PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 7, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to July. If this is  your time for reflection, check out PSJD’s new self-assessment tools.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Ontario withdraws threat to suspend immigration and refugee services;
  • Delaware lawmakers restore legal aid funding to state budget;
  • Maryland lawmakers seek legal aid for tenants facing eviction in Baltimore;
  • ABA’s charitable arm gave more than $70M to programs worldwide: annual report;
  • New legal partnerships seek to expand access to justice through churches in Tennessee;
  • ABA unveils free online tool to help veterans identify legal needs;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 30, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario has backed away from its threat to suspend immigration and refugee services, which would have cut the group’s costs by about 40 per cent. It said it needed to pare down the annual cost of the program from $33.6 million to $20.5 million. The group first announced it was considering cutting back those services in May, and then began a province-wide consultation on the idea. At the time, it said the organization couldn’t continue to foot the cost overruns for its refugee program, as it had been doing for the past number of years. On Monday, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) posted a brief update on its website, that said ‘as a result of intensive stakeholder consultations in May and June, and ongoing discussions with government, LAO has decided to continue immigration and refugee services at the current level at this time.'” (CBC News)

June 30, 2017 – “Lawmakers in Dover have restored crucial state funding for legal aid services in the state’s budget, avoiding what some had feared would have been devastating cuts to three organizations that provide representation for Delaware’s poor. Late Sunday, Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly agreed on a deal to balance the state’s budget and eliminate a more than $350 million revenue shortfall that had pitted lawmakers against each other and caused them to miss their June 30 deadline. The leadership from both parties finally announced the budget accord after midnight on Monday. The deal restored the bulk of a $600,000 line item for legal aid, which had been removed in earlier negotiations by the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee. The agreement also restored about $66 million in cuts, including a $36.4 million grant-in-aid bill, which provides state money for nonprofits like civil legal aid groups. Last week, the JFC said the state couldn’t afford to fund grant-in-aid at all.” (Delaware Law Weekly)

July 3, 2017 – “A state and city lawmaker began drafting separate bills this week to make more publicly funded lawyers available for low-income tenants facing eviction in Baltimore, which spends more money ousting renters than trying to help them remain in their homes. Del. Sandy Rosenberg and Baltimore City Councilman Robert Stokes, both Democrats, hope their efforts can generate momentum for an issue that has stalled in Maryland while gaining traction across the nation. Stokes has drafted a ballot initiative that would ask city voters in next year’s election to approve or reject the establishment of a ‘tenant legal assistance fund.’ And Rosenberg has asked Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services to research how other cities and states are funding, or proposing to pay for, more lawyers for tenants. The Baltimore Sun on Sunday detailed New York City’s $77 million program to provide lawyers to tenants facing evictions and a pending $4.5 million funding increase in Washington, D.C., for the same purpose. Boston and Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a similar proposal, which has been shown in San Francisco to reduce the amount of public funds needed to operate homeless shelters. In response to the story, Rosenberg said Sunday that he had asked Legislative Services Director Warren Deschenaux ‘to research how New York, Washington, San Francisco and Boston are paying for legal counsel for tenants in housing court or proposing to do so.'” (The Baltimore Sun)

July 5, 2017 – “As the charitable arm of the ABA, the ABA Fund for Justice and Education helps support more than 200 law-related public service and educational programs each year. Earlier this month, the FJE released its annual report (PDF) for the period from Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2016. In addition to a list of individual and organizational donors, the report outlines how the FJE spent the $71.67 million budget. Less than 2 percent of the budget went to administrative and fundraising costs, leaving more than $70 million to be spent directly on the charitable programs which accomplish FJE’s goals. These include expanding access to justice, promoting diversity, safeguarding civil liberties and advancing the rule of law internationally. The American Bar Endowment was one of the FJE’s largest donors, providing more than $3 million in 2015-16.” (ABA Journal)

July 5, 2017 – “Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, Christian Legal Society and Chattanooga Gospel Justice Initiative are among those working together on a new effort to expand Access to Justice in Chattanooga through area places of worship. One such partnership has been created with White Oak United Methodist Church in Red Bank.  A pro bono legal clinic will be hosted at the church on Tuesday.  The partnership will also include legal issue training awareness for church leadership through the TFJA and pro bono legal clinics at the church.  Voluntary pro bono attorneys will be available to counsel on a wide variety of civil legal issues.” (The Chattanoogan)

July 5, 2017 – “Veterans who need help identifying legal needs in their lives can take advantage of a new online tool.
Legal Checkup for Veterans, a free website, is part of a signature initiative by ABA President Linda A. Klein to improve legal services for veterans, according to an ABA press release. Legal technology company CuroLegal developed the website with the help of ARAG legal insurance and volunteer experts. The website currently focuses on family law, housing and employment. Users are asked to provide their ZIP code and are asked a series of questions. They include whether the user has stable housing, needs shelter, is getting divorced, has disputes over child custody and property, has a job, and is being discriminated against based on pay. Underneath each question is a ‘more information’ option. For example, the option underneath a question about unequal pay tells the user that federal law and the laws of most states don’t allow larger employers to pay workers differently because of gender, race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation or age. At the end of the survey, users are informed about areas of the law where they may have claims and action they can take. Those who have claims related to property distribution in a divorce, for example, are advised to gather documents to support the value of assets and debt. Users can text or email a copy of the page summarizing their potential legal issues to themselves or others so it can be discussed with an advocate or family member. Users can also click on a button that provides them with resources that can help with their legal issues, such as contact information for a free legal services provider or a lawyer referral service. Those with a potential employment claim are provided contact information for the local office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact information for the local veterans service organization may also be listed, depending on the legal issues identified.” (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“Norman Dorsen, a passionate human rights advocate who led the American Civil Liberties Union for 15 years and was involved in some of the biggest civil liberties cases of the second half of the 20th century, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86. Mr. Dorsen’s career-long focus on civil liberties was informed by his involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings in 1954. He went on to argue Supreme Court cases that established juveniles’ rights to due process and that acknowledged the rights of children born out of wedlock. He was also one of the first lawyers to argue before the court in favor of abortion rights and gay rights. Mr. Dorsen was a key figure at New York University School of Law, where he joined the faculty and became the director of the civil liberties program in 1961. Partly through Mr. Dorsen’s influence, the school gained a reputation for attracting students and faculty with an interest in public interest law.” Our community has lost a great advocate. Read more about his amazing contributions at the link. (The New York Times)

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

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