PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 7, 2017

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

Happy Friday! It’s a little over a week to the NALP Annual Education Conference.  We are excited to have our members join us in San Francisco for great programming and networking. And we are thrilled to host Julia Wilson, CEO of One Justice, as our Public Interest Luncheon Speaker.  You can read more about this amazing advocate below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Iowa State Public Defender announces mandatory furlough days;
  • New Mexico public defenders take funding battle to  Supreme Court;
  • New York University School of Law expands pro bono opportunities for students;
  • How to make in-house pro bono work;
  • Lawsuit settlement to boost indigent defense in Suffolk (New York);
  • ACLU sues over public defenders for children in Washington State;
  • NYCLU asks legislators to spin “Wheel of Justice” to garner support for public defense funding;
  • Montana Supreme Court Justices call for funding for civil legal services;
  • New York State Bar devises new portal to find legal help for immigrants;
  • National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List 2017 announced;
  • Report says legal aid put $10.5 mil in Maine economy;
  • New York to set aside $10M of state budget for immigration legal services;
  • Alberta access to justice study launched by Law Foundation of Ontario;
  • Stanford Law School receives $7.4 million gift for public interest and public service work;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 30, 2017 – “In addressing a state budget shortfall, 223 Iowa State Public Defender employees have been informed they must take five unpaid furlough days before the end of June. State Public Defender Adam Gregg sent a letter to employees Thursday explaining the furlough days are mandatory due to the $457,481 reduction announced as part of a de-appropriation bill signed by Gov. Terry Branstad in February that cut $117.8 million from the state’s 2017 budget. Gregg said Thursday in a phone interview the decision was made late Wednesday about how the cut to his office would be handled. He said furlough days are to make up for the budget shortfall and that all employees, including himself, must participate in order to achieve the savings. ‘We ran a lean operation and we were under budget this year but when you have to make up for nearly a half million dollars in three months, it was best to do this,’ Gregg said. ‘A shared sacrifice is a better alternative than a permanent closure of one or more of the offices.'” (The Gazette)

March 30, 2017 – “The state Law Offices of the Public Defender, which for years has complained that it doesn’t have enough money to adequately represent New Mexico’s poorest defendants, is asking the state Supreme Court to step in and address the problem. The agency filed a petition Tuesday proposing that the Supreme Court order private attorneys to represent indigent defendants for free or order court clerks to stop accepting new cases alleging minor, nonviolent crimes after a certain number of cases has been reached. ‘Some of these are extreme solutions,’ Chief Defender Bennett Baur said Thursday. ‘None of them are perfect. But they are solutions to the problem.’ Baur also suggests in the court filing that the Supreme Court appoint a special master to find long-term solutions for the ongoing problem in New Mexico of too many accused criminals and too little money and lawyers to represent them.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)

March 30, 2017 – “NYU Law is partnering with Paladin — a tech start-up that connects lawyers with pro bono cases aligned with their interests. Current NYU Law students and alumni are able to utilize the service at no charge by signing up online. Paladin is the latest addition in the law school’s efforts to pair students with pro bono opportunities. According to Associate Director of the Public Interest Law center Miriam Eckenfels-Garcia, NYU Law already holds partnerships with several organizations such as New York State Courts, Asian American Bar Association, Legal Services NYC, Greenpeace and Sidley Austin LLP. This additional opportunity to connect NYU Law students with these cases is particularly important as the New York State Bar requires 50 hours of pro bono work for admission. According to NYU Law guidelines, this requirement can be satisfied both in the United States or overseas, as long as it is law-related, unpaid and supervised by an attorney or law school instructor.” (Washington Square News)

March 30, 2017 – Law360 has an interesting article on how companies see pro bono work, and how they make it a part of their legal department culture. (Law360)

April 2, 2017 – “Legal defense for poor criminal defendants in Suffolk County is getting a significant boost, thanks to settlement of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The settlement sent $5.4 million to Suffolk, which will allow the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County and other assigned public defenders to have caseloads and resources more in line with what prosecutors and private attorneys have had. ‘It’s going to make a very big difference,’ said Laurette Mulry, Legal Aid’s attorney in charge. For the agency, it will mean reducing caseloads by hiring 23 lawyers to add to its staff of 100. All of those lawyers will work in Legal Aid’s District Court bureau, where some lawyers now handle up to 500 cases a year. The suit said the low quality of defense violated defendants’ constitutional right to adequate counsel. Another 42 new hires — investigators, interpreters, social workers and support staff — will boost the quality of the work Legal Aid does, Mulry said. The state made the money available to Suffolk as part of a settlement with the NYCLU, which sued the state over what it called inadequate legal defense for poor people in Suffolk and four upstate counties. In these counties, defense attorneys for the indigent often didn’t meet their clients before their first court appearances, had enormous caseloads and had little access to investigators and others who could help develop defenses in a case.” (Newsday)

April 3, 2017 – “The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is suing the state’s Office of Public Defense in an effort to get the state to do more to make sure children charged with crimes have good legal help. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Thurston County Superior Court, specifically challenges what the ACLU describes as the agency’s failure to protect juvenile defendants in Grays Harbor County on the Pacific coast, but the issues aren’t limited to Grays Harbor County, said Emily Chiang, the organization’s legal director. While the ACLU has previously sued several jurisdictions to improve representation for defendants who can’t afford lawyers — including a landmark 2013 federal court decision against the cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon — this case is about getting the state to enforce public defense standards on its own, she said. ‘There’s a very competent and well-run state agency here. It should be their job,’ she said. ‘I don’t think the ACLU should be in the business of managing public defense resources.’ The lawsuit seeks to have the court declare that Grays Harbor County is violating the constitutional rights of children charged with crimes and that the Office of Public Defense has the authority to require remedial measures.” (The Columbian)

April 3, 2017 – “The NYCLU broke out its ‘Wheel of Justice’ and asked legislators to give it a spin and test their fate in New York’s ‘broken criminal justice system,’ as a way to raise awareness and promote support for the Justice Equality Act. The bill, (A.1903) which would provide full state funding for public defenders, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, and passed both the Assembly and Senate last session, but was vetoed by the governor in December. It has not yet been reintroduced in the Senate by last year’s sponsor, Senator John DeFrancisco, R- Syracuse.” “The Wheel of Justice was placed at the entrance of The Legislative Office Building during a recent busy day at the state Capitol to help raise awareness of the bill. Legislators and other passersby spun the wheel, which landed on various legal outcomes including ‘death,’ ‘ruined,’ ‘kids taken,’ ‘racism,’ ‘silenced,’ ‘eviction,’ ‘go to jail,’ ‘homeless,’ ‘beaten up,’ and ‘take the blame.’ Originally built to make their case in the case of Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York, which found that the state was negligent in funding public defense, the ‘Wheel of Justice’ features true stories of New Yorkers and their experience with the criminal justice system. The wheel made a comeback as a way to ‘educate legislators and the public,’ according to NYCLU’s Legislative Director Robert Perry.” (The Legislative Gazette)

April 3, 2017 – “All seven current justices of the Montana Supreme Court, along with eight retired members, are calling on Congress to continue funding two groups that help provide legal aid for people who can’t afford it. The justices sent a letter this week to U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, asking them to support maintaining current funding levels for the Legal Services Corporation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. President Trump’s budget proposal, released last month, eliminates federal money for both agencies.” (KTVH)

April 3, 2017 – “A new online portal matching New York attorneys willing to provide pro bono legal services with immigrants who need them because of shifting federal immigration policies was announced Monday by the New York State Bar Association and its affiliated foundation. The state bar and its New York Bar Foundation are contributing $40,000 each toward creating the portal and hiring a pro bono fellow to help administer it. Once it goes live later this spring, the portal will put immigrant advocacy groups and the pro bono lawyers together, state bar president Claire Gutekunst said in a statement Monday. She noted that the success rates of immigrants seeking to establish or maintain residency in the United States are up to 14 times more successful when they have legal representation in residency proceedings.” (New York Law Journal)

April 3, 2017 – “In the past year, lawyers fought for the disabled, voting rights and women’s health. They volunteered their services for those who bravely serve our country — helping some secure citizenship and others maintain their right to religious freedom. They helped connect the community and law enforcement in Chicago and San Francisco, advocated for Texas foster children and worked to improve health care in South Dakota.” See the full National Law Journal 2017 Pro Bono Hot List at the link.  Congratulations to the firms and attorneys making such a difference in their communities. (National Law Journal)

April 4, 2017 – “Civil legal aid meant more than $105M in positive economic impact in Maine in 2015. That’s according to a report by Maine’s Justice Action Group, which says $13M in federal benefits reached people in need. Nearly $7M was awarded in child and spousal support to Maine families. More than $6M in earnings was realized by helping immigrant workers get the legal right to work. The report says $2.5M was saved by communities through helping folks avoid evictions, thus cutting spending on homeless shelters. ‘Anyone who commits time or money to an effort wants to know what’s happening in return. What’s the benefit? Is there a benefit to me? Is there a benefit to society in general? I think this study, to a large degree, answers that question. This is part of the benefit that you — meaning whoever has contributed to legal services — this is what the return is,’ said Andrew Mead, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice. The study found that providing free legal services brings cost savings to the state and puts money back into the local economy.” (WABI)

April 5, 2017 – “Looking to fight back against President Trump’s immigration policies, the state is set to dedicate $10 million in its emerging new budget for immigrant legal services, the Daily News has learned. The commitment, to be announced by Gov. Cuomo and the eight-member Senate Independent Democratic Conference, is said to be the largest of its kind in state history.” “The funding is designed to build on the Liberty Defense Project, a public/private partnership Cuomo recently announced that will offer pro-bono legal services and other resources to immigrants regardless of their status.” (Daily News)

April 5, 2017 – “A group of lawyers has launched the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, an initiative to provide a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to access to justice — empirical research to test whether self-represented litigants actually benefit from unbundled services. The idea that limited scope work could improve access to legal help has been cited by many reports on access to justice, but no one has ever conducted any empirical research to test the idea, says John-Paul Boyd, executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family in Calgary. ‘This project will test the hypothesis that providing litigants with some legal information is better than none and test clients’ and lawyers’ satisfaction,’ says Boyd. ‘It’s the first empirical study in Canada — if not elsewhere — to look at satisfaction.'” (Canadian Lawyer Legal Feeds)

April 6, 2017 – “Stanford Law School recently received an estate gift of $7.4 million that will be used to expand the support it offers to public interest and public service students, alumni, and the broader community. The gift, from an anonymous donor, will significantly expand the permanent endowment for the school’s public interest work and is among the largest gifts in the law school’s history earmarked for programs for students and alumni, not capital improvements. ‘The generosity of this gift is noteworthy,’ said Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean M. Elizabeth Magill. ‘But just as important is that this new endowment funding will allow us to expand our already strong support for students and graduates who wish to pursue careers in the public interest.'” (Stanford Law School News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

We are so excited to have Julia Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of One Justice, as our keynote speaker for the Public Interest Luncheon during our Annual Education Conference.  As one of her colleagues said recently, “She is one of the hardest working women in public interest.” That is the truth! Read more about Julia here and here.  We are very excited to hear her thoughts and have her share the incredible work she is doing.

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

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