Bureau was not able to provide long-term protection for blacks, nor did it ensure any real measure of equality, it did signal the introduction of the federal government into issues of social welfare and labor relations. (History.com)

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

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