Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

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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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 6, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Harvard Law School digitizing US case law and offering it free;
  • Wisconsin law firm launches student loan defense practice;
  • Central New York now has one place the poor can go for civil legal services;
  • Legal Aid of Western Missouri receives grant for pro bono partnerships;
  • Ohio Supreme Court subcommittee says assigned counsel system isn’t broken;
  • Roger Williams University School of Law and Providence law firm open veterans appeals clinic;
  • University of Georgia School of Law to open nation’s first child sexual abuse victim clinic;
  • Rocket Lawyer and Bay Area Legal Aid partners on pilot project;
  • LSC awards Technology Innovation Grants;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 29, 2015 – “Harvard Law School has announced that, with the support of Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics platform, it is digitizing its entire collection of U.S. case law, one of the largest collections of legal materials in the world, and that it will make the collection available online, for free, to anyone with an Internet connection. The ‘Free the Law‘ initiative will provide open, wide-ranging access to American case law for the first time in United States history. ‘Driving this effort is a shared belief that the law should be free and open to all,’ said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. ‘Using technology to create broad access to legal information will help create a more transparent and more just legal system.'” “Said Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans: ‘This is a great development. Making legal materials and analytical tools available for free will be of great value to non-profit legal aid lawyers in providing essential legal services to low-income people.'” (Harvard Law Today)

October 29, 2015 – “As economists cast wary eyes on the national burden of student loan debt, Horizons Law Group has launched a new, unique practice for student loan defense, led by an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Laurie A. Bigsby, a Pewaukee [Wisconsin] resident, has more than two decades’ experience representing clients in personal finance matters, including Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy cases, and administration of probate cases. Her student loan solutions practice centers on a cutting-edge area of law with $1.2 trillion in student loan debt hanging over the nation’s economy. Eerily similar to the mortgage meltdown, digging into these cases often uncovers illegal harassment of borrowers, missing or forged documents, and loans sold off into securitized trusts.” “‘My sole focus is that clients are treated fairly, and allowed due process to seek a resolution,’ she said.” I suspect we will see more of these types of dedicated practices.  (Lake Country Now)

October 29, 2015 –  Here is an excellent collaboration to bring services to those who desperately need them, and don’t always know where to look. “A new one-stop destination will officially open today to serve those basic needs of Central New York’s poor — and vulnerable — population. The George H. Lowe Center for Justice is located on the third floor of Financial Plaza, 221 S. Warren St. in downtown Syracuse. It’s within walking distance of the bus station, the Civic Center and other destinations critical to poor people. The center brings three little-known legal service providers under one roof: Legal Services of Central New York, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York and the Volunteer Lawyers Project. All three were in separate offices downtown. What’s the difference between the three? To someone in need of legal help, it doesn’t matter. By bringing them into one location, a client will be sent to the appropriate lawyer, regardless of what name they work under. The separate entities are required by law because they are funded with a patchwork of 80 to 90 grants for different purposes: evictions, divorces, etc. But the differences are now masked, with the groups sharing office space and expertise.” (Syracuse.com)

October 30, 2015 – “Legal Aid of Western Missouri received a 24-month grant worth $257,441 that it will use to create pro bono partnerships with large law firms to help improve neighborhoods in Kansas City’s urban core. The Adopt-a-Neighborhood project seeks to hire attorneys from respected, private law firms to serve as general counsel for needy neighborhoods that have major and often unseen legal needs. Issues range from lack of access to healthy food to blighted properties that never get fixed. Pro bono opportunities may include the simple negotiation of documents and contracts for small community nonprofits, litigating clear title and abandoned property issues, assisting with negotiations to bring a grocery store to a neighborhood, or converting an abandoned warehouse into a community center.”  (Kansas City Business Journal)

October 30, 2015 – “The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday released a report by a subcommittee that found no evidence of abuse in the way judges assign lawyers for poor defendants. The report caps Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s years-long and vocal push to restrict judges’ ability to pick private defense attorneys to represent poor defendants who don’t get a public defender. While small changes to state rules should be made to encourage judges to spread cases to more attorneys, “individual courts should remain free to adopt appointment systems,” the court’s Advisory Committee on Case Management Subcommittee on Court Appointments wrote in the 22-page report. The committee submitted the findings to the Ohio Supreme Court, which will consider whether the recommendations should be written into the state rules governing the assigned counsel process.” “The subcommittee rejected the notion that allowing judges to pick defense counsel breeds corruption, saying it found ‘no readily apparent evidence of abuse in the current system.'” The subcommittee recommended changing Ohio’s rules to encourage judges to spread their appointments among the widest possible list of qualified defense attorneys. That process would allow young attorneys to get on the list and begin working more quickly, and would make complaints of favoritism more difficult.” (Cleveland.com)

November 2, 2015 – “Law students at Roger Williams University will get federal appeals court experience, and veterans who have been denied disability benefits will get free lawyers for their appeals in a collaboration announced Monday at the Federal Courthouse on Exchange Street. Rhode Island’s only law school and the Providence-based law firm of Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick on Monday announced they will together operate the Veterans Disability Appeals Field Clinic. Students will staff the clinic in the law firm’s office at One Turks Head Place in Providence. Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick has been operating a similar clinic in Boston with Harvard University law students. A news release announcing the program said lawyers at the firm will guide RWU law students as the students review records and identify evidence, draft memos, discuss the appeal in conferences, potentially negotiate ways to settle the appeal, participate in mock arguments and, at times, argue the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The veterans appeals court is based in Washington, but its judges sometimes take the court on the road to hear cases in other cities. At Monday’s ceremony, Dean Michael J. Yelnosky said the program is the law school’s first clinic for appellate work.” (Providence Journal)

November 2, 2015 – “The University of Georgia School of Law will be the first in the nation to have an experiential learning opportunity dedicated solely to the assistance of victims of child sexual abuse. The Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic will open January 2016. Initial funding for the clinic has been donated by Georgia Law alumnus Marlan B. Wilbanks, who received his Juris Doctor in 1986. It is expected that many of the clinic’s first clients will be those now eligible to bring civil charges against their abusers as a result of the passage of House Bill 17, the “Hidden Predator Act,” by the Georgia legislature.” “A nationwide search was launched last week to identify a director for the new clinic.” (UGA Today)

November 3, 2015 – “In furtherance of its mission to increase access to affordable legal assistance, Rocket Lawyer is teaming up with Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal). Through this pilot project, Rocket Lawyer will train BayLegal’s attorneys on its platform. Together, Rocket Lawyer and BayLegal will explore creative solutions to aid low-income clients solve their legal problems. The pilot project leverages Rocket Lawyer’s technology and resources so that BayLegal can help more clients. ‘Rocket Lawyer’s technology platform is the perfect complement to the wonderful work done by legal aid organizations across this country,’ said Alon Rotem, Rocket Lawyer general counsel who helped to launch the pilot. ‘Our passion to make the law simple and affordable for everyone makes us kindred spirits with organizations like Bay Area Legal Aid, and we are proud to partner with them to expand access to justice to indigent clients in our local community.’ ‘Bay Area Legal Aid is thrilled to partner with Rocket Lawyer to creatively transform legal services for our client community,’ said Alex Gulotta, executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid. ‘Civil legal aid ensures fairness in the justice system, and every year legal aid nonprofits are only able to serve a fraction of the need. By harnessing the power of Rocket Lawyer’s platform, our partnership has the potential to amplify the number of clients we can help.'” (Market Wired)

November 5, 2015 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that 30 organizations nationwide will receive Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) funding in 2015. The grants will support a variety of initiatives, including developing a website with special resources for seniors and domestic violence victims; creating a hotline for family and housing law advice that can be accessed by text message; and implementing a videoconferencing system to conduct remote client interviews and provide informational videos.” Get the full list of grantees and their projects here.  (Legal Services Corporation)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Trent Cameron and Jennifer Shaw – Illinois attorneys

Shortly after graduating from SIUC, Trent Cameron began helping an elderly man pay his bills and access public benefits to which he was entitled. The man also needed help searching for a house and other day-to-day tasks.

Shortly after starting her law career, Jennifer Shaw began representing domestic violence victims. That was around 1996. “I thought, if I can find a job and just do orders of protection that helps people who are victims of domestic violence, that would be the greatest thing,” Shaw said to a room filled with mostly lawyers and judges on Tuesday at the annual Celebrate Pro Bono Luncheon.

Cameron and Shaw, both of Edwardsville, Illinois, were given the Rising Young Star Award, and the Pro Bono Service Award, respectively, by the Third Judicial Circuit. In all, more than a hundred lawyers, mediators and volunteers were recognized for taking time out of their practices to volunteer to help low-income people. Cameron, while also handling his own cases, last year volunteered more than 10 hours a week to do research, draft pleadings, and argue cases in court for the Land of Lincoln Foundation. Shaw has completed 15 long-term cases for Land of Lincoln in the past decade. Today she is managing partner at the Shaw Law Group in Edwardsville.

The need for lawyers to volunteer is great, said Michael Bergmann, who directs the Public Interest Law Initiative. Illinois has only 420 full-time legal aid attorneys but at any one time only 150 of them are available to serve low-income people, he said. “Put another way, that is one attorney available for every 6,415 low income people,” said Bergmann. “Contrast that with one private attorney for every 429 people in the general population above poverty level.”  Congratulations and keep up the good work!

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 30, 2015

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

Happy Halloween!  And Happy National Pro Bono Week.  We hope you’ve enjoyed your pro bono projects and will continue them long past this week.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Task force to review legal aid for Tennessee’s poor;
  • Workforce Recruitment Program marks 20th anniversary;
  • OPM pilots “resume mining” on USAJobs;
  • Indiana Supreme Court awards $450,000 in grants;
  • Minnesota law firm launches free online pro bono training;
  • Task force recommends state-wide oversight of Utah’s indigent defense system;
  • Iowa State Public Defender’s Office launches wrongful conviction unit;
  • App to aid migrant workers wins 3rd Hackcess to Justice hackathon;
  • Ball State University to open legal clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 23, 2015 – “The state funding system that pays for attorneys for people who cannot afford them is the subject of a special task force review. The Tennessee Supreme Court announced this week it created the Indigent Representation Task Force. The members of the group are judges, attorneys and others who work in criminal justice. They are tasked with reviewing: how attorneys are compensated for their work with people who cannot afford to pay (those who are indigent), how people are determined to qualify for legal services, how services are delivered and how the program funding is handled. The goal is to make sure the program is addressing the needs of people in Tennessee.” (The Tennesseean)

October 23, 2015 – “This month, as the Workforce Recruitment Program marks its 20th year of hiring college students and recent graduates with disabilities into the federal workforce, it highlights the Defense Department’s achievement of a more diverse workforce, DoD officials said. DoD and the Labor Department formed the WRP through a presidential executive order to increase federal employment opportunities for those with disabilities, and in doing so, the agencies added a diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture and skill, officials said. This year is also the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th anniversary. The WRP helps to break down stereotypes and barriers for disabled students, and their skill sets add to DoD’s military readiness mission, said Donald Minner, supervisor of a WRP intern at the Defense Threat Reduction Program. ‘WRP participants bring a freshness, excitement and enthusiasm,’ he said.”  (Department of Defense News)

October 23, 2015 – “The Office of Personnel Management is piloting changes to the USAJobs website that makes users’ resumes searchable by hiring managers. Called ‘resume mining,’ the tool allows hiring managers at agencies participating in the pilot to search for keywords in resumes users have agreed to make searchable. Managers can then reach out to federal job applicants and invite them to apply for certain positions. The new capability is being piloted ‘across several agencies,’ Kimberly Holden, OPM’s deputy director for recruitment and hiring, said last week in a Government Executive panel discussion. About 3 million resumes are searchable. The resume mining pilot is the latest in a series of iterative improvements to USAJobs launched by OPM’s Innovation Lab in an effort to make the site more user friendly and efficient.” (Nextgov)

October 26, 2015 – “The Indiana Supreme Court has awarded $450,000 in grants that will pay for court reforms such as helping people not fluent in English get legal aid. The funding that’s being directed to the 15 counties, five pro bono districts and one committee is intended for reforms in two primary categories. One effort will help courts in the chosen counties better manage the increasing caseload of people involved in lawsuits who don’t have legal representation. The grants’ other aim is to help people who don’t speak fluent English get legal aid. Since 2008, the state Supreme Court has awarded more than $2.4 million in grant funding to nearly 100 trial courts and judicial agencies for a wide variety of court-related improvements and reforms.”  (WLFI)

October 26, 2015 – “Lindquist & Vennum LLP has launched a free online training for effectively delivering pro bono legal services. The training features video from a discussion held at Target Corp. headquarters last year. The firm is partnering with the Volunteer Lawyers Network to offer the training online. ‘We were thrilled with the response to last year’s training – both in attendees and the quality of the discussion,’ said Cynthia Anderson, Lindquist & Vennum’s pro bono director. ‘That’s why Lindquist is so excited to partner with VLN to make the training available to a nationwide audience through this online course.’ The curriculum is available for free for any individual or organization that provides pro bono legal services to indigent clients and cannot afford to pay for the materials. Five individual modules are intended to guide the legal community toward stronger client relationships, improved communication, and better legal outcomes for people in need. ‘“Nationally, up to 20 percent of legal representation to those in poverty can fail because of unseen cultural differences between people raised in middle class and those raised in generational poverty,’ said Martha Delaney, deputy director for the Volunteer Lawyers Network. ‘Not only are the consequences for the clients devastating, but the misunderstanding of socio-economic barriers can result in volunteer attrition and reinforced negative stereotypes that perpetuate generational poverty.’ For more information visit the firm’s website.” (Sioux Falls Business Journal)

October 26, 2015 – “For four years, a state task force has been delving into issues surrounding Utah’s indigent-defense system. As part of that, the task force hired the Sixth Amendment Center to review the way the accused are represented in Utah. The Sixth Amendment Center’s report was presented to Utah’s Judicial Council on Monday. The report highlighted flaws in the current system, which mostly centered around whether Utahns were given access to attorneys. The organization found that in Utah’s justice courts — where people often connect with the courts system for the first time — over half of defendants are never provided legal representation.” “In response to the Sixth Amendment Center report, the 31-member task force — comprised of judges, county attorneys, defense attorneys and others — made three recommendations to the judicial council Monday: that the Legislature create an Indigent Defense Commission; that local governments reform their indigent services contracts so that attorneys won’t face disincentives to doing effective work; and that the judicial branch ‘enhance the ability of judges to ensure compliance with right-to-counsel obligations.'” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

October 26, 2015 – “Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender. Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called ‘junk science.’ The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence. State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.” “The Iowa cases date back to the 1980’s and early 1990’s when hair analysis was common and before investigators used DNA evidence. State Public Defender Adam Gregg warns exonerations often take years to accomplish.   He says Iowa law allows for exonerations, but up to now there has been no systematic effort to uncover wrongful convictions.” (Iowa Public Radio)

October 27, 2015 – “After two days of brainstorming and collaboration in North Carolina’s capital city, lawyers, students and coders developed legal apps to aid farm workers, streamline legal aid cases and evaluate legal aid eligibility. Five teams competed at Hackcess to Justice NC, the ABA Journal’s hackathon series to find tech solutions to access-to-justice problems. The winning submission N.C. Farmworkers’ App was created by lawyer Caroline DiMaio and developer Edward Ingram. They took home the $1,500 top prize.” “DiMaio, the co-creator of the winning app, is a legal aid attorney in Raleigh who works primarily with migrant farm workers. She said the idea for her winning app grew out of that work. Many migrant farm workers would call for help or to report complaints, but could not tell her or her colleagues in what city or county—sometimes even what state—where they were working. She recalled driving around a North Carolina town with one client trying to spot a familiar landmark so she could file a complaint on his behalf with the appropriate authorities. With the N.C. Farmworkers’ App, migrant and seasonal farmworkers can find out what their legal rights are; collect evidence such as audio recordings or GPS coordinates of a field; and submit Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints to the Legal Aid of N.C. with an email or voice mail. The app is available in English and in Spanish.” (ABA Journal)

October 27, 2015 – “Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to provide legal services to people in the county and throughout the state starting in 2017. The legal studies program received a $38,137 Academic Excellence Grant from President Paul W. Ferguson to fund the initiative. The Access to Justice (ATJ) Clinic will be fully running by Spring/Summer 2017. Students will be assigned legal cases to assist with and will stay with those cases until they are done, even if they continue after the students graduate. Students will have to apply to be part of the clinic.” “There will be a new course available for students who will work in the clinic, called Access to Justice in the Legal System. It will provide a reference point for students, showing the importance of legal system accessibility for the community. The clinic will also provide service learning assignments to legal studies students, which will be incorporated into their courses. ”  (The Ball State Daily)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

YOU!  This has been an incredible week of giving!  There were so many stories, I couldn’t pick just one.  Thank you to all of you who gave of your time and expertise this week.  Let’s keep it going. And, for more inspiration, check out Pro Bono Net’s “Volunteer-A-Day” initiative, which showcases a new volunteer profile to our national community each day of Pro Bono Week.

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 16, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  We’re looking forward to the 2015 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference next week.  There is still time to register. Since we’ll be sharing the news in person, the Digest will take a break next week and return on October 30.  And don’t forget National Pro Bono week is October 25-31, 2015.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Alameda County (California) wins grant to staff PDs at arraignments;
  • Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project wins exoneration of client;
  • Grant funds new legal aid help at Massachusetts hospital;
  • New Welcome House in Vancouver to provide comprehensive services to immigrants;
  • Greenberg Traurig, LLP names Caroline J. Heller as head of firmwide Pro Bono Program;
  • Grant will bring more legal aid to northeastern New York;
  • New York firms contribute nearly $2 million to new low bono effort;
  • Montana’s Access to Justice Commission seeks feedback in a series of forums;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 8, 2015 – “The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has won a $400,000 competitive grant that it says will allow it to staff defense attorneys in arraignment courtrooms and thereby better serve its clients. ‘I think it’s critically important to have an attorney at someone’s first court appearance, but we’ve never had the funding,’ Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said. ‘The arraignment is the first point of contact with the court, when bail is set, and sometimes the client spends a day in custody for no reason.’ The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has 103 staff attorneys serving approximately 27,000 clients a year. The National Legal Aid & Defender Association announced last week that Alameda County was one of five entities in the country that it was awarding grants under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Defense Initiative.” (San Jose Mercury News)

October 8, 2015 – “The Tehama County Superior Court in northern California has overturned the wrongful conviction of Larry Pohlschneider, a client of Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project, after nearly 15 years of wrongful imprisonment for child molestation charges based on flawed medical evidence. The Oct. 7 decision marks the 18th victory for the NCIP since its inception in 2001. Attorneys for Pohlschneider, 46, and the Tehama County District Attorney agreed that his 2000 conviction should be vacated and the charges dismissed due to the ineffective assistance of Pohlschneider’s trial counsel. The true perpetrator has pleaded guilty and been imprisoned. NCIP Assistant Legal Director Maitreya Badami, Pohlschneider’s lead attorney, commended the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office for its willingness to look at this case with fresh eyes when presented with evidence from NCIP’s investigation.” (Santa Clara University Press)

October 11, 2015 – “The Legal Services Corporation has awarded a grant valued at more than $200,000 to Community Legal Aid so that it can partner with UMass Memorial Health Care and develop a clinic-based program to provide legal services for low-income and minority communities. The partnership is based on a new primary care model at three UMass Memorial Medical Center clinics that serve a high number of Medicaid patients. The goal is better health outcomes. The framework integrates medical care and behavioral health and adds legal services providers, including volunteer (pro bono) private attorneys. They will help address legal barriers to good health such as substandard housing and access to benefits.”  (Telegram.com)

October 12, 2015 – “When the $24.5-million Welcome House in Vancouver is completed in March 2016, it will form a new housing concept in providing shelter and support systems, including legal advice, for refugees and immigrants. ‘This is the first building of its kind in the world,’ says director of settlement service Chris Friesen for the Immigration Services Society of British Columbia. There is a similar facility in Lisbon, Portugal, but it does not provide short- and long-term housing for refugees. The Vancouver ISS facility has 16 housing units which can accommodate up to 138 beds. The 58,000-square-foot Welcome House, designed by Vancouver’s Henrique Partners Architects, is being billed as a one-stop shop for all refugee and immigrant needs. It consists of six floors with the first two providing services such as a pro bono legal clinic, Van City banking services, primary medical care, multilingual trauma support and treatment, multilingual settlement support staff for finding permanent accommodation, employment services, and volunteer services in the community, food bank and second-hand clothing outlets. The building will also house educational services with seven classrooms for ESL, a computer lab plus child-care facilities. It will also have meeting rooms for seminars. Friesen says it will provide office space that pro bono lawyers can use to work with new immigrants and refugees.” (Canadian Lawyer Magazine)

October 13, 2015 – “Caroline J. Heller, Litigation Practice shareholder in the New York office of international law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP, has been named head of the Pro Bono Program. Heller has been doing pro bono at Greenberg Traurig since 2004, when she joined the firm as an associate. She has dedicated over 3,000 hours to the pro bono representation of, among others, parents of children with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings, as well as supervising the firm’s associates on their pro bono cases.” (Benzinga)

October 14, 2015 – “Low-income people in Columbia and Greene counties will have more access to legal aid, thanks to a recent grant to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY). The grant will allow the society to ‘build a technological bridge between urban pro bono volunteers and clients in Columbia and Greene counties and other counties,’ said society Executive Director Lillian Moy. The society received a $362,559 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant from the Legal Services Corp., a non-profit that describes itself as ‘the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation.’ The grant ‘will allow lawyers to conduct online interviews and share documents so they can help review and prepare pleadings for self-represented litigants in housing and consumer law matters,’ according to a press release from the society. ‘People will be able to do it from their computers at work or home,’ Moy said. ‘The client would be interviewed by a pro bono volunteer in Albany.’ Also included in the grant are Legal Assistance of Western New York and the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County.” (The Daily Mail)

October 14, 2015 – “Nineteen major law firms have pledged $1.9 million to help provide affordable legal services to people in the New York City area with modest incomes who make too much to qualify for free legal aid. The effort, dubbed the Court Square Law Project, marks the second ‘low bono’ project announced this year by firms attempting to address the pressing need for legal services for limited-income clients. Davis Polk & Wardwell partner Carey Dunne, who sits on Court Square’s executive committee, said the project aims to address a fundamental paradox in the legal profession. ‘In some years 50 percent or more of law school graduates are not getting legal jobs. Some are working as baristas,’ he said. ‘At the same time, there’s a huge unmet need for legal services for people of moderate means.’ Each firm is contributing $100,000 to the project, to be located at the City University of New York School of Law in Long Island City. A partnership between the the New York City Bar Association, CUNY and the firms, Court Square plans to accept clients next year. It will be staffed by 10 recent law school graduates, who will be enrolled in a special CUNY graduate law program and receive a $44,000 annual stipend. The project is not limited to hiring CUNY alumni. Most, but not all, of these 19 contributing firms are based in New York, while the rest have major Manhattan offices.” (American Lawyer)(subscription required)

October 15, 2015 – “The Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission is looking for help assessing what is and isn’t working as the state’s judicial caseload continues to grow at a fast clip. Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker says there’s been a big increase in people coming to Montana’s courts without a lawyer. ‘What we’ve learned from our judges and court staff is that when people do need a lawyer’s help, many of them aren’t able to get it and don’t really even know where to go.’ The commission is asking people and organizations with a stake in Montana’s courts to come to their public forums to talk about solutions.” (Montana Public Radio)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Golden Gate University School of Law (GGU Law) Associate Dean Cynthia Chandler was selected by California Women Lawyers to receive the prestigious Fay Stender Award for her advocacy for the rights of women in prison. “The annual award is given to a feminist attorney who, like Fay Stender, is committed to the representation of women, disadvantaged groups and unpopular causes, and whose courage, zest for life and demonstrated ability to effect change as a single individual make her a role model for women attorneys.”

Chandler, an adjunct professor and interim Associate Dean of Law Career Development at GGU Law, is a champion of public interest law in the Bay Area. Her work includes founding and co-founding several women’s legal rights organizations, including the Women’s Positive Legal Action Network and Justice Now, which advocate for the rights of imprisoned women. Chandler’s advocacy has been transformative, shaping numerous prison reform bills that ended California’s coercive sterilization of women in prison, as well as the establishment of the nation’s first compassionate release programs for terminally ill inmates.  Congratulations to Dean Chandler! (Market Wired)

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

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 9, 2015

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

Happy Friday!  We’re just two weeks away from the NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference.  There is still time to register. I look forward to seeing my law school and employer colleagues soon.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal aid grant will fund fair housing enforcement in Minnesota;
  • Alberta lawyers putting pressure on government to adequately fund legal aid;
  • New funding for foreclosure work in New York;
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law and USPTO collaborate on pro bono program;
  • Public defender’s office may lose some independence in new North Carolina budget;
  • Kentucky’s public defender program receives DOJ grant;
  • Lewis & Clark Law School launches new clinic;
  • New pro bono legal option opens in south Florida;
  • Proskauer Rose LLP welcomes first full-time pro bono partner;
  • Florida Justice Access Commission offers first recommendations;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 1, 2015 – “Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance has been awarded $325,000 to fight housing discrimination. The funds were awarded today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under its Fair Housing Initiatives Program. The grant will fund an effort by Mid-Minnesota and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services to improve fair housing enforcement in southern and central Minnesota.” (Minnesota Lawyer)(subscription required)

October 2, 2015 – “Alberta lawyers say they’ll stop providing free services for the poor seeking court orders for legal aid in hopes it’ll force the province to properly fund the system. It would remove their pro bono services directing court orders to access legal aid for those whose incomes aren’t quite low enough to qualify for it. The lawyers say they’ll cease that free work Nov. 1 in a system now in crisis and plagued with a growing backlog due to insufficient funds. Those free legal services have been supplied for the past year while $5.5 million in emergency funding provided by the former PC government has long expired, say the lawyers.”  (Calgary Sun)

October 2, 2015 – “[New York] Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday announced $11.5 million in new funding for more than two dozen legal services organizations statewide to help prevent foreclosures, keep families in their homes, and rebuild communities hit hardest by the housing crash. Awards will be given to 28 legal services providers with proven track records of providing services to at-risk homeowners. The new round of funding will support the Homeowner Protection Program, a network of nearly 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free, high-quality assistance to at-risk families across New York to help them avoid foreclosure.” “The grants, which are now before the New York State Comptroller for review and final approval, are for one year with a possibility of a one-year renewal. The new round of funding brings the total foreclosure prevention investment by the Office of the Attorney General to more than $70 million.” (The Journal News)

October 2, 2015 – “Chicago-Kent College of Law and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have collaborated to establish the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub, a pro bono program that will help qualified, low-income inventors and small businesses in Illinois obtain volunteer legal assistance from local patent agents or attorneys licensed to practice before the USPTO.” “The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub was created as part of a USPTO pro bono initiative to provide assistance with the patent application and prosecution process for inventors in all 50 states. The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub will coordinate services to inventors in Illinois, who are requesting assistance and who meet eligibility requirements to participate in the program. The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub will not provide legal advice. Its services are limited to screening applicants for eligibility and referring those applicants to volunteer attorneys for evaluation and possible representation.” (IIT Today)

October 5, 2015 – “The agency that oversees public defenders across North Carolina would lose independence under a change made in the state budget, Forsyth County Public Defender Paul James said last week. The change is twofold. The first change is transferring the N.C. Office of Indigent Defense Services to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. The second change, which is more troubling to James, would authorize the director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts to modify the budget of Indigent Defense Services without the approval of its board.” “‘This greatly reduces the independence of the IDS, which is supposed to be independent under all the best models for indigent defense in order to adequately protect the rights of those indigent clients we serve,’ James said in an email last week. James said the original proposed budget had put Indigent Defense Services under the Administrative Office of the Courts but still maintained IDS’s ability to make decisions about its own budget. The change giving authority to AOC’s director to modify the agency’s budget was placed into the final state budget.” “Thomas Maher, IDS’s executive director, said the last-minute change came as a surprise. ‘This is a significant change in granting some power to the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts,’ Maher said.” “Maher said he doesn’t expect the AOC director to interfere that much with his office, but the fact that he can, under the new budget, is concerning.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

October 5, 2015 – “The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance announced that the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA), Kentucky’s statewide public defender program, was awarded $374,859 under the DOJ Smart Defense Initiative program to address longstanding problems with its conflict representation system. The awarded funds will be used to implement sustainable changes to DPA’s methods of contracting conflict work including modification of DPA conflict contracts, DPA policies on conflict cases, conduct of conflict case and file review standards including documenting work done in conflict cases, time spent on cases, and client contact. DPA recruitment standards will be developed, including minimum training and experience qualifications and ongoing education requirements.” (Northern Kentucky Tribune)

October 5, 2015 – “Lewis & Clark Law School is now offering its students an innovative way to gain hands-on experience with criminal law. A new clinic called the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic is a collaboration between the law school and the Oregon Justice Resource Center and will benefit both law school students, and members of the community in need of legal resources. Students who are involved in the clinical program will have the option of being involved in three different projects, providing different ways to engage in the criminal justice system.” (Law|Street)

October 6, 2015 – “Cenacle Legal Services, a new pro bono legal option for the working poor, opened its doors Monday, following a blessing from its landlord — the Diocese of Venice — and an open house. The nonprofit will rely on pro bono work from area attorneys of all faiths and is meant to augment services offered by area organizations such as Gulf Coast Legal Services and Legal Aid of Manasota, to residents in the Englewood, North Port and Venice areas and will extend service to low-income people who make too much money to qualify for traditional legal aid.” “Attorneys affiliated with Cenacle Legal Services will take on cases in the areas of housing, elderly affairs, juvenile matters, veterans in need of public benefits and consumer rights.” (Herald-Tribune)

October 7, 2015 -“International law firm Proskauer [Rose LLP] is pleased to announce the arrival of William C. Silverman as a partner who will spearhead the firm’s global pro bono efforts. Mr. Silverman is the firm’s first partner-level lawyer who will lead the pro bono practice on a full-time basis. In his new position, Mr. Silverman, who has significant pro bono as well as extensive private and public sector experience in both the criminal and civil areas, will be responsible for identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers, ensuring widespread participation in these projects and ensuring that the pro bono work is performed at the highest level” (Business Wire)

October 7, 2015 – “The Florida Supreme Court should approve rule changes and technological development that would improve legal aid using limited resources, the state Commission on Access to Civil Justice recommended Wednesday. The commission issued its first interim report after nearly a year of work by its members, including lawyers, judges, prominent business leaders and educators. The 27-member group is looking for ways to help low- to moderate-income Floridians who can’t afford a lawyer and can’t miss work to deal with common legal issues such as divorces, custody battles, wills and landlord-tenant disputes, former Florida Bar President Greg Coleman said.” “The commission recommended at that meeting that the high court approve the continued development of a technology system that would walk Floridians through the first stages of relatively simple legal processes such as filing for divorce. The commission also asked the court to authorize the creation of a Florida Civil Legal Resources Access Site, a one-stop ‘knowledge base’ of all the resources available to Floridians involved in litigation, even if they don’t qualify for legal aid.” (Daily Business Review)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Fresno civil rights lawyer Chris Schneider is the executive director of Central California Legal Services (CCLS) and the most recent recipient of one of the highest honors given by the California State Bar: the Loren Miller Legal Services Award. Finding a passion for civil rights activism as a teenager, Chris has spent more than two decades working in civil legal aid.  Chris joined CCLS in 1993, and since then has grown the organization to house a staff of 50 who provide free legal services to immigrants and the poor throughout the central San Joaquin Valley. Under Chris’s leadership, CCLS was instrumental in getting a shopping center built in long-neglected southwest Fresno, helping the homeless in their legal fight with Fresno City Hall, and making sure poor rural residents didn’t get gouged in their utility bills. “Our mission is to advance justice and empower people,” said Chris, who will be given the award at the Bar’s annual meeting in Anaheim. Congratulations! (Legal Aid Association of California)

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

And a bonus music pick since Eulen’s previous football pick garnered some responses.  All in good fun!!

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 2, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Community Legal Aid (Massachusetts) to receive pro bono grant;
  • Kansas indigent defense system potentially reaching crisis;
  • Western Michigan Cooley Law School Innocence Project receives DOJ grant;
  • New York City Mayor announces expansion of legal aid to low-income tenants;
  • White House establishes Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable;
  • Legal Aid of North Carolina struggling with budget cuts;
  • Legal Aid Society (New York) to sue over cameras in courthouse interview rooms;
  • Advocates of civil legal services point to collateral benefits;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 24, 2015 – “The federal Legal Services Corp. has announced that Community Legal Aid in Worcester will receive a 24-month $209,524 pro bono grant to develop a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center. The model will address legal needs that can impact the health of low-income and minority communities. ”  (Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly)(subscription required)

September 27, 2015 – “In Kansas, where the state pays only $62 per hour, up to a cap of only a few thousand dollars in most cases, officials say they may have to start looking out of state to find attorneys who will take assigned cases because there just aren’t enough qualified, experienced attorneys in some Kansas counties who are willing to work for that rate. Patricia Scalia, executive director of the Kansas Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, told a legislative committee Monday that the problem is especially severe in some of the state’s smaller counties. ‘And because of the lack of qualified attorneys willing to accept appointed cases at the hourly rate that the board pays, we’re having to call in attorneys at a distance,’ Scalia told reporters after the hearing. ‘We have about exhausted the number of attorneys who are licensed in Kansas, and if this continued, it wouldn’t be too much longer before we were having to bring in attorneys from other states, Oklahoma or Missouri,’ she said.” “The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services is proposing to raise the payment rate through a regulatory change. Lawmakers raised no objections Monday to the proposed change. The board estimates the increased rates would cost about $200,000, which Scalia said could be funded through savings the agency realized in a set of resentencing cases earlier this year. A public hearing on that change is scheduled for Nov. 10th in Topeka.” (Lawrence Journal-World)

September 28, 2015 – “A federal grant is helping to boost the efforts of a southwestern Michigan legal clinic that works to exonerate people convicted of serious crimes. Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School announced Monday that their Innocence Project has received a $418,000 Justice Department grant. The money will help pay for case review, evidence location and DNA testing, as well as investigators, experts and a full-time attorney. Officials say in a news release the schools’ Innocence Project is investigating several dozen cases. It recently received roughly 200 more from a similar project in New York that’s no longer handling Michigan cases. The Michigan clinic has screened about 5,300 cases and exonerated three men who spent years in prison.” (Associated Press)

September 28, 2015 – “New York City will spend $12.3 million to expand a program providing legal aid to low-income tenants facing eviction at the hands of ‘unscrupulous landlords,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. He called the initiative an effort to prevent homelessness, saying free legal representation can help families fight harassment and eviction and stay in their homes.” “The city will target 15 neighborhoods where people are most likely to enter the homeless shelter system, including booming real estate markets such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Crown Heights in Brooklyn and Central and West Harlem in Manhattan.” “Adriene Holder, of the nonprofit Legal Aid Society, said the anti-eviction program and others like it are ‘about stabilizing communities and keeping people in place.'” (News Day)

September 28, 2015 – “What do 20 federal agencies, the United Nations, and civil legal aid have in common?  Plenty, according to President Obama who recently issued a presidential memorandum formally establishing the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR).  The presidential memorandum was announced by Roy Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity as well as Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at an event held on the eve of the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit in New York.  The event highlighted the inclusion of Goal 16 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Goal 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, for access to justice for all and for the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.  With Goal 16, the international community has recognized that access to justice is essential to sustainable development and necessary to end poverty.” “The Roundtable brings together 17 participating Federal partners to inspire new collaborations to jointly serve the Nation’s poor and middle class, and to better engage civil legal aid providers as Federal grantees, sub-grantees, and partners. Since the inception of the Roundtable, participating agencies have worked with civil legal aid partners, including non-profit organizations and the private bar, through outreach calls, webinars and other strategies to identify areas in which legal services can advance various Federal program objectives, and have been developing legal services-specific language as appropriate new grants and projects come on-line. They also have been working closely with Federal grantees to educate them about the value of collaborating with civil legal aid partners, and several are encouraging and inviting research proposals about the civil justice system.” The Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable “Toolkit” is an online tool designed to provide a roadmap to the ways in which legal services can enhance Federal strategies for serving vulnerable and underserved populations.  (DOJ Justice Blogs)

September 29, 2015 – “Officials with the Legal Aid of North Carolina say that state and federal budget cuts are crippling the agency, resulting in layoffs statewide.” “George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, said the agency is in the process of eliminating 45 positions from out of about 300 statewide. The agency lost about $1.4 million in state and other financing last year, Hausen said. Legal Aid could lose another $2 million from the federal government, based on the proposed U.S. House budget, he said. That would be a total of $3.5 million, he said. If the agency loses the $2 million in federal financing, that could mean that Legal Aid would have to cut another 50 positions, Hausen said.” “Hausen said that Legal Aid does not plan to reduce services.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

September 29, 2015 -“Some lawyers on Monday gave the new Staten Island Courthouse glowing reviews, but don’t count the Legal Aid Society among them. The nonprofit group, which represents those who can’t afford an attorney, will file a lawsuit later this week to remove video cameras from interview rooms for lawyers and criminal defendants awaiting arraignment, contending the cameras trample on their clients’ rights.” “‘It is a blatant violation of the attorney-client privilege and doesn’t happen in any other part in the city,’ Justine Luongo, the society’s attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice told reporters at the new $230-million courthouse just hours after its doors opened to the public for the first time. ‘Potentially, what we have here is an evidence-gathering mechanism that violates our clients’ rights.’ Luongo said the society would seek an injunction asking the court to stop the cameras from recording until a ruling is made on their legality. The brief is expected to be filed Wednesday, in either state or federal court. She said the city Correction Department said the cameras were installed for security reasons – a point Legal Aid vigorously contests.”  Many other groups share Legal Aid’s concerns, and will monitor the situation going forward. (Staten Island Live)

September 30, 2015 – “Providing civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers not only benefits the clients directly but benefits society as a whole by reducing spending on social programs and bringing more federal funding into the state, witnesses said at a hearing Tuesday held by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in Manhattan. The hearing at the Appellate Division, First Department, was the first of four—one in each of the state’s four judicial departments, that will be held over the next few weeks. Among the speakers was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said that by investing in legal services to address evictions, homelessness and domestic violence, the city can save money on shelter costs. Additionally, providing services can reduce the cost of litigation and increase the efficiency of the courts, he said.” “This is the sixth year in which Lippman has held hearings to address the ‘justice gap.’ Funding for civil legal services in the Judiciary budget is $85 million in the current fiscal year, up from about $12.5 million in 2011. Lippman will conduct the hearings alongside Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, New York State Bar Association President David Miranda and the presiding justice for the judicial department where each of the hearings are being held. On Tuesday, the panel included First Department Presiding Justice Luis Gonzalez.” (New York Law Journal)(free subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

“Since 2009 Attorney Richard S. Ravosa has been helping Massachusetts residents who need to file for bankruptcy, but cannot afford the cost. Ravosa, a native of Springfield, recently won the Paul H. Chapman award given to only five recipients a year from a national pool of nominations by the Atlanta based, Foundation For Improvement of Justice. The award recognizes those whose work improves the local, state, and federal systems of justice in the United States. Ravosa was selected due to his pro bono debt relief program, the Massachusetts Debt Relief Foundation, which he founded in order to represent residents free of charge who cannot afford to hire an attorney to file bankruptcy, but without bankruptcy relief, would be living in poverty or dangerously close to it.”  Congratulations! (Mass Live)

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

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Job(s)’o’th’week (Fellowship Edition) – Center for Constitutional Rights

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is looking for four fellows for the Bertha Fellowship, a two year fellowship starting in September 2016. CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Fellows will be assigned to work alongside lawyers in one of CCR’s three docket areas: the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, Government Misconduct/Racial Justice, and International Human Rights.

If this sounds like something for you, check out the full post on PSJD. (Application Deadline: October 16, 2015)

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 25, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • 2015 Trudeau Foundation Fellows announced;
  • Montana task force hears about problems with public defense system;
  • University of Georgia School of Law to launch Atlanta externship program;
  • Legal Services Corporation announces 2015 Pro Bono Innovation Grant recipients;
  • Legal Aid Ontario boosts students’ legal aid clinic funding;
  • Mid-Shore Pro Bono (Maryland) celebrates 10 years;
  • Tennessee attorney pro bono hours increase;
  • Federal funding for domestic abuse programs in New York;
  • ABA committee proposes eliminating ban on academic credit for paid externships for third time;
  • University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Memphis Area Legal Services, and area hospital develop unique partnership;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 15, 2015 – “The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation congratulates this year’s recipients of its prestigious research fellowships. These fellowships recognize public intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences who venture beyond the boundaries of their disciplines to find new solutions to complex issues of major importance to Canadians. The five new fellows appointed this year conduct research on: assisted suicide, Arab-Canadian youth, Canada’s relationship with the Indo-Pacific, justice as applied by armed rebels, and ethnobotany in support of Indigenous land claims. In addition to receiving a total of $225,000 over the next three years, each new fellow will enjoy unique access to the rich intellectual network of researchers and practitioners who have joined the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation community before them.  The Fellows are: Jocelyn Downie, Faculty of Law and Medicine, Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia), Bessma Momani, Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo (Ontario), Cleo Paskal, Visiting Fellow at the Montreal Centre for International Studies, Université de Montréal (Quebec), René Provost, Faculty of Law, McGill University (Quebec), and Nancy Turner, Environmental Studies, University of Victoria (British Columbia).”  (Trudeau Foundation)

September 17, 2015 – “Overworked public attorneys and a civil rights group on Thursday told Montana lawmakers and lawyers that funding problems may be seriously hurting the defense of the accused. Niki Zupanic, the policy director for ACLU of Montana, said a 2005 overhaul of the state’s public defense system has not corrected the problem of inadequate representation for defendants. The issue has persisted since the ACLU’s 2002 lawsuit that led Montana to rethink its approach to providing for the right to legal counsel, Zupinac said. A county-based system was replaced with the Office of the State Public Defender a decade ago, but running the office has been increasingly expensive. ‘Even though that inadequate (county-based) system no longer exists, the issues still persist,’ Zupanic said. Public defenders say they simply need more attorneys to handle a backlog of cases.” (Flathead Beacon)

September 18, 2015 – “The University of Georgia School of Law is opening an Atlanta campus next semester to give students more opportunities to gain real-world legal experience. Starting in January, second- and third-year students can gain practical skills through full-time, unpaid externships with Atlanta courts, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses. Possible placements could be with the offices of the governor or the attorney general, the Georgia Supreme Court or the House Democratic Caucus, according to the law school. The students will also take a clinical seminar, led by UGA Law’s civil clinic director, Alexander Scherr, to discuss their externship experiences and further their professional development. Students earn 10 credits for the externship and clinical seminar. They also have the option of taking up to two doctrinal classes.” (Daily Report)

September 18, 2015 – “15 legal aid organizations will receive grants to support innovations in pro bono legal services for low-income clients. Many of the projects will use technology to connect low-income populations to resources and services, while others aim to increase efficiency and effectiveness through partnerships with law schools, community organizations, and in-house corporate attorneys. Some projects will address issues affecting specific populations such as seniors, veterans, and low-income students. All the projects seek to engage and recruit pro bono lawyers and other volunteers to leverage LSC’s federal funding and increase the resources available to low-income clients.”  See the press release for the list of recipients. (Legal Services Corporation)

September 21, 2015 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) will increase the funding of each Student Legal Aid Services Society by$100,000 annually. As a result, these clinics will provide additional services to low-income Ontarians while helping to train the lawyers of tomorrow. Ontario’s seven Student Legal Aid Service Societies operate out of law schools, allowing students to provide legal services under the supervision of qualified lawyers. The student legal aid clinics plan to use the additional resources in the following ways:

  • Community and Legal Aid Services Program at York University’s Osgoode Hall will begin offering employment law services and increase the hours of existing staff.
  • Community Legal Aid at the University of Windsor will begin offering consumer law services and expand its existing employment law services.
  • Community Legal Services at London’s University of Western Ontario will take on more criminal and housing law cases.
  • Downtown Legal Services at the University of Toronto will expand its housing law services and launch a new employment law division.
  • Queen’s Legal Aid at Kingston’s Queen’s University will hire another lawyer to expand all its services.
  • The Community Legal Clinic at the University of Ottawa will expand its bilingual housing law services.

Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is in the process of establishing Lakehead Legal Services. The clinic will receive its additional$100,000 during the 2016/17 fiscal year.” (CNW)

September 21, 2015 – “Mid-Shore Pro Bono will celebrate 10 years of service to the community and honor individuals and organizations that have contributed to a decade of achievements at an awards reception Thursday, Oct. 15. Receiving the Retired Pro Bono Volunteer Award will be Marianne Dise, and Andie Ross will be the recipient of the Distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award. Talbot Senior Center will receive the Non-Legal or Organizational Involvement Award for its support of the delivery of pro bono legal services to low-income clients. The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Judge Karen Murphy Jensen for her continued efforts in furthering Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s mission. ‘We welcome everyone to come out and help us recognize these extraordinary individuals and organizations that contribute so much to our community,’ said Sandy Brown, Mid-Shore Pro Bono executive director. ‘We could not have served our clients so successfully for the past ten years without them and countless other volunteers and groups.'” (The Star Democrat)

September 21, 2015 -“The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has released its annual report showing that attorneys in Tennessee have increased the number of hours of free and reduced-rate legal services they are providing to those in need. The report shows that the number of hours of pro bono service volunteered by attorneys in Tennessee went up by nearly 3,000 hours in the last reporting year. ‘Tennessee attorneys continue to respond to the need for free legal assistance, but the Commission believes that there is more work being done than is being reported,’ said Doug Blaze, chairman of the Commission. The report relies on data collected in 2014 for work done in 2013.” (The Chattanoogan)

September 21, 2015 – “U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced $750,000 in federal funding for the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and the Unity House of Troy. Specifically, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York will receive $400,000 to strengthen civil and criminal legal assistance programs for adult and youth victims of domestic violence and the Unity House of Troy will receive $350,000 for a broad range of holistic, victim-centered transitional housing options and supportive services. The funding was allocated through the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women.” (Press Release)

September 22, 2015 – “For the third time in less than two years, an ABA committee has proposed lifting the ban in the law school accreditation standards on students receiving academic credit for paid externships. But the Standards Review Committee, which met Friday and Saturday in Atlanta, also agreed to forward such a proposal to the governing council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in case the council decides to keep the ban. ‘We’re just trying to be fair,’ said committee chair Scott Pagel, a professor and associate dean for information services at George Washington University Law School. ‘They’re the ones who have to decide, based on their reading of our proposed changes and the comments they receive from the community, if such a prohibition is still necessary.’ The ban on paid externships has been one of the most contentious issues to come before the council in recent years. The Law Student Division has lobbied hard to eliminate the prohibition, saying it limits the amount of field placement opportunities available to students. But many clinicians believe that eliminating the ban would undermine the academic purposes of the placements.” (ABA Journal)

September 22, 2015 – “In what officials called the first local partnership of its kind, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital will collaborate with Memphis Area Legal Services and the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law to address the legal and social issues affecting patient health, representatives of the three institutions announced Tuesday. Called Memphis CHiLD (Children’s Health Law Directive), the partnership will provide legal services, education and advocacy for children and their families. It will feature a variety of training and educational programs and a legal clinic at Le Bonheur where U of M law students have devoted space to work on cases and referrals and meet with patients and medical professionals. The initial focus of the collaboration will be assisting families with children suffering from severe asthma. Memphis CHiLD will try to get help for the families in dealing with issues such as mold in rental housing.” (The Commercial Appeal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) announced today that it has selected BNY Mellon, a signatory to the CPBO Challenge® initiative, White & Case, and the National LGBT Bar Association (LGBT Bar) to receive the 2015 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award in the Large Law category. The awardees were selected for their collaborative development of the Online LGBT Tax Resource, an innovative tool that leverages technology to provide pro bono legal assistance to same-sex married couples in the United States. CPBO, the global partnership project of Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), will present the award at the 2015 PBI Annual Dinner on November 5 in New York. (CSR Wire)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 18, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Pittsburgh School of Law announces incubator;
  • Hawaii State Judiciary self-help centers hit big milestone;
  • HBO comedy host John Oliver helps raise money for New Orleans public defenders;
  • Penn Law receives over $12 million for student scholarships, public interest and legal practice skills programming;
  • Florida considers automation to keep legal aid costs down;
  • Maryland public defender investigating every juvenile life-without-parole case;
  • ABA, DOJ weighs in on constructive denial of right to counsel case;
  • Pro bono in the park in British Columbia;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 14, 2015 – “The University of Pittsburgh announced plans to open the Pitt Legal Services Incubator in January 2016. The idea of assistance for young lawyers might leave some puzzled, but these aren’t your typical graduates. The Legal Services Incubator is looking for recent graduates who are interested in starting their firms to help underserved client communities. ‘There’s so much legal need out there. People say there are so many lawyers, and that’s not true,’ says Professor Thomas Ross, Professor of Law at Pitt and the Faculty Director of the Legal Services Incubator. ‘The problem is there are too many lawyers chasing the same client base.’ ‘The job market is pretty tough for young lawyers. A lot of them would like to start solo or small law firms, but they feel uncertain about their capacity to do it,’ says Ross. The incubator will assist young lawyers to get a head start by providing workspace, connections and resources to help each lawyer start a firm. Applications will open in late October after the Bar Exam results are published. For its first year, the incubator is aiming to accept a group of six to eight recent graduates to start their practices in the space.” (Next Pittsburgh)

September 14, 2015 – “The Hawaii State Judiciary’s Self-Help Centers have helped their 10,000th person. These are centers, located statewide, that are set up to provide legal consultation to people representing themselves in court. According to the judiciary, these centers are free to litigants and cost the state ‘virtually’ nothing. ‘This milestone is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of volunteer attorneys who have donated their time and professionalism to helping those who otherwise might not be able to afford a lawyer,’ said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald in a Sept. 10 Hawaii State Judiciary news release. ‘I’d also like to extend a special thanks to the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, the Hawaii State Bar Association, all county bar associations, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and its AmeriCorps program, and our partners in the community who have helped us make significant strides in providing greater access to justice.’ There are currently six of these centers located in courthouses across Hawaii.” (mauitime)

September 14, 2015 – “An unusual crowdfunding campaign launched by the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office got a boost overnight Monday from a TV diatribe launched by former ‘Daily Show’ commentator John Oliver on his HBO comedy show,’Last Week Tonight.’ New Orleans served as one of the poster children for the British comedian as he waxed indignant for 15 minutes about the thinly stretched state of public defense nationwide. Lamenting a ‘meet ’em and plead ’em system’ for indigent defense, Oliver cited a somewhat dated 2009 study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers that found bloated caseloads for some public defenders in New Orleans left them with just seven minutes per case, on average.” “The impact was seen immediately on a crowdfunding campaign that Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton’s office launched last week to try to offset a projected $1 million drop in revenue. The total amount raised jumped from $7,000 to about $14,500 overnight, with donations rolling in from as far away as Hong Kong and the Netherlands, said spokeswoman Lindsey Hortenstine.” “In an interview Monday, Bunton said Oliver’s on-air critique rang true. ‘When you’re watching it being presented in a national program, you really are struck by how absurd it is that we would depend on this kind of system to secure one of the original amendments to the Constitution,’ Bunton said. ‘We’re the only state that is so dependent on fines and fees that traffic tickets literally control their Sixth Amendment rights to counsel.’ Bunton recently announced a hiring freeze and four weeks of unpaid furlough for his staff, among other measures aimed at coping with the million-dollar budget slide.”  Due to the language in the original John Oliver piece, I will not link to it. However, it is a very insightful and intelligent piece highlighting the ridiculous state of public defense.  (The New Orleans Advocate)

September 15, 2015 – “The University of Pennsylvania Law School has received three major gifts totaling $12.1 million that will fund new scholarships and other forms of financial aid, public interest programming, and the teaching of legal practice skills.” “Robert Toll and Jane Toll, 1966 graduates of Penn Law and Penn’s Graduate School of Education, respectively, have given $2.5 million to further support public interest programs at Penn Law, through the Toll Public Interest Center. Toll, the Executive Chairman of the Board of Toll Brothers, Inc., the nation’s leading building of luxury homes, and his wife, Jane, have been longtime supporters of the Law School and its public interest programming.” (UPenn News)

September 15, 2015 – “The Florida legal system is taking inspiration from an unlikely source: eBay. The online auction website sends disputes through an automated process that doesn’t involve employees until it’s absolutely necessary, solving 90 percent of 60 million annual disputes without using manpower. The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice is considering recommending a similar process for the first steps of common legal actions such as divorces and wills, said Florida Bar past president and commission member Greg Coleman. The goal is to reduce the financial burden of legal services for low- to moderate-income Floridians. ‘The folks that work paycheck to paycheck … if they need to get divorced, they can’t hire a lawyer at $25 an hour, much less $250 an hour,’ the West Palm Beach attorney said. ‘They don’t get legal aid. They don’t qualify. They wander into a system that’s not designed for them.'” “Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga created the commission last November to come up with ways to reduce inefficiencies and the costs of civil litigation. They must submit their first report by Oct. 1.” (Daily Business Review)

September 15, 2015 -“Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender’s post-conviction division has launched an effort to investigate all cases of inmates who, as juveniles, were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, following through on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2012 that such sentences violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and illegal punishment. The Youth-Resentencing Project will look for cases it can take to court seeking resentencing based on Miller v. Alabama, in which Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in the 5-4 decision noted that such sentences for juveniles preclude consideration of ‘chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds’ defendants. Resentencing of juveniles in such cases has been permitted in at least 12 states, and the decision will affect about 1,500 people now behind bars.” (ABA Journal)

September 15, 2015 – “The government and several national legal organizations have thrown their support behind two indigent defendants who are arguing before the state Supreme Court that the low funding levels of the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office constituted a deprivation of their right to effective counsel. The U.S. Department of Justice and the American Bar Association recently filed amicus briefs in support of Adam Kuren and Steven Allabaugh, two men who have a case pending before the Supreme Court on the first-impression issue of whether they can seek prospective civil relief on constructive denial of counsel claims under the Sixth and 14th amendments ‘based on chronic and systemic deficiencies’ in Luzerne County’s Office of the Public Defender. Along with the ABA and the DOJ, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus, as did the Innocence Network and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Briefs for the indigent defendants, who are plaintiffs in Kuren v. Luzerne County, were filed Sept. 10, and briefs for the county defendants are expected to be filed within the next 30 days. The suit was launched by former Luzerne County chief public defender Al Flora Jr. when he sued the county and the county manager, Robert Lawton, in 2012, alleging indigent defendants were deprived of their right to counsel.”  (The Legal Intelligencer)

September 15, 2015 – “The Access Pro Bono Society of BC [British Columbia, Canada] held their seventh annual Pro Bono Going Public event in Kelowna, where legal advice of all varieties was provided to people of all incomes and backgrounds. ‘Primarily our client base is people with poverty-law issues who are dealing with important and serious legal matters that affect their livelihood and quality of life,’ said Jamie Maclaren, executive director of Access Pro Bono. ‘We also have a good number of people who find themselves in some kind of legal dispute or legal situation and just can’t afford to hire a lawyer to sort it out.’ Access Pro Bono has been operating since 2010, but is a product of two existing organizations that go back to 2002. The society has more than 1,000 lawyers who volunteer their time in clinics throughout the province.” (Castanet.net)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

A State Bar of Texas representative honored Judge Mary Lou Robinson at an induction ceremony for the Texas Legal Legends program Friday. Texas Legal Legends is a program through the State Bar of Texas that honors lawyers who have practiced within the state. Darby Dickerson, dean of the TTU School of Law, said in a statement: “Judge Robinson is truly unique. She entered the legal field at a time when very few women did so, and she has both excelled and has given back.” Robinson is currently a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Texas.  Read more about her career and contributions here.

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 11, 2015

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

Happy Friday and welcome to September! My favorite season has started – football season.  It’s also service project season.  Fantastic work out there folks. Keep those updates coming!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • ABA launches its first social media lobbying campaign to save Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • New pro bono rule in New York allows remote supervision;
  • ABA’s Blog the New Normal guest columnist posits current access to justice initiatives are ineffective;
  • Free legal clinics to be held for low-income families in Kentucky;
  • North Carolina consortium receives $2.6 million grant for health care navigation;
  • Nest and New Mexico Legal Aid form legal partnership;
  • First Arkansas transgender clinic assists more than 2 dozen;
  • For criminal justice reform, look to civil legal aid;
  • The Law Clinic at Valparaiso University Law School is accepting new clients;
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers report – Judges have too much control in federal public defense system;
  • New Orleans judge calls hearing to discuss public defender funding;
  • Boston University Law School and MIT create legal clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 27, 2015 – “For the first time, the ABA is incorporating social media into a major advocacy initiative as it seeks to protect the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program from possible elimination by Congress.” “In developing a strategy to preserve the PSLF program, Thomas M. Susman, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office, and other members of the GAO working on the issue determined that the usual methods of trying to get the attention of federal legislators wouldn’t be enough. They decided that the loan forgiveness issue would be a good fit for a social media campaign, especially since the issue is crucial to so many recent law school graduates. ‘This isn’t replacing our retail lobbying, but it is supplementing it,’ says Susman. ‘It’s an effort to step up a notch our ability to cut through the noise level on Capitol Hill.'”  (ABA Journal)

September 2, 2015 – “The New York Court of Appeals has broadened the rule requiring 50 hours of pro bono service for those seeking admission to the bar, allowing for remote supervision of pro bono work.” “On Friday, the Court of Appeals announced it had amended the rule, effective Sept. 16, eliminating the requirement that supervising attorneys be admitted in the same jurisdiction where the pro bono work is being performed. Bar groups and law school officials sent the court a letter in June, noting several scenarios that would be excluded under the initial rule. The letter said the global practice of law now may involve teams of lawyers worldwide using shared secured documents and video conferencing. ‘Close physical proximity is no longer the mark of supervision in law firms or law schools,’ said the letter from the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services and law school officials from Columbia, New York University and Fordham. Margaret Wood, court attorney for professional matters at the Court of Appeals, said several applicants also contacted the court with questions about whether their pro bono work would count toward the rule, since their supervising attorneys were in other jurisdictions. The change ‘will allow for more opportunities for pro bono work,’ Wood said.” Here is a link to the Court’s Order. (New York Law Journal)

September 2, 2015 –  Guest blogger Dan Lear says the problem with current access to justice initiatives is that “[e]xpanding legal services access beyond the poorest and most disadvantaged is a significant challenge. Attempts to bring similar types of services and resources to large numbers of people—from infrastructure to transportation to medical care—have been tremendously expensive and time-consuming. Doing the same for legal services will certainly be a unique challenge.” He suggests part of the solution is changing the focus of the conversation. “One good initial, but admittedly small, step for legal services is semantics. Specifically, instead of talking about an ‘access to justice’ gap let’s switch the rhetoric and consider the ‘access to legal services’ gap instead.” He goes on to point out “[m]odest-means clients are also different than the access-to-justice clients. For one, while they may not be able to afford traditional full representation legal services but they can pay something. Further, many modest means clients are middle-income individuals, so they’re more likely better educated with better access to technology or other resources that would help them self-educate, receive unbundled legal services delivered partially or fully though technology or online, or navigate the legal system with only limited guidance from an attorney.” “There are pervasive legal access issues throughout the economy—from pro se litigants, to entrepreneurs who need business help, to families without wills or simple estate plans. This access gap is a significant problem for the legal profession and it won’t be solved overnight. It might not even be solved in our lifetime. But greater precision in how we talk about access challenges is an easy first step in the right direction.”  What do you think? (The New Normal)

September 3, 2015 – “A $30,000 grant from the Kentucky Bar Foundation will help low-income families get legal advice regarding family court. Those who qualify can talk one-on-one with local lawyers, for free, on issues regarding divorce, child custody and other family [matters] at an upcoming domestic relations clinic. Advanced registration is required to attend the clinic, because only those who are eligible can attend. You must be at or below the poverty line and have children to qualify.” (WPSD Local 6)

September 3, 2015 -“A group of 14 health care, social service and legal aid organizations has received more than $2.6 million in federal funding to help North Carolina residents sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday that the N.C. Navigator Consortium will receive the grant to help consumers sign up during the open enrollment period for 2015-2016. Legal Aid of North Carolina will administer the grant. Officials say the grant will fund about 250 navigators who will help consumers determine which plan works best for them, apply for financial help and complete their enrollment.” (WNCT)

September 4, 2015 – “After years of limited access to legal representation for their residents, The Nest domestic violence shelter is entering into a new partnership with New Mexico Legal Aid. The organization, that gives assistance in civil legal cases to people who otherwise are not able to afford a private attorney, has new funding that will allow an attorney from their Roswell field office to visit Lincoln County and Mescalero residents at the shelter on a consistent basis. ‘We have used New Mexico Legal Aid in the past, but with fewer attorneys and the nearest field office being in Roswell, there was either a very long wait for representation or transportation problems,’ Nest Executive Director Coleen Widell said. Widell went on to explain survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking encounter a variety of legal problems for which they require assistance, including Orders of Protection, child custody issues, child support, divorce or separation, landlord tenant problems, credit repair and access to benefits. Not only residents at The Nest will benefit from the new partnership. ‘In addition, survivors who do not want or need to come into shelter for safety or services can still meet with a NMLA attorney here,’ Widell said. ‘HEAL will coordinate the screening and referral of everyone in Lincoln County, regardless of whether they are current clients at The Nest, to ensure they meet criteria for free legal services.’ The program in Lincoln County will begin Oct. 1.” (Ruidoso News)

September 4, 2015 – “Earlier this summer, 27 people converged on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law to meet with attorneys at Arkansas’s first transgender legal clinic. In the end, 11 attorneys wrote up 43 notarized documents ready to file, including 25 name changes and 10 gender changes. Human Rights Campaign Arkansas was a primary supporter of these clinics and is co-sponsoring additional clinics planned in Arkansas as well. In addition Transgender Equality Coalition (ArTEC), the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and VOCALS worked together to create the clinic, which provided free legal advice and fee waivers. ArTEC has also pledged to continue assisting those who attended the clinic, should they encounter any difficulties when filing their documents in their respective counties.” (Human Rights Campaign)

September 5, 2015 – Our colleague David Udell, Executive Director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has an opinion piece this week linking the benefits of utilizing civil legal aid in combating the cycle of criminal justice abuses, particularly in the areas of fees. “Millions of evictions and foreclosures, domestic violence cases and accusations of neglect, debt collections and denials of benefits, civil asset forfeitures, civil court fees, suspensions of driver’s licenses and more churn through local courtrooms. When neglected, the problems fester, and lives go awry. The result is a spinning cycle of poverty and correctional control as hunger, isolation, stress and violence inevitably draw people into the system and burden our society.”  Check out his thoughts.  (Aljazeera America)

September 5, 2015 – “The Law Clinic at Valparaiso University Law School, which provides free legal representation to individuals with limited income, is accepting new cases. The Law Clinic represents low-income residents of the region in matters such as debt collection defense, consumer issues, landlord/tenant disputes, guardianships, adoptions and tax concerns involving the Internal Revenue Service. Potential clients must meet income eligibility guidelines, officials said. The Law Clinic’s legal services are provided by Valparaiso University law students, who receive firsthand legal experience by representing financially disadvantaged clients. Students work under the supervision of law school faculty.” (nwi.com)

September 9, 2015 – “A tough new report has concluded that the federal government’s system for defending poor people needs to change. The nearly two-year study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said judges who are supposed to be neutral arbiters too often put their fingers on the scales. The report said defense lawyers for the poor who work in the federal court system need more resources to do their jobs. That means money, not just for themselves, but to pay for experts and investigators. In an adversary system, lawyers for poor defendants say they need to operate on equal footing with prosecutors. But the study, the first of its kind in more than 20 years, found the source of most concern rests with judges who exercise too much control over the process. In many cases, judges cut fees without explanation. And there’s no way to appeal. ‘It’s just not a good situation to have the judge that you’re appearing before have that much control over your practice, over ultimately how you represent your client,’ said Gerry Morris, a longtime defense attorney in Texas and president of NACDL. The new report doesn’t offer a clear solution to the independence problem. But Morris pointed out that the chief administrative body of the U.S. courts has launched its own study of the system for representing poor defendants.” (NPR)

September 10, 2015 – “A New Orleans judge has ordered the parish’s chief public defender Derwyn Bunton to appear in court Friday (Sept. 11), to explain whether his office can meet the constitutional mandate of providing legal representation to poor people charged with crimes. Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter called for the hearing on his own motion on Wednesday, after reading an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by New Orleans public defender Tina Peng. She opines on the fiscal crisis faced by her employer that hurts the office’s ability to provide an adequate criminal defense to indigent people. ‘I asked Derwyn to provide an answer to a simple question: Whether his office can provide constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to indigent defendants,’ Hunter said Thursday morning.” (The Times-Picayune)

September 10, 2015 – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University School of Law “have partnered to launch a new clinic in which law students offer legal help to MIT and other Boston University students launching start ups or technology projects. As part of the new Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic, law students will spend Fridays on the MIT campus, advising student entrepreneurs on everything from how to set up and finance their fledgling ventures to negotiating contracts and registering trademarks and copyrights. The clinic will also help the student entrepreneurs evaluate any regulatory matters their ideas or startups might encounter. ‘The students get the chance to put the doctrine they’ve learned in the classroom into practice, and they get a better idea of how clients look at the world,’ said Boston University law dean Maureen O’Rourke. ‘They learn client counseling skills and negotiation skills.'”  (National Law Journal)(free subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

“At 8:46 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.”  This was the first of three incidents that would have a profound change on America and the world. Please take a moment to remember all those who sacrificed on this day and since in an effort to respond to this attack.  (History.com)

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

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