PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 14, 2017

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

Happy Friday! The big news – the federal hiring freeze has been lifted. See the coverage below and join the continuing conversation on NALPconnect.

And we are looking forward to seeing our members at the NALP Annual Education Conference next week.  Because we will be sharing our news in person, the Digest will not be published on April 21. We will return on April 28 with all the news and exciting updates from our programming and events.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York state budget contains some indigent defense funding for counties;
  • Tennessee Indigent Representation Task Force presents report and recommendations;
  • Federal hiring freeze lifted;
  • Law Society of British Columbia issues report: A Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid in British Columbia;
  • Canadian Forum on Civil Justice issues Justice Development Goals Status Report;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 10, 2017 – “The state will provide New York City and counties outside the city a measure of the relief they have been seeking for decades to pay for constitutionally mandated representation for New York’s indigent criminal defendants. While falling well short of a state takeover of the approximate $450 million annual cost of providing counsel as the Supreme Court mandated in Gideon v. Wainwright, the 2017-18 budget sets the stage for state assumption of a larger portion of localities’ indigent defense funding. The budget, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, obligates the state to reimburse counties for the improvements in indigent defense coverage promised to five counties through its 2014 settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. Those improvements include having counsel at each defendant’s initial appearance in court, reducing caseloads for legal aid lawyers and improving the resources available to lawyers representing indigents. William Leahy, head of the state Office of Indigent Legal Services, said Monday the Cuomo administration estimates that extending Hurrell-Harring will cost about $250 million when fully implemented in 2023. In the budget, the state pledged to reimburse the counties and the city for those costs going forward. ‘This is less than whole, but it is what I have been saying since the day after the Hurrell-Harring settlement was signed, that the state has to make sure that all counties are in compliance with the constitution,’ Leahy said. When Cuomo vetoed a bill on New Year’s Eve that would have provided for a seven-year assumption of all local government costs to provide Gideon-mandated representation, he pledged to offer a more limited plan. The budget does not relieve the city and counties of the roughly $450 million spent each year to provide counsel to indigent defendants. Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, one of the legal services groups that have long advocated for Gideon improvements, said the indigent defense piece of the budget is ‘terrific’ and moves the state closer to assuming its rightful role as the sole funder of indigent legal services.” (New York Law Journal)

April 10, 2017 – “Almost a year-and-a-half after the Tennessee Supreme Court created it to review how Tennessee provides legal representation for poor criminal defendants, the Indigent Representation Task Force is presenting a set of recommendations Monday. Chief among them: Give District Public Defenders enough money to do their jobs and create another task force, one that would consider whether to create “an independent central commission to oversee” public defense in Tennessee. Although it avoids crisis language, the report makes it clear that the state’s criminal justice system, including the part of it designed to uphold the right to an attorney, is overloaded. ‘The information gathered by the Task Force established that there has been a dramatic increase in the ratio of cases to the justice system’s capacity during the past 20 years,’ the report says in an executive summary. ‘While the system has used its best efforts to manage the increasing caseload, its ability to continue doing so is not sustainable without additional resources.’ The task force’s report is extensive, at more than 200 pages, detailing the history of public defense in Tennessee, the system’s current architecture and the challenges it faces.” (Nashville Scene)

April 11, 2017 – “The White House will lift President Trump’s federal hiring freeze on Wednesday, following fire from critics who said it hampered the government from carrying out core functions. The end of the freeze is part of guidance ordering federal departments and agencies to submit restructuring plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by the fall. ‘It does not mean the agencies will be free to hire willy-nilly,’ OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday. ‘What we’re doing tomorrow is replacing the across-the-board hiring freeze that was put in place on day one and replacing it with a smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan.'” “The memorandum requires all agencies to ‘begin taking immediate actions’ to reduce the size of their workforces over the long term and achieve the savings called for in Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Agency heads must develop a plan to ‘maximize employee performance’ by June 30 and submit a final version of that plan to the White House budget office by September.” (The Hill)

“Mulvaney says under the new guidance, some agencies will wind up hiring more people, while others will end up ‘paring’ the number of employees ‘even greater than they would have during the hiring freeze.'” “Still, the impact of this latest move is likely to be limited too. It will be up to Congress to set actual spending levels for federal agencies, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were highly critical of Trump’s spending plan.” “Mulvaney also said the administration is asking agencies, along with members of the public, to submit suggestions for how to rebuild the executive branch ‘from scratch.'” “However, nearly every recent administration has taken on the same rebuilding task, whether calling it ‘reinventing government’ as the Clinton administration did, or appointing a blue-ribbon commission as Reagan did, or instituting the Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative, as Obama did.”(NPR)

BUT the State Department will maintain the hiring freeze for an undetermined time. “The State Department will maintain a hiring freeze even as other federal agencies lift their freeze. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly told his agency’s employees in a Wednesday memo that State will keep its freeze in effect. ‘Although the Office of Management and Budget lifted the federal hiring freeze effective April 12, 2017, the Department will maintain its hiring freeze in effect for the present time. Any change to this policy will be notified promptly,’ the memo said.” (The Hill)

April 11, 2017 – “Legal aid should be publicly funded and available to all members of a democratic society, particularly those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, says a new report from The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC). ‘All people, regardless of their means and without discrimination, should have access to legal information and publicly-funded professional legal advice to assist them in understanding whether a situation attracts rights and remedies or subjects them to obligations or responsibilities,” says the report entitled: ‘A Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid in British Columbia,‘ issued by the LSBC Legal Aid Task Force. Nancy Merrill, who chaired the nine-member task force, said: ‘Everyone should have universal access in terms of a diagnostic service and be able to find what legal services are available.’ While the vision was designed to be inclusive rather than excluding sectors of society, Merrill said the task force did not ‘drill down’ to examine who should provide this advice. The advice would also consider the individual’s ability to access the free market for legal services. The task force, struck in Sept. 2015, was charged with developing a vision of legal aid for the LSBC that was in line with s.3 of the Legal Profession Act. For the past 15 years, the LSBC has been silent on the issue. The report, though, stops short of advocating for universal legal aid. Merrill said that the full range of fully funded legal services (advice through to court appearances) would go to a society’s more marginalized or at-risk individuals. The LSBC vision sets these out as legal issues involving the state where liberty or security of the individual is at risk; children whose security is at risk; people with mental or intellectual disabilities that impair their ability to access government or community services; family law where the physical, economic, or emotional security of a family is at risk; persons disadvantaged because of poverty, and immigrants and refugees. Merrill acknowledges these categories are similar to those that the Legal Services Society lists as eligible for legal aid. The difference, she said, in the range of problems that should be considered. The LSBC vision is broader.” (Canadian Lawyer Legal Feeds)

April 13, 2017 – “The Action Committee’s “Canadian Access to Justice Initiatives: Justice Development Goals Status Report” has been published and is available in both English and French. This Report uses the nine Justice Development Goals set out in the Action Committee’s ‘A Roadmap for Change’ report as a framework to explore current initiatives and to identify areas for future work in access to justice in Canada. The Justice Development Goals Status Report was produced by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. In addition, the Forum has also published the ‘Status Report: Working Data Document’, which includes data from the ‘Canadian Access to Justice Initiatives: Justice Development Goals Status Report’, as well as raw data from the recent Justice Development Goals Survey that is not discussed in the Report.” The full reports are available at the link. (Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Action Committee)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

For you baseball fans in honor of opening day. On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league. (

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

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