By: Steve Grumm
Happy Friday, folks. As many of you know I’m leaving NALP to take a position directing the ABA’s Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. I’m excited to join the ABA and to focus squarely on ATJ work, but there is much I will miss about NALP, PSJD, and the community I’ve worked in for the past seven-plus years.
I joke sometimes that this weekly blog post’s readership consists of four people. I’m just being modest, of course. The readership is nearly double that. Well, in fact it’s a little larger, but I’m not setting any Web-traffic records either. Numbers aside, what I see when I look at my email distribution list for this weekly post is a group of people who operate in every corner of the public interest legal world: law school administrators and clinicians, law students, nonprofit and government lawyers, legal-aid executive directors, law firm pro bono counsel, bar association officials, and so on and forth. I’ve worked with a remarkably diverse, talented group of individuals. I’m grateful for that.
What will become of the Public Interest News Bulletin? It will enter into a brief, late-winter hibernation. But a few weeks from now NALP will return to publishing the bulletin here on the PSJD Blog. Keep any eye out for it. In the meantime, if you want to read a newsletter focused on the larger legal industry then check out my boss’s weekly offering here (updated every Friday). I’ve learned a lot from Jim’s observations on the business of law and his aggregation of the week’s important stories – despite the inexplicable lack of a Super Music Bonus.
Separate from that, in early March I will begin publishing a weekly access-to-justice news digest on a new platform. If you would like to receive this digest, please email me at sgrumm[at]hotmail.com. I’ll add you to the distribution.
I don’t think of myself as a sappy person. But my NALP departure has me thinking all the way back to my arrival in the public interest world. It came when I served for a year, just after college, as a Jesuit Volunteer in the Northwest Justice Project’s Yakima office. One of my enduring memories is of reading a quote which was framed and nestled in the bookcase of the first legal aid lawyer I met – Don Kinney. Here’s the quote, penned by Bonaro Overstreet:
You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
That quote’s appeared in some form or fashion in every office I’ve occupied since that experience in 1999. It’s pegged to a corkboard next to me right now. And it will follow me to Chicago, where I look forward to placing my stubborn ounces on the scales of (access to) justice. Thanks for reading this blog post for the past few years. Let’s stay in touch.
Okay, the week’s news in very, very short:
- $800K in class action residuals going to Legal Aid of W. Missouri;
- a new social justice center at Temple Law (hey, I went to school there!);
- debate continues on how to fix the Show Me State’s public defense system;
- New York Law School offers scholarships to government employees;
- recap of recently passed ABA resolutions impacting ATJ;
- pay Montana public defenders more;
- California county bows to pressure and starts assigning defenders at felony arraignments;
- corporate pro bono in Canada;
- find more funding for Wisconsin’s public defense program;
- a Georgia county’s public defense program closes;
- the “business case for pro bono” is made outside the legal arena;
- some changes in providing legal aid to low-income seniors in N. California;
- Super Music Bonus!
- 2.14.13 – from a press release: “Legal Aid of Western Missouri has received nearly $800,000 in additional funding to help provide services to low-income families in the state. The funds are residual proceeds from a class action lawsuit settled in 2011 titled Allen & Lande v. UMB Bank. The court-approved settlement was secured by plaintiffs’ attorneys from the law firms of Tycko & Zavareei LLP, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP and Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C. The Court’s order approving the settlement provided that settlement checks not presented by individual class members for payment within one year would be distributed to Legal Aid to carry out its charitable mission.”
- 2.14.13 - good things from my alma mater. "The Temple University Beasley School of Law will use a $1.5 million donation to launch a center for social justice.The gift is from plaintiffs attorney Stephen Sheller and his wife, Sandra Sheller, an art and family therapist. The Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice is slated to open in the spring. It will work with city agencies and nonprofit organizations that focus on social justice throughout the Philadelphia region in areas including civil liberties, consumer protection, the environment and disability rights." (Short article from the National Law Journal.)
- 2.13.13 - this story's password-protected, but FYI: "A bill that would transfer the majority of cases from the Missouri State Public Defender system to private attorneys was greeted with both support and skepticism at a House committee hearing Wednesday." (Story from the Columbia Missourian.) And here are dueling op-eds re the state public defense system's problems (both from St. Louis Public Radio):
- 2.12.13 - "Police, firefighters and other public workers in New York City now have the chance to land a free ride at New York Law School.
Administrators have announced the Public Service Scholarship Program, which will pay full tuition to three public servants next fall and half-tuition scholarship to 12 more... The scholarships are open to public workers at the city, state, or federal levels, and recipients may attend either full time or part time. Recipients will be selected based on their [LSAT] scores, their undergraduate grade-point averages and a 'dedicated commitment to community service'." (Story from the National Law Journal.)
- 2.11.13 - recently passed ABA House of Delegates resolutions pertaining to indigent defense and civil legal aid issues:
- from the ABA Journal: "Resolution 104A urges Congress to create and fund an independent, federally funded Center for Indigent Defense Services to help governments carry out their constitutional obligation to provide effective assistance to indigent defendants.... " Resolution 104C urges state lawmakers to pass laws that would prohibit firing a chief public defender or other indigent-services leader who limits acceptance of new clients in a good-faith effort to ensure competent representation."
- again, from the ABA Journal: "Resolution 10A approved by the ABA House of Delegates on Monday urges federal lawmakers to assure adequate funding for federal courts and the Legal Services Corp."
- 2.11.13 - from the Treasure State: "[P]ublic defenders are paid far less than other state-employed attorney and county attorneys. The office has high turnover and high caseloads. Turnover in the public defenders’ office has been more than 40 percent annually. According to testimony last week at a legislative hearing, public defenders routinely get 600 cases in their first year out of law school.... The appropriations subcommittee got the full picture of the importance of public defenders. We call on all lawmakers, especially those from Yellowstone County, the busiest defenders’ office in the state, to study this problem and help remedy it in the upcoming budget." (Editorial from the Billings Gazette.)
- 2.11.13 - "Public defense attorneys are now staffing felony arraignment courtrooms in Contra Costa County, where the prior absence of such attorneys spurred a federal class action lawsuit. Contra Costa County's former practice -- not uncommon in cash-strapped and rural counties in the nation -- was to assign defense attorneys to indigent criminal defendants after their initial court appearance. That meant that people who couldn't afford bail would sit in jail for up to two weeks before a public attorney would appear at their side in court. Public Defender Robin Lipetzky said that the office had been fighting for money to have deputy public defenders appear at arraignments long before a local attorney in December filed suit in U.S. District Court in Oakland to force the issue. The lawsuit seeks damages for allegedly violating defendants' Sixth Amendment right to counsel." (Full story from the Mercury News.)
- 2.11.13 - corporate pro bono in Great White North. The executive director of Pro Bono Law Alberta offers insight as to how and why corporate counsel to get involved in pro bono work. (Full piece in Canadian Lawyer.)
- 2.10.13 - bolstering Badger State support for indigent defense: "The budget for the state public defender’s office is $83.4 million for fiscal 2013. And that isn’t enough to keep up with demand. For instance, the state has fallen behind in its payments to private attorneys who are hired to help handle cases at $40 per hour for in-court work. That rate doesn’t meet industry standard and doesn’t come close to the cost of running a law firm... In addition, assistant state public defenders have been passed over for a system of pay raises that has been implemented for assistant district attorneys in our state. The investments required to pay the bills on time and to treat staff equitably are relatively modest. But those moves are the right approach to support a system that is crucial to a fair trial and vital to living up to our constitutional requirements." (Full editorial in the Lacrosse Tribune.)
- 2.10.13 - "In a few months the Dougherty County Public Defenders' Office will close as a cost saving measure. Starting July 1st Dougherty County will no longer have public defenders on their payroll. It's been decided that two already vacated public defender positions and two administrative jobs will go away.... Dougherty County's Public Defenders' Office has already begun the transition by hiring several contract workers. Officials say the next step is to talk with county leaders to find out how much money will be allotted for more contract positions." (Story from FOX 31 in Southwest Georgia.)
- 2.8.13 - this Q&A piece in the Huffington Post explores how Capitol One has incorporated pro bono into its culture, and highlights this accomplishment in the legal arena: "[L]ast year, a pro bono team of 15 volunteers from across Capital One's IT, Legal, Communications, Supply Chain Management, Business Systems Analysis, and Brand teams partnered with the Virginia Legal community to create a technology solution, called JusticeServer, which matches low-income clients to volunteer attorneys offering pro bono legal services. The new tool came at a critical team for Legal Aid in Central Virginia, which had lost half their staff attorneys, while demand for their services increased by nearly 60 percent."
- 2.8.13 - "A North Coast nonprofit is expanding its legal offerings to focus on seniors in Lake and Mendocino counties. Legal Services of Northern California began offering the new services at the start of the year in order to fill the void left by the closure of the Lakeport-based Senior Law Project.The Senior Law Project, which had provided free legal services to seniors in Lake and Mendocino counties, closed after 30 years...." (Story from the Lake County News.)
Super Music Bonus! Long-distance drives are one of my true loves, and I've logged thousands of miles throughout the country. I'm about to hop in a moving van and drive to Chicago. (Driving a U-haul truck through Ohio and Indiana may not prove the most relaxing excursion, but you get my larger point.) In a country of such size and geographic diversity, an American does herself a huge disservice by not taking the ground-level tour.
In 1995 the band Son Volt released the album "Trace." The band's songwriter, Jay Farrar, was living in St. Louis. Two bandmates were living in Minneapolis. Farrar's girlfriend was living New Orleans. As a result the album's writing and recording took place up and down the Mississippi River. Trace has been referred to as a love poem to America's mighty river. And the lyrics reflect that. The album's opener is "Windfall." It's a song about healthy restlessness, and the feeling of liberation that comes with movement. (It's also the song that taught me that Country & Western music can be cool.) So here's "Windfall." Cheers.