Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 4, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • UCLA to provide major new services to veterans;
  • DLA Piper adds pro bono counsel in D.C.;
  • Maryland relaunches Access to Justice Commission;
  • Texas Appleseed celebrates 20 years of service;
  • Ohio legal aid adds service for veterans;
  • Social Justice Hackathon winners present ideas;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 28, 2016 – “UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald today announced a stronger academic affiliation to benefit our nation’s veterans as UCLA committed to providing $1.15 million annually in support of new programs and services, approximately $200,000 of in-kind contributions and $300,000 a year in fair-market rent for the continued use of Jackie Robinson Stadium. New and expanded services will include mental health, family support, legal advocacy and recreation services.” The new initiative includes “$400,000 annually to expand and relocate the UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic to provide enhanced legal services to veterans on the West Los Angeles VA campus, emphasizing the benefits of advocacy and the legal needs of homeless veterans.” (UCLA Newsroom)

January 28, 2016 – “One of the rarest areas for lateral hires has a new face: Suzanna Brickman joined DLA Piper as full-time pro bono counsel. Brickman becomes one of the global firm’s seven pro bono lawyers, some of whom work on cases the attorneys handle and some of whom work with the nonprofit the firm owns, New Perimeter. Brickman said she’ll split her time between New Perimeter and projects in the U.S., which focus on veterans, criminal justice, domestic violence, education, fighting hunger and access-to-justice legal work.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

February 1, 2016 –  “The University of Victoria Faculty of Law has established the Access to Justice Centre for Excellence with plans for five research projects to help determine need in the province. Kathryn E. Thomson, who helped develop the centre, says the centre is preparing for the two-part research colloquium to take place in May and September of this year, ‘just to talk about the research needs in British Columbia and the role ACE plays in helping to support and facilitate or partner in those research needs.’ There are also five projects on the go for the justice centre at the moment, the Data Map Project, Justice Integration Project, the Justice Metrics Conversation, the Access to Justice Education Project, and the Access and Information Technology Project.” (Canadian Lawyer)

February 1, 2016 – “Rep. Elijah Cummings and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh will launch the newly re-formed Maryland Access to Justice Commission on February 2, 2016. The renewed commission is an independent entity devoted to driving systemic change in Maryland’s justice system. Among the commission’s foremost goals are improving Marylanders’ awareness of their legal rights and providing all residents equal access to justice.” “[T]he Access to Justice Commission plans to back legislation in the General Assembly to provide lawyers in custody and domestic violence protective-order cases to those who can’t afford them. They also aim to collect data to better understand how poor people fare in the civil courts. The commission existed previously as a project of the state judiciary but had become defunct.”(Maryland Access to Justice Commission)(The Baltimore Sun)

February 1, 2016 – “A legal organization that has spurred big changes in Texas through lobbying and litigation is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Founded in 1996, Texas Appleseed works to find justice and solutions to social and economic problems for underrepresented Texans, such as children, disabled people and low-income families. By galvanizing pro bono efforts of major Texas law firms, the nonprofit works toward change by lobbying the state, city and counties for new laws, and by using targeted litigation to force change.” Congratulations! (Texas Lawyer)

February 2, 2016 – “Legal Aid of the Bluegrass recently advanced its goal of increasing legal services to veterans of the U.S. military. The veteran population is underserved in the communities of Legal Aid’s geographic area, according to information reported to the legal service agency. Potential clients now have a dedicated intake hotline available for advice and answers to their legal questions about civil matters. The veterans hotline is 866-516-3054. Legal Aid has an attorney designated for veterans services. That attorney is available for general advice and is accredited for appeals of Veterans Administration disability determinations.” (Cincinnati.com)

February 3, 2016 – “Miguel Willis, a second-year law student at Seattle University, wants to do something about [the proper access to legal aid] problem. And that’s why he was inspired to create the Social Justice Hackathon, a two-day coding event sponsored by Seattle University which brought together 70 technology innovators and law professionals to address specific issues related to legal aid.” “The hackathon took place last November, and three teams moved on to develop fully functioning apps and web pages addressing a selection of obstacles in legal aid access. Those three winning teams will present their ideas to legal aid organizations and the public Wednesday night at the Social Justice Hackathon Demo Day.” “‘The core purpose of the hackathon is to solve real problems,’ Willis said. ‘These are all problems that legal aid organizations have faced, and these are solutions that legal aid organizations can use.'” (GeekWire)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

 Virginia Business Magazine, in cooperation with the Virginia Bar Association, has recently recognized attorney Tameeka Montgomery Williams of the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia as a member of Virginia’s Legal Elite in the category of Legal Services/Pro Bono. Williams has been with the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia – an organization that provides high-quality civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged people in 15 cities and counties, including James City County, York County and the City of Williamsburg – since 2005. She currently serves as the director of pro bono & private attorney involvement. (Williamsburg Yorktown Daily)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 29, 2015

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

Happy Friday! I feel like we’ll never dig out of this snow. But, it reminded me that not everyone is as fortunate to have a warm place to sleep. Check out resources in your area for folks who may be out in the cold so that you know how to help if an opportunity arises.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • 2016 National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List;
  • West Virginia Public Defender Services to no longer cut court-appointed attorneys’ fees;
  • Bloomberg BNA announces support of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia;
  • Texas Civil Rights Project announces Veterans’ Rights Program;
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law to create a human trafficking law clinic;
  • Idaho judge dismisses ACLU lawsuit over public defense;
  • State of Utah and Washington County sued over public defender system;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 18, 2016 – The 2016 National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List is out.  The work was varied and far-reaching and required thousands of hours and teams of attorneys working to solve complex problems. Check out their amazing work. (National Law Journal)

January 21, 2016 – “[West Virginia] Public Defender Services rescinded its emergency guidelines that were set to go into effect this week. Dana Eddy, the Executive Director of Public Defender Services, said the budget office was able to scrape together enough money to be able to withdraw the emergency guidelines. ‘I give full credit to the budget office,’ Eddy said. ‘They were able to scrape together $15.7 million, which made it possible to remove the emergency guidelines.’ Eddy said even if the emergency guidelines had gone into effect, they would’ve only lasted until the next fiscal year.” (West Virginia Record)

January 21, 2016 –  “Bloomberg BNA today announced it will provide Bloomberg Law, a leading all-in-one technology platform for the legal industry, at no cost to the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia (D.C. Legal Aid). Washington, D.C.’s oldest and largest civil legal services organization, D.C. Legal Aid provides pro bono representation to clients living in poverty on matters involving domestic violence/family, housing, public benefits, and consumer law.” (PR Newswire)

January 21, 2016 – “The Texas Civil Rights Project recently announced a new Veterans’ Rights Program aimed at assisting the 40,000 or so veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley. ‘Veterans not only have the challenge of re-acclimating to civilian life – seeking health, education and other benefits to which they are entitled – but also often have the added challenge of navigating that process with physical or mental disabilities that they acquired during service,’ said Emma Hilbert, the program’s attorney, in a statement to Equal Voice.” “Any veterans or family members of veterans having trouble gaining access to public resources or residences will find themselves heard and represented at TCRP.” (AFBA)

January 22, 2016 – “Case Western Reserve University School of Law recently received $131,169 to create a human trafficking law clinic. The money came from the Crime Victims’ Fund, which was established by the Victims of Crime Act and provides a base amount of $500,000 to each state. In Ohio, the Attorney General’s Office distributes this money to Crime Victims Assistance Grant applicants who will support victim assistance and/or compensation programs. The focus of the human trafficking law clinic will be on providing advocacy and educating people on the issue of human trafficking. Students in the law school will be involved in the representation of human trafficking victims when they face criminal charges related to their victimization and will work with the courts to identify victims of human trafficking. Although they will not be involved in the prosecution of any human traffickers, students will also help victims who act as witnesses in such trials by providing information and support. The educational component will involve preparing educational materials for the community. All of this will be done with the oversight of Co-Directors and Professors Maureen Kenny and Judith P. Lipton, and students who become involved will be focusing on criminal law.” (The Observer)

January 22, 2016 – “An Idaho judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the state seeking to improve the public defense system in Idaho, saying the case did not merit judicial action because it is not up to the courts to legislate standards. ‘The court is sympathetic with plaintiff’s plight. However, the case invites the court to make speculative assumptions regarding the outcomes of individual cases,’ 4th District Judge Samuel Hoagland said in his ruling. He said the lawsuit asks him to presume ‘that all indigent criminal defendants in all counties are receiving the same ineffective assistance of counsel, and then issue blanket orders halting all criminal prosecutions until the issues are resolved.’ The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued the state in June contending that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system was broken and prevented defendants from receiving adequate legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Though the ACLU has brought similar cases over public defense systems in parts of Michigan, Washington state and other regions, attorneys on the Idaho lawsuit say it’s the first such case against an entire state. ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Leo Morales said the organization would appeal the ruling.” (Idaho Statesman)

January 22, 2016 – “A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed Friday against the state of Utah and Washington County on behalf of thousands of criminal defendants who are represented in court by public defenders. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, claims the county’s current public defender system is broken, and that the attorneys who work those contracts are overworked, underpaid and are not given the proper support to defend their clients. The lawsuit claims this is violating the accused’s constitutional rights — which requires states to provide an attorney for those who can’t afford them. ‘[The county] enters into fixed-price contracts with local attorneys to provide indigent defense services to those charged with criminal wrongdoing in the district court,’ the lawsuit reads. ‘The contracts are structured and administered in a manner that impede the ability of the attorneys to provide constitutionally adequate legal representation to their clients.'” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has given its 2016 Louis M Brown Award for Legal Access to Suffolk University Law School in Boston for its program uniquely combining course work and clinical opportunities.

Suffolk’s Accelerator-to-Practice Program enables graduates to effectively and creatively provide personal legal services within the law firm setting. Courses include “Legal Problems in Everyday Life” and “Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines,” along with an array of substantive law topics. Students spend their final year representing clients in fee-shifting cases in a law firm within the school in which they learn practice skills, client retention and service, risk management, and other skills necessary for efficient delivery of legal services.

The committee also recognized the Lawyer Entrepreneur Assistance Program, an incubator consortium of law schools in Orange County, California, with Meritorious Recognition. The program trains new lawyers to create solo or small firm practices that serve people who do not qualify for free legal services but are unable to pay prevailing market rates. Law schools in the partnership are the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Chapman University School of Law, Whittier School of Law, Western State College of Law and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.  (ABA News)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 22, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • San Diego County Bar Foundation awards $110,00 in grants;
  • Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation established to provide Canadian veterans better access to justice;
  • ACLU files suit against Orleans Public Defenders Office;
  • North Mississippi Legal Services celebrates 50 years;
  • Fort Bend County (Texas) to open public defenders office;
  • Grant provides legal aid to Indiana residents facing foreclosure;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 14, 2016 – “The San Diego County Bar Foundation (SDCBF) has awarded a total of $110,000 to 13 local nonprofit organizations, including Jewish Family Service, that offer legal services and promote understanding of the legal system to San Diego County residents.” “”Through these grants, we further our mission to ensure that legal aid is accessible to those who would otherwise be underserved by the legal system,’ said Brian Funk, president of the SDCBF board of directors. ‘We hope to raise even more funds in the coming year and continue to promote public understanding of the law.'” (San Diego Jewish World)

January 15, 2016 –  “Peter Stoffer announced this morning at the House of Commons a new charitable organization that supports access to justice for Canadian veterans. Funding for the initiative was announced in 2013 in conjunction with the Manuge SISIP Clawback class action settlement, but was made official in Ottawa today with the establishment of the Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation (‘the Veterans Legal Fund’). The$1-million donation was made by firms that received fees in the settlement – McInnes Cooper and Branch MacMaster – to fund a private foundation for the benefit of disabled veterans who apply and qualify for support.” “The mandate of the Veterans Legal Fund is to assist veterans with access to justice by providing funding assistance enabling them to retain qualified legal counsel. The framework for the funding assistance program would be similar to that of legal aid.” (Canadian News Wire)

January 15, 2016 – “The Orleans Parish Public Defenders office will have to defend itself against a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. The office is refusing cases because it said it does not have the money or people for the caseload. The ACLU said it is a constitutional issue because the defenders’ office is denying people their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Since Tuesday, the office has refused six cases.” “The ACLU filed suit on behalf of three men who have been wait-listed, saying they are ‘helpless’ and losing invaluable opportunities to build a defense. The state relies on fines and fees collected from traffic tickets and other convictions to pay for public defense. [Chief District Defender Derwyn] Bunton said that means his office is dependent on inadequate and unreliable revenue. ‘This lawsuit is really an illustration of that, and so when we don’t have the resources we can’t provide the service and ethically we can’t take on cases that we can’t handle in accordance with the constitution and our ethical and state performance standards,’ Bunton said.” (WDSU)

January 15, 2016 – “In the past 50 years Mississippi has seen the civil rights movement, advances in employment opportunities for people of all lifestyles, an economic downturn and a society that has become more litigious. Through it all North Mississippi Legal Services has been on top of the game, helping poor and low-income Mississippians who need legal representation and offering more and more services as the years go by.” Through their work, northern Mississippians have seen great change and progress.  Congratulations, and here’s to many more years! (Oxford Eagle)

January 16, 2016 – “Fort Bend County’s new public defender’s office is getting ready to open for business, making preparations to handle about 10 percent of the county’s felony and misdemeanor indigent cases. Following last spring’s debate over whether the office was needed, state grant funding was approved by August and went into effect in October for the new county agency, which will provide criminal defense for those who cannot afford it. The public defender’s office will take its first case Feb. 1.” (Houston Chronicle)

January 19, 2016 – “Indiana Legal Services, or ILS, provides legal aid for Hoosiers in all 92 counties. On Tuesday, Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced that a new grant will help support their foreclosure prevention services for low-income residents. The grant will also be used to fund a partnership between Indiana Tech Law School and ILS. Attorney General Greg Zoeller says this grant will help residents who need legal aid during the foreclosure process.” “The grant comes from money received in a multi-state settlement with Chase Bank over alleged unlawful debt collection practices. The judge ruled the funds be used for consumer protection.” (WBOI)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others? – Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am asking myself this question often.  I hope you are too. Together we make a difference for those who don’t have the skills or experience to help themselves.  Thank you for your pro bono efforts of behalf of those individuals!

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 14, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • California Chief Judge hails proposed budget increase for judiciary;
  • Orleans public defender’s office to begin refusing cases;
  • Idaho Governor proposes $5 million for public defense reform;
  • Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law launches legal incubator program;
  • Washington State Attorney General announces legislation to provide better legal assistance to veterans;
  • Elon University School of Law launches law practice incubator;
  • Teen builds UK’s first robot lawyer;
  • Maine lawmakers propose state-wide public defender office;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 8, 2016 – “California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye yesterday expressed delight over the allocation in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2016–17 budget of $3.8 billion for the Judicial Branch, including $2.8 billion for trial court operations. The total amount of the state budget is $122.6 billion. Last year, Brown proposed $3.47 billion for the courts, a $180 million boost over the previous fiscal year. The current sum proposed for the courts is a $330 million increase. Cantil-Sakauye declared: ‘We welcome the Governor’s proposed budget for the judicial branch as it would provide $146.3 million in crucial new funding for our courts. Much of the new funding would be focused on innovations to benefit court users at all levels of our court system. The proposed budget reflects a steady but cautious new investment in the judicial branch since fiscal year 2012–2013. The budget contains ‘proposals to support efforts by the Judicial Council to improve court operations and increase access.’ ‘In addition to supporting local as well as branchwide innovations, the Governor’s budget would provide funding for statewide infrastructure needs, language access expansion in civil proceedings, and funding to assist trial courts facing increased workload related to sentencing reforms.’ ‘The Governor’s proposed budget would help make courts more accessible, efficient, and equitable for court users. The Judicial Council looks forward to working with the Administration and Legislature as we seek to address state budget issues affecting access to justice for the people of California.'” (Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

January 11, 2016 –  “The Orleans Public Defenders office announced Monday that it will begin refusing certain felony cases in which defendants face lengthy or life sentences. In addition to murder cases, these can include attempted murder, forcible rape and armed robbery, said Colin Reingold, the office’s litigation director. The action, which Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton first threatened nearly two months ago, presents uncertain options for indigent defendants charged with serious violent crimes. The office either needs more funding or reduced caseloads, Reingold said. ‘Either those defendants will have to hire a lawyer, or the court will find them a lawyer, or they will wait for a lawyer until one of those things happen,’ Reingold said. ‘On a purely practical level, each judge could make their own call.’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has increased direct appropriations to the office from $831,000 in 2014 to more than $1.5 million this year, the administration said in a statement. But these increases have barely kept pace with state funding cuts, the administration said, adding that the state ‘has primary responsibility in this area.’ The additional local funding is enough to stave off mandatory furloughs, but not enough to provide representation in serious felony cases that is constitutional or ethical, Reingold said. Reingold acknowledged the possibility a judge could order the Public Defenders office to proceed with representation, adding this could ultimately harm prosecutions. ‘We would continue to do the best we can with the understanding that we are warning them it is our opinion that the representation we are providing is deficient, and the case will be vulnerable to an appeal,’ Reingold said, adding that the Public Defenders office would likely seek appellate relief if forced to provide deficient representation.” (The Times-Picayune)

January 11, 2016 – “Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s set aside $5 million in his proposed state budget for next year to address public defense reform. After a short pause, lawmakers greeted the news with applause. It followed a strong statement from Otter about the need for the move. ‘Let me say that Idaho historically has been a leader in recognizing and ensuring the right to legal counsel,’ he said. ‘It was part of our territorial law and was put in the Idaho Constitution at statehood.’ A lawsuit now pending in state court in Idaho charges that Idaho’s current public defender system is unconstitutional, its public defenders are overworked and undertrained, and the system provides a disincentive for adequate defense, Otter told lawmakers. ‘It’s not a cheap or easy fix. But I stand with the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission and the State Public Defense Commission in calling on the Legislature to address the issue this year,’ the governor declared.” (The Spokesman-Review)

January 11, 2016 – “The Shepard Broad College of Law will launch a Legal Incubator program, a new opportunity for Nova Southeastern University (NSU) law graduates to start their own solo, small firm or non-profit practices while serving military veterans and lower income individuals. The innovative program, operating in coordination with the college’s existing Veterans Law Clinic, will allow NSU law graduates to attain valuable legal and business experience while launching a practice and provide the new attorneys the affordable infrastructure and basic training to get established. ‘The integration of the NSU Law Incubator with the full-service Veteran’s Clinic provides a truly unique resource for both our graduates and the communities they serve,’ said College of Law Dean Jon M. Garon. ‘This model combines cutting-edge, post-graduate education essential for new lawyers while greatly expanding our service to the Veteran community.'” (PR Newswire)

January 13, 2016 – “State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday announced legislation to improve the delivery of legal assistance services to current and former military service members. The proposed legislation to create an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance in the Attorney General’s Office authorizes the office to facilitate access to legal assistance programs and pro bono (volunteer) legal representation for military service members, veterans and their families. The proposed legislation will create a one-stop shop for legal assistance and pro bono services provided by community organizations and private attorneys.” (Kent Reporter)

January 13, 2016 – “Elon University School of Law has launched a law practice incubator to help foster the development of attorneys looking to launch a solo practice or seeking to serve low-income residents in the community. Peter Hoffman, an Elon Law professor who focuses on trial and appellate advocacy, has spearheaded the effort and said the goal is to help attorneys leave the program after 18 months ‘with a record of accomplishment, pro bono service and financially viable, freestanding practices.’ The program launches with four Elon Law graduates who were selected through a competitive application process.” (Triad Business Journal)

January 14, 2016 – This one is just interesting.  “A 19-year-old student claims to have built “UK’s first robot lawyer” in an attempt to give the public free legal aid. Joshua Browder, undertaking an Economics and Computer Science degree at Stanford University, came up with the idea after he created a website ‘DoNotPay’ to help people appeal unfair parking tickets. Speaking to Mashable about the inspiration behind his robot lawyer, he said: ‘…users began sending me emails ranging from questions about how to use the site (‘I got a parking ticket — which appeal should I choose?’) to general questions about consumer law (‘What happens if I can’t pay my court fine?’).  Although I tried to respond to every single one, as the site gained popularity, it became harder to respond in detail to thousands of these emails a month.’ He added: ‘To solve this problem, I realised that the best way to help people would be to create a computer program that could talk to users, generate appeals and answer questions like a human.'” (Huffington Post UK)

January 14, 2016 – “A proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to create a state public defenders office to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer will be aired in a public hearing Thursday at the State House. The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators on LePage’s behalf, would replace the current system, which uses state money to hire private lawyers for indigent defense, with a hybrid system in which approved private attorneys would be under contract with the state. Currently, lawyers hired as public defenders aren’t under contract. But the bill is opposed by many attorneys who currently represent indigent defendants in Maine.” “Maine is now the only state without some form of a public defender’s office to oversee the representation of indigent criminal defendants.” (Portland Press Herald)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Four outstanding attorneys and law firms and two community partners were recognized and celebrated for their extraordinary work at the Nevada Legal Services Inaugural Elko Champions of Justice Luncheon on Dec. 10, 2015. “Nevada Legal Services created the Champions of Justice Award to give recognition to those who significantly support the cause of access to justice for all Nevadans by providing or promoting pro bono assistance,” Johnson said. “As the needs of our rural communities have increased we have reached out to our rural community volunteers and community agencies for support and assistance in addressing the increased need for legal aid.” The award recipients represent a broad cross-section of Elko and rural Nevada’s legal community and share a commitment to advancing access to justice.

Rural Pro Bono Attorney of the Year 2015: Rendal Miller, Esq.

Rural Pro Bono Firm of the Year 2015: The Gerber Law Firm

Rural Pro Bono Clinic Attorney of the Year 2015: Kriston Hill, Esq.

Andrew J. Puccinelli  Special Recognition of the Year 2015: Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, Esq.

Rural Pro Bono Collaboration Partners of the Year 2015: Elko County Library

Rural Pro Bono Community Partners of the Year 2015: Elko Office of Aging and Disability Services Division

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 8, 2015

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

Happy New Year!  We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. We start off the new year with a number of new initiatives providing increased access to justice. Let’s keep this going.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Canadian lawyer launches online course for pro se litigants;
  • Bank settlement funds to help West Virginia State Bar provide legal services;
  • North Dakota indigent defense attorneys see caseloads spike;
  • Colorado Lawyers Committee launches young lawyers division with pro bono mission;
  • Appellate pro bono pilot project launched in Hawaii;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 31, 2015 – “Human rights lawyer Amer Mushtaq is trying to streamline access to justice for self-representing litigants going through the Ontario small claims court system with an online course he has developed. Individuals hoping to represent themselves in a dispute — whether they are filing or responding to a claim — can take the $199 online course prior to filing or attending trial in order to understand the complex process. The video guide is broken up into steps with PowerPoint slideshow presentation addressing key issues self-representing litigants tend to face. In the past few years, Mushtaq has become more aware of the problems potential clients have with small claims court cases. ‘They want help, but they just can’t afford our firm,’ he says.” (Canadian Lawyer)

January 5, 2016 –  “The West Virginia State Bar received $329,000 from a U.S. Department of Justice settlement with Bank of America that will help legal services organizations in the state provide foreclosure-prevention assistance to indigent citizens and/or support community redevelopment legal services.” “Applicants for the newly announced grants must qualify as a legal services organization but do not have to be current grantees.” (The West Virginia State Bar)

January 5, 2016 – “The number of court cases involving clients who can’t afford legal services climbed in all areas of North Dakota during the last fiscal year, with large increases seen in northern judicial districts, the head of the state’s Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents said Tuesday. In the Northwest Judicial District alone, felony cases assigned to indigent defense attorneys jumped by nearly 30 percent from fiscal year 2014 to 2015, from 760 cases to 983 cases, and have skyrocketed by more than 500 percent since 2010’s count of 162 felony cases. Overall, cases assigned to indigent defense attorneys increased by 18 percent in 2015 in the Northwest Judicial District, 24 percent in the North Central Judicial District and 44 percent in the Northeast Judicial District, compared to an 11 percent increase statewide, from 12,180 cases to 13,511 cases. Commission Executive Director H. Jean Delaney told the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee that she expects the numbers will increase again in fiscal year 2016. Delaney said more case assignments mean more costs for the agency, which suffered a budget shortfall during the 2013-15 biennium and received additional funding for 2015-17, including seven new full-time positions – three of them attorneys in Bismarck, Williston and Watford City.” (The Dickinson Press)

January 6, 2016 – “The 38-year-old Colorado Lawyers Committee has launched a Young Lawyers Division, with a mission to make a difference in the lives of children and the underserved. Matthew Linton, of counsel at the Holland & Hart Denver office, has been elected chair of the new division. The Colorado Lawyers Committee has volunteer participants from 60 firms with about 900 attorneys available and 30 pro bono projects currently active. The idea of the committee was to carefully choose pro bono work that would make an impact in social issues, said Connie Talmage, Colorado Lawyers Committee executive director. The committee has taken on major issues that affect children and the under-privileged, she said. For example, the group worked a case that helped the state deliver food stamps to applicants in a more timely fashion. The mission of the YLD, which is for attorneys younger than 40 and who have been in practice less than eight years, is to empower passionate young lawyers to make a difference for children and the underserved through education, advocacy and systemic change.” (Denver Business Journal)

January 6, 2016 – “The Hawaii State Judiciary, in partnership with the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaii, and the Hawaii State Bar Association’s Appellate Section, has launched the Hawaii Appellate Pro Bono Pilot Project. The project provides volunteer appellate counsel to individuals who are representing themselves on appeal. ‘This project is a win-win,’ said Justice Simeon R. Acoba, Jr., Chairman of the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission. ‘In addition to providing legal support to those who need it, the Hawaii Appellate Pro Bono Pilot Project will give our volunteer attorneys a valuable opportunity to participate in the handling of appellate cases. We hope it will also be a chance for our experienced appellate counsel to mentor the next generation of appellate attorneys.’ When an individual files a notice of appeal at the Hawaii State Supreme Court Clerk’s Office and is not represented by an attorney, the pro se litigant will be provided information about the Hawaii Appellate Pro Bono Pilot Project. This pilot project is currently limited to civil cases involving foreclosures, summary possessions, employment discrimination, worker’s compensation, wrongful termination, denial of unemployment benefits, state tax appeals, probate matters, and paternity and non-married custody cases. Participants in the Hawaii Appellate Pro Bono Pilot Project are required to meet certain income-need requirements and, if qualified, to pay an administration fee of $50.00 to Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaii. In addition, litigants will be responsible for any costs associated with the appeal, including filing, transcript, or other costs related to the preparation of the record on appeal and presentation of arguments in the appellate courts.” (Hawai’i State Judiciary)

 

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The AALS Pro Bono and Public Service Section has selected winners for the 2016 Rhode and Drinan Awards. The Deborah L. Rhode Award is awarded to a full-time faculty member or dean who has made an outstanding contribution to increasing pro bono and public service in the law school setting through scholarship, leadership, or service. The Father Robert Drinan Award is awarded to a professional faculty or staff member at a law school who has forwarded the ethic of pro bono service through personal service, program design or management.

The purpose of these awards is to honor those who have dedicated significant efforts towards increasing access to justice throughout the law school environment and to inspire similar efforts from others. The awards honor those who personally design and manage pro bono programs, those leaders in legal education who promote these programs, and those who personally give of their time and talents in pro bono service.

The 2016 award winners are as follows:
Deborah L. Rhode Award –Jim Rosenblatt, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Mississippi College of Law
Father Robert Drinan Award – Professor Janet Weinstein, California Wester School of Law

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 18, 2015

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

Happy Holidays!  We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season.  We are also celebrating with family and friends, and will return in the new year.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Michigan Voces gets $10,000 grant for immigrant legal services;
  • Can technology help the middle class close the justice gap?;
  • Legal Aid Ontario announces new CEO;
  • Utah Supreme Court approves creation of limited paralegal practitioners;
  • Collaboration helps New Yorkers facing foreclosure get live chat assistance;
  • New York mayor launches nearly $8 million assistance program for immigrants;
  • Legal Aid Ontario launches financial eligibility app;
  • Legal Services Corporation awards first Vieth grants;
  • Notre Dame Law School to launch  new clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 10, 2015 – “Voces, a Battle Creek-area [Michigan] organization that primarily assists Latino and Hispanic families, has received a $10,000 capacity-building grant to strengthen its immigration legal services. Voces is one of 10 groups in its category to receive funding from the National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C.-based Latino advocacy organization. The grant will be used to build a process to provide immigration services, to pay for training of staff and volunteers on how to provide immigration support and to assist the organization in earning accreditation by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals. It also will allow Voces staff to represent community members in certain immigration cases, allowing them to forego a search for paid legal council.” (Battle Creek Enquirer)

December 11, 2015 – Here is an interesting editorial from the Jurist discussing how technology could help with disparities in justice. (Jurist)

December 14, 2015 –  “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is pleased to announce the appointment of David Field, a senior executive at Legal Aid Ontario, as its new President and Chief Executive Officer, effective January 1, 2016. He succeeds Robert Ward, who retires this December. Mr. Field’s 33-year financial and strategic planning career in the public sector includes his work as the Director and Chief Financial Officer, Business and Fiscal Planning Branch at the Ministry of the Attorney General, and Director Financial Planning and Business Management Branch at both the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.  In his most recent role as Vice President of Strategic Planning and Compliance at LAO, Mr. Field has been instrumental in LAO’s development of modern management methods to benefit client service and organizational effectiveness. Mr. Field has worked in various capacities for the Government of Ontario since 1982. He holds an MBA in public administration fromYork University as well as a BA in political science from the University of Waterloo. ” (Newswire)

December 14, 2015 – “There are issues with how Utahns access their justice system, a Utah Supreme Court justice said. Many people either can’t afford lawyers, Deno Himonas said Monday, or simply don’t want to hire one to help them navigate the court system as they file for divorce, settle debts or resolve eviction issues. ‘Lawyers have been incredibly generous with their time,’ Himonas said. ‘And are trying to address [those issues] through pro bono measures. But at the end of the day, though, we need to come up with an economically viable model that will help improve access for those individuals in our civil justice system.’ To that end, the Utah Supreme Court has approved the creation of a new legal profession: limited paralegal practitioners. An LPP, or paraprofessional, will have more training and responsibilities than a normal paralegal, but is not quite a lawyer. The paraprofessional will be able to help the public in those areas where Utahns generally aren’t hiring lawyers.” “The Utah Supreme Court has approved creation of the new legal profession — but it will take some time to implement the program. Now that the task force has presented its findings to the Supreme Court and the judicial council, a committee will be appointed to figure out the nuts and bolts of how the program will work, including what educational requirements will be needed and what the exact limitations will be.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

December 14, 2015 – “LawHelpNY, a family of online legal information and referral Internet portals for low and moderate income New Yorkers, announces the launch of its LiveHelp chatting service for visitors to the New York State Unified Court Systems website, CourtHelp.  The LiveHelp service will allow visitors to the site to chat with operators who can guide them to legal resources and organizations that may be able to assist them in their case. The initiative is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations working to create a more seamless and integrated help system for vulnerable New Yorkers seeking assistance with legal problems. Since 2010, LiveHelp operators, primarily trained law student volunteers, have assisted individuals visiting the LawHelpNY website who are often facing serious legal problems, but can’t afford a lawyer. LiveHelp will now be available to visitors on the foreclosure pages of the CourtHelp website, primarily homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as tenants of buildings in foreclosure.” “The project is funded by an LSC (Legal Services Corporation) Technology Initiative Grant awarded to Legal Assistance of Western New York. The initiative serves as a pilot to explore the effectiveness of providing real-time assistance to unrepresented litigants visiting the CourtHelp website to further close the justice gap in New York State Courts.” (probono.net)

December 15, 2015 – “Although President Obama’s executive amnesty programs remain held up in the courts, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a nearly $8 million initiative to provide legal assistance to the illegal immigrant community in the city and prepare them for executive amnesty. ‘New York City’s commitment to our immigrant communities will not waver. While the courts delay executive action and much-needed relief, while some voices may attempt to create hostility toward immigrants, while more than 30 governors tried to resist the resettlement of Syrian refugees, New York City will demonstrate the power and values of our city.’ de Blasio said Monday, announcing the initiative. Dubbed ActionNYC, the $7.9 million program will create ‘navigation hubs’ in each of the five boroughs for immigrants to receive legal assistance and education about possible immigration benefits available to them.” “The program is slated to start in the spring of 2016 and will be administered by Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, in collaboration with the Human Resources Administration and the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. The initiative will provide contracts to ‘community-based organizations’ and legal services to implement the program.” (Breitbart)

December 16, 2015 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is launching a mobile phone application (app) to help people determine whether they are financially eligible for a legal aid certificate. The app also gives applicants real-time access to call centre wait times. This is the first version of the app, and it follows the organization’s recent expansion of financial and legal eligibility criteria for legal aid services in Ontario. The app is available free of charge through app stores for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices. The app does not collect or store any user data.” (Newswire)

December 16, 2015 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that seven legal aid organizations will receive grants from its new G. Duane Vieth Leadership Development Program, LSC’s first grant initiative to support training in leadership skills in the field of civil legal aid. Generously funded by the Arnold & Porter LLP Foundation, the program will award grants each year to leaders of LSC-funded organizations to support training, coaching, or other professional development in non-profit leadership skills. The competitive grant program honors long-time Arnold & Porter Managing Partner G. Duane “Bud” Vieth, who joined the firm in 1949 and is now a retired partner, and highlights the importance of developing entrepreneurial and business acumen among leaders of civil legal aid organizations. ” “This is the first named initiative to result from LSC’s Campaign for Justice, a private fundraising effort to expand the impact and capacity of civil legal aid providers across the country. The 134 LSC-funded legal aid programs will each be eligible to receive one grant of up to $10,000 every five years.”  (Legal Services Corporation)

December 17, 2015 – “Notre Dame Law School will launch a new clinic – the Notre Dame Tax Clinic – to help law students gain legal experience and to serve the community. The clinic will be funded by a grant from the Internal Revenue Service and support from the University of Notre Dame’s Office of Research. The clinic, approved by the faculty this month, will strengthen the tax law program for law students with the addition of an experiential component, and add a second litigation clinic, said Bob Jones, associate dean for experiential programs.” “The clinic’s academic component, scheduled to start in the 2016 fall semester, will enroll between eight and 10 students each semester. The Notre Dame Tax Clinic course would include a class covering skills, substantive law, and procedural law and about 10 hours of casework each week. Students would be the primary attorneys working with the clients, supervised by a licensed attorney.” (Notre Dame Law School News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

United Airlines lawyers — recipients of the Public Interest Law Initiative’s 2015 Pro Bono Initiative Award.

United Airlines is headquartered in Chicago and its lawyers have worked diligently to establish a strong program that is truly making a difference for those in need. United’s Pro Bono & Community Service Committee partners with local organizations to provide opportunities for attorneys and non-attorneys to do pro bono or community service work within their work day. Stressing the importance of passion, the Committee focuses on engaging individuals in causes they personally care about.

United attorneys volunteer with Cabrini Green Legal Aid’s Expungement Help Desk and Live Call hearings at 26th & California. They participate in the Center for Disability and Elder Law’s Senior Center Initiative, and work with the National Immigrant Justice Center at Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinics and represent asylum applicants. United attorneys help staff the Equip for Equality hotline on a weekly basis, facilitate court reform efforts at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, and assist those in need with preparation of their tax returns. These are just some of the areas of focus for their pro bono program. (PILI press release)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang. And a bonus track from one Geek to all of you!

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 11, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Virginia Attorney General announces legal aid for veterans;
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law launches a human trafficking clinic;
  • Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report now available – NASA still number one;
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP announces creation of Pro Bono Partner position;
  • Maryland Judiciary launches mobile app to improve access to justice;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 7, 2015 – “Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring came to Norfolk Monday morning to announce his office is launching pro bono veterans legal clinics around the state. Herring’s program will give low-income veterans free help in three areas: creating wills, power of attorney and advanced medical directives. ‘These are folks who have served our country in times of need and we owe so much to them this is a way we can begin to repay that,’ said Herring.”  “Herring hopes to help about 100 veterans at each clinic. This will be on a first come first served basis. In order to be eligible for services, veterans and their spouses must fill out a questionnaire on the Attorney General’s website. Paper copies will also be available at local Virginia Department of Veterans Services Benefits Center.” (WAVY)

December 7, 2015 – “Case Western Reserve University School of Law, with a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, will launch a human trafficking law clinic in which students, under faculty supervision, will represent victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. Professors Judith Lipton and Maureen Kenny will serve as co-directors of the Human Trafficking Project, which will provide legal services to survivors of human trafficking and education and awareness to service providers, educators, students and the general public on this important issue.” “Lipton said the state grant will support the creation of a Human Trafficking Law Clinic. Meanwhile, the grant enables Case Western Reserve law students to immediately represent victims of human trafficking through the Criminal Justice Clinic.” (newswise)

December 8, 2015 –  The headline reads “NASA is the best place to work in government, Homeland Security is the worst – again.”  The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report is out for 2015.  “The level of job satisfaction among federal employees at agencies with similar missions in areas such as law enforcement and public health varies widely, according to a new analysis of the ‘Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.’ For the first time, the authors of the report – which is based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey – grouped 75 federal organizations by six mission areas: energy and environment, financial regulation, law enforcement, national security, oversight and public health.” “Agencies that were at the top and bottom last year occupied those slots in 2015 too. For the fourth consecutive year, NASA was the No. 1 place to work among large federal agencies, with a job satisfaction and commitment score of 76.1 (out of 100) among employees. The intelligence community, departments of Justice, State and Commerce rounded out the top five. The rankings include 391 federal agencies and their subcomponents.” (Government Executive)

December 8, 2015 – “Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP today announced the creation of a Pro Bono Partner position at the firm.  Dan Brown, a partner in the Firm’s Business Trial Group and current Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, will fill that role.” “Brown will devote the majority of his time to managing the firm’s pro bono program, while continuing to litigate for his and other firm clients.  As Sheppard Mullin’s pro bono Chair, Brown was responsible for leading a firm-wide initiative to rejuvenate and expand the role of pro bono within Sheppard Mullin, resulting in pro bono and billable hours being treated the same for associates, and pro bono becoming a factor in the annual partner compensation review process.” (Sheppard Mullin Press Release)

December 9, 2015 – “The Maryland Judiciary unveiled a new free mobile app designed to improve access to justice. The Maryland Law Help app, released Wednesday, aims to help citizens better understand and navigate the court system, and make legal information readily available on smartphones and tablets. App users can access the Judiciary’s most popular resources including finding a lawyer or mediator, self-help videos on how to use the courts, locating proper forms, learning about Maryland law, and chatting with an attorney at the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center, which is operated by Maryland Legal Aid. ‘The new mobile app brings court access into the digital age,’ Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said in a release. ‘With this innovation, we are improving access to justice by using technology to facilitate people meeting their legal needs.'” (ABC2 News)

 

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Children’s Law Center in Washington, DC held a special reception at Covington’s DC office recently to honor Covington litigator Tony Herman and his commitment to pro bono. CLC executive director Judith Sandalow first met Tony at a soccer field watching their sons play together. They bonded over their shared experiences as adoptive parents. After Judith learned about Tony’s commitment to legal aid and closing the justice gap, she eventually asked him to join CLC’s board. That long involvement culminated in Tony serving as CLC board chair for four years, a position from which he stepped down a couple of months ago. CLC also announced that several Covington attorneys chose to honor Tony’s service by establishing the Anthony Herman Adoption Litigation Fund, which will allow CLC to support more adoptive families with legal advocacy. (Bisnow)

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang. And a bonus track from FLOTUS!

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 4, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  Welcome to December.  If you are looking for job search tips to employ during your winter break, look no further  than the Resource Center on PSJD.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Alberta (Canada) Justice launches review of legal aid;
  • Dentons supports Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods revitalization with multi-year pro bono commitment;
  • Mississippi Supreme Court approves new student rule allowing more work for the poor;
  • Chief Judge Lippman announces creation of Legal Hand in New York;
  • Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and The Cumberland hires first technology director;
  • U.S. lawmakers launch legal aid caucus;
  • Texas legal aid group receives $20,000 grant to assist immigrants;
  • The Association of Pro Bono Counsel publishes its inaugural annual report;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 25, 2015 – “The government-led review will start mid-December and will look at the affordability and sustainability of legal aid, its governance model, what services Legal Aid Alberta should offer, financial eligibility guidelines for clients, and pay for lawyers. It will also suggest a long-term strategy to deal with court orders for publicly funded representation. ‘The current structure and delivery of legal aid is struggling to meet the challenges of a growing population,’ Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Wednesday. On a recent day, Legal Aid Alberta fielded 1,100 phone calls, compared to last year’s daily average of 600. Between July and September, the society saw a 33% increase in certificates issued for legal representation. ‘We want to make sure we are protecting the most vulnerable Albertans by provided adequate access to legal services,’ Ganley said. ‘At the same time, we also have a responsibility to ensure that tax dollars are spent prudently.'” “Legal Aid Alberta said it will co-operate with the government-led review as long as experts and those affected are consulted. Ganley said a comprehensive consultation process will kick off with interviews, focus groups, online surveys and written submissions. The review is expected to cost less than $100,000 and be finished by spring 2016.” (Edmonton Journal)

November 25, 2015 – “Global law firm Dentons today announced a multi-year pro bono commitment in support of the Westside neighborhoods revitalization project currently underway through a joint effort between the Westside Future Fund and the Westside Neighborhood Prosperity Fund of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. As part of the initiative, Dentons has pledged up to $375,000 in legal and public policy counsel over the span of three years in conjunction with the project.” “As part of the relationship, Dentons will provide ongoing legal counsel on matters pertaining to real estate preservation, zoning, land use, economic development, contracts, policy compliance, litigation and other aspects of the project. Lawyers and public policy professionals across the Firm will be engaged to create a multi-faceted team to address the many legal and governmental issues that can arise in a project of this magnitude.” (Dentons News)

November 26, 2015 –  “Law students will be able to do more legal work for poor Mississippi residents under a rule recently approved by the state Supreme Court. ‘Students attending law schools in other states and those who are not getting course credit for the work can now help attorneys representing people who cannot pay,’ said Tiffany Graves, executive director of the state’s Access to Justice Commission. ‘The new rule will provide immediate and long-term benefits,’ said Professor Meta Copeland, director of experiential learning at Mississippi College School of Law. ‘More law students can now assist low-income clients with legal issues,’ she said in a news release from the state court system. ‘More lawyers will accept pro bono cases with the assistance of a limited practice student at no cost.’ The new rule supplants a state law which also allowed only state or legal services employees to supervise the student workers. Now such services can be provided as part of a clinical legal education course, law school legal internship program, or through a volunteer legal services program under the supervision of licensed attorneys, Graves said. Graves said the students cannot represent clients directly, but may only help a supervising attorney or teacher. The rule was approved Nov. 19 and took effect immediately.” (SFGate)

November 30, 2015 – “Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was in Crown Heights on Monday to announce the creation of a new program called Legal Hand that will provide free legal advice and referrals to low-income residents.” “‘The key feature of Legal Hand is that the help it provides does not come from lawyers, it comes from community volunteers who are specially trained to provide information and guidance to low-income individuals on how to navigate the court and social services systems and how to protect and represent themselves in a legal manner,’ Lippman said. ‘This program is the newest foray in the campaign to close the justice gap in New York and the first of its kind in the country.'” “The Legal Hand center will work in conjunction with three other legal service providers — the Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC and the New York Legal Assistance Group.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

December 1, 2015 – In what might be the latest trend in legal aid, “Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and The Cumberlands has hired Paul Swiney as its first director of technology. ‘The legal industry is increasingly reliant on technology to connect lawyers with clients and collect essential case information,’ Gary Housepian, Legal Aid Society executive director, said in the release. ‘Paul brings an extraordinary technical background and skill set, and his experience in the non-profit sector will serve us well. We feel fortunate to have found such a great fit.’ Swiney will be based out of Legal Aid Society’s Nashville office and service all eight of the entity’s offices across the region. LAS bills itself as Tennessee’s largest nonprofit law firm.”(Nashville Post)

December 1, 2015 – “Lawmakers in the House have created a caucus to make it easier for low-income families to get legal representation. Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) launched the Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus on Tuesday to advocate for civil legal aid programs and ensure access to representation is never limited by income. ‘Our legal system is where our nation makes good on the sacred promise of equal justice under the law,’ Kennedy said in a news release. ‘But too often that promise is far from guaranteed for low-income families, veterans, victims of domestic violence and thousands of other Americans forced to stand in our courtrooms alone each year with their homes, savings and futures at risk.’ In urging other lawmakers to join the caucus, the lawmakers cited a Boston Bar Association report that found 64 percent of cases in Massachusetts in 2013 that were eligible for legal aid programs were turned away due to lack of funding. The majority of cases covered by civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts and Indiana involved family and housing. ‘This caucus will seek to change that, making sure that when civil disputes are brought to our judicial system, those involved, regardless of financial means, have access to appropriate legal resources and representation,’ Brooks said.” (The Hill)

December 2, 2015 – “The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), received a $20,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation so that the group can continue to ‘provide children and mothers who were released from the Karnes and Dilley Family Detention Centers with legal services.’ Since the summer of 2014, RAICES has provided free legal counsel to thousands of families held in South Texas. Many of them reside in the state after their release.” (San Antonio Current)

December 2, 2015 – “The Association of Pro Bono Counsel, a membership organization for lawyers who hold full-time positions managing pro bono practices at large law firms, is seeking to promote its message and work. Nearly 10 years after its formation, the New York-based nonprofit recently published its first-ever annual report, which became available online Wednesday. The report celebrates APBCo’s growth from a 60-member association in 2006 to more than 155 members today.” (American Lawyer)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO) is recognizing Legal Aid Ontario’s Integrated Legal Service Office (ILSO) with a community leader award. ILSO and its predecessor, the Family Law Office, have worked with IWSO since 1999 to assist vulnerable immigrant women and their children. “Legal Aid has an understanding of violence against women and children and has made an extraordinary effort to help,” says IWSO Manager, Crisis & Counseling services Vivian Chan-Brouillette. “As a result, their work has had significant impact on this problem in the Ottawa community. For example, an abuser can lie to the victim about their rights or threaten to send them back home without the children. If these women don’t see a lawyer and learn about their rights, they may not even have the courage to think about leaving their abuser.” Congratulations! (Legal Aid Ontario Newsroom)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 25, 2015

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

Happy Thanksgiving!  We are thankful that you enjoy the Digest.  Have a great Turkey Day, and we’ll see you next week.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Wyoming State Bar’s Modest Means program sees many volunteers;
  • New Orleans judge defers decision on public defender plea for no new cases;
  • ABA Journal announces nominees for the 9th annual Law Blawg 100;
  • Widener University Delaware Law School offers free legal aid to state inventors;
  • Texas Supreme Court establishes justice gap commission;
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law announces endowment to fund Social Justice Award;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 21, 2015 – “Some attorneys in Wyoming are volunteering to represent residents who make too much money to qualify for legal aid but not enough to hire counsel. The Wyoming State Bar launched its Modest Means Program two weeks ago and has recruited at least 50 lawyers across the state. ‘The Wyoming State Bar has been involved in access-to-justice efforts for many years,’ said executive director Sharon Wilkinson. ‘We all really felt strongly that there is still a gap that we needed to fill.’ Participating attorneys agree to charge clients no more than $75 per hour and $500 for a retainer, if necessary. The program is available to families whose household incomes are between 200 and 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. That would be an annual income of between $48,500 and $60,625 for a family of four. Attorneys will help with issues involving divorce, child support, custody, bankruptcy, tenant issues, minor criminal matters and more.” (Billings Gazette)

November 23, 2015 – “A New Orleans judge has deferred until at least mid-December a decision on whether to stop assigning new criminal cases to the Orleans Public Defenders office. The office has said it can’t handle more cases without putting at risk defendants’ constitutional rights. Following two days of testimony in a hearing he convened, Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter issued a ruling Monday afternoon (Nov. 23) giving the office until Dec. 11 to convince him it has taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the suspension of duties. The parish’s public defenders asked Friday that no new cases be appointed to their office until their existing workload was reduced sufficiently to ensure constitutional and ethically sound defense efforts for their clients.” (Nola.com)

November 23, 2015 –  “For this year’s annual Blawg 100 feature—our ninth—we’re going beyond announcing our list of 100 excellent legal blogs and the promotion of 10 more blogs to our Hall of Fame. We explore how the legal blogosphere has changed since we first started publishing this list. Do legal blogs have a waning or a thriving readership? And how has the emergence of new bloggers from BigLaw and elsewhere and other social media platforms in recent years changed blogging for the better—or worse? As in years past, we looked to readers and bloggers to help us compile our list. But this year, no blogs are being forced into categories, and there will be no online voting.” “Read more here to find out about the blogs on our list, and click here to find our Blawg 100 Twitter list, which includes both the handles of our Hall of Famers and this year’s nominees. Visit the Blawg 100 landing page to read about the eight prior lists, and check out the thousands of other legal blogs in the ABA Journal Blawg Directory.” (ABA Journal)

November 23, 2015 – “Widener University Delaware Law School launched a new, free public service Monday that will give legal advice to potential inventors.” “A new website provides information for prospective inventors, as well as attorneys, agents and law students who want to volunteer with the program. Successful applicants must meet three conditions to be eligible for the free legal advice. Their income must be less than three times the federal poverty level, they must have knowledge of the patent system and a truly inventive idea.” (Delaware Public Media)

November 23, 2015 – “By an order Monday the Texas Supreme Court has created an 18-member Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services charged to explore means to bring more affordable legal services to small businesses and people who cannot qualify for legal aid. The commission will seek a comprehensive answer to a growing number of potential clients with legal problems who believe they cannot afford lawyers to solve them. Former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson will lead the commission.” “The commission, composed of lawyers, law school deans and professors and judges, will assess efforts and proposals in Texas and other states, as well as by the American Bar Association, to find what may work to broaden legal services available to low- and middle-income Texans. Commissioners will issue a first report to the Court on Nov. 1, 2016.” (Texas Lawyer)

November 24, 2015 – “Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Center for Law and Social Justice has created an award to recognize student efforts in social justice after receiving an endowment in memory of alumnus Samuel Kossack. Kossack’s family and friends have donated generously to fund an award to recognize a currently enrolled Thomas Jefferson School of Law student who, through his or her own actions, promotes social justice either on an individual basis or by transforming systems that perpetuate injustice. Recipients must demonstrate contributions to social justice through participation in activities such as volunteer work, relevant scholarship, advocacy of social justice, the law school’s pro bono program, clinical courses, self-help clinics, or other work that directly serves the needs of marginalized or disadvantaged populations. One cash award will be given annually.” (Business Wire)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

On this day in history: The United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution designating November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The resolution, which was introduced by the Dominican Republic, marked the anniversary of the death of three sisters, Maria, Teresa, and Minerva Mirabel, who were brutally murdered there in 1960. While women in Latin America and the Caribbean had honored the day since 1981, all UN countries did not formally recognize it until 1999. Many organizations, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), had been pushing for international recognition of the date for some time. (History.com) 

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 20, 2015

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

Happy Friday! This week I had the great pleasure to award the 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award to Lark Mulligan of DePaul University College of Law.  What a great project and wonderful event!  Thank you to everyone at DePaul, and especially Shaye Loughlin and Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea for being such gracious hosts.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Bill urging free legal aid for domestic violence victims passes U.S. Senate;
  • Pinellas (Florida) legal aid program receives $600,000 grant to fight human trafficking;
  • New Orleans Chief Public Defender announces furlough schedule;
  • New student debt report looks at Class of 2014;
  • University of Calgary law school opens Public Interest Law clinic;
  • Napa, Bay Area legal aids to merge;
  • New York Office of Victim Services granted $1 million to build legal assistance tool;
  • Nevada Attorney General launches program to help veterans;
  • Alberta Justice plans review of legal aid system;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 12, 2015 – “The U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday night aimed at bolstering free legal resources for victims of domestic violence. The so-called ‘POWER Act’ is the first bill to pass the Senate sponsored by Alaska’s freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan. Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, hopes that the bill’s bipartisan support will grant it success in the House and that it will extend his efforts to increase the number of attorneys doing pro-bono work for domestic violence victims across the country. Sullivan co-sponsored the bill with North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who is also a former state attorney general, he said in an interview. The bill passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote. If the bill passes the House and is signed into law, it will require every U.S. attorney to hold at least one event every year urging private attorneys to take on free work for domestic violence victims.” (Alaska Dispatch News)

November 14, 2015 – “A Florida group that helps human trafficking victims will receive a $600,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to continue its work, Democratic US Rep. Kathy Castor announced Friday. ‘This grant will provide more tools to Gulfcoast Legal Services and local law enforcement to aid victims of human trafficking,’ Castor said. ‘Gulfcoast now will be able to serve more than double the number of clients than previous years and will spur on the important work of the Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.’ Gulfcoast Legal Services, part of the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, was one of 10 grantees nationwide that received part of $5.6 million in Justice Department grants. Gulfcoast’s director, John Dubrule, said without the grant money Gulfcoast would not be able to maintain or expand its staff. Now, the group expects to expand services over the next three years.” (Florida Politics)

November 16, 2015 –  “Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton on Monday announced a 10-day furlough plan for 2016, a move he foreshadowed last week during his office’s annual budget hearing before City Council. Although Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 2016 budget proposal bumps the office’s funding $150,000 – or 13.5 percent – above its current level, Bunton warned council members he needed an additional $250,000 to avert furloughs. City Council will decide the office’s funding when it adopts a budget on Dec. 1. But Bunton’s decision to establish a furlough schedule in advance of a final determination seemed to serve notice that his threat was not a budget-season bluff tactic.  ‘This is real. It’s very serious,’ said Lindsey Hortenstine, spokeswoman for the Public Defenders Office. ‘Ideally we will have a different outcome at the completion of this process and won’t have to go forward with it at all.’ Bunton says the furlough days will cost the city $113,000 or more for additional time that defendants stay in jail without access to attorneys. The Public Defenders Office, which represents indigent defenders, claims to represent approximately 85 percent of Orleans Parish defendants. No public defenders will be available for court dates during furlough days, according to a news release from Bunton’s office.” (The Times-Picayune)

November 16, 2015 – Former PSJD Fellow and current Program Manager for Equal Justice Works Ashley Matthews summarizes The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) tenth annual Project on Student Debt report.  It focused on recent graduates of four-year colleges. Like previous TICAS reports, “Student Debt and the Class of 2014” provides a comprehensive overview of the student debt crisis by combining a bird’s eye view of the national scope of educational debt with state-by-state data. (Huffington Post)

November 17, 2015 – “With a gift of $1 million from the Peacock Family Foundation, the Faculty of Law has opened a new Public Interest Law Clinic, which will provide pro bono legal services to clients, facilitating access to justice and providing law students with experiential learning opportunities. Molly Naber-Sykes, has taken up the role of executive director of the clinic, and will be responsible for overseeing all clinic operations.” “Law students will work in the clinic on precedent-setting cases affecting Alberta’s vulnerable communities and the environment, allowing them to learn public interest advocacy and litigation skills. The clinic will train and inspire a new generation of lawyers to advocate in the public interest in Alberta and beyond.”(Benzinga)

November 17, 2015 – “Legal Aid of Napa Valley will become part of a wider backstop for Northern California’s less fortunate. The Napa-based agency said it will merge with Bay Area Legal Aid, effective Dec. 31. Napa will become the seventh county served by the Bay Area group, itself the product of a merger involving three county-based Legal Aid groups 15 years ago. Bay Area Legal Aid spokeswoman Linda S. Kim said the regional provider will keep the Napa agency’s office at 575 Lincoln Ave., and local clients will be able to draw on the regional group’s roster of more than 70 lawyers. Attorneys working with the not-for-profit provider represent low-income clients pro bono. ‘We have partnered on large grants and projects in the past, our staffs have worked alongside one another, and our respective boards share a common goal of equal access to justice,’ Michael Holman, co-chairman of the Legal Aid Napa Valley board, said in the statement. ‘We believe Bay Area Legal Aid will continue our core mission with the additional benefit of a larger organizational structure and sustainability.'” (Napa Valley Register)

November 17, 2015 – “A new online tool aimed at aiding crime victims in finding legal assistance in civil matters could be available after nearly $1 million in federal funding was awarded to the New York State Office of Victim Services. The Crime Victims’ Legal Network will allow individuals to determine the type of legal help they need and connect them with resources. Matters could include housing and immigration cases and family court cases involving custody, support and orders of protection, according to a release. The office received two grants totaling $999,940 from the federal Office for Victims of Crime, part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The agency is also working with the Empire Justice Center, University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research and Pro Bono Net. The tool will be designed to help individuals outside of New York City, as there are fewer civil legal services available in those counties. ‘This grant will allow us to expand our reach, especially to rural areas of the state. Our goal is to create a comprehensive, collaborative network to provide holistic legal assistance to better assess the needs of, and ultimately serve, victims of crime,’ Elizabeth Cronin, director for the Office of Victim Services, said. The project is expected to be completed in two, 18-month periods.” (The Auburn Citizen)

November 18, 2015 – “Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on Wednesday formally launched a program to provide free legal assistance to members of the military, pointing to a service gap that arises because military lawyers are limited in their ability to help with civilian court matters and private attorneys are often too expensive for service members. At a news conference in Carson City, Laxalt marked the debut of the Office of Military Legal Assistance, which is believed to be the first attorney general-led program in the country that connects military members and veterans to pro bono legal services.” “More than 100 lawyers have pledged to donate at least 10 hours to service members seeking help through the program. Applicants will be able to get help with civil matters including landlord/tenant disputes, consumer fraud problems and immigration issues. Military personnel seeking assistance should contact their local JAG for a referral, while veterans should contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.” (The Washington Times)

November 18, 2015 – “Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley told a budget estimates committee Wednesday she will launch a review into how legal aid is funded, the governance model of the program, and how much lawyers are compensated, since Alberta rates are almost half what their counterparts make in Ontario. ‘Legal Aid has been experiencing a number of challenges and they have actually come forward with respect to some of those challenges,’ Ganley said. Ganley said the Alberta government has more than doubled its funding to legal aid since 2005, covering 80 per cent of the total funding of the program. The federal contribution has remained relatively constant at $10 million, while the amount offered by the Alberta Law Foundation has dwindled, since it funds the program through lawyers’ trust funds, which are earning less and less interest. ‘This year, the increase in demand for service has already hit unprecedented volumes and more people than ever are qualifying for representation,’ Jan Archbold, with Legal Aid Alberta, wrote in an email.” “The program’s governance model ends March 31, 2016. While Legal Aid Alberta is an independent organization in charge of its own operations, the program is governed jointly by Legal Aid, the province and the Law Society of Alberta, which can cause some consternation. ‘Sometimes there can be a perception of influence,’ Ganley said, since the province both governs the society, but also sits across from Albertans in the court system as prosecutor. ‘We think that Legal Aid is doing a great job acting as they are, but certainly there is a certain amount of oversight and arguably, there is a little bit too much interaction.’ She said the governance model will likely be extended until the review comes up with a solution.” (Edmonton Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

The Greensboro Bar Association has stepped up and offered to help the Greensboro branch of The Legal Aid of North Carolina give residents another shot at life with the stigma of a criminal record through the Legal Aid’s Second Chance project. The association committed to taking on 50 cases from Legal Aid to assist them in their endeavor.

“The Greensboro Bar Association wanted to do a signature pro bono project. Something that we could get several of our members involved in regardless of their practice area,” said Afi Johnson-Parris, president of the Greensboro Bar Association and attorney at Ward Black Law Firm in Greensboro. “We choose the expungements because it was one of those things that has bipartisan support, is very formulaic and doesn’t take a lot of time to do so all of our members who have a bar license would be able to participate and it’s one of those type of projects that will make a big impact.”

The Second Chance project addresses the civil consequences of having crossed paths with the criminal justice system by helping individuals overcome barriers to employment or housing due to past arrest and conviction records. This includes helping to get criminal records expunged pro bono so it will be easier for residents to get housing, occupational and driver’s licenses, and obtain employment. Those looking for assistance would need to participate in the Legal Aid intake process before being referred to a volunteering lawyer. Legal aid is also reaching out to nonprofit and community organizations for referrals and letting them know the opportunity is available to their clients.

With Legal Aid agencies losing staff attorneys across the state, Johnson-Parris felt this was a good way for the Greensboro Bar Association to step up and help their community.

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

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