PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 17, 2017

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  The big news is Trump’s budget, which proposes eliminating 19 agencies including the Legal Services Corporation. We have reactions below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Law firms urge government to continue funding legal services;
  • Flood Proof launches app;
  • Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and Pro Bono Net launch new website for veterans/volunteer lawyers;
  • Law students’ report says Canada in violation of Charter;
  • Paladin co-founder newest Entrepreneur-in-Residence at 1871;
  • Chicago judge orders access to lawyers at police stations;
  • North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice issues recommendations for court improvement;
  • Trump White House releases proposed budget – cuts LSC funding;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 10, 2017 – “Leaders of more than 150 U.S. law firms with offices in all 50 states sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget Thursday, urging it to continue funding the Legal Services Corp. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget has reportedly put funding for the bipartisan nonprofit on the chopping block. ‘The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate,’ the law firm leaders wrote. In the letter, which is addressed to OMB Director John Michael Mulvaney, the law firm chairs and managing partners said that lawyers in their firms provide millions of hours of free pro bono service “to individuals in desperate need of assistance,” noting that they do this by working closely with independent legal aid agencies around the country that are funded by the LSC. ‘Our ability to provide pro bono legal services is directly dependent on partnership with legal aid organizations,’ they wrote.  The LSC, they said, provides essential support for the firms’ pro bono work because those agencies screen cases for merit and eligibility and train and mentor attorneys. In addition, low-income people living in rural areas often can only find free legal assistance through LSC grantees, they said. The firm leaders told Mulvaney that LSC funding is money well-spent, in part because civil legal aid is able to leverage pro bono services provided by private firms. The LSC has asked Congress to appropriate $502.7 million in the 2017 budget.” (The American Lawyer)

March 10, 2017 – “Flood Proof: Free Legal Help for Homeowners with Title Problems launched a new iPhone app to streamline the process for homeowners seeking to obtain a clear title to inherited property. “Homeowners who were affected by the August floods and lack clear title to their home need to gather information and documents to prove title. The Flood Proof App is a tool that will allow flood victims to do exactly that from their home or place of temporary residence, and hopefully minimize the number of times that they have to take off of work or arrange child care in order to make multiple trips to an attorney’s office,” said Judy Perry Martinez, Special Advisor to the newly created American Bar Association Center for Innovation and former chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services.” “The Flood Proof app was developed with support from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation, Stanford University Law School and the LSU Law Center. The project is led by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in collaboration with the Baton Rouge Bar Foundation, Southern University Law Center, LSU Law Center, Louisiana Appleseed, and the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation. Generous support funding the project is provided through grants from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Louisiana Bar Foundation, the Equal Justice Works Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.” (brproud)

March 10, 2017 – “The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and Pro Bono Net are pleased to announce the launch of a new website, www.vetsprobono.org, to support and engage both veterans and volunteer attorneys.  The new site leverages the probono.net technology platform, which is used to support broad-based networks of legal aid, civil rights and pro bono lawyers across the country. The site offers veterans and their families information about appealing unfavorable VA benefits decisions, including informational videos and frequently asked questions. The new web platform delivers a winning ‘trifecta’ solution: making it easier for veterans to file federal court appeals, making it more efficient for attorneys to volunteer and ask for cases to represent veterans in need, and making it more effective for The Veterans Consortium (TVC) staff attorneys to carefully match the right client with the best volunteer. The Consortium’s volunteers will be able to find available pro bono cases, as well as have the ability to indicate their interest in specific cases. To support their representation of veterans, the site also provides volunteers a library of resources on a wide variety of veterans’ issues. In addition, TVC will soon launch an interactive interview to generate an informal brief hosted on Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI’s) platform. The brief was designed for veterans who are appealing benefit denials in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Through LHI and its Connect feature, appellants respond to questions with an easy-to-use interface and then are able to share their drafts with TVC staff for review before filing them with the Court. ‘This partnership between Pro Bono Net and The Veterans Consortium demonstrates an ideal use of online tools and expertise to support a truly national network of volunteers to serve veterans across the country,’ says Mark O’Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. The Veterans Consortium and Pro Bono Net also teamed with Neota Logic and Just-Tech, LLC to build and integrate the tools needed to make this technology initiative a reality. Ed Glabus, Executive Director of The Veterans Consortium, summed up the project in these words: ‘This new web platform is a leap ahead for our staff and dedicated volunteers, and helps us live our credo that our veterans in need, our nation’s defenders, deserve the benefits and compensation they were promised, and the best legal services free of charge, to meet their challenges. We couldn’t have accomplished this rapid increase in capability and capacity without our outstanding high tech and mission driven partner Pro Bono Net.'” (probono.net Press Release)

March 13, 2017 – “Law students from across the country issued a report that argues Canada’s continued participation in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The report, compiled by hundreds of law students on behalf of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls on the government to suspend the agreement in response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.” “The report shows how refugees turned back on Canadian borders could face detention, deportation or lack of access to legal representation in the United States. By continuing to be part of the agreement, Canada “is breaching” both its own Charter of Rights and the International Refugee Convention, the report notes. Despite mounting pressure, immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said last month Canada was not considering reviewing the agreement.” (Metro News)

March 13, 2017 – “The co-founder of a startup matching lawyers to pro bono cases will join the push for diversity in tech at 1871. Kristen Sonday was announced Saturday as 1871’s next Entrepreneur in Residence through the Code2040/Google for Entrepreneurs program, where she’ll work to expand opportunities for underrepresented minorities.” (Chicago Tribune)

March 14, 2017 – “In a city where fewer than 1 percent of people in police custody are visited by an attorney, a judge’s order will help the poor access a free lawyer while at the police station. Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County signed an order Tuesday that would make a county public defender or a designated private attorney available to anyone who is in custody at one of the Chicago Police Department’s 22 stations with lockup facilities.” “Under Evans’ order, arrestees will now have access to legal aid during normal weekday business hours. [24-hour First Defense Legal Aid’s] group of volunteer attorneys will be on call after hours, on weekends and on holidays.” (Huffington Post)

March 15, 2017 – “Electronic filing of documents in criminal cases and civil lawsuits, data analytics to improve case flow and increased funding for indigent defense and public interest lawyers are among the recommendations a statewide panel has made to improve the North Carolina court system. The North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice presented its final report to Chief Justice Mark Martin on Wednesday. Martin appointed the 65-member commission almost two years ago and tasked members with the first comprehensive evaluation of the state court system in two decades. ‘The commission’s recommendations create a framework for dramatic, systemic improvement in the administration of justice in North Carolina,’ Martin said in a statement. ‘The work of this blue-ribbon commission will help ensure that North Carolina’s Judicial Branch meets the needs and expectations that the people of North Carolina have for fair, modern and impartial courts.’ Recommendations were made in five areas: criminal investigation and adjudication, civil justice, technology, legal professionalism and public trust and confidence.” (WRAL)

March 16, 2017 – “On Thursday, the Trump administration released a preliminary 2018 budget proposal, which details many of the changes the president wants to make to the federal government’s spending. The proposal covers only discretionary, not mandatory, spending. To pay for an increase in defense spending, a down payment on the border wall and school voucher programs, among other things, funding was cut from the discretionary budgets of other executive departments and agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department took the hardest hits. The proposal also eliminates funding for these 19 agencies.” One of the proposed eliminations is funding for the Legal Services Corporation. (Washington Post)

LSC Statement: “President Trump’s budget proposal released today calls for defunding the Legal Services Corporation, but LSC leaders expressed confidence that Congress would continue to support the vital mission of the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income people. ‘I look forward to working with Congress to continue LSC’s work,’ said James Sandman, President of LSC. ‘I am optimistic that the bipartisan support we have enjoyed in Congress for more than four decades will continue for years to come.'” (LSC Press Release)

ABA Statement: “The American Bar Association is outraged that the administration  proposes to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation in its budget and calls on every member of Congress to restore full funding. LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice. Some of the worthy services the LSC provides include securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors. Their offices are in every congressional district and they help almost 1.9 million people annually. More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs. If veterans become homeless, or disaster victims cannot rebuild, their costs to society are significantly more.” (ABA News)

NLADA Statement: “Today the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a framework for the FY18 federal budget that recommends the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The OMB proposal would further clog courts with individuals who would be forced to represent themselves without the assistance of an attorney, and deny equal access to justice for millions of people in our country.  NLADA, the nation’s judiciary, the legal profession, and a host of other organizations are joined in our resolve to educate Congress about the critical role LSC plays in guaranteeing our nation’s promise of justice and fairness for all. Civil legal aid is integral to the effective functioning of our justice system, and to the principle that the quality of justice you receive should not depend on how much money you have.” (NLADA Statement)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law Students in Action: Students in Boston University School of Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC) have been working to help those caught in the confusion following President Trump’s executive orders on immigration enforcement and deportation. Supervised by Clinical Instructor Sarah Sherman-Stokes, IRC students recently worked in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to ensure compliance with the Massachusetts Federal Court Order that put a seven-day hold on the enforcement of President Trump’s executive order of January 27, 2017, which blocked travelers coming to the US from seven majority Muslim countries. Students, on a volunteer-basis, went to Logan Airport and provided legal support for travelers who were having issues or were simply curious about their rights. (Boston University School of Law News)

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

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