PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 14, 2017

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Changes proposed at University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights;
  • Hawaii legislature cut funding for free or low-cost legal services;
  • British Columbia legal aid will cease to accept immigration & refugee applications as of August 1;
  • New ABA network increases legal services for homeless youth;
  • Legal chatbot DoNotPay announces massive expansion;
  • Public defender fees waived for those found not guilty in California;
  • New York City immigrants facing deportation denied legal help amid Mayor de Blasio, City Council funding dispute;
  • Esquire launches program to help law firms make the most of pro bono budgets;
  • New Duke University School of Law certificate helps students get head start on public interest careers;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 6, 2017 – “A UNC committee has presented five alternatives for changes at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, but cautioned that there is no guarantee the center’s mission would survive under significant restructuring. The center has been under the microscope of the UNC Board of Governors for months after a few board members objected to the center representing clients in lawsuits against local governments and agencies. They want to ban the center from litigation, saying legal action should not be taken under the UNC banner. Center supporters have warned that such a prohibition could effectively end the civil rights work and endanger other legal clinics at the UNC and N.C. Central University law schools. The center was founded by the preeminent civil rights lawyer and former NCCU chancellor, Julius Chambers, who was a UNC law school alumnus. A committee appointed by UNC Chancellor Carol Folt issued a supplemental report, dated June 27, that outlines five alternatives for the center.” “‘The UNC-CH Committee wants to emphasize in closing that the availability of these alternatives is not an assurance that any of these alternatives is viable,’ the report said. The board could discuss the issue at a retreat next week but isn’t expected to take any action until September at the earliest. The supplemental report, meant to answer a question by the board about alternative structures, was issued as the legislature adjourned. Other questions submitted by board members had been answered in a previous report. The possibility of ending the center’s legal powers has led hundreds of supporters of the center to write to the board. At a public hearing in May, speakers said the center, and similar legal clinics, provide students with key education and practical experience — a requirement of the American Bar Association.” (The News & Observer)

July 6, 2017 – “Free or low cost legal services for residents in need is in jeopardy as funding for civil legal services has been cut from the Hawaii State Judiciary’s budget for at least the next year. In fiscal year 2016, the Judiciary received $600,000 for civil legal service organizations to help low-income residents, victims of domestic abuse, homeless people, veterans, immigrants and the elderly. In fiscal year 2017, that number was $750,000. For the 2018 fiscal year that started July 1, no money was allocated toward these services in the Judiciary budget.” “Legal Aid Society of Hawaii serves from 8,000 to 10,000 clients each year out of 20,000 calls it receives, said Sergio Alcubilla, director of external relations for the nonprofit. It has its own staff attorneys and is the largest public interest law firm in the state. The lack of state funding will impact the number of clients and cases it can take on, he said. ‘There are a lot of vulnerable people in our communities, and any legal situation can push them over that brink when living paycheck to paycheck,’ Alcubilla said. Aside from Judiciary funding, the nonprofit has been receiving about one fourth of its budget from the national Legal Services Corporation, which the Trump Administration wants to defund. It also receives grants for specific purposes, such as from the state Office of Community Services specifically for helping victims of human trafficking. Alcubilla said the Judiciary money was especially helpful because it wasn’t tied to one specific use.” (Honolulu Civil Beat)

July 6, 2017 – “British Columbia’s Legal Services Society (LSS) has announced that it will no longer accept applications for immigration and refugee cases as of Aug. 1 due to lack of funding. The federal government is responsible for funding immigration and refugee legal aid. According to the Legal Services Society, the federal government gives the B.C. government $900,000 annually for immigration legal aid which the province gives to the LSS, along with an additional $800,000, for a total of $1.7 million each year. Based on current projections, LSS estimates it will need an additional $1.07 million to maintain services until the end of the year.” “LSS issued 350 contracts for refugee services in 2013-2014 with that number jumping to 860 contracts in 2016-2017.” (The Lawyer’s Daily)

July 6, 2017 – “More than 200 criminal cases across the country have been tossed due to unreasonable delays since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Jordan decision one year ago, court data shows. The cases include murders, sexual assaults, drug trafficking and child luring, all stayed by judges because the defendant’s constitutional right to a timely trial was infringed. While provinces and the federal government have taken steps over the past year to speed up Canada’s sluggish courts, legal observers say more drastic and urgent changes are needed. ‘Not nearly enough has been done by the government in order to repair this crumbling system,’ said Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. ‘Until the government views the justice system as a priority, we’ll continue to see murderers set free.’ Advocates say governments must provide more funding for every facet of the system, including judges, Crown attorneys, legal aid and infrastructure. Ottawa is also being urged to reverse decisions made under the previous Conservative government to expand mandatory minimum sentences and to close three of six RCMP forensic labs in the country. The Jordan decision, as it has come to be known, was issued on July 8, 2016, when the high court ruled the drug convictions in British Columbia of Barrett Richard Jordan must be set aside due to unreasonable delay. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the old means of determining whether proceedings had taken too long were inadequate. Under the new framework, unreasonable delay was to be presumed if proceedings topped 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in superior court.” (CBC News)

July 10, 2017 – “In an effort to increase legal services to [homeless youth], the American Bar Association (ABA) recently launched the Homeless Youth Legal Network (HYLN). The initiative helps homeless youth ages 25 and younger, while also providing opportunities for legal professionals and service providers. ‘The Homeless Youth Legal Network is a fine example of how the American Bar Association can link youth experiencing homelessness with experts in the legal community who can help,’ ABA President Linda A. Klein. ‘This project, made possible with a grant from the ABA Enterprise Fund, shows how we can harness the power and reach of the ABA to improve access to justice by providing much-needed legal assistance to vulnerable populations.'” “To help other programs better serve homeless youth, HYLN identified 12 programs to serve as models during the first phase of this initiative. These 12 pilot sites will provide technical assistance to emerging programs, document best practices, and share data on legal barriers and improved outcomes resulting from legal advocacy. By identifying existing services, as well as unmet needs, the groups leading this initiative—the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, Commission on Youth at Risk, and Section of Litigation Childrens’ Rights Litigation Committee—hope to create a national directory of legal services available to homeless youth. In addition to helping homeless youth, HYLN benefits attorneys and service providers by offering them technical assistance, training, and learning opportunities. A pro bono initiative is currently being piloted in Florida to recruit and train lawyers and law firms while also matching them with homeless youth shelters and drop-in centers nationwide.” (Associations Now)

July 11, 2017 – “Noted legal aid chatbot DoNotPay just announced a massive expansion, which will help users tackle issues in 1,000 legal areas entirely for free. The new features, which launched on Wednesday, cover consumer and workplace rights, and will be available in all 50 states and the UK. While the bot will still help drivers contest parking tickets and refugees apply for asylum, the service will now also help those who want to report harassment in the workplace or who simply want a refund on a busted toaster.” “Through DoNotPay, a user has a simple, instant message-like conversation with a bot by typing their issue in their own words. Even colorful complaints like, ‘My airline screwed me’ will be registered by the system. Then, a virtual lawyer decides how to best help a user based on their answers to a series of questions. The bot usually crafts a claims letter with the information provided, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in legal fees. DoNotPay can also connect users to outside aid, like a nonprofit that provides pro bono representation or avenues for action in more serious cases. The legal guidance is free, instant, and — in some cases — life-changing.” (Mashable)

July 11, 2017 – “Californians accused of a crime but found not guilty will no longer have to pay for their public defenders after Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a criminal justice-reform law striking the requirement. Under a bill authored by a pair of Los Angeles-area state senators, people using court-appointed counsel must only repay courts for legal costs if they are convicted. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said the current reimbursement laws are a detriment to low-income Californians and that Senate Bill 355 closes a damaging loophole which punishes individuals who are falsely arrested.” (Courthouse News)

July 11, 2017 – “A program offering free lawyers to immigrants facing deportation has stopped taking clients due to a clash between Mayor de Blasio and the City Council over whether city cash can aid people convicted of serious crimes. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has been refusing new clients since June because of the dispute over the legal services money, said Andrea Saenz, the program’s supervising attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. ‘Right now, we’re not serving our community. And people are scared that they’ll get arrested by ICE, and we want to be able to tell them that New York City has your back and we’ll get you a lawyer,’ she said. ‘I never thought we’d be in this spot for this long.’ The city budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 included $26 million for lawyers for immigrants threatened with deportation — but Mayor de Blasio said the money should not go to people convicted of 170 serious crimes. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito objected to that rule, and inserted language into the budget passed saying only income — not criminal convictions — could be considered in admitting people to the program. Yet de Blasio wouldn’t agree to go along with that condition, only saying vaguely that the dispute would be resolved in the contracting process. The fight left the legal services groups in limbo, unable to spend any money because they don’t know who they’re allowed to represent. About 100 detained immigrants have missed out on lawyers in the six weeks the program has been out of commission, Saenz said.” (Daily News)

July 11, 2017 – “Esquire Deposition Solutions, LLC, the nation’s leading provider of court reporting, video, and interpreting services, is pleased to announce a new Pro Bono Court Reporting Program that creates partnerships with law firms across the country to offer discounted court reporting services to allow more individuals equal access to justice.” (Esquire)

July 12, 2017 – “Duke Law students can now get a head start on careers in public interest law through a new certificate program, the first the Law School has offered to JDs. The Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate is open to students who demonstrate through their coursework and service an interest in working in a nonprofit or government setting after graduation. In addition to working with a dedicated law school career counselor, students in the program will be assigned both a peer and a faculty mentor who will assist in planning courses to take and navigating opportunities during law school.” (Duke Law)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Executive Director David Hall will retire from his position after 42 years at the helm, the organization announced Wednesday. ‘It has been my honor and privilege to work alongside colleagues and friends with such inspiring values, compassion, and dedication for justice,’ Hall said in a statement to staff announcing his decision. ‘Siga la lucha.” Read more about his contributions and career at the link.” (Texas Bar Blog)

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

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