Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 27, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Inaugural Gallogly Family Foundation Public Interest Fellowship awarded to three University of Oklahoma College of Law graduates;
  • Justice Sotomayor would like to see mandatory pro bono;
  • The University of Minnesota Law School launches the Minnesota Law Public Interest Residency Program;
  • Illinois pushes legal aid for juveniles in murder cases;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 19, 2016 – “The University of Oklahoma College of Law announced the selection of three of its 2016 graduates to the inaugural class of the Gallogly Family Foundation Public Interest Fellowship Program. The program supports recent graduates of a select number of leading law schools across the country. In its first year, the Gallogly Family Foundation selected the OU College of Law to serve as the pilot school for the Foundation’s fellowships.” “At at time when funding for public interest legal services is in great need, the Gallogly program exists to increase the number of people who receive much-needed services and to help new lawyers pursue a career in public interest law. It is modeled after the prestigious Skadden Public Interest Fellowships. Each Gallogly Fellowship includes a compensation and benefits package of $50,000 and is awarded for one year with the option to renew for an additional year. Fellows work for a domestic 501(c)(3) nonprofit on a new or existing project within the organization. Qualified organizations provide legal services to the poor and/or those deprived of their civil or human rights.” (Tulsa Business & Legal News)

May 19, 2016 – “U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is winning praise for re-energizing the movement toward mandatory pro bono for lawyers with her recent remarks on the subject, but some advocates think the requirement poses significant challenges and won’t work for everyone. In remarks May 16 before the American Law Institute, Sotomayor said, ‘If I had my way, I would make pro bono service a requirement’ for all lawyers, adding, ‘I believe in forced labor.'”  A flurry of commentary followed.  The National Law Journal looks at the ensuing debate.  (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

May 23, 2016 – “The University of Minnesota Law School announced today the launch of an innovative program to provide students committed to serving the public with valuable legal experience and to provide them with guaranteed legal employment post-graduation, while providing leading public interest and government organizations with much-needed legal assistance. The Minnesota Law Public Interest Residency Program, established by a gift from Allen (’56) and Linda Saeks, will connect leading public interest and government organizations with high-achieving law students, committed to long-term careers in serving the public interest. Students selected for the program work as an extern full-time (32-hours per week) during their third year of law school for a nonprofit or government agency for which they receive law school credit toward their graduation. Upon graduation, the law student is guaranteed a full-time, paid legal position with the same organization the year following graduation.” (University of Minnesota)

May 24, 2016 – “A lawyer would have to be present when police question juveniles younger than 15 in murder or sex offense investigations under a measure Illinois lawmakers are considering that seeks to eliminate false confessions. Illinois currently mandates legal representation for children younger than 13 in those cases, even if they’re not the targets of the criminal probe. However, the two Democratic legislators sponsoring the new bill say 14- and 15-year-olds should receive legal protection too. Tim Curry, director of training and technical assistance at the National Juvenile Defender Center, said most children don’t know to invoke their rights to an attorney.” “The bill would require that when police question anyone younger than 18 about a murder or sex crime, they must read a simplified Miranda warning explaining the person’s right to stay silent and have legal counsel. It also would guarantee that interrogations of all juveniles be videotaped in misdemeanor and felony cases.” (ABC News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Alaska Bar Association 2016 Pro Bono Award recipients Rob & Jeannie Sato (Solo Practioner); Dorsey & Whitney (Firm); Matt Claman (Public Sector); Lee Holden (Lifetime Achievement).

Lee Holden: “Receiving a Lifetime Achievement award is much deserved when you’ve had a 38 year long career devoted to helping Alaskans.  Lee’s career has been focused on employment law by representing employees, unions, and small employers in her private practice; however, she has left a distinct footprint on the clients of Alaska Legal Services Corporation over the last 15 years. Lee has not only carried a pro bono caseload and provided employment law consultations but also pioneered ALSC’s Employment Law ‘Attorney of the Day’ program. This program enables ALSC to screen potential employment law issue applications to volunteer attorneys who review for merit and provide brief services. She is ALSC’s primary consultant on employment matters and a long-standing mentor to new attorneys or those simply new to volunteering on employment law issues. Lee’s volunteer service extends also to the Bar Association where she does Fee Arbitrations and is on the board of the Blood Bank of Alaska. But her true passion may be the volunteer work she does for Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand.”

Read about the other recipients here. Congratulations to all the recipients!!

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 20, 2016

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

Happy Friday! A big thank you to the ABA and the NLADA for an incredible Equal Justice Conference. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York State Senator co-sponsoring bills to make state pay for indigent defense and DA salary increases;
  • National Center for Access to Justice releases 2016 Justice Index;
  • US News and World Report has an article on LRAPs;
  • Southern District of Indiana proposes mandatory pro bono;
  • Delaware lawmakers want to ensure public defenders for juveniles;
  • Louisiana Senate to consider reworking indigent defense spending;
  • Indiana Supreme Court reorganizes civil legal aid programs;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 10, 2016 – “State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, is joining the fight to make the state pick up the tab for district attorney salary raises and indigent defense costs. The senator announced Monday that he is cosponsoring a pair of bills that would see the state take on these costs if passed. The first bill, S.7417, would direct the state to provide approximately $1.6 million in financial assistance to counties to cover the costs of district attorney salary raises.” “Sen. Griffo said he is also cosponsoring another Senate bill, S.6341A, that would require the state to pay for indigent defense costs that all except five counties currently cover. The five counties, Suffolk, Washington, Ontario, Onondaga and Schuyler, won a lawsuit in 2014 that ended in the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services taking charge of each county’s public defense expenses. Based on a report released in April, the New York State Office of Indigent Defense is recommending all counties outside of New York City increase indigent defense eligibility under the federal poverty level guidelines, which could increase the number of cases county indigent defense offices are required to handle. County officials from Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties have said the new rule, slated to go into effect this October, would increase indigent defense costs.” (Daily Courier Observer)

May 10, 2016 – “The District of Columbia and Massachusetts rank the highest when it comes to access to justice, while Mississippi and Wyoming are at the bottom, according to the National Center for Access to Justice’s latest state-by-state ranking. The center’s Justice Index www.justiceindex.org evaluates each state according to the number of civil legal aid attorneys for the poor, the availability of resources for people representing themselves in legal matters, and assistance for non-English speakers and the disabled.” “‘The biggest story in Justice Index 2016 is about the progress courts are making to help people without lawyers,’ said David Udell, executive director of the center, which is housed at Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. ‘Nothing replaces the role of a lawyer, but with judicial leadership, many states are pursuing common-sense reforms to help poor Americans in civil cases.'” “Udell said improved research and data on access to justice, as well as new efforts by top state judges to make the courts more user friendly, are spurring change. In August, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators passed a joint resolution calling for ‘an aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.'” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

May 11, 2016 – A basic article on law-school based loan repayment programs. It’s good to see these programs highlighted. Also, look for the NALP survey results on law-school based LRAP programs in the upcoming June Bulletin. (US News and World Report)

May 13, 2016 – “A proposed rule change would for the first time obligate lawyers to provide mandatory pro bono service to litigants in civil cases filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the court announced Friday. ‘Given that approximately fifty percent of the filings in this district last year were made by pro se litigants, the court has found it necessary to join the other district courts around the country that have instituted mandatory pro bono appointment programs,’ Southern District Chief Judge Richard Young wrote in a letter to the federal district bar. Young’s announcement accompanied a proposed rule change to Local Rule 87. Public comments on the change will be accepted through June 12. The court also established a web page regarding the change. Young said the rule ‘is designed to address the urgent and ever-increasing need to provide counsel for indigent litigants in certain civil cases.'” “Under the proposed rule, the court would create a voluntary panel of attorneys who are willing to represent indigent litigants, as well as an obligatory panel that would be used when there are insufficient resources available from the voluntary panel.” (The Indiana Lawyer)

May 16, 2016 – “Top Delaware lawmakers want to guarantee juveniles have access to a public defender, regardless of family income or the level of their alleged crime. The state Office of Defense Services already offers free legal representation to young people facing charges, even though it’s not required by state law. House Bill 382 seeks to set the policy in stone so that future budget cuts or changes in leadership don’t change that. Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement, ‘We can’t rely on current practice as a guarantee for the future.’ The change, if approved, would mean the courts and Public Defender’s Office will be required to continue the practice.” (Delaware Online)

May 17, 2016 – “An effort to reshuffle how Louisiana spends its money on indigent defense is edging closer to final legislative passage. The proposal by Rep. Sherman Mack, an Albany Republican, would require at least 65 percent of the state public defender board’s financing to flow to local indigent defenders. That could steer money away from appeals of death sentences for poor defendants. A Senate judiciary committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to send Mack’s House-approved bill to the full Senate. Some local public defenders have stopped taking cases because of money shortages, prompting lawsuits. Bill supporters say the local public defenders need the money and too much money is spent on capital defense cases by the board. Opponents say more dollars are needed overall to pay for indigent defense.” (KATC)

May 18, 2016 – “The Indiana Supreme Court is reorganizing its programs aimed at ensuring low-income Hoosiers have equal access to the state’s civil court system. Chief Justice Loretta Rush, in an order issued Tuesday, established the 17-member Coalition for Court Access, led by Justice Steven David, to manage the provision of legal aid to individuals unable to afford attorneys for civil lawsuits. The new coalition replaces the state’s Pro Bono Commission, the Indiana Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services and the Indiana Supreme Court Committee on Unrepresented Litigants, all of which were terminated by Rush’s order. However, much of the work of those groups will continue under the Coalition for Court Access, including the Northwest Indiana pro bono committee which annually evaluates and reports on the availability and need for civil legal aid in the Region.” (NWI The Times)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin will receive the Boston Bar Association’s John G. Brooks Legal Services Award during the association’s annual Law Day Dinner on May 12. Nagin is the Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education and serves as the faculty director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center and the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School. The award was established to recognize professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent clients in greater Boston. Nagin’s work was credited with embodying the spirit of the award, on both the local and national levels. (Harvard Law Today)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 6, 2016

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

Happy Friday! I hope to see many of you at the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference next week in Chicago.  Because I will have an opportunity to share the news in person, the Digest will return on Friday, May 20.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid of Nebraska establishes autistic legal hotline;
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court approves petitions encouraging more pro bono work;
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announces pro bono partnership with the Americans for Safe Access Foundation;
  • Federal government seeks to join suit against Idaho’s public defense system;
  • Missouri to get $6.7 million for foreclosure help;
  • Saint Louis University School of Law legal clinics and St. Louis Housing Authority receive grant;
  • Lambda Legal announces new executive director;
  • Milwaukee programs get grant for legal services;
  • Public defenders in Tennessee county have stopped taking cases;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 28, 2016 – “Autism affects approximately 1% of children ages three to 18 in Nebraska, according to the Autism Action Partnership. The Legal Aid of Nebraska recently received a grant from the Autism Action Partnership in Omaha to provide free legal advice and assistance to people with autism and families who help an autistic relative. Children and their families often run into problems and barriers to leading full, productive lives, particularly if they are low-income families, Legal Aid said Thursday. Landlords sometimes misunderstand these families, schools refuse to help with education, social service agencies do not provide benefits, child welfare officials and law enforcement may see neglect rather than parents fighting for their kids. The project will be led through Legal Aid’s Medical-Legal Partnership Project with assistance from the University Of Nebraska Medical Center Munroe-Meyer Institute, and the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.” (North Platte Bulletin)

April 28, 2016 – “A package approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court is designed to encourage more pro bono work and increase access to justice. Attorneys will be able to get up to six continuing legal education (CLE) credits per reporting period for doing qualified pro bono work, under a petition that was recently adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, subject to minor language changes.” “The court also adopted a so-called cy pres petition, submitted by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission, which will require a portion of unclaimed class action awards (residual funds) to be diverted to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF), which supports legal services to low-income and indigent persons.” (State Bar of Wisconsin)

April 28, 2016 – “Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced a pro bono partnership Thursday with the Americans for Safe Access Foundation, a medical marijuana advocacy group, signifying to some that the push to make legal cannabis available to patients nationwide has gone mainstream. The Oakland, California-based nonprofit, which lobbies lawmakers on how to improve their states’ medical marijuana laws and seeks to educate patients on their rights, will work with Orrick lawyers to update a series of manuals on state medical marijuana laws. Eventually, Orrick hopes to coordinate a hotline for medical marijuana patients in need of legal advice that will involve other law firms.” (The American Lawyer)

April 29, 2016 – “The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson are requesting to weigh in on a class-action lawsuit against Idaho’s public defense system. The parties earlier this month filed a motion to join the lawsuit on behalf of the United States. The Idaho Supreme Court has not yet approved the request. ‘The United States has a strong interest in ensuring that all jurisdictions — federal, state, and local — fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide counsel to criminal defendants and juveniles facing incarceration who cannot afford an attorney,’ the motion read.” (Hastings Tribune)

April, 29, 2016 – “The Texas Indigent Defense Commission is providing Bexar County with a $600,000 grant to provide attorney services for the homeless and those with mental health issues. The program is designed to identify people often called ‘frequent fliers’ – people who are in and out of the court system for a variety of minor offenses. Instead of going to jail they are offered options, from housing to medical attention and job search guidance. ‘Locking somebody up, just putting them in jail, doesn’t seem to be the answer,’ said Chief Public Defender Michael Young. ‘And I think we’re finally realizing that.’ Young oversees the program funded by the grant.” (KSAT)

April 29, 2016 – “Missouri will get $6.7 million from a settlement with Bank of America, and most of the money would be used for legal help for people facing mortgage foreclosure. The money comes from a 2014 settlement with Bank of America over mortgage issues. Besides help in foreclosure cases, the money can be used for community development. The money will go to the Missouri Lawyer Trust Account Foundation, the settlement monitor announced. The Foundation pools small-dollar escrow accounts from lawyers around the state, and collects interest on the money. About 90 percent of the interest is used to help four legal aid groups serving the poor. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, based in St. Louis, is one of the four. The group also funds other legal-related programs, such as the Court Appointed Special Advocate program designed to help children in foster care around St. Louis. Denise Brown, the foundation’s executive director, said the group hasn’t decided how the $6.7 million will be distributed. The foundation’s distribution usually ranges from $600,000 to $1.3 million per year.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

April 29, 2016 – “The School of Law Legal Clinics has partnered with St. Louis Housing Authority (SLHA) for a $100,000 grant to create a youth re-entry program in St. Louis. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, is part of a $1.75 million effort for public housing authorities and nonprofit legal services across the country to provide needed pro bono legal services aimed at youth. The Legal Clinics will work with SLHA to focus on sealing and correcting criminal records for target youth, removing records by participation in diversion programs and reinstating revoked or suspended drivers licenses. The program will also provide information about collateral consequences of criminal involvement and connect target youth with existing supportive service partners to assist with a variety of needs including employment, housing and health. Another partner includes St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) which will provide referrals to the program and connect youth with training and employment opportunities.” (Saint Louis University News)

May 2, 2016 – “Rachel B. Tiven has been hired as the new CEO of Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest legal organization fighting for equality on behalf of LGBT people and those living with HIV. Tiven is currently executive director of the Immigrant Justice Corps. ‘Rachel’s track record of strengthening and growing mission-driven organizations into national forces for legal, political, and social change made her the clear choice to lead Lambda Legal going forward,’ said Tracey Wallace and Stephen Winters, co-chairs, Lambda Legal Board of Directors. ‘The list of victories yet to be won is long, and requires a leader who can ensure equality and dignity for our community, our families and all our loved ones. We’re confident Rachel is the leader to take us forward.'” (Windy City Times)

May 3, 2016 – “Federal and city officials at a news conference Monday announced a $100,000 grant awarded to the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and Legal Action of Wisconsin. The money will be used to help provide legal services to people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are current public housing residents, or those who would be living in public housing but can’t because of their criminal records.The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, will be used to provide services to young adults, including helping to expunge, seal or correct criminal records as allowed by state law; reinstate revoked or suspended driver’s licenses; or provide job counseling and family law services.” (Journal Sentinel)

May 5, 2016 – “This week Williamson County [Tennessee] made headlines when the district’s public defender said her assistants will not be taking on new cases because of their existing case load. The Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference – charged with filling the state’s obligation to provide a lawyer to those who can’t afford one in criminal cases – says the problem exists throughout the state. Paige Edwards, the conference’s assistant executive director, says she hears from many who are overwhelmed with cases. ‘The fact that more courts have been created and you only have limited staff to go to all those courts, it’s stretching the staff thin,’ she explains. Edwards says population growth has added to demand and more state attorney positions haven’t been added since the 2007 budget year. ” (Public News Service)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Donna Peel is using sharing-economy principles and woman power to help fill a dire need for legal-aid lawyers. Peel is the founder of Pro Bono Network, an Oak Park, Ill., non-profit organization that provides about 40 volunteer lawyers a month to Chicago-area legal aid agencies. About 90 percent of the 200 attorneys in the network are women and one-third are stay-at-home moms, all of whom do pro bono work when it fits in their schedule — kind of like a part-time Uber driver. The Pro Bono Network’s mission is to be “a force multiplier” for legal aid by making volunteering hyper-easy, Peel says. To do so, it’s harnessing the same broad workplace shift away from traditional 9-to-5 office work and toward more malleable remote and part-time arrangements that its high-tech, for-profit cousins are built on. But rather than offering attorneys a little side income, Pro Bono Network is helping them fill a yawning social need: free legal assistance for low-income people. Legal aid resources are so meager, Peel says, that only about half of Chicagoans who qualify for assistance get help today. (Forbes)

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

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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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