PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 1, 2017

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

Happy Friday! As Texas recovers from Hurricane Harvey, lawyers are mobilizing to help. Here are some resources if you want to help:

The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation has set up a fund to support legal services in Texas in the wake of the storm.

Lawyers admitted to practice in Texas can look herehere and here for information about volunteering. Out of state attorneys should reach out to Scott Lachman with the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. Legal hotlines are already set up in Texas (800 504-7030) and Louisiana (800 310-7029) to provide legal advice. The ABA Free Legal Answers network is also working to provide access points for lawyers who want to help across the country. And the ABA has additional information on how to help here.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Gillis Long Poverty Law Center funds $200,000 in summer internships in 2017;
  • Maine looking for civil legal aid providers;
  • Florida International University College of Law launches new program to help families;
  • Sentencing reform and criminal defense groups launch state-level clemency project;
  • Gov. Bruce Rauner signs bill making it easier for transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates;
  • Seattle and King County award $1.5 million in immigrant and refugee legal aid;
  • OneJustice Justice Bus celebrates 10th year;
  • Deported military veterans seeking U.S. citizenship will get access to state legal aid in California;
  • ICE launches new careers web content;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 25, 2017 – “The Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law creates opportunities for students to learn public service lawyering through immersive, substantive legal internships. In summer 2017, the Center placed 40 paid interns in 12 offices across the United States. ‘In keeping with the social justice mission of our law school, we are proud that our law students are providing legal services to the neediest members of our community. Together, they are providing over 10,000 hours of support with local nonprofits this summer. Since the program started in 1991, more than 700 of our law students have participated,’ said Madeleine Landrieu, Dean and Judge Adrian G. Duplantier Distinguished Professor of Law.” (University Newsroom)

August 25, 2017 – “The state of Maine is looking for groups to provide free civil legal services to low-income people and the elderly. Only experienced non-profit organizations, legal aid clinics at law schools, and pro-bono programs are eligible to receive funding from the state’s civil legal services fund. Such groups have until Sept. 1 to apply for funding. Decades ago, the Legislature created the civil legal services fund to help those who can’t afford legal help. A 2016 report by a University of Maine economics professor found that Maine legal aid providers secured about $4 million in benefits from federal programs and $2.4 million in federal grants. The report found such efforts created about $13.4 million in economic activity and created dozens of full-and-part time jobs.” (US News)

August 25, 2017 – “Hiring a lawyer can be pricey — which is partially why many people, particularly in family court, lack legal representation. Florida International University’s College of Law is aiming to fill that gap. In an initiative launched Friday morning, FIU law graduates will offer affordable legal services to families who face financial difficulties hiring a lawyer but whose incomes are too high to qualify for free legal aid programs. Michelle Mason, senior associate dean of the program, anticipates that there will eventually be six to eight in-house fellows providing services to around 360 to 480 clients each year. The program will hire one fellow this semester to begin.” “The program is also designed to double as a teaching tool for young lawyers. Fellows — recent graduates licensed to practice law in Florida — will offer services while learning the necessary skills to open their own practice.” (Miami Herald)

August 25, 2017 – “Clemency Project 2014 ended when Barack Obama left office in January. But several legal groups have launched a clemency project of their own aimed at the states. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has teamed up with sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums on the State Clemency Project, which seeks to recruit, train and support pro bono attorneys who will help state prisoners submit applications for commutations of their sentences. Sentence commutation ends a sentence, but does not erase the conviction as a pardon would. FAMM and NACDL were both major participants in CP14, a project that sought to reduce sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenders with no significant ties to organized crime. (The ABA Criminal Justice Section was also a major participant.) The project used a large team of pro bono attorneys to select qualified prisoners out of about 36,000 applications, then represent them through the process of applying for a commutation. The state clemency project builds on that experience, the NACDL press release says. The project will work with interested governors or clemency boards to lay out criteria for commutations and identify prisoners who meet those criteria. Volunteer attorneys, likely drawn from the same state as their clients, will work with their clients to submit petitions. Project staff will work with the state agencies on streamlining the application process and the gathering of supporting information. In the end, the federal Clemency Project 2014 was involved in 894 commutations, a little more than half of the 1,705 total commutations. Depending on how many states participate, the state project could dwarf those numbers, because states imprison far more people than the federal government does.” (ABA Journal)

August 26, 2017 – As part of a package of 100 bills, “Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed into law a measure to make it easier for transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.” ” The Governor “signed legislation that would make it easier for transgender people to change the sex designation on their birth certificates. Formerly, state law said transgender people could only change their birth certificates if a doctor said they had transition surgery. The new law would allow for a change if a medical or mental health provider confirms someone has received ‘clinically appropriate’ treatment. A range of practices including hormone therapy would be covered, using a similar standard that applies to U.S. passports. Supporters said people were often denied coverage for preventive care like pap smears and prostate exams if their birth certificates and identities don’t match, saying the previous surgery requirement was an unnecessary burden. ‘It’s basic common sense that a person’s gender should be recognized and respected, whether or not that person has had any particular kind of surgery,’ John Knight, director of the LGBT and HIV Project for the ACLU of Illinois. ‘I’m extremely proud of our state for taking this important step to modernize a law that has been a significant barrier in transgender people’s lives for many, many years.'” (Chicago Tribune)

August 29, 2017 – “In a unanimous vote back in April, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to dedicate $1 million to helping locally-based immigrants and refugees get legal representation in the wake of threats to sanctuary cities by the Trump administration. Seattle has since joined with King County to bring that total to more than $1.5 million. On Monday, Seattle and King County announced the recipients of that money: The vast majority, more than $1 million, went collectively in a joint award to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, who provides legal aid to immigrants in addition to advocacy and education work, and Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, who provide direct legal services to fight deportations. Other recipients include Kids In Need of Defense, West African Community Center, South Park Information and Referral Center, and Filipino Community of Seattle.” (Curbed Seattle)

August 29, 2017 – “The Justice Bus is celebrating its 10th year. Over the past decade, a bus full of volunteer lawyers, counselors and translators — all part of a program called OneJustice — have rolled up and down California giving free legal counsel to low-income people on immigration and naturalization law, veterans’ rights and more. The group recently visited the San Fernando Valley to help immigrants who were qualified and ready to become citizens work through a maze of paperwork.” (NPR)

August 29, 2017 – “Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher applauded the California Department of Social Services for declaring that the state will provide legal services to deported military veterans from California, a huge victory for these often-overlooked veterans as they seek citizenship. Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher made this issue one of her top priorities for the 2017 legislative year and personally requested a letter from the CDSS affirming its commitment to provide these legal services. ‘This is great news for anyone who cares about how our nation treats its veterans,’ Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. ‘These are patriots who were willing to risk their lives for this country. To reward their service and sacrifice by deporting them is unconscionable and un-American.’ California becomes the first to provide this legal help, which will be available to all deported veterans who formerly lived in California and were honorably discharged from the military, according to an Aug. 25 letter from the Department of Social Service.” (

August 30, 2017 – “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is hiring. The nation’s premier federal law enforcement agency focused on protecting America from cross-border crime and illegal immigration launched an enhanced careers section on its website Aug. 29 to help top candidates apply for a variety of jobs. In addition, ICE started a new Twitter feed – @ICEgovCareers – dedicated solely to job-related information about the agency, including recruiting events, job opportunities and more. The presidential executive order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, instructs ICE to hire 10,000 law enforcement positions in the coming years. ICE’s current 20,000 employees focus on carrying out smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating transnational criminal threats.  In fiscal year 2017, ICE hired more than 1,300 new employees across all job series, and anticipates filling another approximately 100 vacancies before the end of this fiscal year.” “Visitors may find the frequently asked questions (FAQs) web page the most helpful resources on the website. The exhaustive list covers topics that include: general questions about ICE and the hiring surge; law enforcement positions; Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO); Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) and Management and Administration(M&A); or questions specific to students and veterans. The website also has a link to sign up for the latest news and job vacancies to be sent to your inbox.” (ICE Newsroom)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

Sarah Leverette, one of the first female lawyers in South Carolina and a longstanding legal and social influencer, is being recognized for her life’s work of improving the lives of fellow South Carolinians. The S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center is honoring 97-year-old Leverette with the 2017 Rev. Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney Award for Justice. The award recognizes Leverette as an influential advocate for equal rights for women in the law and in the community. Leverette graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1943 as the only woman in her class and just the third woman ever to graduate from the school at the time. She defied many of the expectations for women of her time to become a woman admired in the South Carolina legal profession as influential and a trailblazer.” Read more about here amazing career at the link. (The State)

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

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