PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 23, 2017

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

Happy Friday! The Digest is taking a vacation next week. We hope you have a safe and happy July 4th holiday, and we will return on July 7.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Bay Area legal tech firm announces funding partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid;
  • Legal Aid Manitoba faces increased refugee claims, flat funding;
  • Nearly $50 million in California state budget will go to expanded legal services for immigrants;
  • Two more Legal Aid Ontario offices unionize;
  • Ontario supporting increased access to justice in French;
  • BYU law school launching think tank to make legal system more accessible;
  • New legal hotline a lifeline for Ontario’s low-income Chinese and Southeast Asians;
  • LA County votes to contribute $1 million to LA Justice Fund;
  • Minneapolis legal service will continue to serve those who don’t speak English for free;
  • Consumer watchdog accuses student loan companies of preventing public servants from accessing loan forgiveness;
  • Wisconsin State Supreme Court to hold hearing on court-appointed lawyer rates;
  • Legal Aid Ontario offers funding to Ottawa community organization to support Black youth;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 15, 2017 – “One Legal, a North Bay based legal technology company, has today announced an extended partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal), the Bay Area’s leading provider of civil legal aid to the most vulnerable members of the community. This joint venture adds a revenue-sharing element to the ongoing donation of the firm’s technology, and has been launched in response to steep budget cuts proposed in the current draft of the federal budget for 2018. Headquartered in Oakland and serving seven Bay Area counties, BayLegal may be faced with losing up to one-fourth of its total funding in the coming year. Next year’s proposal eliminates the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), an independent agency established by Congress, which provides financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. Last year, BayLegal received $4.1 million from LSC, and client services will be severely cut if they cannot supplement the difference moving forward. With the Giving Back program, One Legal is stepping up to fill the gap made by federal budget cuts. In addition to providing no-cost access to its legal services and products to BayLegal, One Legal will invite law firm customers to enroll in a program whereby 5 percent of the net revenue arising from their use of the One Legal platform is donated directly to BayLegal. It is one of the most generous corporate/non-profit partnerships ever announced in the legal sector.” (PRNewswire)

June 15, 2017 – “Legal Aid Manitoba is experiencing a huge spike in applications, which a report out Thursday predicts could eventually lead to a staggering 11-year delay for refugees waiting for a hearing. Without an increase in funding, by the year 2021, refugee claimants could be waiting more than a decade for their cases to be heard, the report obtained by the Canadian Press states. Meanwhile, Legal Aid Manitoba is still waiting to find out how much funding it will get from the province this year. In just over two months — from April 1 to June 11, 2017 — Legal Aid Manitoba processed 243 immigration cases. Last year, 308 cases were processed for the total fiscal year.” (CBC News)

June 15, 2017 – “California state lawmakers approved $45 million in a state budget plan to expand legal services for immigrants, a response to the Trump administration’s call to increase deportations. The funds, greater than what Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked in May and which will be an ongoing allocation through 2020, will go to a coalition of legal services agencies, immigrant rights groups and faith-based organizations called One California. The $30-million legal assistance program, run by the state Department of Social Services, was first assembled to help thousands of immigrants apply for naturalization and former President Obama’s deferred action programs. With the additional money, providers will now also be able to help immigrants fighting deportation or removal proceedings. In a statement, the coalition called it a modest and reasonable investment to bolster much needed relief services.” (Los Angeles Times)

June 15, 2017 – “Workers at two Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) offices voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) this week. Both the Central District office (with offices in Barrie, Peterborough, and Oshawa) and the North Toronto District office (with four offices in Scarborough) will be joining their partners at two other LAO offices already represented by OPSEU.” “Workers at the two LAO offices cited a number of reasons for wanting to unionize, including the security of having terms and conditions of employment that cannot be changed unilaterally, and having a voice to raise and address issues collectively, rather than individually.” (OPSEU)

June 16, 2017 – “Ontario, in partnership with the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, is improving access to justice in French by establishing the province’s first continuing professional development centre for Francophone legal professionals. The pratiquO pilot project will help Francophone and Francophile justice professionals in Ontario meet the Law Society of Upper Canada requirement to complete 12 hours of professional development every year, and help non-jurists upgrade their legal skills in French.” (Ontario Newsroom)

June 19, 2017 – “A team at Brigham Young University is looking to make the law more accessible to those who can’t afford a lawyer. LawX, a legal design lab starting this fall at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, aims to create products and solutions to make navigating the legal system easier. The students will brainstorm, design a solution, test prototypes and implement a final solution, all in one semester. ‘We won’t just be thinking how to solve problems,’ said Kimball Parker, the founder of the legal education website CO/COUNSEL who will also oversee LawX. ‘We will build the solution.'” “The lab’s first project will be focusing on making sure people without a lawyer can answer complaints on time.” “The lab team will be made up of a handful of second- and third-year law students, along with a fellow who will do extra work such as helping a product continue after the semester ends.” (Daily Herald)

June 19, 2017 – “For some low-income people in Ontario, it could be a lifeline. A new toll-free hotline operated by the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC) went live Sunday, providing free legal consultations in five different languages for non-English speakers. ‘We know how much need there is out there,’ said Avvy Go, director of the CSALC and lawyer specializing in what’s informally called ‘poverty law.’ The clinic has been operating on Dundas Street West in downtown Toronto for nearly 30 years. New funding from Legal Aid Ontario allowed it to open its services to low-income Chinese and Southeast Asian people in every corner of the province.” “The grant of $100,000 helped cover costs of the hotline and two new staff members — one lawyer who speaks Mandarian and Cantonese and one who speaks Vietnamese —  as well as new community outreach. According to Go, most of the clinic’s work is related in some way to immigration or employment. ” (CBC News)

June 20, 2017 – “The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to contribute $1 million to a legal aid fund for people at risk of deportation and confirmed that anyone convicted of a violent felony will not be eligible to benefit from the fund. The eligibility requirements for the county’s share of the L.A. Justice Fund — specifically the prohibition of convicted felons — drew protests from immigration advocates in April and forced the board to cancel a planned vote on the matter.” “The board’s vote Tuesday focused on finalizing an agreement with the California Community Foundation to act as the county’s intermediary in granting aid. That agreement included an exhibit spelling out the eligibility criteria.” “Niels Frenzen, director of USC’s Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, said the county’s money would free up other funds for immigrants with prior convictions. ‘When there are limited funds, it’s not always possible to provide for the representation of everyone facing removal proceedings,’ Frenzen said. “However, the county’s contribution to the L.A. Justice Fund provides significant new funding for immigrants under the threat of deportation who do not have felony records, which in turn frees providers to use non-L.A. Justice Fund funds to represent other immigrants, including those with criminal histories.’ The L.A. Justice Fund is aiming to raise $10 million. The county intends to contribute an additional $2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and the city of Los Angeles has tentatively committed $2 million, an amount approved by a council committee Monday.” “Private entities are expected to contribute the remainder of the $10 million and can set their own rules for eligibility.” (mynewsLA.com)

June 21, 2017 – “Minneapolis’ Somali and Spanish speaking residents will continue to receive free rental legal advice services in their languages after the city of Minneapolis renewed funds to a nonprofit. The Minneapolis City Council approved $100,000 and a six-month extension for services from the tenant advocacy organization HOME Line to keep offering confidential service in English, Spanish and Somali to tenants in the state — particularly aiming to help immigrants and low-income households.” (Minnesota Daily)

June 22, 2017 – “Student loan companies are making it difficult for nurses, social workers, firefighters, cops, and other public servants to access the debt forgiveness to which they’re entitled, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials said Thursday. That assessment is based on a review of thousands of student loan complaints submitted to the bureau between March 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) was the fourth most complained about issue among borrowers who submitted complaints about their federal student loans, the report released Thursday by the CFPB found.” “The CFPB’s findings come as the program faces an uncertain future — the Department of Education’s budget request asks Congress to eliminate PSLF for borrowers taking out loans after July 1, 2018. The CFPB’s analysis will also likely add fuel to consumer advocates’ concerns that borrowers who qualify for PSLF and are counting on it may be struggling to access the program, either because they don’t have enough information about it, or they have the wrong facts about its requirements. The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2015 that about 4 million workers are eligible for the program, but just 552,931 borrowers were on track to receive forgiveness as of the end of last year. The program’s first major test will come in October of this year when the first cohort of borrowers are eligible for forgiveness.” “Borrowers planning on using PSLF should make sure they’re submitting their ECF forms and checking to see that their accounting of their eligible payments matches what their servicer has on file, said Seth Frotman, the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman. The CFPB is launching a campaign Thursday, called ‘Certify Your Service’ aimed at helping borrowers who believe they qualify for PSLF know what to do to access it. ‘We know that for many borrowers Public Service Loan Forgiveness is incredibly important for their financial futures,’ Frotman said. ‘What we would strongly encourage borrowers to do is to make sure that they’re on track.'” (Market Watch)

June 22, 2017 – “The state supreme court will hold a public hearing on a petition requesting increased pay for court-appointed lawyers and a declaration of unreasonableness concerning rates paid to attorneys who take public defender cases. At the court’s open rules conference yesterday, the last one of the term, the court unanimously voted to set a public hearing date, likely in December, and solicit comments related to petition 17-06, which would raise the per hour fee paid to court-appointed attorneys, under Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 81.02(1), from $70 to $100. The petition also asks the court to declare, through SCR 81.02(2), that an hourly rate less than $100 for legal services rendered by private attorneys who take appointments from the State Public Defender, under Wis. Stat. § 977.08, is unreasonable.” (State Bar of Wisconsin News)

June 22, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is providing $100,000 of funding to a project headed by an Ottawa-based organization to provide services to Black students facing suspension or expulsion hearings. The Somali Centre for Family Services of Ottawa has been given a one-time grant worth $100,000 to provide legal representation, advocacy or legal education to Black students who are in conflict with the education system. The funding for this grant is from an investment begun by the Province of Ontario in 2015 that was earmarked to create new legal aid services. In consultations held as part of LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy, community partners reported that Black children are among those that are disproportionately punished, suspended and expelled. LAO is offering these grants to help students and their families because expulsion can often lead to the heightened involvement of youths in the criminal justice system.” (Cision)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana announced 26 area attorneys donated 50 or more hours of pro bono legal assistance in 2016. Although not required, 50 hours of free legal assistance to low-income people is a goal established by the Indiana Supreme Court. Attorneys achieving this benchmark are: Douglas Adelsperger, Laura Boyer, R. David Boyer II, Johanna Campbell, John Cowan, Jonathan Cress, Melanie Farr, Travis Friend, Ronald Felger, Yvette Gaff Kleven, Stephen Griebel, Damian Gosheff, Alan Hofer, Nicholas Hursh, Roy Kiplinger, James McEntarfer, Jerri Mead, Timothy Stucky, Joshua Tourkow, Douglas Ulmer, Konrad Urber, David Van Gilder, Benjamin Williams, Nathan Williams, Sarah Wladecki and Michael Yates. Sarah Sladecki was named new VLP attorney of the year. Steve Rademaker and Timothy Claxton of Allen County, James McEntarfer of Steuben County, Andrew Kruse of DeKalb County and Johanna Campbell of Wells County were named pro bono attorney of distinction. Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams was named law firm of the year. Adelsperger & Kleven LLP was given the Pro Bono Award for Passion & Excellence. (News-Sentinel)

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

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