PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 25, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Up and down news this week. Some programs are expanding while others are closing offices. With funding cuts and shrinking budgets, pro bono is more important than ever. Check out PSJD for pro bono opportunities in your area.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Ontario defunds African Legal Clinic;
  • DNA, early champion of Indian rights, to shutter 3 legal offices;
  • New York expanding pro bono clemency program;
  • Ottawa’s first Indigenous peoples court announced;
  • Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic established at Vanderbilt Law School;
  • Michigan Legal Help creates toolkit for parents of students ‘facing discipline’;
  • Out & Equal Workplace Advocates announces recipients of inaugural Global Fellowship program;
  • Associates’ Committee expands legal aid fundraising efforts;
  • Bills filed to link more pro bono attorneys with Florida’s special needs kids;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 16, 2017 – The following is a statement from Legal Aid Ontario President and CEO David Field. “The Clinic Committee of Legal Aid Ontario’s Board of Directors has decided, under its dispute resolution process, to withdraw LAO’s [Legal Aid Ontario] funding of the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) effective September 30, 2017. Every dollar of funding currently provided to ACLC will be redirected to a new organization to provide dedicated services to the Black community. LAO’s priority is addressing the legal needs of a very vulnerable segment of our population—members of Black communities who need our help. We have work to do to meet those needs. LAO is committed to doing that work through hearing directly from members of the Black community, working with an advisory committee comprised of community leaders and investing additional funding to improve access to justice for members of the Black community. The Clinic Committee of LAO’s Board of Directors has found that ACLC’s board and management have engaged in financial mismanagement and that there has been a lack of board oversight. Although LAO’s dispute resolution process is internal, it is clear to me that there is an overriding public interest in what has occurred. Therefore, in the interest of transparency, I have directed that the decisions of the clinic committee and supporting documents be posted on LAO’s website. LAO will ensure that there will be no interruption or delay to legal services to Black Ontarians. LAO will immediately begin working with members of the community to establish a new community-based organization to deliver legal aid services to Ontario’s Black community. In the meantime, LAO will provide legal services through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, members of the private bar, and LAO’s Test Case Program.” ( Aid Ontario)

And Ontario province is now evaluating its contribution. “Now that Legal Aid Ontario has yanked its funding from the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the province is rethinking its own contribution. In a decision released last week, a committee of Legal Aid’s board of directors said the organization had failed to meet all eight conditions placed on it in 2014 to address concerns of financial mismanagement and poor governance. ‘Given the serious nature of its findings, the province is reviewing the decision and supporting documents produced by the sub-committee in order to assess the government’s funding relationship with the African Canadian Legal Clinic going forward,’ wrote Andrew Rudyk, press secretary for the office of Attorney General Yasir Naqvi. He did not offer a timeline for the review.” (Metro News)

August 18, 2017 – “For 50 years, DNA — or, in Navajo, Dinébe’iiná Náhiilna be Agha’diit’ahii — has provided free legal services to low-income people in three Southwestern states and won groundbreaking cases in Indian law on behalf of its clients. Now, facing years of financial shortfalls, it is planning to shutter three of its nine offices — in Crownpoint, Shiprock and Monument Valley, Utah. Some staff will move to remaining offices, and others will be laid off. DNA provides free legal services in areas such as consumer fraud, public benefits, wills and estates, taxes, housing evictions and domestic violence.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)

August 21, 2017 – “New York is partnering with several legal organizations to expand the state’s pro bono clemency program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. The state will partner with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and other organizations helping incarcerated individuals seeking clemency from the governor’s office to provide ‘high-quality clemency applications.’ ‘These nationally recognized organizations have already proven successful in helping incarcerated individuals get access to the resources they need to apply for clemency, make the case for their rehabilitation and have the opportunity to contribute to and re-enter society,’ Cuomo said in a statement.” (New York Law Journal)

August 22, 2017 – “The provincial government will announce the opening of Ottawa’s first court for Indigenous peoples this week, CBC News has confirmed.” “The opening of the specialized court is meant to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s criminal justice system. Ottawa’s first Indigenous court, also known as a Gladue court, draws its name from a 1995 court case where a defendant successfully argued the court should consider the lived experience of an Indigenous offender, for example, the trauma associated with the residential schools system.” (CBC News)

August 22, 2017 – “A $2 million investment in Vanderbilt Law School by Cal Turner Jr., BA’62, will provide legal support to entrepreneurs on shoestring budgets to help them get up and running. The funding, which results from the growth of a previous endowed gift from Turner, names the Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic at the law school. The clinic will offer students hands-on opportunities to assist individuals with legal matters, such as applying for tax-exempt status and drafting lease agreements, when they otherwise would not be able to afford representation. ‘The Turner clinic sits at the intersection of law and business, reinforcing Vanderbilt’s strengths in working across disciplines to achieve viable solutions,’ said Chris Guthrie, dean and John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law. ‘This funding allows us to better support our students and faculty who provide this important legal representation to lower-income clients. We’re deeply grateful for this new opportunity.'” “Under the guidance of faculty mentors, students in the Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic will receive course credit as they hone legal skills in a range of transactional matters, including entity formation, governance, tax, contracts, employment, intellectual property and risk management. The clinic also will expose students to opportunities that arise in today’s rapidly evolving legal environment, which is explored in the school’s Program on Law and Innovation.” (Vanderbilt News)

August 22, 2017 – “A website that provides free legal assistance for simple civil matters now offers a toolkit for parents of children who are in trouble at school. The toolkit is a landing page on the Michigan Legal Help website’s education section called, ‘My Child is Facing Punishment or Expulsion from School.’ It consists of articles, answers to common questions, and local referrals for issues relating to special education accommodations, discipline and student rights. It also includes a do-it-yourself letter for students receiving special education services who are being suspended or expelled. The toolkit has a drop-down menu that allows users to filter results by Michigan county. Resources and referrals vary based on the user’s location.” (

August 22, 2017 – “After a competitive application process featuring applicants from more than 20 countries on five continents, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates has announced its inaugural cohort of Global Fellows: Levis Nderitu, Sullivan Reed Society, Kenya; Suresh Ramdas, HP Inc., India; and Kaspars Zalitis, Association Open Centre, Latvia. ‘Each and every one of our Global Fellows is a true inspiration,’ said Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. ‘Levis, Suresh, and Kaspars have demonstrated incredible commitment to advancing LGBT rights and workplace equality, even in the most challenging of environments. Though the movement for LGBT equality has made significant progress in recent years, it’s critical to remember that in 76 countries we can still be arrested, imprisoned or even killed because of who we are and who we love. Our Global Fellows make me confident that the future of LGBT workplace equality is bright. I look forward to offering each one of them this learning opportunity, and to learning from them as well.’ The fellows will travel to the United States to participate in an intensive five-week Out & Equal leadership development program for emerging global advocates in LGBT workplace equality.” (LGBT Weekly)

August 23, 2017 – “A grassroots effort to empower law firm associates to be more charitable has gained some momentum, and some help. Last year, Corey Laplante, then an associate at Skadden Arps, launched The Associates’ Committee, a group that raised more than $200,000 from Big Law associates for legal aid groups and litigation non-profits for the homeless, veterans, survivors of domestic violence and others. As the group enters its second year, Laplante — now an associate in Los Angeles at the litigation boutique Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz — says the Committee is generating interest from big law firms and partners, not just from associates. Laplante said he hopes to ‘increase the impact’ of the group through firm support and that member-associates have taken up the cause with a letter writing campaign to their firms. ‘They’re saying they’re members and are passionate about their cause and would like the firm to match their contribution,’ he explained. Among the partners supporting the group is Jeff Simes, chair of the litigation department at Goodwin Procter, where partners have pledged a total of $6,000 to the group. ‘It’s a great thing when associates pull together and are excited about something. It’s infectious,’ he said. Along with Goodwin, Laplante’s former firm Skadden has pledged $10,000 to the organization.” (Bloomberg Law)

August 24, 2017 – “Two Florida lawmakers are hoping to get more pro-bono attorneys to help kids with special needs for the 2018 legislative session. Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola) and Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) filed the ‘Pro Bono Matters Act of 2018.’ The goal is to encourage more attorneys to take pro-bono cases involving special needs children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected. Florida Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz says it builds on a 2014 law.” (WGCU)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

The Waco-McLennan County Young Lawyers Association was presented with the Texas Young Lawyers Association Award of Achievement for Service to the Public. The group was honored for its Pro Bono Challenge, a partnership with Baylor Law School that has connected many lawyers in McLennan County to low-income veterans and others in need of pro bono legal services. The program was developed by MCYLA President-elect Stephen Rispoli, who serves as the assistant dean of pro bono programs at Baylor Law School, C. Scott Omo of Pakis, Giotes, Page & Burleson PC, and Josh Borderud, director of the Baylor Law Veterans Clinic. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Brittany Swett.


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