Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 29, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Connecticut Senate approves bills providing greater legal access to the poor;
  • Saskatchewan seeks public feedback on legal services;
  • University of California-Irvine School of Law launches Civil Justice Research Institute;
  • San Francisco Mayor grants $1.8 million for legal aid for unaccompanied minors;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 21, 2016 – “The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would study ways to provide legal help to poor people involved in civil cases.” “The measure, which passed by a vote of 23-12, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The Senate also passed a related bill that bolsters funding for Legal Aid offices. The measure, which cleared the chamber on a unanimous vote, adds more than a million dollars of yearly funding to an interest-generating account of legal fees that funds legal aid. Second, the bill for the first time adds delivery of legal services to the poor to the permissible uses of the Superior Court’s Client Security Fund. Together, these two funding streams will provide more than 2 million dollars a year of additional funding to the Legal Aid programs, supporters of the bill said.” (Hartford Courant)

April 21, 2016 – “The Ministry of Justice  and Law Society of Saskatchewan have launched a quick, online survey to find out what people think about the way legal services are provided, and if some changes could help. It’s part of a consultation focused on improving public access by possibly expanding the services that can be provided by legal professionals other than lawyers.” “‘It’s important to have the (public’s) perspective on what their needs really are,’ said senior Crown counsel Mary Ellen Wellsch, the project lead.” “Access to justice is a growing concern across the country as more people try to puzzle out legal conundrums on their own because they can’t find or afford a lawyer or don’t qualify for free legal services. Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell issued a call to action on the ‘accessibility gap’ while speaking in Regina at the annual Law Day luncheon earlier this month. Wellsch said it’s too early to say what legal services, if any, might be done by non-lawyers. ‘There’s a whole range of possibilities.’ Some ideas being explored include expanding the scope of paralegals working under supervision of lawyers; relaxing restrictions on other professionals who provide similar legal work; and creating a new class of ‘legal service technicians’ who could provide some services with training and assessment.” “All the information gathered will be used to make recommendations. As to how quickly any changes may come, Wellsch said it really depends on the proposals, since some may require legislative change. At present, the Legal Profession Act prohibits people from practising law without a licence.” (Regina Leader-Post)

April 27, 2016 – “The University of California-Irvine School of Law has launched a Civil Justice Research Institute to explore how to make the U.S. civil justice system more accessible. UCI Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding chair of the institute, which will be governed by a national board of advisers made up of attorneys and chaired by Roman Silberfeld, executive board member of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Robins Kaplan LLP. UCI Law has received approximately $1 million for the institute from donors across the country, led by a $250,000 gift from Richard Bridgford, founding partner of Newport Beach-based Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian.” (Orange County Business Journal)

April 28, 2016 – “In response to the growing number of unaccompanied minors who come to San Francisco seeking asylum, Mayor Ed Lee announced Wednesday that The City will extend funding by an additional $1.8 million for the legal defense of immigrant families and particularly children who enter the country on their own. The money will go to the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative, a congregation of 13 nonprofit organizations that represent children and families facing deportation in The City’s immigration courts.” (San Francisco Examiner)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

L. David Shear, one of the founders of Bay Area Legal Services, the Tampa Bay area’s legal aid organization for the poor, died Tuesday morning. He was 79. Throughout his career as a lawyer specializing in corporate and real estate law, Mr. Shear devoted countless volunteer hours to Bay Area Legal Services, an organization he helped found along with several other members of the Hillsborough Bar Association. He became known for championing the interests of children, ultimately lending his name to a center that provides free legal representation for children in Hillsborough County’s foster care system. (Tampa Bay Times)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 22, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Thank you all for such an amazing Annual Education Conference. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and are revved up and ready to go for another great year!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New fellowships help University of California law students launch public interest careers;
  • Texas restores grant money to juvenile indigent defense program;
  • Federal government to relieve permanently disabled of all federal student loan debt;
  • Pro Bono Institute names new President and CEO;
  • Microsoft partners with Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net to create access to justice portal;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 13, 2016 – “The University of California has launched a new, first-of-its-kind systemwide fellowship program to support UC law students and graduates committed to practicing law in service to the public, UC President Janet Napolitano announced today (April 13). The University of California President’s Public Service Law Fellowships will award $4.5 million annually to promising students at UC’s four law schools. The funding will make postgraduate work and summer positions more accessible for students who want to pursue public interest legal careers but might otherwise – out of financial need – seek private sector jobs.” “The fellowship program is an ambitious new effort – it will provide for approximately 425 summer fellowships and 60 postgraduate fellowships for students at the law schools at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Irvine. The postgraduate fellowships provide $45,000 for graduates entering public service, plus an additional $2,500 to help defray bar-related costs. The summer fellowships provide each fellow between $4,000 to $4,500 to subsidize summer public interest law jobs. The fellowship funds will be distributed proportionately based on the number of law students enrolled at each law school each year. The law schools will manage the application process and select fellowship recipients. In addition, the fellowship program provides funding to enable UC law students to participate in the UC Washington Program – a vital UC program that gives students real-world public service experience in the nation’s capital. The fellowship program will culminate each year in a national conference on public service law that would rotate among each of the UC law schools. The conference will showcase important legal scholarship and practice and contribute to the national conversation on public interest law.” (University of California Press Room)

April 13, 2016 – “The state has decided to restore several thousands of dollars in grant money. It was withheld from Hidalgo County’s Juvenile Indigent Program. The Texas Indigent Defense Commission announced its decision at a meeting on South Padre Island Wednesday. Last year, the commission withdrew more than $600,000 it awarded the county for 2016. The decision was based on a non-compliance issue. The commission cited an uneven distribution of attorneys appointed to juvenile cases. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said he is pleased with the decision. He said the money is needed to help the county meet its legal obligations to pay lawyers to defend indigent defendants.” (KRGV)

April 13, 2016 – “The Obama administration is directing several federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Social Security Administration, to forgive $7.7 billion of student loans to around 400,000 people with permanent disabilities. Following last year’s White House-announced Student Aid Bill of Rights, designed to reorient how student loans were repaid, President Obama announced on Tuesday a directive to fully forgive the federal student loan debt owed by those with permanent disabilities, or PD. Federal law already offers student loan debt relief to Americans with a severe disability, but since 2012, the administration’s effort at getting more to take advantage of the debt relief opportunity has had lackluster results, according to The Washington Post. ‘Too many eligible borrowers were falling through the cracks, unaware they were eligible for relief,’ Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement. ‘Americans with disabilities have a right to student loan relief. And we need to make it easier, not harder, for them to receive the benefits they are due.'” (RT)

April 15, 2016 – “The Board of Directors of Pro Bono Institute (PBI) is pleased to announce that Eve Runyon, Director of Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), has been named the organization’s new President and CEO. Runyon succeeds Esther Lardent, who founded PBI and held the roles of President and CEO for 19 years before stepping down for health reasons in 2015. Runyon joined PBI in 2005 to lead CPBO, PBI’s partnership project with the Association of Corporate Counsel. Under Runyon’s leadership, CPBO designed and implemented innovative initiatives to expand the commitment to pro bono across in-house law departments, including the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, the only industry-wide standard for in-house pro bono, which enables legal departments to identify, benchmark, and communicate their support for pro bono service. Currently, there are 145 Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories.” (CSRwire)

April 19, 2016 – “Microsoft joined with the LSC and Pro Bono Net in announcing the development of a prototype access to justice ‘portal.’ Microsoft will provide funding of at least $1 million and project management expertise to build out this project. Drawing on state-of-the-art cloud and Internet technologies, this portal will enable people to navigate the court system and legal aid resources, learn about their legal rights and prepare and file critical court documents in a way that is accessible, comprehensive and easy to navigate. The ultimate goal is to help people every step of the way toward addressing their legal problem. This first-of-its-kind system will be accessible from any device, standards-compliant and connected to legal aid organizations through open software interfaces. Once the prototype is developed, we will post it in open source form to GitHub, one of the leading sites for open-source software development projects. That way, others can build upon it or build other, comparable systems. Over time, we hope that every state will develop a portal solution to provide a modern, efficient way for everyone to access the court system and legal aid resources. With recent advances in machine learning, we can even imagine that within the not-too-distant future systems such as these could enable people to speak naturally and receive help in a comfortable “chat” format tailored to their specific needs. LSC developed the vision for this portal over the past few years, working with leaders from across the access to justice community. The National Center for State Courts recently began fleshing out the technical requirements for such a portal. Pro Bono Net, a national non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the access-to-justice gap through technology and collaboration, has agreed to help convene local partners and provide service design expertise to execute the pilot. We couldn’t be happier to start working with all three of these organizations to implement LSC’s vision of access to justice for all.” (Microsoft Blog)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Hunton & Williams LLP devotes significant time each year in serving the community. During the firm’s last seven fiscal years, 100 percent of the firm’s full-time lawyers in the United States volunteered for pro bono projects. This represents more than 4 percent of the firm’s gross billable hours and commemorates 21 continuous years of meeting or exceeding the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge of donating at least 3 percent of the firm’s annual billable hours to pro bono service. At the end of the firm’s fiscal year on March 31, the firm had donated more than 40,000 pro bono hours to the community.

Hunton & Williams is proud of its community service and leadership among law firms in the United States, where the firm’s tradition of pro bono service is well recognized. The firm maintains two neighborhood offices — in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia — solely dedicated to pro bono services for low-income individuals, and a full-time-staffed Pro Bono Fellows program. (Hunton & Williams News & Events)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 8, 2016

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

Happy Friday! We are very excited to see everyone at the 2016 Annual Education Conference next week.  Since we will be sharing news with so many of you in person, the Digest will return on April 22nd.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • British Columbia Chief Judge to hold Twitter town hall;
  • Iowa inmates facing added time have right to counsel;
  • Ontario raising legal aid eligibility threshold by another 6 percent;
  • L.A. County reconsiders reliance on flat-fee juvenile defenders;
  • New report finds South Carolina indigent defendants routinely denied counsel or not informed of their 6th Amendment rights;
  • Georgia Bar’s incubator for new lawyers launches;
  • Boston University School of Law alum creates endowment to fund pro bono service trips;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 31, 2016 – “Members of the public are being invited to participate in a Twitter ‘town hall’ being organized by provincial court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree. Anyone who has a question for Crabtree can contact him through the hashtag #AskChiefJudge on April 14, B.C. Law Day. Topics being encouraged include access to justice, the future of the justice system and specialty courts, including First Nations court. ‘The Provincial Court wants to engage members of the public in their justice system,’ Crabtree said in a statement. ‘Our recent consultation on online access to criminal court information demonstrated the valuable contribution the public can make to policy decisions. The Twitter Town Hall is another way the Court can engage with the public. I’m looking forward to the conversation on April 14.'” (The Vancouver Sun)

April 1, 2016 – “Iowa inmates have a right to a lawyer when fighting Department of Corrections decisions that can add time to their sentences, a judge has ruled in a case that the state is appealing. If upheld, the ruling would help inmates challenge department rulings about treatment they must complete or disciplinary violations, which can tack on months or years to their incarceration. The outcome could have major implications for the prison system and the state-funded public defender system. The Department of Corrections filed notice Thursday that it would appeal the decision Judge Scott Rosenberg issued last week. The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether to take the case or send it to an appeals court for review.” “The expense of any change could be significant. State Public Defender Adam Gregg said that spending by his office for lawyers in simple misdemeanor cases has shot up 45 percent, a $352,000 increase, after last year’s court ruling and that he’s asked lawmakers for a supplemental appropriation. Gregg said he was watching the inmate case closely. ‘It could have a major impact on both the right to counsel in Iowa, and on the indigent defense budget,’ Gregg said.” (The Des Moines Register)

April 1, 2016 – “Ontario is giving more people access to affordable legal services by increasing the financial eligibility threshold for Legal Aid Ontario by six per cent, effective immediately. Legal Aid Ontario provides low-income Ontarians with access to legal services in areas such as criminal, family, immigration, mental health and poverty law. Ontario’s 2014 budget committed to increasing the eligibility threshold by six per cent each year over three years, and today’s increase is the third. This year’s investment amounts to over $48.8 million and as a result of these three combined threshold increases, nearly 400,000 more people will have access to legal aid services. Enhancing legal aid for Ontario’s most vulnerable is part of Ontario’s plan to create a justice system that is modern and responsive to the needs of the people it serves. A simpler, faster and more accessible justice system helps to create a fair society, encourages investment in our communities, and makes life easier by lowering costs and improving convenience and choice.” (Ontario Newsroom)

April 3, 2016 – “In the wake of a new report, Los Angeles County juvenile justice advocates and policymakers are calling for oversight of juvenile defense attorneys to address disparities in legal counsel provided to youth in the juvenile-justice system. Earlier this month, the county received a long-awaited report from the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at University of California, Berkeley School of Law that analyzed representation for juvenile defendants in the county’s Superior Courts whose families are not able to afford private attorneys. The ‘Los Angeles County Juvenile Indigent Defense System’ report highlighted several areas of concern about the use of county-contracted panel attorneys, who are paid a flat fee to represent youth.” “Indigent youth are most often represented by the county’s Public Defender’s Office, but when there is a conflict of interest, the county must use an alternative option. However, Los Angeles County is the only county in the state to use a flat-fee system, a process that many believe discourages panel attorneys from spending suitable time and effort on a youth’s case.” “‘Los Angeles is the only county with no centralized mechanism for quality control and oversight over those panel attorneys, and the results [of the Warren report] show disparate treatment and outcomes,’ said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week.” “As the Board of Supervisors considers a way to change the system, many advocates point to the use of the county’s Alternate Public Defender’s Office as the best way to move on from panel attorneys.” “On Tuesday, the board will consider a motion presented by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that will propose oversight of panel representation and explore the cost of alternatives, including an expansion of Alternate Public Defender’s Office.”  (The Chronicle of Social Change)

April 4, 2016 – “In South Carolina’s lower courts—called magistrate, municipal, or summary courts—low-income defendants are routinely denied access to an attorney or not informed of their Sixth Amendment rights, according to a new report published Monday by the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. ‘When you go to a summary court in South Carolina, you find yourself in a judicial netherworld where the police officer who made the arrest acts as the prosecutor, the judge may not have a law degree, and there are no lawyers in sight,’ said Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, in a statement.” (takepart)

April 5, 2016 – “The State Bar of Georgia’s new incubator program for young lawyers has recruited its first class of participants and hired a pro bono director. Seven lawyers started work Monday at the incubator, called Lawyers for Equal Justice. Sarah Babcock, the pro bono director, has joined from Alston & Bird, where she was an associate for six years in the environmental practice. Lawyers for Equal Justice’s aim is to help young lawyers get their legal careers started, while also providing legal services to people of moderate to low means. The inaugural class members are: Greg Clement and JoAnna Smith, both Emory University graduates, Alicia Mack and Candice Sneed, both Georgia State University graduates, Charles Wardlaw, an Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School graduate, Tamorra Buchanan-Boyd, a Mercer University graduate, and Chris Bruce, a University of Georgia graduate.” “Lawyers for Equal Justice participants receive training and office space for 18 months and are paired with a solo practitioner who serves as a mentor. The incubator is sharing a floor at Peachtree Center with the Atlanta Bar Association. There is no fee to participate for the first six months, then it’s $500 a month for six months, and $750 a month for the final six. Part of the deal is that participants put in 40 hours a month of pro bono service for six months and then 30 hours a month for the following year.” (Daily Report)(subscription required)

April 7, 2016 – “Boston University School of Law graduate Thomas Smith created an endowment to further fund the School of Law’s Spring Break Pro Bono Service Trips, according to a Monday release. Inspired by the spirit of the program, Smith and his wife Sharon established the Thomas Royall Smith and Sharon L. Smith Crisis Advocacy Fund in order to allow School of Law students to ‘help communities in crises,’ the release stated. ‘We were moved by the idea of creating a crisis advocacy fund,’ Smith, a 1970 alum, stated in the release. ‘In this way, we can support BU Law students helping to respond to crisis situations, the most recent being the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.’ The support and vision of the Smiths’ fund will provide future School of Law students the opportunity to respond to nationwide crises situations, such as providing a ‘much-needed legal assistance,’ the release stated.” (The Daily Free Press)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

It is with great sadness that we convey the news that Esther Lardent, founder and former President of the Pro Bono Institute, has died.  She was a force of nature, and the driving force behind pro bono in large law firms and corporate legal departments. It may seem commonplace today, but in the late 90’s, it just wasn’t on many people’s radar. The National Law Journal has a very nice article about Esther and her amazing dedication to serving.  The loss to our community is profound!

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 1, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to April.  The 2016 Annual Education Conference is only a week away.  We’re so excited to bring you another outstanding conference!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal aid now available in Arabic for Halton refugees;
  • 2016 Pro Bono Institute Conference review;
  • Age discrimination complaint filed against the Montana Office of the State Public Defender;
  • Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid receives grant to provide legal assistance to seniors;
  • Eastern Shore Maryland attorneys lead in pro bono hours;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 24, 2016 – “With the arrival and resettlement of Syrian refugee families in the region, Halton Community Legal Services (HCLS) says the demand for legal aid in Arabic will be increasing. That’s why it has developed a one-page information sheet in Arabic about the recent release of its Legal Health Check-Up tool. The survey helps low-income people find unrecognized every-day legal problems and get legal assistance before a crisis can develop, according to the Georgetown-based HCLS. The one-page sheet in Arabic is available through the clinic.” (Oakville Beaver)

March 24, 2016 – “Cherry blossoms were budding along the National Mall in Washington DC, and just a few blocks away, so were ideas about developing and maintaining world-class corporate pro bono programs.  Once the exclusive domain of law firms, more corporate legal departments are developing their own programs to build their teams, stretch their attorneys and deploy the unique skill sets of the legal department for the community good. Corporate legal departments, large and small, gathered at the 2016 Pro Bono Institute Conference the week of March 21st to discuss best practices in managing a pro bono program and to celebrate the good work and volunteer hours contributed in the pursuit of justice and the representation of those in need.” This article is a great recap of the conference. (Corporate Counsel Blog)

March 24, 2016 – “The Montana Office of the State Public Defender is under investigation by the state Human Rights Bureau for age discrimination. Montana Department of Labor and Industry Staff Attorney Timothy Little confirmed the filing Thursday. Little said he could not say for sure when the complaint was filed, although it was recent enough that an investigator has not yet been assigned, which can take up to two months. Once an investigator is assigned, the office has about 180 days to investigate and determine if the complaint should proceed to a hearing.” (Independent Record)

Update:  “Former Montana State Chief Public Defender Randi Hood has filed a suit with the Human Rights Bureau regarding its hiring practices. Hood, 66, filed a complaint in November 2015 with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry alleging the Office of the State Public Defender discriminated against her due to her age.” (Billings Gazette)

March 26, 2016 – ” The St. Cloud office of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has received a grant of Older Americans Act funds from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging to provide legal services for seniors residing in Cass County. The funds will be used to provide legal advice, counseling and representation in court and administrative hearings. There is no cost for these services.” (The Pilot-Independent)

March 28, 2016 – “Eastern Shore [Maryland] attorneys donate more legal services than the rest of their Maryland colleagues, according to a recently released report, ‘The Current Status of Pro Bono Service among Maryland Lawyers,’ based on 2014 data.” “For 2014, 70.8 percent of the Eastern Region’s lawyers provided some pro bono hours, compared to 53.8 percent for the state as a whole, the report said. For full-time lawyers donating more than 50 hours, the Eastern Region again led the state at 32.2 percent, compared to the Maryland average of 19.9 percent.” (My Eastern Shore MD)

 

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Pamela Robinson, Director of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program, was named the 2016 South Carolina Lawyer of the Year by South Carolina Lawyers Weekly. The honor was revealed at the “Leadership in Law” ceremony held on March 10 in Charleston.

Robinson helped create the School of Law’s pro bono program in 1989, which became the first 100 percent all-volunteer law school program in the nation. She has inspired a generation of lawyers to serve their communities through volunteerism, and has helped improve the lives of untold thousands of South Carolinians.

We at PSJD have the pleasure of collaborating with Pam regarding student pro bono.  This award is very well-deserved! Congratulations!!! (the fine print*)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 25, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Spring is here!  Ok, maybe just a day or 2 in the DMV. But let’s enjoy it while it lasts!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Tagalog legal assistance helpline launched in LA County;
  • Justice Department addresses high cost of court fines and fees on the poor;
  • New Mexico’s Chief Public Defender resigns;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 18, 2016 – “To expand its reach of legal services in the growing Filipino community, non-profit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles has launched a free Tagalog helpline to assist the community with citizenship issues. ‘We know that many Filipino-Americans speak English, but many still have language barriers and many prefer to speak Tagalog or another Filipino dialect as they try to get services,’ said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice. ‘Without that, many Filipinos have difficulties accessing services and will not come forward. Somewill suffer in silence rather than reaching out and getting the help that they need.'” “The new line is part of Advancing Justice’s Asian Language Legal Intake Project (ALLIP), which provides toll-free hotlines to low-income community members in a variety of legal areas, including family law and domestic violence, employment, housing and immigration. The Tagalog line will focus on the area of citizenship, as Advancing Justice has noticed that many Fil-Ams wish to become US citizens.” (Asian Journal)

March 18, 2016 – “In a letter this week to local courts in all 50 states, the Justice Department put judges on notice that slapping fines and fees on defendants without regard for their ability to pay can be a constitutionally dubious practice. In some instances, it has relegated judges and police to roles that have little to do with justice and protecting the public, and more to do with filling the public coffers.” “In the Justice Department letter, Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Lisa Foster, director of the Office for Access to Justice, wrote of the imposition of unchecked court costs that ‘in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue . . . can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.’ The officials urged courts to adhere to basic constitutional principles, warning them not to jail poor people who failed to pay court costs because they couldn’t afford it, and to consider alternatives such as community service for indigent defendants. Judges were also cautioned not to keep poor defendants in jail solely on the basis of their inability to post bail and not to make payment of court costs a condition of access to judicial hearings.” (Washington Post)

March 23, 2016 – “Simmering tensions between the newly minted independent New Mexico Public Defender Commission and its executive, Chief Defender Jorge Alvarado, led this week to Alvarado’s resignation after two years and four months at the helm. He said he was leaving with ‘a heavy heart,’ mindful that there have been dramatic changes during the transition from being an agency overseen by the executive branch to one with an independent commission setting policy. Alvarado’s announcement of his imminent departure, official April 1, was accompanied by a long, impassioned missive to the attorneys and staff in the department sent out late Monday.” “The commission has scheduled an April 1 meeting, its first in months, at which an interim chief will be named, or at least a committee appointed to look into procedures to maintain continuity and seek a replacement, commission chairman Michael Stout said Tuesday.” (Albuquerque Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“A group in Salisbury, North Carolina has seen the need for legal aid, but not everyone has access to the help they provide. A new justice initiative aims to help people by coming to them. It’s the brain child of City Council member and attorney David Post. It’s hard to miss the bright green RV rolling through Salisbury and East Spencer. Jackie Leach, who needed some legal help, knows firsthand just what the traveling ‘Center for Access to Justice’ can do. ‘He was able to take time out even though he had other things scheduled to help me and from that point on, he’s been a great access to me and I’m quite sure he’ll be a great access to others,’ said Leach.

A chance meeting at the courthouse gave Leach the help she needed. The traveling initiative is the result of years of planning, by Post and other community attorneys and activists. Post saw a need for legal help, after talking with some West End residents. ‘A lot of them don’t have cars, so the only way for them to see me, is they have to take a bus and then a second bus, so I came up with this idea of an RV,’ said Post. ‘There are more people that go to the courthouse every single day, every single day, than go to every doctor and the hospital in Salisbury,’ said Post. Post said legal aid is hard to come by in the Salisbury and Greensboro area, with 200,000 people qualifying for legal aid. ‘You have about one lawyer for about 40-50 thousand people,’ said Post.” (TWC News)

Super Music Bonus!  This week we have a special treat.  Our music pick is from the 2015 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Winner Lark Mulligan.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 18, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Spring Break is right around the corner.  Do you have a spring break service project planned?  Let us know. We’d love to feature your project on the Blog.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community and Legal Aid Services Programme is taking action to support Ontario’s vulnerable workers;
  • Access to Justice B.C. to help people access civil legal services;
  • Connecticut law students may be enlisted to help abused animals;
  • Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law receives grant to open innovative legal clinic;
  • Montana court commission examines legal help for poor in non-criminal cases;
  • Maryland Legal Services and The Kentucky Bar Foundation receive grant to assist in foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment;
  • Ontario launches pilot program to give legal assistance to sexual violence survivors;
  • Panel studying Delaware’s juvenile justice system;
  • Judge launches domestic relations clinic at The University of Akron School of Law;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 10, 2016 – “On March 10, CLASP opened an employment law division to help meet what has been identified as a serious need in a neighbourhood near the law school. Phanath Im, review counsel for the new division — as well as a former CLASP division leader and 2010 Osgoode graduate — says that while part of legal work is representing the individual, at a clinic such as theirs, it’s also a ‘very human endeavour.’ ‘We aim to look at our clients more holistically — not just as a legal case. We want to look at all issues.'” “Last fall, Legal Aid Ontario announced a $100,000 annual increase in funding for each of the province’s seven student legal aid clinics. While LAO didn’t specify where the funds should be allocated, ’employment law and housing were the main areas of law’ where the money was used, says Im. The boost in funding gave CLASP the means to fill the gap in its employment law services. The employment law division is a one-year pilot project, starting off taking a limited number of cases and ramping up to full capacity by the summer.” (Canadian Lawyer)

March 10, 2016 – “B.C.’s top judge is teaming up with ordinary citizens to improve the province’s civil justice system, after numerous reports have shed light on how difficult it is for people without legal training to access justice. The justice system is not doing a good enough job of helping Canadians access the legal services they need when faced with a civil court case, says Access to Justice B.C., a group made up of advocates from both inside and outside the justice system. “We’re failing the users of our system and that’s who should be our partners in this reform process,” said Robert Bauman, Chief Justice of B.C., and the group’s chair. ‘We’ve got to figure out how to ease the access issue for … the middle class in this country, where litigation is simply beyond the means of ordinary people.’ Bauman says he intends to start by reforming family law services first.” (CBC News)

March 10, 2016 – “If state Rep. Diane Urban’s bill is approved, abused animals in the state will have access to some unlikely allies: Connecticut law students. The so-called Desmond’s Law would allow students at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and potentially other law schools in the state, to act as courtroom advocates in cases of animal neglect, abuse and cruelty. They would apparently function in a similar manner as guardians ad litem who represent the best interest of children involved in custody battles. The bill would create a ‘win-win’ situation, said Jessica Rubin, an animal law professor at UConn. ‘Law students would benefit from having an opportunity for experiential learning by being advocates in the court and the courts would be provided with volunteer assistance,’ Rubin said. ‘So that courts that are lacking in a resource would have those additional resources.’ The way the statute is written, a judge would be able to select a volunteer, which can either be an interested law student or a pro bono attorney, to act as an advocate on behalf of the animals. The list of volunteers would be maintained by the state Department of Agriculture.” (Connecticut Law Tribune)

March 11, 2016 – ” Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Shepard Broad College of Law received a $1 million grant from The Taft Foundation to establish an innovative clinical program to address the legal needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (AIDD) and their families. The NSU AIDD Law Clinic will be launched in the fall of 2016 and will begin enrolling third-year students to staff it by January 2017.” “While the particular fields of representation will vary depending on client needs, the most likely focus areas will be public benefits, housing, and educational rights. NSU’s College of Law will be working closely with the Brooklyn Law School which introduced a similar clinic last spring, also funded by a grant from The Taft Foundation. In addition, the AIDD clinic will provide community outreach through workshops, events, and community training to educate and encourage these adults, their families, service providers, and the general public regarding issues facing the affected population.” (Market Wired)

March 11, 2016 – “Every day in Montana, someone faces a crisis that may need legal assistance – and many Montanans have no way to pay for that help. ‘Thousands of Montanans who are at or below the poverty line have legal needs,’ says Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker. ‘They have housing problems, health-care issues that they can’t resolve because they don’t have the wherewithal to do so.’ ‘And when they have these issues, it has a cascading or snowballing effect and they end up in crisis.’ But Baker and others hope to put a dent in this problem in the coming year – and say the effort could help ease Montana’s clogged court system as well. Baker chairs the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, which is holding public forums across the state on how best to provide civil legal assistance for low-income Montanans. There are programs to help poor Montanans get legal help on civil matters, but they fall well short of the need, Baker says. She says the commission is assessing the need and current resources in Montana, and likely will ask the 2017 Legislature to approve some form of state funding to help.” (KPAX)

March 11, 2016 – Eric D. Green, independent Monitor of Bank of America’s August 20, 2014, mortgage settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and six states, today announced the distribution of $4,396,113 to the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and the distribution of $6,016,165 to the Kentucky IOLTA Fund of the Kentucky Bar Foundation, Inc., as mandated under the settlement, to provide legal assistance in foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment. Maryland Legal Services, headquartered in Baltimore, and The Kentucky Bar Foundation, headquartered in Frankfort, are two of 56 state-based legal-assistance organizations receiving funds under the settlement, which settled legal claims arising from mortgage-related activities by Bank of America and its subsidiaries. A distribution was made earlier to NeighborWorks America, a national, congressionally-chartered nonprofit organization that provides training and support for community-based redevelopment programs in the United States and Puerto Rico.” (PR Newswire Maryland Legal Services) (PR Newswire Kentucky Bar Foundation)

March 11, 2016 – “Ontario will launch a $2.8 million pilot this spring to give survivors of sexual assault access to free legal advice — a Canadian first. Anyone who has experienced a sexual assault in Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay — the host cities for the pilot — will be offered access to four hours of free legal advice. ‘It’s not representation in court but to help these women to make an informed decision: what are their options, what are the services offered to them,’ Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said. ‘At the end they will make their decision: do I go forward, what do I do?’ While some advocates have called for sexual assault complainants to get equal standing in criminal trials to defendants, that’s a federal matter and one that would challenge centuries of common law. This move is meant to empower and inform these individuals of their legal rights and options without upending the justice system.” (National Post)

March 12, 2016 – “At the end of 2016, there should be a strategic plan for the reformation of Delaware’s juvenile justice system. That’s the hope of Lisa Minutola and an advisory committee working with $147,983 in federal grant money. Their task is to study how children are handled and represented in Family Court — and in legal-related proceedings. Ms. Minutola, co-chair of the Smart on Juvenile Justice Access Committee, believes the future of kids in the justice system are crucially impacted by how their issues are resolved. Access to legal counsel for juveniles in the system is not guaranteed and Ms. Minutola said a ‘child at the very least should have the right to consult with an attorney.'” “The Delaware Criminal Justice Council received the grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2015, and the committee includes stakeholders from the state, private and nonprofit sectors. Ms. Minutola, chief of Legal Services at the Office of Defense Services, is heading the committee along with Dawn Williams, director of Training and Development at the Office of Defense Services.” (Delaware State News)

March 16, 2016 – “When Portage County Domestic Relations Court Judge Paula Giulitto was still a student at The University of Akron School of Law, she had the opportunity to find out what being a lawyer is all about through a criminal law clinic. Now, she wants to give back to other students while helping low-income Portage County residents.” The Domestic Relations I clinic officially launched Jan. 19 with four third-year law students.  The clinic’s first full-fledged hearing – an uncontested divorce – is set for April 1. “‘The primary benefit this clinic will yield is to the litigants, who will have free representation,’ the judge said. ‘It also gives students a practical education to apply their schooling in real-life situations, plus get college credit. These students had to pay to take a class to represent people for free, but it’s a good way to start their legal experience.'” (The Akron Legal News)

Featured Spring Break Service Projects:

Recently, a team of nine University of Florida Levin College of Law students — led by third-year student, Ben Silva — donated a large portion of their spring break to help people in need. The students provided assistance at Three Rivers Legal Services, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and Clara White Mission. Beginning their work at Three Rivers and with coordination from attorney Chardea Murray, the students provided guidance and assistance to people seeking to seal criminal arrest records. Because of their efforts, eight people were able to submit their applications to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That will mean a barrier to gainful employment will be overcome. It provides hope for family stability and a productive life. Read more about their work — Jacksonville Daily Record.

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Abigail Beebe has been selected by Florida’s Children First as Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. Beebe operates The Law Office of Abigail Beebe P.A., a marital and family law firm in West Palm Beach. The award highlights her advocacy for children in foster care. Beebe says she gives back to the community to make it a better place, no matter how small the efforts. Congratulations! (Sun Sentinel)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 11, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Spring Break is right around the corner.  Do you have a spring break service project planned?  Let us know. We’d love to feature your project on the Blog.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Michigan Indigent Defense Commission issues first comprehensive statewide survey on the defense of poor people;
  • Student Debt Basics: Equal Justice Works explains;
  • CAIR Coalition launches The Crim-Imm Pro Bono Project;
  • Utah lawmakers move to fix indigent defense system;
  • The New York State Association of Counties says state budget should include indigent defense costs;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 5, 2016 – “The U.S. Constitution says that all defendants in court are entitled to adequate legal representation. But in Michigan, that right is routinely violated because many poor defendants can’t afford to hire an attorney or get adequate representation, according to a new survey released by a state commission. The report by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission is the first comprehensive statewide survey on the defense of poor people, said the commission. It found wide variations in how indigent people are represented across the state, with only 6%  of district courts requiring an attorney at both the bail hearing and at arraignment. And only 15% have guidelines for continuing legal education standards for attorneys appointed to represent the needy. ‘Michigan is one of the worst states for indigent defense,’ said Frank Eaman, a Detroit attorney who’s one of 16 members on the commission.” “The Supreme Court is expected to decided in early July whether to approve  the commission’s proposed standards, which would then have to be funded by the state Legislature.” (Detroit Free Press)

March 7, 2016 – Ashley Matthews, former PSJD Fellow and current Program Manager for Law School Engagement & Advocacy for Equal Justice Works explains the current state of student debt and loan repayment for the Huffington Post. (HuffPost College)

March 7, 2016 – “CAIR Coalition is excited to announce the launch of its newest initiative: The Crim-Imm Pro Bono Project. The goal of the Project is to defend detained non-citizens from the disproportionate immigration consequences of criminal convictions and expand strategic litigation. Three firms have mobilized to serve as leaders of this cutting-edge project in its pilot phase, Arnold & Porter, Mayer Brown, and Wiley Rein. Together, CAIR Coalition and the firms’ teams will intervene in the criminal-immigration (‘crim-imm’) pipeline by increasing access to counsel trained in the intersection of criminal and immigration law.” (CAIR Coalition)

March 9, 2016 – “A bill aimed at addressing Utah’s anemic — and likely unconstitutional — indigent defense system has passed in both the House and the Senate and is now headed to the governor’s office for a signature. But the bill won’t receive as much funding as sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, initially sought. The first draft sought $3 million to fund the creation of a statewide commission that would oversee indigent-defense services. Now, the bill seeks $2 million total — $1.5 million in fiscal year 2016, followed by $500,000 the following year. ‘We have serious concerns that it does not go far enough,’ said Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, on Wednesday. ‘The amount budgeted is not enough.'” “The legislation is a result of four years of study by a state task force, which included Weiler and Hart. As part of the study, the task force hired the Sixth Amendment Center to review the way the accused are being represented in Utah.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

March 10, 2016 – “The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and its member counties are calling on the New York Legislature to include budget language that would allow for a phased in state takeover of the costs of indigent legal defense services. Indigent legal defense services is one of the nine state mandated programs that consume 99 percent of county property taxes levied statewide. NYSAC is asking state lawmakers to include language from a two-house bill (S.6341, DeFrancisco/A.6202B, Fahy) in the proposed budgets being developed by the Senate and Assembly this week. The measure would require the state reimburse mandated county costs for indigent defense services and improve indigent defense services for the poor.” “In New York, state leaders shifted this responsibility and cost to county governments, which resulted in an array of different indigent legal defense programs across the state. Last year, the state settled the lawsuit Hurrell Harring et al. v. the State of New York, which required the five counties named in the suit to expand indigent defense services, cap caseloads for public defenders and provide counsel for defendants on first arraignment. ‘It’s only a matter of time, or another lawsuit, that will require the other 52 counties to expand their indigent defense services. Our proposal provides the state with an opportunity to phase in a takeover of these costs, before it is forced on us by the courts,’ said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.” (Rockland County Times)

 

Featured Spring Break Service Projects:

Thank you to Laren Spirer, Director of Pro Bono Programs at Columbia University School of Law for submitting their Spring  Break Pro Bono Caravans.

Columbia law students will be travelling to 18 different sites all across the country this spring break to provide pro bono assistance.  Students will work on a variety of issues from criminal to Native American and LGBTQ rights. Approximately 120 students will participate and provide a vital service to many communities.  Thank you to these wonderful law students!

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Marion Baker couldn’t wait to become an attorney — and didn’t. In the 1930’s, the Washington, D.C-based Columbus University was one of the few law schools in the country that would occasionally admit exceptional students straight out of high school. Baker won a writing contest to gain admission, then took night classes until she emerged with her legal degree. During her 20-plus years with the Legal Aid Society, Baker was a boulder in a tumbling stream. Low pay, high case loads and general stress tend to keep turnover at Legal Aid offices consistently high, but Baker remained in place for decades, much of that time as a volunteer. The legal services community has lost a champion. Read more about here extraordinary career here — The News & Advance.

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 4, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Spring Break is right around the corner.  Do you have a spring break service project planned?  Let us know.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee turns 100;
  • Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance announce new medical-legal partnership;
  • Michigan Indigent Defense Commission issues recommendations to help indigent defendants;
  • Idaho Legal Aid Services receives $25,000 grant to assist identity theft victims;
  • Law student debt and stress levels on the rise;
  • Arkansas Access to Justice and the Arkansas Policy Program map legal aid need;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 25, 2016 – “One of the nation’s longest continuously operating civil law firms for the poor turned 100 Thursday. For all the societal changes in the century since the The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee opened, its mission remains nearly the same. The poor still get evicted, institutionalized and preyed upon by forces they may not understand or have the means to combat. ‘I’d love to see the day we could close our doors,’ because the organization was no longer needed, said Kimberly Walker, executive director since 2014. Legal Aid, which represents low-income residents for free in civil matters, marked its anniversary at its new offices at 728 N. Lovell St., in the Community Advocates building.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

February 25, 2016 – “Doctors at SIU School of Medicine have a new tool for improving the health of low-income patients around Springfield: the ability to ‘prescribe’ a lawyer. SIU School of Medicine and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance announced last week a “medical-legal partnership” meant to offer patients help dealing with legal issues affecting their health. The program is funded by part of a $2.3 million federal grant and aimed at situations like housing hazards or unfair rules regarding public aid. It allows doctors at the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Springfield to refer patients to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance for free legal aid when appropriate. Examples include things like peeling lead paint in a rented apartment, denial of insurance coverage or denial of public aid benefits. Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance is a nonprofit offering free legal aid across 65 Illinois counties.” (Illinois Times)

February 26, 2016 – “Poor people charged with crimes are at a disadvantage in courtrooms across the state of Michigan. But the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission says they have a game-plan to start fixing the problem.” “Earlier this month, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission released four initial minimum standards to tackle the problem. They are: better training for public defenders; more confidential spaces for attorney-client meetings; more effective use of investigators; and, faster assignments to counsel.” “[T]he Michigan Supreme Court will take a look at the recommendations, and they’ll decide in June whether to adopt them state-wide.” (WLNS)

February 29, 2016 – “Idaho Legal Aid Services, the state’s largest non-profit law firm, has received a $25,000 grant to help provide legal assistance to low-income residents and seniors who are the targets of identity theft.” “This grant money will allow Idaho Legal Aid attorneys to provide services they might not normally have the resources to provide, [Jamal] Lyksett said in a statement. Those services will include helping victims complete fraud affidavits, working with credit reporting agencies to correct erroneous information, negotiating with creditors, resolving debt collection issues, and more.” (MagicValley.com)

February 29, 2016 –  “A full 44 percent of law students expect to graduate owing more than $100,000 in student loans, according to a new survey of nearly 22,000 students. Fully 67 percent of those hefty borrowers anticipate they will leave law school with more than $120,000 in debt—up from 63 percent in 2011. The latest iteration of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, a student satisfaction survey conducted annually by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, focuses on student loan debt over the past 10 years and how that debt impacts law students while on campus. The survey, which included responses from 80 campuses, found that debt levels are increasing, are contributing to law student stress, and are hitting minority and lower-income students the hardest.” “The survey also examined the role race and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores play in student debt, with results [Aaron Taylor, a law professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and the director of the survey] described as ‘worrying.’ The survey suggests that minority students and those with lower LSAT scores are paying more than their white and Asian classmates and those with higher LSAT scores. Previous research shows that high LSAT scorers tend to come from more prosperous backgrounds.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

February 29, 2016 – “Hendrix College senior Nigel Halliday ’16 recently published ‘Bridging the Map: The Geography of Legal Need and Aid in Arkansas‘ through the Arkansas Policy Program (APP). The Arkansas Policy Program was developed by Hendrix politics professor Dr. Jay Barth with the support of the Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey Professorship, which builds upon Barth’s ongoing public policy and public opinion research and advocacy work related to Arkansas. Through APP, students and faculty provide nonpartisan, original analyses on key public policy issues in Arkansas through a new undergraduate think tank. The new report examines the geographic distribution of legal aid and need to identify critically underserved areas in Arkansas. Its central conclusion is that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans – particularly low-income rural Arkansans – are currently being underserved by the civil justice system, in what is, in no small part, a product of geography. By examining exactly where the need for legal help is, along with the current distribution of aid, this report can hopefully help legal aid providers bridge the geographic gaps that prevent thousands of Arkansans from getting access to justice.” “Halliday’s report was completed in collaboration with Hendrix alumna attorney Amy Dunn Johnson ’96, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.” (Hendrix College News Center)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Minnesota Lawyers of the Year: Glenn Drew and the Larry Stigen Legal Team

Glen Drew has been devoting his energy to the Volunteer Lawyers Network for as long as he’s been a lawyer — in fact, for even longer than that. “I was working for Volunteer Lawyers Network for five years before I became an attorney as a case placement coordinator, trying to place civil lawsuits with volunteer attorneys,” recalled Drew. “I would interact with clients, gather documentation and try to get lawyers to take their cases.” Mr. Drew runs VLN’s clinics and staffs them with pro bono volunteers, all of whom he trains and to whom he provides ongoing advice and support. He also trains volunteer attorneys on how to effectively advise and represent low-income clients in State of Minnesota District Court proceedings, primarily in consumer debt disputes, negligence subrogation claims, Conciliation Court appeal cases, garnishment exemption claims and administrative law licensing issues. In addition, Drew coordinates the participation of law firms, corporate legal departments, and individual attorneys at free walk-in legal clinics located at the 4th Judicial District Court’s Self Help Center and Conciliation Court; recruits, trains and supervises non-attorney clinic assistants to support volunteer attorneys at legal clinics; creates and presents CLE programs about areas of law that pro bono lawyers often encounter; places civil litigation and administrative law pro bono cases with pro bono attorneys; supervises temporary staff; and oversees the accuracy of data about VLN services and cases for the benefit of the organization’s funders. He does all of this while also taking on his own case load on behalf of low-income clients. (Minnesota Lawyer)

Larry Stigen, a Vietnam veteran, had long struggled with anxieties and nightmares until finally being diagnosed with PTSD, but because of his discharge status, could not receive benefits. In 2007, Stigen relayed his story to lawyer Patrick R. Burns, a former Army JAG officer, who then put out a call for pro bono assistance. John Satorius, a senior corporate lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron and also a Vietnam vet, felt compelled to help. But he realized that Stigen needed a lawyer with more expertise in PTSD and military law. Two more attorneys soon joined the fray — John Degnan, a Briggs and Morgan lawyer with years of experience in medical malpractice (and also a Vietnam vet), and Patrick Mahlberg, an associate at Frederickson. Armed with psychiatric reports and accounts of his battlefield experience, the team focused on getting the VA to recognize the PTSD diagnosis. After years of frustrating delays and rejection, yet another lawyer entered the mix — Virgil Bradley of Cornerstone Family Law. An Iraq War veteran and one of the founders of Minnesota Veterans Legal Assistance, Bradley mounted a new appeal — this one aimed at upgrading Stigen’s discharge. The VA rejected the appeal in 2013. Judy Ojard, an expert in VA appeals with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, joined the fight and, last February, the VA finally acknowledged what was always apparent to Stigen’s advocates: he deserved mental health treatment and disability benefits for PTSD. (Minnesota Lawyer)

Congratulations to all the recipients and thank you for helping those most in need.

 

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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USAJobs Update

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the first iteration of a rolling set of improvements to features to the job application components of the USAJOBS website. Check out their video explanation below:

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 26, 2016

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

Happy Friday and Happy Leap Year! What are you going to do with your extra day?

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Some money found for indigent defense in Louisiana;
  • eFile Texas enhancements to increase access to justice;
  • OPM unveils USAJobs overhaul;
  • More states take action to regulate student loan servicers;
  • Bill to provide Idaho state funds to public defenders moves forward;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 19, 2016 – “The Plaquemines Parish Public Defenders Office will get a $30,000 infusion from the state, enough to put the two attorneys furloughed earlier this week back to work through the end of March. Public Defender Matthew Robnett said he got word late Thursday that the Louisiana Public Defender Board managed to scrape together the money by canceling some contracts. But he said it’s only a stopgap measure — albeit a welcome one — amid a funding crisis affecting indigent defender offices across the state. ‘It’s a Band-Aid, at best, and a very short-term Band-Aid,’ Robnett said, two days after he and fellow attorney Clarke Beljean, the only lawyers in his office, were furloughed through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. ‘I think we’ll find ourselves in the same situation a month from now if we don’t find help from somewhere else,’ he said. Plaquemines is one of many public defender offices across the state hard hit by declining revenue, much of which comes from traffic tickets and court fees. With a decline in speeding and other tickets, many offices, including the one in New Orleans, have been forced to lay off or furlough lawyers or otherwise restrict services.” (The New Orleans Advocate)

February 23, 2016 – “Tyler Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: TYL) today announced that eFileTexas™ — Texas’ electronic court filing system, which went live in all 254 Texas counties more than nine months ahead of schedule — has been enhanced with a free tool that helps self-represented litigants more easily access and work within the justice system. eFileTexas, developed and managed by Tyler, is the largest mandatory electronic court filing system in the U.S. The new tool—called eFileTexas SelfHelp™ leverages the eFileTexas system and allows courts and legal aid organizations to develop Web-based interviews and provide relevant, informative content to help self-represented litigants with court filings. This results in a reduction of erroneous filings as well as staff time answering pro se questions.” (Business Wire)

February 24, 2016 –  “The website candidates use to apply for nearly every job in federal government is undergoing a major overhaul, with the Office of Personnel Management announcing on Wednesday a series of changes to make the much-maligned platform more accessible.” “The features — which include allowing applicants to track the progress of an application on the site and save progress on a pending application, among others — will be rolled out throughout the rest of the year, OPM acting Director Beth Cobert said. The first changes went live Feb. 20, helping job seekers complete the process by seamlessly transitioning them to the relevant agency’s website. ‘Throughout the rest of the year, new features will be added to increase the usability of the USAJOBS website by enhancing the job application process for those interested in careers in the federal government,’ Cobert said. ‘By streamlining the USAJOBS process, we will also improve our ability to attract the best and brightest to apply for jobs in the federal workforce.'” “The agency created an instructional video to help users understand the changes coming to the site.” (Government Executive)

February 24, 2016 – “There’s no national standard regulating the companies that borrowers encounter most frequently when paying off their student loans. So a growing number of states are taking matters into their own hands. A New Jersey bill requiring student loan servicers to have a license to operate in the state is one step closer to becoming law after making it out of committee earlier this week. The bill, introduced by New Jersey Democratic Assembly members Gary Schaer and Annette Quijano, bans servicers — the companies that manage the student loan repayment process for borrowers — from misleading borrowers, providing them with inaccurate information and recklessly applying loan payments, among other consumer protections. In addition, the bill creates a student loan ombudsman to field, track and hopefully resolve borrower complaints. Servicers are ‘currently unregulated in New Jersey and we feel there is a tremendous need for standardization,’ Schaer said.” (Market Watch)

February 25, 2016 – “A bill to provide some state funding to public defenders unanimously moved forward Thursday in a vote from the Idaho Legislature’s House Judiciary, Administration and Rules Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, was drafted through the state’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee after several years of study regarding Idaho’s inadequate defense. If it passes, the bill would allow counties to apply for grants to assist in funding for the county’s public defenders. Currently, the state of Idaho provides no funding to public defenders, despite people having a constitutional right to an attorney no matter their ability to pay. As is, the cost of funding a public defender is left up to each individual county.” “The bill will move forward to the full House for debate.” (Idaho Press Tribune)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Arent Fox LLP announced the recipients of the firm’s Marc L. Fleischaker and Albert E. Arent Pro Bono Awards, presented annually to lawyers and staff who demonstrate outstanding contributions to public service. “Our commitment to public interest work and ensuring Arent Fox is a leader in the private bar’s mission to address unequal access to legal representation dates back to the firm’s founding,” said Chairman Mark M. Katz. “I would like to congratulate those who are being recognized for their efforts and all of the firm’s attorneys and staff who continue to make public service a core commitment at Arent Fox.” Partners Carolyn Austin, Carla J. Feldman, Thomas E. Jeffry Jr., Mark R. Phillips, and Ralph A. Taylor Jr., and counsel Susanna Hathaway Murphy received the Marc L. Fleischaker Award for notable work by partners and counsel. The Albert E. Arent Award for outstanding pro bono achievement by associates and staff went to associates Erin E. Atkins and Jade M. Kelly and paralegals Jimeelah Berryman, Jill Clough, Winifred Ng, and Judy Yolles. Congratulations! (Arent Fox Newsroom)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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