PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 21, 2017

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

Happy Friday! There are a number of expansion of service and opportunities stories this week.  A feel-good week in the news for the most part. In other news, the State Department suspends another fellowship program, which is significant, but only affects people already in certain programs.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Iowa Access to Justice Commission releases report;
  • Georgia state grant bolsters legal aid for domestic violence victims;
  • Another city explores providing legal aid to tenants facing eviction;
  • St. Mary’s University School of Law increases number of Summer Public Interest Fellowships;
  • State Department suspends Diplomacy Fellows Program;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 13, 2017 – “The Iowa Supreme Court’s ‘Access to Justice Commission’ has released a report that outlines steps to remove barriers to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged Iowans.” “The report identifies dozens of recommendations and goals. They include recruiting more rural lawyers, creating a veterans legal clinic and developing an app to help people navigate legal issues and resources. The report also suggests ways to encourage the corporate community in volunteering and charitable giving around access-to-justice issues.” (Iowa Public Radio)

July 13, 2017 – “A $2.4 million state grant that funds legal services for domestic violence victims can mean the difference between life and death for some legal aid clients.” “Georgia Legal Services received the lion’s share, $1.6 million, of the $2,425,000 that the state Legislature allocated this fiscal year. The Judicial Council of Georgia, which disburses the annual grant, allocated $700,974 to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the remaining $116,674 to five domestic violence shelters to pay private lawyers to represent their residents.” (Daily Report)

July 17, 2017 – “A Baltimore city councilman introduced legislation Monday aimed at establishing a fund that would help low-income tenants facing eviction and other housing problems to hire attorneys, an effort that cities across the nation are exploring or have implemented. If Councilman Robert Stokes’ bill is approved, the city would ask voters to amend the city charter in next year’s election to establish a Tenant Legal Assistance Fund and authorize the mayor and council to dedicate money to it. The fund would help pay for lawyers to represent tenants in Baltimore’s rent court, where most renters arrive without attorneys to face landlords who almost always have some form of representation. It would also ‘provide legal assistance to low-income renters facing eviction,’ assist renters in disputes with landlords and try to make renters more aware of their legal rights. The bill calls for financing the fund with dedicated city revenue — fines and fees — plus grants from private foundations and charities.” (The Baltimore Sun)

July 18, 2017 – “The St. Mary’s University School of Law has increased the number of Summer Public Interest Fellowships available to law students to encourage a future generation of lawyers committed to public interest careers. ‘For the past 90 years, St. Mary’s Law and our students have taken very seriously our obligation to address the justice gap and to serve community members in need,’ said Stephen M. Sheppard, J.S.D., Dean of the School of Law. ‘Expanding our ability to offer Public Interest Fellowships paves a bit more of the pathway for our law students to fulfill our Catholic Marianist mission: To educate lawyers for service, justice and peace.’ With the help of a grant from the University to the School of Law’s Office of Career Services, the number of students participating in Public Interest Fellowships this summer increased from one to five. There is an overwhelming demand for legal aid services and the fellowships aim to help meet that need by encouraging students to pursue public interest legal careers, said Robin Thorner, J.D., Director of Career Services for the School of Law.” (St. Mary’s University News)

July 19, 2017 – “The State Department has suspended a program that fast-tracks top recruits, sparking outrage from students and graduates who planned on joining the diplomatic corps. The Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP), established as part of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in the early 2000’s, allows recipients of several prestigious fellowship programs to fast track their applications to the elite Foreign Service branch — a notoriously long-winded process layered in bureaucratic red tape.” “Over 260 fellows, alumni of U.S. national security internships, and State Department officials signed a hastily-circulated a petition, addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to reverse the decision. The letter called the move ‘counterproductive’ and ‘an abrogation of commitment and a breach of trust’ to fellows who were promised access to DFP before the program was axed without warning. ‘With the suspension of the DFP, after years of preparation for a career in the Foreign Service, alumni of national security fellowships are no longer recognized for their vigorous academic and language training’ the letter reads. The State Department confirmed the program is on hold.” (Foreign Policy)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors presented Pro Bono Service Awards to two Ohio attorneys, a corporate legal department, and a law firm in recognition of their extraordinary commitment to equal justice. The recipients are:

  • Ann S. Bergen, an attorney based in Willoughby who has volunteered her legal skills and expertise with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland for 25 years, including serving on the organization’s board.
  • David E. Butz, an attorney with the Canton law firm of Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths, & Dougherty Co., L.P.A who has taken on more than 100 pro bono cases with Community Legal Aid Services in Akron.
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s in-house attorneys who have handled numerous pro bono cases during their 10-year partnership with Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
  • Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, a Columbus-based law firm that has worked with Ohio State Legal Services for more than a decade, taking on numerous consumer debt and eviction cases.

(Legal Services Corporation News)

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

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