PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 2, 2017

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Lawyers groups seek pay increase for lawyers taking public defender cases in Wisconsin;
  • New York health system forges new partnership to offer free legal services to patients;
  • Iowa Supreme Court approves grants for nonprofit legal assistance programs;
  • Gift creates Robert B. Kent Public Interest Fund at Cornell Law School;
  • Southwestern Law School establishes a public interest postgraduate fellowship program;
  • Prairie State Legal Services celebrates 40 years of service to community;
  • A high-tech helping hand: the marriage of pro bono and technology;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 25, 2017 – “A group of Wisconsin lawyers filed a petition Thursday asking that the state Supreme Court increase the pay rate for private lawyers representing indigent clients through state Public Defender appointments, because a crisis is looming that could find criminal defendants deprived of their constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel. The petition is another attempt to raise the $40-per-hour rate — the lowest in the nation — which the Office of the State Public Defender has sought in each of its biennial budget requests since 1995. The petition, which seeks to increase the rate to $100 per hour, also asks that the Supreme Court ban flat fee arrangements to private attorneys on public defender cases, which are currently allowed, arguing that they pit a lawyer’s financial interests against a client’s right to effective counsel. But even if the state Supreme Court agrees to amend its rule that governs pay for private attorneys accepting public defender cases, the Legislature would have to agree to the funding increase, which supporters concede could be difficult, given the lack of success of past attempts to raise the pay rate for appointed lawyers.” (Wisconsin State Journal)

May 25, 2017 – “Mount Sinai Health System, an integrated health system with seven hospital campuses in the New York metropolitan area, recently launched the Mount Sinai Medical-Legal Partnership (MSMLP), an independent nonprofit organization, to address unmet needs of their patients who live well below the poverty line. It was created to enhance legal services already provided by lawyers from LegalHealth of New York Legal Assistance Group, Legal Aid and Youth Represent. Although these patients receive high-quality medical care at the hospitals, in many cases they have legal issues that actually are barriers to good health, explained Beth Essig, executive vice president and general counsel, Mount Sinai Health System, in an interview with FierceHealthcare. Unless these legal issues are tackled, the patients will continue to have health problems, she said. Essig said the partnership harnesses the support of legal talent in New York City to integrate it into the health delivery system. The population health management initiative aims to prevent and remedy the social and environmental conditions that are rooted in legal issues, such as housing, education, personal safety and access to healthcare.” (Fierce Healthcare)

May 30, 2017 – “The Iowa Supreme Court has approved $240,101 in grants to nonprofit programs that provide legal assistance to low-income Iowans with civil legal problems. The court awarded grants to 14 organizations throughout Iowa. The grants are funded by the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) program. With this year’s grants, the Supreme Court has awarded more than $24.6 million in IOLTA grants since the program began on July 1, 1985. The grants include $145,657 for legal staff in Iowa Legal Aid regional offices, $31,656 for staff for a volunteer lawyer referral service in Polk County serving the low-income community, and $8,876 for Drake University Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law for a clinical law program in which upper-level law students intern with legal assistance providers throughout the state.” (Business Record)

May 30, 2017 – “The Robert B. Kent Public Interest Fund will be established through a $1 million gift made possible by Robert D. Ziff, J.D. ’92. The fund is named in honor of Kent, a professor at Cornell Law School from 1981 until his retirement in 1992. The fund will support a distinguished post-graduate public interest fellowship to be known as the Robert B. Kent Public Interest Fellowship. The fellowship will be competitively awarded to a new or recent Cornell Law School graduate who demonstrates exceptional commitment to the field of public interest law. It will provide an opportunity for new attorneys to gain experience in work that will improve the quality and delivery of legal services to the poor, the elderly, the homeless and those deprived of their civil rights. The new fund will also support other public interest priorities, such as summer Public Interest Fellowships and the Law School’s loan forgiveness program, both of which enable Cornell Law School students to consider employment opportunities with nonprofit and government employers.” (Cornell Chronicle)

May 31, 2017 – “Southwestern has established a Public Interest Postgraduate Fellowship program. It will offer recent graduates committed to pursuing a public interest law career exposure to direct legal services under the mentorship and supervision of staff attorneys at designated non-profit, public interest firms and legal aid agencies serving underrepresented, low-income client populations in the Los Angeles community. The first two fellowship recipients, Natasha Roland ’16 and Damaris Santamaria ’16, are continuing to uphold the legacy of Southwestern’s dedication to public service through their continued work in providing legal access to underserved communities as yearlong postgraduate fellows hosted by Inner City Law Center and the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.”(SWLaw Blog)

May 31, 2017 – “An agency that provides legal aid to the region’s neediest clients is turning 40 amid a challenging time to continue its mission. Prairie State Legal Services begins its fifth decade under the looming threat of losing 60 percent of its annual $12.3 million in funding. The potential loss, Executive Director Michael O’Connor said, is the result of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which would eliminate the agency’s federal funds. ‘We never dreamed that when this year came we would be facing a threat to our very existence,’ O’Connor said. ‘What that would mean would be devastating reductions in services and legal aid, not only here in Rockford but across the nation. While we celebrate, we also prepare to look for a future where we are going to need the support of not only the legal community, but the entire community to make sure that our services are available to those in need,’ O’Connor said.” (Rockford Register Star)

May 31, 2017 – “Bar associations across the country are seeking technology platforms to help mobilize attorneys and create a more resilient legal assistance community.” (Legaltech News)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law Students in Action: “The University of South Carolina School of Law is pleased to announce that the 2017 Konduros Public Service Fellows have been selected and are already engaged in pursuing creative solutions to some of SC’s most challenging legal issues.  The six students will be working as law clerks at: SC Legal Services, the SC Centers for Fathers and Families, the SC Center for Heirs Property, SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities and Richland County Court Appointment Advocates.

The Konduros Public Service Fellowships were funded by Jim Konduros, a 1954 law alumnus, who credits the law school for helping him develop the strategic thinking and counseling skills that guided him through a rewarding career that included working with U.S. Senator Olin Johnston and Governor Robert E. McNair, advising major companies and serving as counsel to a hospital system CEO and leading several nonprofit organizations.

One of the goals of the Konduros Public Service Fellowship is to place qualified 1st and 2nd year law students each summer with public interest organizations, government entities or non-profits. The ideal Fellow is one who has the desire to make public service a career.  2017 is the third year students have received funds through the generosity if Mr. Konduros.” (University of South Carolina School of Law)

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

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