PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 9, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Lots going on this week — especially here in DC. And it’s also summer intern time. Check out PSJD’s Having Fun on the Cheap for tips for exploring and enjoying your internship city.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Connecticut experiments with legal advocates for abused animals in court;
  • New grant helps Ohio’s Community Legal Aid take community lawyering approach;
  • Maine appointed counsel working without pay as legislators debate;
  • Georgetown Law program offers fellowship for young DC police officers;
  • Opinion: the legal profession is failing low-income and middle-class people, proposes solution;
  • LA County drops $50 public defender fee for criminal defendants;
  • Opinion: why student loan forgiveness is a social justice issue;
  • New Mexico’s top court should acknowledge excessive PD workloads and craft remedy, ABA says;
  • DOJ ends settlement practice that funded community organizations;
  • Virginia State Bar proposal would encourage pro bono by retired lawyers;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 2, 2017 – “Many states have victim’s advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success. There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It’s up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.” (Fox News)

June 2, 2017 – “Community Legal Aid Executive Director Steven McGarrity has big plans for a new Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation neighborhood stabilization grant. The grant, which is for up to $1.3 million over four years, will support community redevelopment legal assistance. ‘I’m beyond thrilled,’ McGarrity said. ‘The money is going to allow us to put in place a team of attorneys who focus specifically on community redevelopment efforts, working within neighborhoods and with collaborative partners to make real and lasting change.’ OLAF board members voted in March to approve the grant, with $350,000 to be released this spring. ‘Future funding will depend on the success of the first year,’ said McGarrity. ‘Most of the money will go to Youngstown to improve the educational system there. We will also be doing some work in Akron, using leverage of banks to invest in low-income communities.’ McGarrity said the grant will allow Legal Aid to do more ‘community lawyering’ work that will give people access to other support including education, job training and financial help, rather than simply addressing one legal problem.” (Akron Legal News)

June 4, 2017 – “But a system welcomed by the state’s poor has found itself in the midst of a political spat as lawmakers debate a $6.8 billion, two-year budget proposal from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who now only wants to fund the commission through January without back pay for lawyers. As a result of shortfall that lawmakers created in the last budget deal, court-appointed attorneys who provide indigent legal services throughout the state are working without pay. Funding ran out last month, and several attorneys say it’s causing stress and uncertainty.” “LePage is calling for an overhaul of a system that he says doesn’t fully meet American Bar Association standards such as caseload limits, training, expertise and oversight over attorney quality. Lawmakers and lawyers have rebuffed his efforts to create a contract-based system, and the governor says he’s fighting back against an ‘inefficient status quo.’ ‘The right to counsel exists to ensure they receive a fair trial, it is not a ‘make work’ program for lawyers,’ his original budget proposal reads. But skeptics of LePage’s effort say funding is the issue. Maine Indigent Defense Center founder Robert Ruffner is calling for a state public defender representing indigent defense lawyers, and more resources for oversight, training and guidance. ‘There aren’t any improvements to the system that will have any effect, any meaningful effect, that are free,’ he said. At least one attorney is declining to volunteer as a lawyer of the day to send a message to lawmakers.” (McClatchy DC Bureau)

June 5, 2017 – “A select group of rookie D.C. police officers and some civilian employees are embarking on a two-year fellowship program through the Georgetown University Law Center aimed at identifying and training the next generation of police leaders. The program launched Monday. The 19 participants will join monthly workshops and community activities and will be expected to develop a special project. They also will have one-on-one mentoring with some top police officials.” “Workshops and other activities will center on various policing strategies, including changes being made in light of police shootings and other incidents that have angered neighborhoods.” “‘This is a unique opportunity for fellows to build critical connections and thoughtfully explore some of the toughest issues confronting both the police and the community,’ William H. Treanor, the dean of Georgetown Law, said in a statement. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, also in a statement, said the program is to ‘not only to strengthen our officers’ credentials and experience, but also the bond we have with the communities we serve.'” (The Washington Post)

June 5, 2017 – ” We do not expect charities and generous doctors to provide 80 percent of the medical needs for low-income patients, so why do we think this is possible for our legal needs? As law schools become increasingly unaffordable — resulting in plummeting enrollment and debt levels that make it impossible for graduates to offer legal services at affordable prices — the legal profession needs some major changes. Professionals must first acknowledge that not every legal task must be performed by a licensed lawyer. Instead, we need to adopt a tiered system of legal-services delivery that allows for lower barriers to entry. Just as a pharmacist can administer vaccines and a nurse practitioner can be on the front line of diagnosing and treating ailments, we should have legal practitioners who can also exercise independent judgment within the scope of their training. Such a change would expand the preparation and independence of the existing network of paralegals, secretaries and investigators already assisting lawyers.” (The Washington Post)

June 6, 2017 – “In response to growing concerns about fees that can burden poor people accused of crimes, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to eliminate the $50 registration fee charged to people who need a public defender because they can’t afford to hire their own lawyer. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas spearheaded the effort to eliminate the fee, which was created to bolster the county budget. ‘Though this isn’t the biggest move ever, this is important’ to remove what can be a barrier to justice, Kuehl said before the 4-1 vote. San Francisco and Santa Barbara counties also have stopped charging the fee.” “The county has charged the fee since 1996, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states must provide criminal defendants legal counsel free of charge if they cannot afford an attorney themselves. The fee is supposed to be waived for people who can’t afford it. But that often doesn’t happen, according to officials with the public defender’s office.” (KPCC)

June 6, 2017 – “The budget proposal recently released by the Trump administration should greatly concern anyone who believes that higher education should be widely accessible, equitable, and premised on actualizing the American Dream.  Two components pertaining to student loan repayment and forgiveness are particularly troubling: the first would lengthen to 30 years the mandatory repayment window before graduate school loan debt can be forgiven; the second would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.” “For disadvantaged students, higher education is the surest path to socioeconomic advancement; but the path is fraught with risks.  These students must essentially gamble on themselves and on the chances that they will be able to repay their loans and reap worthwhile payoffs beyond their obligations.  Student loan forgiveness provisions are intended to spread some of these risks across society, given the reams of data confirming the broad public benefits of an educated citizenry. Some people argue that disadvantaged students should simply forego law school in favor of other pursuits.  This is where the notion of social justice becomes particularly important.  Lawyers from disadvantaged groups are more likely to represent other disadvantaged people and interests, thereby, broadening access to justice.   The salaries for these lawyers tend to be lower than others.  Without income-based repayment options and loan forgiveness, it would be very difficult for many people to justify taking on the risks of legal education.  The result would be a legal profession that remains aloof and unresponsive to the needs of large swathes of the population – namely, the poor and most of the middle-class.  These issues are transcendent, impacting most any profession for which its societal value is not fully reflected in the typical salaries – teaching and social work, for example.  Therefore, in order to ensure the preservation of our democracy, we should remain true to the social welfare origins of the federal student aid system.  Loan forgiveness options must be fortified as a matter of social justice and equity, not restricted.” (The National Jurist)

June 6, 2017 – “An amicus brief filed by the ABA says the New Mexico Supreme Court should acknowledge public defenders have excessive caseloads in Lea County and craft a remedy that considers lawyers’ ethical obligations. The ABA brief (PDF), filed on Monday, says excessive workloads can force public defenders to choose among the interests of their clients. ‘The public defenders are in a classic Catch-22: competent work for one client inevitably results in unreasonable delay or lack of work for other clients,’ the brief says. If the state supreme court decides to impose caseload limits, the number should be determined using methodology that relies on the expertise of defense lawyers to establish the time needed to provided effective assistance of counsel, the brief says. The brief also says the state supreme court should order lower courts to allow the public defender to decline cases in the county until a workload study can be completed to determine the appropriate workload. If a study isn’t undertaken, courts should rely on the public defender to determine when workloads are manageable, the brief says. The ABA filed the brief in a petition filed with the court by the state public defender’s office. The PD is asking the court to order private lawyers to represent indigent defendants for free or to order court clerks to stop accepting new cases for minor crimes after a certain number has been reached, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported in March. The office also suggests the court appoint a special master to find long-term solutions.” (ABA Journal)

June 7, 2017 – “The Trump Justice Department is banning federal attorneys from reaching settlements in criminal and civil cases that direct defendants to give money to third-party organizations, a practice that Republicans criticized during the Obama administration. A June 5 memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the DOJ would no longer reach settlements requiring payouts to ‘third-party organizations’ that were ‘neither victims nor parties’ to the lawsuits. In a statement, Sessions said funds ‘should go first to the victims and then to the American people ― not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends’ of the party in power. ‘Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement,’ Sessions said. ‘With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.’ The memo will hurt nonprofit groups that provide services to communities hurt by corporate wrongdoing like mortgage fraud and environmental abuses. Republicans have called out groups like La Raza, a Latino advocacy group; the Urban League, a civil rights group; and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which works to expand access to financial services in poor neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity has also benefited, although that organization hasn’t come under criticism.” (Huffington Post)

June 7, 2017 – “A Virginia State Bar panel is hoping to boost the number of retired lawyers who qualify for special status to provide pro bono services for needy clients. Bar rules allow for so-called ’emeritus members’ to provide no-cost legal service under specified conditions, even though they pay no bar dues and may not otherwise practice law. Participation has lagged. In fact, there is only one such member in the state, according to VSB records. Members of the VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services hope to remove an impediment by dropping a requirement that the work of an emeritus lawyer be under the ‘direct supervision of a supervising attorney.’ Under the revised rules, the chief requirement remains that an emeritus member must provide services only through ‘Qualified Legal Services Providers,’ which include legal aid offices and law school clinics. Qualified providers also would include the online service, according to Karl A. Doss, the VSB director of access to legal services.” “The proposed amendment provides that to receive emeritus status, retired attorneys must submit to a competency review and provide the VSB Executive Committee with a letter from their physician certifying the applicant’s competency. Retired and associate attorneys applying for emeritus status must also fulfill any outstanding MCLE obligations, Doss said. The VSB Access Committee unanimously approved the proposed amendments May 9. The proposed changes are up for comment through June 30.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law students in action: “On the dusty outskirts of small-town Dilley, Texas, out of the sight of drivers traversing I-35, lies the South Texas Family Residential Center and the 2,400 beds it maintains for its temporary inhabitants: immigrant mothers and their children escaping desperate situations in their home countries. Many of these families come from Central America’s Northern Triangle— El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—fleeing widespread gang violence and aggressive domestic situations. They arrive at the U.S. border seeking safety for their children and themselves. In January, a group of Fordham Law students traveled to the center to help the women prepare for their meeting with an asylum officer, an interview that could potentially save their lives.” Hear their inspiring stories at the link. (Fordham Law News)

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

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