Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 2, 2016

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

Happy Friday and welcome to December! Access to justice is on everyone’s mind this week with multiple articles on grants, reports, and the use of legal tech to bridge the justice gap.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Massachusetts receives access to justice grant;
  • UK Labour Party commissions access to justice commission – interim report published;
  • Real-world examples of tech bridging the access to justice gap;
  • Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section launch Youth on Solid Ground Pro Bono Project;
  • USC Gould School of Law offers new public interest law certificate;
  • An interview with Upsolve’s founders;
  • New Mexico judge finds public defender in contempt amid funding crisis;
  • White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable issues first annual report;
  • Articling students at Legal Aid Ontario vote to unionize;
  • Michigan program allows people to resolve some legal issues online;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 24, 2016 – “Massachusetts has been awarded a $100,000 grant to develop a strategic plan for improving access to justice for people who cannot afford attorneys.  The grant will be used to identify gaps in services currently offered and to design programs to address the unmet civil legal needs of indigent people on housing, consumer debt and family law issues. The grant is being provided through the Justice for All project of the National Center for State Courts. Massachusetts is one of seven states to receive a Justice for All grant. Earlier this year, the National Center for Access to Justice ranked the Massachusetts court system second in the nation for services provided to people without lawyers.” (Boston Herald)

November 25, 2016 – “Deficient public legal education, high court fees, and the failure to embrace technology have deprived a growing number of people access to justice, a new think tank has said as it unveiled a set of proposals intended to fill the gap left by the near-disappearance of legal aid. In its interim report published this morning, the U.K.’s Lord Bach’s Commission on Access to Justice proposes to enshrine minimum standards in law, along with the introduction of legal education in the school curriculum and a central online portal for claims. Other proposals include the reform of legal aid eligibility criteria, a ‘polluter pays’ scheme to fund court fees, the integration of legal advice across public services and increased funding for legal advice centres.” “While not formally adopted as Labour policy, the report, overseen by the former justice minister Lord Bach, was commissioned by Jeremy Corbyn and the previous shadow justice secretary, Lord Falconer. Aimed at developing future policy for the Labour party, the authors hope to build a broad consensus for improving access to the courts. The report quotes the current lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, as saying: ‘Our justice system has become unaffordable to most.'” The report has some interesting ideas that transcend a particular country. (Solicitors Journal)(The Guardian)

November 28, 2016 – Above the Law has a regular series called “This Week in Legal Tech.” This week, contributor Robert Ambrogi has a nice summary of the ways in which LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants are making a difference in the real world. He also highlights the LSC, Pro Bono Net and Microsoft supported state access to justice portal pilot project. RFPs are being accepted now for the project. (Above the Law)

November 28, 2016 – “The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section have launched the Youth on Solid Ground Pro Bono Project to assist children and their families. Temporary relative custody and guardian advocacy are the two legal mechanisms that can help ensure Florida children can enjoy the stability of having committed family members authorized to act on their behalf. They provide family stability for children and make a positive difference in their lives and – equally important –  these opportunities provide attorneys who volunteer time and expertise practical training in the courtroom and experience in uncontested matters. Due to limited budget resources, legal services staff attorneys must focus on more critical and complex legal matters, such as cases involving domestic violence, foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, housing and discrimination. The project provides assistance for families that are unrepresented in the areas of guardian advocacy and temporary relative custody.” (Jacksonville Daily Record)

November 28, 2016 – “The USC Gould School of Law offers a new public interest law certificate for students with social justice aspirations and interest in working in the nonprofit or government sectors after graduating. Students can choose courses focusing on key areas of nonprofit and government law, taking on an in-depth writing project and working on real-world problems through clinics, practicum courses or externships. ‘Our students have a long history of commitment to public service, but now they can direct their interests to an organized curriculum and leave law school with a certificate on their transcript that shows that commitment,’ said Professor Clare Pastore, a member of California’s public interest community who oversaw the development of the certificate. Alumni serving as mentors will help students navigate a career path, offering connections to public service opportunities or summer jobs, along with advice about postgraduate fellowships and courses. A speaker series and events focusing on public interest law, nonprofit and government sector jobs, postgraduate fellowships and building community will round out the year.” (USC News)

November 28, 2016 – Forbes has a good piece on Upsolve and an interview with its founders.  Upsolve is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that improves consumer access to Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection through an online platform that guides users with routine cases through the bankruptcy process.  (Forbes)

November 30, 2016 – “A district attorney in southern New Mexico is petitioning the state Supreme Court to order public defense attorneys back to work on behalf of criminal defendants who cannot afford legal representation. District Attorney Dianna Luce on Wednesday confirmed her request for the Supreme Court to intervene, citing more than 200 instances in which the Law Offices of the Public Defender has sought to withdraw its attorneys in magistrate and district court cases in Lea County. ‘What we’re seeking is for the public defenders to do their statutory duty,’ she said. ‘The public defenders have selected only Lea County to stop accepting new felony cases … claiming a lack of attorneys and a lack of funding.’ Chief Public Defender Ben Baur said his agency’s attorneys previously declined to accept cases and continue to ask to withdraw in some instances because increased caseloads and limited funding are making it impossible to provide effective legal assistance. In October, the agency’s annual budget was reduced by 3 percent amid far reaching state spending cuts. Earlier this week, a New Mexico judge fined Baur and found him in contempt for failing to provide lawyers to defendants who couldn’t afford them. Lea County District Judge Gary Clingman imposed a $1,000 fine in each of five criminal cases in which the public defender’s office failed to make an appearance. Clingman told Baur that he could purge the contempt finding by following his statutory duty to represent defendants.” (The Washington Times)

November 30, 2016 – “The Justice Department today issued the first annual report of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) to President Obama.  The report, entitled ‘Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs,’ documents the significant steps that the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into programs designed to serve low-income and vulnerable people.  The Attorney General and the Director of   the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) co-chair WH-LAIR.” “‘The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable has become indispensable in helping the federal government establish partnerships with legal aid providers that push federal programming forward and ensure that essential services reach the communities that need them most,’ said Cecilia Muñoz, White House DPC Director and WH-LAIR Co-Chair.” (Justice News)

November 30, 2016 – “Articling students employed by Legal Aid Ontario have voted to unionize with The Society of Energy Professionals. LAO articling students become the second group of legal professionals to join The Society following the October vote of LAO staff lawyers. Articling students are excited to have representation in the workplace that understands their professional obligations and can help them achieve better working conditions.” (CNW)

December 1, 2016 – “If you’ve ever gotten a traffic ticket, you know it’s a hassle if you decide to fight it. Getting to court, waiting for your case to be called and presenting your side can take hours. You may even need to miss a day of work. But if you live in some parts of Michigan, you might be able to go to court without actually going. A growing number of courts have adopted a software program called Matterhorn, which enables individuals to resolve a handful of legal issues online, at any time, even the middle of the night. Ohio has started using the technology, and other states are looking into it as well.” “Courts using Matterhorn determine what types of legal issues will be resolvable online and what types will require an in-court appearance in their jurisdictions. Some Michigan courts have opted for online traffic ticket resolution only, while others have ventured into misdemeanors and warrant resolution.” (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Deepa Mattoo is the latest recipient of the Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from the Law Foundation of Ontario, a non-profit organization that funds other groups to provide education and initiatives on access to justice. Mattoo, the current director of legal services at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, says that while she’s very excited for this opportunity to conduct research around the relationships between race, gender and immigration status under this year-long fellowship, she also feels “very humbled.”

During her time as a fellow, Mattoo’s research will specifically focus on racialized women who have precarious immigration status, as they face violence and barriers in accessing supports and legal services. She’ll team up with the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, academics from the law and sociology faculties and the Rights of Non-Status Women Network for this undertaking. “The goal of this project is to create a network of individuals who would work with me in reviewing the intersectionality, but to also create solid tools for service providers to provide services and assistance to the women who are going through these experiences of violence and going through the experiences of precarious immigration,” she says. (Legal Feeds)

Music Bonus! 

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 23, 2016

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Report documents criminalization of homelessness;
  • State courts get grant to expand access to justice;
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law opens new legal clinic;
  • British Columbia’s indigenous child welfare system gets overhaul;
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma partners with Cherokee Nation;
  • Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law offers legal technology course unique in Canada;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 17, 2016 – “The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School has released a new report titled ‘Forced into Breaking the Law’: The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut. The report examines how Connecticut’s homeless residents face the threat of criminal sanctions for simply existing. The report also documents how Connecticut city ordinances, such as those prohibiting loitering, panhandling, and sleeping in public, punish people for performing necessary, life-sustaining functions, which effectively criminalizes homelessness itself. It further outlines how the criminalization of homelessness violates state, federal, and international law. The release of the report coincides with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and the launch of the national ‘Housing Not Handcuffs’ campaign, organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which aims to end the criminalization of homelessness.” (Yale Law School Today)

November 18, 2016 – “The New York state court system has received a $100,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts and the Public Welfare Foundation to develop plans to improve the access to the courts for unrepresented or under-represented New Yorkers. Under the ‘Justice for All’ grant, the state Office of Court Administration said Thursday it will work with judges, the business community, private firms, bar associations, civil legal services groups and others to devise a strategy for better access to justice. OCA officials said Wednesday the plan will be developed by the state Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, which is chaired by Helaine Barnett, the former president of the Legal Services Corporation, and will use a day-long convocation and other events to gather input from stakeholders.” “The Public Welfare Foundation said $100,000 grants also went to Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

November 18, 2016 – “A new free legal clinic sponsored by the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in partnership with LDS Charities will provide legal services to underserved communities. The new Community Legal Clinic: Sugarhouse is part of the law school’s pro bono initiative program, a noncredit volunteer program that allows students to build real world problem-solving skills to serve their community. The program has a three-part mission: to provide skill building legal opportunities under the direct supervision of attorneys; to develop placements where alumni can volunteer, network and serve as mentors to law students; and to demonstrate the professional responsibility of those in the legal profession to provide pro bono legal services to the underserved in the community who otherwise would not have access to the justice system.” (The University of Utah News)

November 21, 2016 – “The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is making 85 recommendations to change BC’s indigenous child welfare system. It’ll now focus on improving family life by bettering family support services, legal help, early intervention services, and funding. Grand Chief Edward John has been a special adviser with Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux on indigenous children in care, permanency and early years since September 2015. He says one of the report’s main priorities is returning child welfare responsibilities to indigenous communities. ‘To me, a major part of the solution is right there. The children are never the problem. It’s everything else that’s around them and how do we do that and how do we bring them home? The essence of the report is to do that.’ Other central focuses from the report include reducing the need for indigenous children and youth going into care, bettering support services, legal aid, equitable funding formulas between the provincial and the federal government, and easier access to early intervention services. There will also be more Ministry of Children and Family Development staff with First Nations communities. 40 recommendations are already in the works or are being included in future plans. These include a commitment to regular regional meetings with Metis and First Nations leaders, a stronger indigenous voice within the Youth Advisory Council, more indigenous social workers within MCFD, and more education on services. Putting the remaining recommendations into effect will take a little bit more work. The ministry says addressing the remaining ones will require a ‘significant injection of funding – often in co-ordination with the federal government. Alterations will also need to be made to existing legislation.'” (MYPRINCEGEORGENOW)

November 21, 2016 – “Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) received a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program as part of the President Barack Obama administration’s investment in tribally-sponsored AmeriCorps programming. Through this project, LASO AmeriCorps members will deliver civil legal assistance to improve health, according to a media release. ‘A person’s health can be significantly impacted by social problems like domestic violence, denial of public benefits, or unsafe or substandard housing, just to name a few; these are issues that may have a civil legal solution,’ said Michael Figgins, executive director of LASO. ‘By partnering with the Cherokee Nation, LASO attorneys can identify issues impacting health that might have a civil legal solution. Working together, caregivers and attorneys can holistically address problems and help ensure better overall health outcomes for patients.’ The three-year grant will fund four attorneys who will work with Cherokee Nation to identify and treat Social Security Disability and aging-related problems.” (Muskogee Phoenix)

November 21, 2016 – “A Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law professor passionate about innovation and access to justice is blazing a trail on the Canadian legal education landscape. Assistant Professor Katie Sykes has developed a new and unique law course—one of the first of its kind offered in Canada—that teaches students to use technology to automate the application of legal knowledge by developing apps that can be easily used by anyone. The course is called Designing Legal Expert Systems: Apps for Access to Justice. ‘It’s about taking legal knowledge and rules as a series of decision-making trees and translating that onto a tech platform that creates an app,’ explained Sykes. Using a software the law school has licensed from US-based legal technology firm Neota Logic, the students will work with non-profit ‘client’ organizations to develop the type of app, problem it will solve, and types of users. ‘Students will make a tangible, meaningful impact by developing a platform that allows quick and convenient access to legal information in language that is easy to understand,’ said Sykes.” (infonews.ca)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Everyone has a favorite Thanksgiving tradition.  But where do our traditions come from?  Here is an interesting history of Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.  History.com

Music Bonus!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 18, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Give lawyers tax incentives to represent the indigent;
  • The National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium launched;
  • Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office announces Legal Assistance for Our Veterans grant opportunity;
  • Why a federal hiring freeze is not such a good idea;
  • OPM to launch CyberCareers.gov;
  • Non-profit launches pro bono expungement program;
  • Student loan forgiveness under a Trump presidency;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 10, 2016 – An opinion piece by Chandra Bozelko and Jaime Lathrop makes an interesting proposal – provide tax breaks on pro bono work to incentivize attorneys to take on criminal defense cases. The indigent defense crisis is particularly acute in Louisiana, where public defenders are each handling more than 1,000 felony cases a year.  “Congress often uses the tax code to promote social welfare, such as a tax break for low-income housing construction or hiring people with criminal records. Congress also alters the tax code to stimulate economic growth, perhaps by making it easier to take business deductions. It makes sense to use the tax code to protect people’s constitutional rights and their personal security by amending it in a way that delivers legal representation to those who need it.” (The Times-Picayune)

November 11, 2016 – “The National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium (NLSVCC) announced that it has formally launched operations to foster best practices to pro bono veteran advocacy programs at law school legal clinics nationwide. The Consortium aims to establish a long-term collaborative relationship among member institutions to help advance positive systemic change for veteran legal advocacy services such as applying for disability benefits, addressing civil legal needs and assisting in Veteran Treatment Courts.” “NLSVCC is a collaborative effort of the nation’s law school legal clinics dedicated to addressing the unique legal needs of U.S. military veterans on a pro bono basis. The Consortium’s mission is, working with like-minded stakeholders, to gain support and advance common interests with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Congress, state and local veterans service organizations, court systems, educators and all other entities for the benefit of veterans throughout the country. For more information, visit http://www.nlsvcc.org.” (Business Wire)

November 11, 2016 – “Utilizing $355,000 funds received by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) from a settlement with Sprint and Verizon, the AGO is pleased to announce the Legal Assistance for Our Veterans grant opportunity.  The Legal Assistance for Our Veterans grant is designed to fund legal aid groups, legal clinics, or nonprofit organizations who will focus on helping Massachusetts veterans, including those with a less than honorable discharge status, gain access to veterans’ services, including, but not limited to: discharge status upgrades, health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, housing & education assistance, general legal representation, and veteran-specific employment.” (Mass.gov)

November 15, 2016 – President-elect Trump has called for a federal hiring freeze in his first 100 days.  Here’s a good look at why that might not accomplish his goals and create additional problems.  Columnist Joe Davidson suggests that Trump read “Recent Government-Wide Hiring Freezes Prove Ineffective in Managing Federal Employment” prior to imposing any freeze. “Published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 1982, this report examines hiring freezes imposed by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In addition to having ‘little effect on Federal employment levels,’ the GAO said, those freezes ‘disrupted agency operations, and in some cases, increased costs to the Government.'” He also makes good points about the long recovery for the federal government after a freeze. (Washington Post)

November 15, 2016 – “Several new tools from the Office of Personnel Management are coming soon to help agencies better recruit and hire new talent, particularly top cybersecurity professionals. The administration is in the process of creating CyberCareers.gov, a new website aimed at reaching federal managers, current employees, job seekers and academic organizations and students.” The new site will include privacy positions, which will be directly relevant for law students. The site will launch in the December to January time frame.

And USAJobs.gov updates will continue in 2017. “After a year of iterative updates designed to improve the user experience, OPM’s next major update to the federal jobs portal will focus on new tools for agency hiring managers and human resources specialists. The next iteration will be ready by February 2017, said Michelle Earley, program manager for USAJobs.gov.” These updates will help agencies better mine USAJobs for candidates and make better recruitment decisions. (Federal News Radio)

November 15, 2016 – “PPG Foundation, a freshly launched national non-profit group based in New York, announces the launch of its pro bono criminal record expungement program specifically targeted at those with non-violent marijuana offenses called: Clean Slate. Created to provide much needed assistance for those seeking re-entry into the workforce, the Clean Slate Program will work directly with persons often faced with limited opportunity, or quick dismissal, once their criminal history has been revealed. Currently partnered with Portland, Oregon-based law firm Green Light Law Group, a pioneering firm focused on the expanding field of Cannabis Law, PPG Foundation is aligning other leading Cannabis Law Firms across the country to further expand the program outside of its Oregon launch. To complete the restoration process, PPG Foundation will continue to work with businesses – inside and outside of the Cannabis industry – to sponsor applicants in need of expungements. The program, whose applicants’ convictions must meet specific state criteria, will provide pro bono expungements on both a first come first served basis, as well as via a monthly lottery where winners are chosen at random.” (PRNewswire)

November 16, 2016 – While we are firmly in wait-and-see mode regarding loan forgiveness and the new administration, this National Law Journal article is a good summary of where we are and what we might expect. (The National Law Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Legal Aid Society (New York City) recently honored Goodwin Procter LLP and firm client IBM with its Pro Bono Publico Award for an innovative corporate pro bono project – the Citizenship Clinic held in April 2016. For this initiative, 10 IBM lawyers joined forces with 10 lawyers from Goodwin to assist eligible, legal permanent residents with becoming U.S. citizens. Citizenship is important because it encourages civic participation and enables people to become more active members of their communities and society at-large. It also enables residents to vote, and to apply for federal jobs, grants and scholarships. During the citizenship clinic, the lawyers helped 20 clients fill out their naturalization applications. For Goodwin, the initiative was championed  by litigation partner Calvin Wingfield.

Senior Pro Bono Manager Carolyn Rosenthal and Business Development Specialist Carrie Gilman were also honored for their commitment to pro bono with individual Pro Bono Publico Awards. (Goodwin Updates)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 11, 2016

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

Happy Veteran’s Day! We honor those who have served our nation in war and peace.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Montana’s public defender’s office hires 62 attorneys;
  • New York Legal Assistance Group’s pro se clinic opens in Southern District of New York;
  • Grant funds to help crime victims in Kentucky more than doubling;
  • Judge dismisses suit against Missouri governor over funding public defenders;
  • Connecticut public defenders join a union;
  • Judge dismisses one of two suits against Utah indigent defense system;
  • University of New Mexico School of Law launches new Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic;
  • Legal Services Corporation announces Technology Initiative Grants;
  • Jones Day and ABA to launch VetLex;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 2, 2016 – “To accommodate a budget shortfall of $3.5 million, the State Office of the Public Defender will no longer be contracting cases with local attorneys. Instead, the office will hire a total of 62 attorneys in offices across the state to handle cases previously assigned to outside counsel, OPD Chief Administrator Scott Cruse said Monday. This plan was projected to save the office $2.2 million in fiscal year 2017, according to the OPD’s mitigation plan. On Wednesday, Interim Director of the Billings’ office Doug Day said the office would no longer contract out cases to local lawyers.” “The new attorneys will handle certain cases that were previously assigned to local attorneys because of conflicts of interest or high caseloads. Day says the public defender typically paid contracted attorneys about $62 per hour. The new attorneys will be part-time and will be paid between $37 and $48 hourly. Some contract attorneys worried they may not be able to support their practices without the public defender’s cases. But Public Defender Commission member Mark Parker says the move is the best way to reduce costs while upholding the office’s mission.” (Billings Gazette)(Great Falls Tribune)

November 3, 2016 – “Pro se litigants and the docket of the Southern District will get a boost with the launch of a new clinic in Lower Manhattan that will provide free advice to litigants who can’t afford a lawyer. ‘We are very likely to see a significant impact on our pro se docket,’ Southern District Chief Judge Colleen McMahon said at a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. ‘So it’s not only good for the litigants, but good for the courts.’ The new clinic is staffed by the nonprofit New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and is run by Robyn Tarnofsky, a former litigation partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.” “NYLAG’s own legal clinic is used to working in conjunction with the district’s Pro Se Intake Unit and its Office of Pro Se Litigation, but the pro se clinic will operate independently from the court. The district is providing office space for the clinic on the ground floor of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, including a conference room, a PACER terminal, a computer for the client and office space for Tarnofsky, a second attorney from NYLAG and a paralegal. That staff will be supplemented by a pool of volunteer law firm associates “who are looking to get some client contact, which can be difficult at large firms,” Tarnofsky said in an interview.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

November 4, 2016 – “Gov. Matt Bevin and Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley announced Thursday that grant money to help victims of violent crime is more than doubling this year – all thanks to an aggressive effort to capture federal funding and pair grants with Kentucky organizations. In total, the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is awarding more than $14 million in grants to programs that aid crime victims, including rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and child advocacy centers. That’s a 127 percent increase over the $6.2 million given out last year.” (Kentucky New Era)

November 4, 2016 – “A judge tossed out the state public defender agency’s lawsuit over Gov. Jay Nixon’s budgeting authority. The lawsuit challenged the governor’s decision to withhold millions of dollars in funds from the agency that defends poor people. A Cole County judge, in a ruling made public on Friday, sided with Nixon in the lawsuit that the Missouri State Public Defender system and the state’s Public Defender Commission filed in July. The plaintiffs alleged Nixon cut their budget while no general revenue was restricted from Nixon’s own budget. The system’s director, Michael Barrett, called the move political. In August, Barrett appointed Nixon, the state’s former attorney general, to defend one of his agency’s clients in protest of the budget cut. A judge later blocked that move.” (KY3)

November 7, 2016 – “Nearly 200 attorneys who work for the Judicial Branch’s division of Public Defender Services voted to join Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Rank-and-file public defenders voted 100-18 in favor of unionization and the supervisors’ group voted 15-3. The election took place via mail between Oct. 14 and Oct. 28. ‘We joined Council 4 to strengthen our voice on the job and to protect the vital services we provide to citizens in need of legal representation,’ Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey LaPierre said. ‘Unionizing is our path to a more secure and stable future, for ourselves and our clients.'” (CT News Junkie)

November 8, 2016 – “A federal judge has tossed a proposed class-action lawsuit challenging Washington County’s public defender system. The lawsuit — filed in January against the state of Utah, Washington County and several public officials — claimed the county’s current public defender system is broken, and that the attorneys who handle those contracts are overworked, underpaid and are not given the proper support to defend their clients. The two named plaintiffs, William Cox and Edward Paulus, are two Washington County men who have been assigned public defenders for their pending criminal cases. But in an order dismissing the case filed on Monday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled that because the plaintiffs’ criminal cases are not resolved, they cannot yet claim they have been harmed or that they have had ineffective counsel. The judge wrote that their claims were ‘sweeping, yet unsupported.'” “The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed its own lawsuit against the state in June, asking that a judge find that the current system is not constitutional. The ACLU argues in its lawsuit that the system is inadequate, underfunded and unfair to Utahns accused of crimes who rely on public defenders. That lawsuit is still pending in federal court as the plaintiffs seek class-action status.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

November 9, 2016 – “The University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Law will open a new Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic (NREL) in January 2017. NREL joins the UNM Law School’s 40 year history of providing legal services to New Mexico’s communities.  It will be the fifth section of the UNM Law School’s mandatory Clinic Program, in which law students represent actual clients with supervision by faculty. NREL will provide a wide variety of legal services to underrepresented individuals, community groups, nonprofit organizations, and Indian tribes to protect, preserve, and use lands and natural resources, and improve public health and the environment of communities. The clinic provides an opportunity for law students to work on a mix of litigation, drafting laws and policy, and advising clients.  Clinic students may appear before all levels of tribal, state and federal courts, administrative agencies and the legislature.” (UNM News)

November 9, 2016 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) today announced 34 Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) to 27 legal services organizations in 20 states and one territory. TIG funding supports a variety of initiatives, from building more efficient intake systems for clients seeking legal services to creating automated forms to support legal aid staff, pro bono attorneys, and self-represented litigants. The program was established in 2000. Since that time, LSC has made more than 600 grants totaling more than $57 million to civil legal aid organizations across the country.” See the full list of grantees here. (LSC)

November 10, 2016 – “Jones Day law firm has joined forces with the American Bar Association to launch a national veterans assistance program called VetLex, to match U.S. veterans and military families who need legal help with veteran service organizations and attorneys willing to offer their expertise pro bono. VetLex (VetLex.org), a combination of the words ‘veteran’ and the Latin word for ‘law,’ will be the first national network of its kind devoted to providing veterans with referrals to social service providers and pro bono or ‘low bono’ (low-cost) lawyers qualified and willing to provide those services. The program will start in a handful of pilot cities — including Cleveland — in the spring of 2017, before expanding nationally.” The initial target of the program is low-income veterans. (cleveland.com)

 

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Janet Reno, who rose from a rustic life on the edge of the Everglades to become attorney general of the United States — the first woman to hold the job — and whose eight years in that office placed her in the middle of some of the most divisive episodes of the Clinton presidency, died on Monday at her home in Miami-Dade County, Fla. She was 78. Her sister, Margaret Hurchalla, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in November 1995.  Click on the link to read more about her amazing life and career. (The New York Times)

Music Bonus!  A special video in honor of Veteran’s Day.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 4, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Thank you for another great NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference! I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Alberta creates 10 new judge positions;
  • North Mississippi Rural Legal Services celebrates 50 years;
  • Report highlights effect of pro bono legal services in Tennessee;
  • New virtual law advice clinic in Connecticut;
  • University of Toronto Faculty of Law legal aid clinic expands services;
  • New law student program could help ease the crushing bail burden on Ottawa’s jail;
  • Report: Indiana fails to provide consistent indigent defense;
  • New York State creates public interest fellowship in honor of staffer;
  • Newest legal chatbot in UK gives free advice to victims of crime;
  • Cornell Law School launches center to help defeat death penalty worldwide;
  • Legal Aid Ontario lawyers join Society of Energy Professionals union;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 20, 2016 – “Alberta’s beleaguered justice system got a helping hand on Thursday, with the province announcing it’s creating 10 new judge positions and the federal government filling seven of the existing vacancies. Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley made the announcement of the 10 new judicial positions in Calgary, saying nine would be at the Court of Queen’s Bench and one at the Court of Appeal. They would be created through amendments to provincial legislation in the fall, she said.” “A recent Supreme Court ruling helped bring matters to a head by imposing hard time limits on how long a person has to wait to have a case heard in court, prompting Alberta’s prosecution service to review an estimated 400 cases for fear that they might be tossed.” “The increase brings the number of justices per capita in Alberta in line with that in other provinces, according to the province. Combined with already existing vacancies, the new positions would mean there were 21 unfilled judicial positions in Alberta, [Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen] Ganley said.” (CBCNews)

October 20, 2016 – “When 86 percent of non-whites lived below the poverty line in Mississippi 50 years ago, a group of University of Mississippi lawyers created the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services to provide legal services to the disadvantaged. This month, the NMRLS celebrated 50 years of legal service. In 2015, NMRLS helped 19,160 residents with adoptions, protective orders, fraud prevention, wills, power of attorney cases, foreclosure prevention, landlord problems, tax assistance and bankruptcy in 39 Mississippi counties. Without the NMRLS, Ben T. Cole, Jr., executive director of NMRLS, said many people would not have their day in court.” “NMRLS, previously known as the Lafayette County Legal Aid, opened its first office in Oxford in 1966.” “Today, NMRLS has 13 staff attorneys in North Mississippi for low-income residents in 39 counties.” (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal)

October 21, 2016 – “The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission’s released annual report shows Tennessee attorneys are donating more than 500,000 hours of their time annually worth more than $100 million. For the calendar year 2014, nearly half of all attorneys reported doing some kind of pro bono work. The report shows 7,615 attorneys practicing in Tennessee provided 568,170 hours of pro bono, an average of over 74 hours per reporting attorney.  The value of these services is estimated to be over $113 million.” “Further, the Commission recently adopted its 2016 Strategic Plan for improving access to justice in Tennessee.” “The plan includes implementing a strategy to have 10 new court kiosks across the state, developing a statewide communications plan with legal aid and access to justice programs and growing the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance to include representation from a variety of faiths. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Supreme Court of projects and programs necessary for enhancing access to justice, especially for self-represented litigants.” (The Chattanoogan)

October 21, 2016 – “The power of the internet is being harnessed to make it easier for low-income Connecticut residents to access legal advice, and to make it easier for pro bono attorneys to volunteer to help people who can’t afford to pay for attorneys. Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut is one of the legal aid law firms in eight states which are partnering with the American Bar Association on a virtual law advice clinic that allows low-income clients to ask questions about civil law and for attorneys to answer their questions online whenever convenient for them. Instead of dropping into a legal aid clinic to talk to a lawyer in person, clients can type their questions and submit them on a computer. Judge Elliot N. Solomon, deputy chief court administrator and co-chairman of the Connecticut judiciary’s Access to Justice Commission, said this new program is unique because it makes it more convenient for people with low to moderate incomes to access legal advice and more convenient for lawyers to be able to provide pro bono service to people who need it.” (Connecticut Law Tribune)

October 21, 2016 – “Downtown Legal Services (DLS) has expanded its practice to now offer employment law services. DLS is a legal aid clinic operating out of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law that offers free legal assistance to low income communities. Legal services are provided by U of T law student volunteers who are supervised by staff lawyers. Last year, DLS received an increase in its budget which arose from an increase in their annual funding from Legal Aid Ontario and an increase in levies received from the U of T students’ tuition. With the extra funds, DLS has now created an employment law division and has also expanded their housing law division. DLS recently announced that ‘help is now available for working students who have been terminated, discriminated against, or otherwise denied their employment rights.’ With their expanded services, the legal clinic now offers employment services in the following areas: employment standards complaints, employment insurance appeals, human rights applications, and small claims court.” (The Varsity)

October 21, 2016 – “An innovative new program in Kingston that helps women get released on bail while easing pressure on the local jail could offer a potential solution for overcrowding in other provincial detention centres like Ottawa. The bail program being offered by Queen’s Legal Aid in partnership with the Elizabeth Fry Society has law students stepping in to help impoverished offenders who are behind bars, usually because they lack a plan that includes the housing or bail supervision they need to be released. The students meet with the inmates, then help craft a release plan that usually assists them in finding a place to stay, counselling, or addiction treatment that the inmate’s lawyer can present to court to help secure their release. The students have been able to help secure the release of 11 women from the Quinte Detention Centre since launching the program in June, said lawyer Jodie-Lee Primeau, the program’s supervisor. Ten of the women were released on consent of the Crown prosecutor without a bail hearing.” “Primeau hopes Queen’s can secure additional funding and access to the detention centre (currently they only receive access to female inmates due to their partnership with the Elizabeth Fry Society) so they can expand their program to assist male offenders.” (Ottawa Sun)

October 24, 2016 – “Indiana is failing to equally provide constitutionally guaranteed effective counsel to indigent people accused of misdemeanor, felony and juvenile offenses, according to a report released Monday. In some counties, poor people facing criminal charges are encouraged to negotiate directly with prosecutors before being appointed counsel. Those are among the findings of a report on the state of Indiana’s provision of public defenders for the indigent released by the Boston-based Sixth Amendment Center. The report was commissioned by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as part of its public defense reform program. ‘The state of Indiana fails to consistently ensure that each person facing potential incarceration has the aid of a lawyer with the time, ability, and resources to present an effective defense, as is the state’s constitutional obligation,’ according to the Sixth Amendment Center.” “‘With little to no state oversight, Indiana’s counties do not consistently require indigent defense attorneys to have specific qualifications necessary to handle cases of varying severity or to have the training needed to handle specific types of cases (other than for capital cases),’ the center said in a statement.” (The Indiana Lawyer)

October 24, 2016 – “Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced Monday that the state will offer a two-year public service fellowship with the state Department of Labor in honor of Scott Martella, a former Executive Chamber staffer and communications director for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone who was killed in an August car accident. The Scott Martella Public Service Fellowship will be awarded every two years to a student who will then work for the Department of Labor, where Martella worked for more than a year, and will focus on community outreach. The first fellow will be selected from the 2017-19 class of Excelsior Service Fellows. Cuomo’s office said nominated fellows will be required to submit a personal statement outlining their commitment to community outreach and their desire to exemplify what the administration characterized as ‘Scott Martella’s legacy of serving others.’ The fellow will update the Martella family periodically on his or her work.” (Times Union)

October 26, 2016 – A second legal chatbot has launched in the UK.  “LawBot is an artificial intelligence system designed to help people who need to find out more about their rights and how the justice system can aid them. The LawBot team say it’s the world’s most advanced chatbot lawyer. It launched just two weeks ago, and although it’s still in beta, the team behind LawBot have seen it gather 15,000 interactions. It’s the brainchild of Ludwig Bull, who developed the system after he spent the summer in Japan and after working for a think-tank in Cambridge. He recruited the rest of the team on the Cambridge University Law Society Facebook page. The team is now 10 people strong and say LawBot is a labour of love.” (Cambridge Independent)

October 26, 2016 – “A new center at Cornell Law School aims to help eliminate the death penalty across the globe through research and lawyer training. The school on Tuesday announced the launch of the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide—an initiative made possible by a $3.2 million grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the private foundation of university alum Chuck Feeney, founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group. The center, led by Cornell professor Sandra Babcock, aspires to help end capital punishment internationally by highlighting the flaws in the application of the death penalty worldwide, and by strengthening the training of defense lawyers who handle such cases. Administrators say it’s the first center of its kind in the United States. A handful of schools have domestic-focused death penalty centers or death penalty clinics, including the University of Texas School of Law; Yale Law School; Harvard Law School; and the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. The new center will elevate the international death penalty research Cornell Law faculty started in 2011.” “The centerpiece of the initiative is a summer institute for capital defense lawyers around the world to convene and share notes on effective defense strategies. The center also will conduct research on the death penalty and maintain a free online database on capital punishment law and practices around the world.” “The center will house law school clinics focused on the international death penalty and human rights.” (New York Law Journal)

October 26, 2016 – “Following their four-year campaign to win collective bargaining rights, Legal Aid Ontario staff lawyers voted to join The Society of Energy Professionals. Voting was open throughout this week for the 358 staff lawyers that make up the newest Society bargaining unit. Of those that cast ballots, 76% voted in favour of being represented by The Society. “I am proud to welcome Legal Aid Ontario lawyers to The Society,” said Society president Scott Travers . ‘Legal Aid lawyers showed great strength in their fight for collective bargaining rights, and I am confident that same strength will continue as we begin working on their first collective agreement. I look forward to working in collaboration with the employer toward a collective agreement that is mutually beneficial to both our members and LAO.’ Travers said that the Legal Aid lawyers’ vote shows that professionals are looking to improve their working lives through collective bargaining.” (Yahoo Finance)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors traveled from all across the United States to present a Pro Bono Service Award to the Ninth Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee on October 17th at the University of New Mexico School of Law.  In attendance to accept the award were Judge Donna J. Mowrer and Senior Court Attorney Benjamin Cross.
The Ninth Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee was chosen to receive this prestigious award due to its efforts in providing important legal services to residents of Curry and Roosevelt counties in eastern New Mexico.  Since 2012, the Pro Bono Committee’s Ask-A-Lawyer event has helped nearly 400 low-income people receive free legal consultations.  Court Attorney Benjamin Cross has hosted more than 125 pro se law clinics, assisting more than 800 people.  Other accomplishments include an annual Adoption Day event and school programs that have reached more than 6,000 students. (Myhighplains.com)

Music Bonus!  A VERY SPECIAL MUSIC PICK from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 21, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Registration is closing soon for the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference. Register now! And as we will be sharing our news with you in person next week, the Digest will return on November 4th.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • PACER fees face major legal test;
  • D.C. Council to consider free legal help for poor residents in housing cases;
  • USC Gould launches new public interest law certificate;
  • Check in with Washington’s Limited-License Legal Technician program;
  • The Utah Indigent Defense Commission hires executive director;
  • Florida Access to Civil Justice Commission re-established;
  • The U.S. should have a Defender General;
  • Fordham University School of Law launches new access to justice initiative;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 14, 2016 – “The paywall that surrounds Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), an online database of papers filed by litigants in the US federal courts, is facing what may be its most serious test since the service emerged 28 years ago. Judge Ellen Huvelle of the US district court in Washington DC is expected to decide in the coming days whether a lawsuit accusing the government of setting Pacer fees at unlawfully high rates can proceed. The case, which is seeking class-action certification, is being led by three nonprofits: the National Veterans Legal Service Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Alliance for Justice. Each group says it has downloaded documents from Pacer and incurred charges alleged to exceed the cost of providing the records. All say the setup violates the E-Government Act of 2002, which authorizes the judiciary to ‘prescribe reasonable fees’—and which the plaintiffs argue should limit the government to charge users ‘only to the extent necessary’ to make the information available.” “The Appropriations Committee has not commented on the lawsuit. Nor has the Administrative Office or the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which is defending the case. But in court papers asking Huvelle to dismiss the lawsuit, the DOJ contends that the policies governing use of Pacer obligate users who think they have been billed in error to first request a refund from Pacer’s service center, an assertion that at least one federal court has rejected. The plaintiffs counter that the lawsuit has nothing to do with billing errors, but rather that the fees themselves are too high.” (Quart)

October 14, 2016 – “The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would provide free legal counsel to low-income tenants in certain housing cases, including evictions, housing code violations and rental subsidy program issues. The bill, written by council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), would create a funding stream for the D.C. Bar Foundation, the nonprofit group that provides most legal aid to D.C. residents involved in civil cases. Under McDuffie’s plan, the D.C. Bar Foundation would administer grants for lawyers to represent tenants with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The council’s Judiciary Committee, chaired by McDuffie, will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.” “The legislation is part of McDuffie’s ultimate goal of establishing a ‘right to counsel’ in all civil cases in the District. Just as indigent criminal defendants are entitled to free legal help, low-income residents should be provided no-cost lawyers for a range of legal disputes, McDuffie said.” (Washington Post)

October 17, 2016 – “USC Gould School of Law is offering a new Public Interest Law certificate for students with social justice aspirations and interest in working in the non-profit or government sectors after graduating. Gould students will hone their skills by choosing an organized set of courses exposing them to important areas of nonprofit and government law, taking on an in-depth writing project, and working on real-world problems through clinics, practicum courses or externships.” (PR Newswire)

October 17, 2016 – “Those who cannot afford a lawyer have a new resource in Clallam County in the form of Vanessa Ridgway, the first limited-license legal technician to practice on the North Olympic Peninsula. She is only the 17th such technician in the state. Ridgway was sworn in to the Washington State Bar Association as an LLLT last Wednesday. ‘It is very exciting for me to be a pioneer in this field, and it’s also very rewarding,’ Ridgway said Friday. ‘I have always had a desire to help others find justice.’ Washington is the first state in the country to offer the services of LLLTs — intended as an affordable legal support option to help meet the needs of those unable to afford the services of an attorney, according to the state bar association. The state Supreme Court, with help from the state bar association, created the category of limited-license legal technician in 2015. LLLTs are trained and licensed to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody and other family law matters in Washington.” (Peninsula Daily News)

October 17, 2016 – “The Utah Indigent Defense Commission announces that Joanna E. Landau has been hired as its Executive Director. Ms. Landau is highly qualified, and brings her experience as a public defender with the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association, where she worked for several years representing indigent criminal defendants on appeal to the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Court of Appeals. She also assisted many trial court judges while working as an attorney in the Third District Court. Pursuant to legislation sponsored by Utah State Senator Todd Weiler and passed in the 2016 General Session, Ms. Landau will work with the Commission and local governments to assist the state in meeting its obligations to provide assistance of counsel to indigent defendants, consistent with the state and federal Constitutions and the Utah Code. To fulfill that obligation, the legislation tasks the Commission with many duties, including the development of guiding principles to assess and oversee indigent criminal defense services in the state, and using legislatively-appropriated funds to make grants to local governments to assist them in providing constitutional indigent defense services. Creation of the Commission was recommended after a multi-year study of indigent defense services in Utah, conducted by a Task Force of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, local government representatives and legislators. The 11 voting members of the Commission were appointed by Governor Herbert and confirmed by the Senate over the summer. With Ms. Landau on board, the Commission can begin its work.” (Utahpolicy.com)

October 17, 2016 – “On Tuesday, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an eight-page administrative order that re-established the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice as one of the court’s standing committees. Formed in November 2014, the commission expired June 30. Thousands of Floridians struggling to make ends meet, including many residents with moderate incomes, still face barriers when they seek access to civil justice, Labarga said when he signed the order. So the work to bring down those barriers must continue, he added. The permanent commission will ‘study the remaining unmet civil legal needs of disadvantaged, low income and moderate income Floridians,’ the order states. The order directs the commission to examine the issue from all perspectives and consider the viewpoints of all entities involved in civil justice, including staffed legal aid programs, pro bono services, resources provided to help people who choose to — or must — represent themselves, technology solutions and ‘other models and potential innovations.’ Labarga will chair the 23-member commission through mid-2018. West Palm Beach attorney Gregory Coleman, a past president of The Florida Bar, will serve as chair of the commission’s executive committee.” (Daily Record)

October 19, 2016 – Dean Andrea D. Lyon of Valparaiso University Law School makes an excellent case for a Defender General, along the lines of the U.S. Attorney General and Solicitor General. “There has been no voice at the policy table for the accused, incarcerated and paroled. We have an attorney general of the United States. We have a solicitor general of the United States. The only lawyer that is enshrined in the United States Constitution is referenced in the Sixth Amendment: ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to … the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.’ Yet, the defense is not, and has not been a part of policy decisions regarding criminal justice matters. There is currently no office to represent criminal justice interests at the executive level the way that the attorney general does.” (Indiana Lawyer)

October 19, 2016 – “Judges from along the Eastern seaboard convene at Fordham University School of Law Wednesday night for a discussion on the intersection between civil and criminal access to justice and how to better handle the overlapping deficiencies in both systems. The panel marked the launch of the law school’s new access to justice initiative and the relocation of the National Center for Access to Justice—an independent nonprofit that utilizes data to improve the justice system—to Fordham from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The center had been housed at Cardozo for the past five years.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Foley Hoag LLP pro bono managing attorney Rebecca Cazabon is the recipient of the 2016 MAHA Leadership Award, given by the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (MAHA). Cazabon is being recognized for her longstanding advocacy in promoting social justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as her dedication and commitment on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable. As managing attorney for Foley Hoag’s pro bono program, Cazabon coordinates and oversees all pro bono work for the firm and facilitates pro bono training initiatives. She also represents low-income domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in abuse prevention, immigration, privacy, housing, criminal advocacy and appellate matters. Congratulations! (Foley Hoag News)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 14, 2016

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

Happy Friday! It’s October, and we’re looking forward to welcoming Deborah Vagins, Chief of Staff and Principal Attorney Advisor for the Office of Commissioner Charlotte Burrows at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the keynote speaker of the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference. NALP member public interest career counselors, pro bono program managers, and other public-service career professionals from the law school and employer communities – join us for some great programming. Register now!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma launches state-wide expungement project;
  • Six Alaska tribal health facilities to add legal aid;
  • Legal Services, Part 2: technology’s part in closing the justice gap;
  • DLA Piper’s Krantz Fellowship recipients spend a year doing pro bono;
  • Squire Patton Boggs Public Interest Fellowship goes abroad;
  • Six million in federal grants awarded to Michigan criminal justice agencies;
  • University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s law school launches business law clinic;
  • Northeast New Jersey Legal Services received $460,000 grant to aid domestic violence survivors;
  • Virginia State Bar won’t back pro bono reporting;
  • Behind the redesigned USAJobs.gov;
  • New Mexico public defenders office files a notice of unavailability of lawyers to represent adult criminal defendants;
  • A look at legal tech and access to justice in Canada;
  • Ensure eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • Ontario celebrates inaugural Access to Justice Week;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 6, 2016 – “Numbers used to describe Oklahomans who are or have been incarcerated are staggering. As of 2014, the National Institute of Corrections reported that the state has an estimated 79 percent higher rate of adults in prison per 100,000 people than the national average. In addition, one in 12 Oklahomans are estimated to have a felony conviction on his or her record. Due to this, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) ‘has observed that many Oklahomans with criminal records have trouble finding or maintaining a job, experience difficultly obtaining housing, and find their records to be a barrier to accessing education.’ In an effort to combat this trend, LASO has partnered with Pro Bono Net, with funding from Legal Services Corporation, to create an online program targeted at helping people expunge their criminal records and have a smoother transition to a normal way of life.” “The program partners with pro bono attorneys who can connect with people eligible for the program through a secured online portal. Those using it will be able to prepare legal documents and converse with the attorneys and give them easier access to starting the process of expungement, especially for Oklahomans living in rural areas.” (Stillwater News Press)

October 6, 2016 – “Hospitals typically are not in the business of providing legal aid to patients, but several tribal health facilities in Alaska are going to start doing just that. The pilot project is being funded through a multi-state grant that’s placing AmeriCorps volunteers in tribal facilities in six states. Nicole Nelson is executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Legal Services, which serves low income and disadvantaged people. She said the new partnerships with tribal health organizations will help Alaskans enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Americans.” “Nelson said Alaska Legal Services has fewer than 30 attorneys statewide so the addition of six AmeriCorps members is a significant expansion. She said it will help address unmet needs, and take legal services to where the people are.” (KNBA)

October 7, 2016 – In this Legaltech news article, author Ian Lopez recaps the discussion regarding legal tech and access to justice that took place at Thomson Reuters’ annual Law Firm Leaders Forum, titled, ‘The Future of Legal Services in the United States: The ABA Issues a Clarion Call for Change.’ “Judy Perry Martinez, chair of the American Bar Association’s presidential commission on the future of legal services, the organization behind the report, suggested that lawyers need to begin working with technologists and engineers on new solutions for persisting legal problems. She said that the ABA group behind the report currently has a governing council that includes a founder of the MIT Innovation Lab and an angel investor.” (Legaltech news)(subscription required)

October 7, 2016 – “Jennifer Eldridge, a first year associate in DLA Piper’s Chicago office, has big aspirations for the next 12 months: She hopes to assist domestic violence victims, file asylum paperwork for refugees, and help some past offenders clear their juvenile criminal records. It’s a bit different than the standard associate workload because Eldridge is one of two recipients of DLA Piper’s Krantz Fellowship, which gives her an entire year to only work on pro bono projects. ‘I’m really looking to get some litigation experience,’ said Olga Slobodyanyuk, the other recipient of the fellowship. ‘You get to run your own discovery, potentially go to trial, talk to opposing counsel, have your own practice going. That’s a great experience.’ With around 4,000 lawyers and 90 offices around the world, DLA Piper is taking advantage of its vast resources and allowing two associates to spend a year working on pro bono projects. There’s no contract that requires the associates to stay at the firm at the end of the year, but DLA Piper believes the investment will help groom the associates and claims it’s the only firm offering associates a full year of pro bono work at the same salary. Overall, it placed 28th on The American Lawyer’s 2016 national pro bono ranking, with its lawyers clocking an average of 73.3 hours per week — the firm has said the average for associates is actually higher. It’s not alone in its pro bono efforts: other firms including Arnold & Porter, Paul Hastings and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, offer programs that allow summer associates to split their time between firm and public interest. Hogan Lovells offers first-year associates four-month pro bono rotations, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom offers externships with the Legal Aid Society’s Community Law Office and Lawyers Alliance for New York. DLA Piper founded its fellowship in 2011, which it named after retired DLA Piper partner Sheldon Krantz, a former director of New Perimeter, a nonprofit firm affiliate that develops pro bono projects in under-served regions around the world.” (Bloomberg Law)

October 7, 2016 – “A foundation funded by Squire Patton Boggs is broadening its scope by providing fellowships to students at law schools in Qatar and Belgium. For more than a decade, the nonprofit, now called the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation, has funded fellowships for American law school students who wish to do public interest work in the summer. This fall the firm’s Brussels office will establish a similar fellowship at the College D’Europe in Bruges. The firm will also fund a fellowship for a Russian student doing graduate work in human rights law at the George Washington University Law School. “We are exploring fellowships with other of the firms European office locations,” said the foundation’s president, John Oberdorfer, a retired partner at legacy firm Patton Boggs. ‘The hope is to be able to expand in that direction.'” (The American Lawyer)

October 7, 2016 – “Criminal justice agencies across Michigan will receive more than $6 million in federal grants to strengthen anti-drug and crime fighting efforts, Gov. Rick Snyder announced today. Funding comes from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program and the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners (RSAT) Program. Grants include $2.32 million to multijurisdictional task forces that investigate drug crimes and other categories of crime in regions of the state.” (mLive)

October 7, 2016 – “The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s law school has received a $1 million grant to create the state’s first business innovation clinic. The grant from the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office was announced Friday for UALR’s William H. Bowen School of Law. The new clinic will focus on providing business law advice and services to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and others. Law students, under the supervision of a business law attorney, will work with entrepreneurs to launch and build their businesses, negotiate contracts and protect ideas and innovations. The clinic will also offer educational programs.” (THV11)

October 10, 2016 – “A Hackensack-based not-for-profit law firm has been awarded nearly half a million dollars to help provide legal services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults in Hudson County. Northeast New Jersey Legal Services received the $460,000 grant from the Department of Justice to fund its ‘Hudson Legal Assistance for Victims Project,’ a program targeted to help victims — particularly recent immigrants — obtain free legal services in domestic or sexual assault cases. John H. Fitzgerald, executive director of the firm, said in a statement the three-year grant will help victims who already face a number of legal costs, including restraining orders, to protect them from their attacker.” (nj.com)

October 10, 2016 – ” A proposal to require lawyers to report their pro bono contributions each year will go to the Supreme Court of Virginia without the blessing of the Virginia State Bar. Members of the VSB Council voted 29-25 Friday not to endorse mandatory reporting of pro bono hours and donations.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)(subscription required)

October 11, 2016 – In a follow up to last week’s articles criticizing federal hiring, here’s a good review of the changes to USAJobs launched in August and where OPM hopes to take the system with the upcoming October changes. “The Office of Personnel Management delivered perhaps the most sweeping update to its USAJobs.gov federal employment website in August since first moving the hiring process online about 20 years ago. While the website in the last two decades has seen scattered progress as the digitized hub for government hiring — one which many have bemoaned as largely ineffective and too complicated — OPM now has its sights set on transforming USAJobs ‘from a job board to a career portal,’ Michelle Earley, the site’s program manager, told FedScoop.” (FedScoop)

October 11, 2016 – “Felony cases have spiked amid a struggling economy in the oil patch of Southeastern New Mexico, and now the Hobbs Public Defender says it won’t accept any more clients because it does not have the resources to adequately represent them. The decision to deny public representation to criminal defendants in Hobbs may just be the beginning of a trend in courthouses where strained budgets have become a way of life because of the state’s budget crisis. Other areas of the state could face the same problem of not having the means to provide lawyers to indigent defendants, said Ben Baur, New Mexico’s chief public defender. ‘What we’re saying right now is that ethically we cannot represent people on new cases,’ he said Monday. ‘Right now we’re struggling to handle the ones we have.’ The Hobbs News-Sun reported that the public defender’s office in Hobbs has filed a notice of unavailability of lawyers to represent adult criminal defendants appearing in Magistrate Court. Baur on Monday told The New Mexican he made the decision from Santa Fe ‘because of the high caseloads and the lack of staff to handle the increased caseloads in Hobbs right now.'” (CorrectionsOne.com)

October 11, 2016 – There is a vibrant discussion going on in Canada about the role legal technology could and should play in closing the access to justice gap.  Here is a look at access and legal tech that posits that perhaps taken as a whole, it appears we’ve made more progress than we actually have. “While increasing efficiency has the potential to reduce costs, there are a number of arguments to suggest that this will not have a real impact on access to justice.” (Slaw)

October 12, 2016 – U.S. News & World Reports contributor Betsy Mayotte for Student Loan Ranger wrote a good article you can share with your alumni about to seek loan forgiveness and those just starting with qualifying employers. (U.S. News & World Report)

October 13, 2016 – “Five exceptional events will mark Ontario’s inaugural Access to Justice Week (A2J), which will be held in Toronto from October 17-21, 2016. This week will include a range of engagement and learning opportunities for the public, legal professionals, community workers, students and other access to justice advocates — including remarks from The Honourable Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario. Organized by TAG, The Action Group on Access to Justice, along with the Law Society of Upper Canada and other partners, the week will feature key access to justice issues including technology, child welfare and public legal information.” (CNW)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Casa Cornelia, a nonprofit that provides free legal services for immigration cases, has named Jae Park as its attorney of the year. Park, a litigator for the global law firm Dentons, spends most of his professional hours handling business-related disputes. For the past 10 years, he has also volunteered his time to take on cases for Casa Cornelia’s clients, work he said is especially meaningful to him because he is also an immigrant. His family moved to the United States from Korea when he was 12. ‘I know how challenging it is to move to another country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know the language, you don’t know the system and have to adjust to that,’ Park said. ‘Being able to help these refugees who have come with nothing in their pockets and risk their lives to save their lives, I really connected with that feeling.’ Casa Cornelia has been part of San Diego’s immigration law community for more than 20 years. It started by dealing with asylum cases and today represents three main groups of immigrants: asylum seekers, immigrants who have been victims of serious crimes and children. The organization also works to educate the community about immigration law and policies. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 7, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to October and the official start of pumpkin spice everything.  We are also looking forward to the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference for NALP member public interest career counselors, pro bono program managers, and other public-service career professionals from the law school and employer communities. Register now!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Oregon School of Law receives grant to expand domestic violence clinic;
  • Legal Services Corporation announces 11 Pro Bono Innovation Grant recipients;
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders adequate funding for public defense;
  • Gulfcoast Legal Services Executive Director retires after federal audit finding deficient record-keeping;
  • University of Hawai’i Mānoa law school breaks ground on new clinical building;
  • Senate subcommittee holds hearing on hiring in federal government;
  • Indiana Legal Services receives grant to aid seniors;
  • Federal funding for fair housing initiatives in Massachusetts;
  • Georgia State University College of Law establishes Center for Access to Justice;
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law opens new tax clinic;
  • Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey detailed results are out;
  • Technology CLE’s now required in Florida;
  • University of Michigan Law School receives grant to examine shaken-baby cases;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 28, 2016 – “The Domestic Violence Clinic at the University of Oregon School of Law has been awarded $300,000 by the Oregon Department of Justice to continue and expand its office of Student Survivor Legal Services.” “The new grant will permit the office to offer legal services to students at Lane Community College and Northwest Christian University, in addition to the UO.  Professor Merle Weiner, faculty director of the Domestic Violence Clinic and writer of the grant from the Department of Justice, said, ‘Legal services are vitally important to student survivors on all types of campuses. It is incumbent upon us all to think of creative ways to offer such services when they are not available. This grant will allow the Domestic Violence Clinic to offer a post-graduate fellowship to a graduate of the law school while also serving survivors on other campuses.'” (University of Oregon School of Law News)

September 29, 2016 – “The Legal Services Corporation announced today that 11 legal aid organizations will receive grants to support innovations in pro bono legal services for low-income clients. The grants from LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund are intended to encourage new and robust pro bono efforts and partnerships to serve more low-income people.” The full list of grantees is available here. (Legal Services Corporation)

September 30, 2016 – “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting ruling, found Friday that county governments have a constitutional responsibility to provide counsel to poor criminal defendants and ensure that their defense is adequately funded. The ruling came in a lawsuit by the former head of the Office of the Public Defender in Luzerne County and several criminal defendants, who alleged that funding cuts by the county commissioners had severely hampered the ability of the office to provide adequate representation in criminal cases.” “Typically, criminal defendants who assert that they have been represented by ineffective counsel do so after a conviction and on a case-by-case basis. Friday’s decision permits lawsuits alleging inadequate criminal defense when a local government fails to adequately fund its public defender’s office, effectively creating a new cause of action. The ruling did not provide financial guidelines to local governments. But it said public defender’s offices should be able to engage in timely consultation with clients, adequately investigate matters, and take other steps to test the prosecution’s case.” (The Inquirer Daily News)

September 30, 2016 – “The executive director, John Dubrule, of Gulfcoast Legal Services has retired in the wake of a critical federal audit report that said the agency failed to properly document how it spent $753,158 in federal grants.” “In its report, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice rapped Gulfcoast for failing to conduct a required audit of how it spent money from two grants it received to help victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. ‘While we found no evidence of fraudulent reporting involving grant funds,’ the report said, ‘in our judgment Gulfcoast’s records provide no assurance that grant funds are being paid only for grant-related activities.’ Among other problems, the report said, Gulfcoast did not require its staff members to track their time. It also submitted ‘inaccurate financial reports’ to the Justice Department offices that awarded the grants, and was slow to respond to the inspector general’s ‘repeated requests’ for information. In his response to the report, Dubrule blamed Gulfcoast’s failure to comply with grant requirements on ‘significant turnover,’ the temporary outsourcing of bookkeeping and financial reporting, and accounting software that ‘was not as robust as needed for efficient grant reporting.’ ‘While we cannot undo past transgressions,’ he wrote, ‘we have put protocols in place to prevent future issues. Gulfcoast also conducted the required audit.'” Dubrule served as executive director since 2014. (Tampa Bay Times)

September 30, 2016 – “The groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Clinical Building at the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa. The new building will serve as space for the growing clinical care offered by law school students and faculty as part of course work for graduation. This clinical service provides thousands of hours of free legal help to some of Hawai’i’s most vulnerable people, including the elderly, troubled and incarcerated youth, veterans, and families living at or near poverty levels. It will also provide much-needed space to develop practical trial and advocacy skills.  Students are required to serve a minimum of 60 hours of pro bono work in order to graduate.” (University of Hawai’i News)

September 30, 2016 – “The New Jersey State Bar Association is launching a Pro Bono Month e-campaign with the aim of getting attorneys to volunteer to help your clients. Lawyers Helping New Jersey will run Oct. 1-31. It will allow attorneys to volunteer to handle a matter for one of the state’s many pro bono providers. Attorneys can browse the categories of cases each provider handles to volunteer for one that best suits their interests or practice areas. All of the providers are on the Madden exemption list.” Visit njsba.com to learn more. (New Jersey Law Journal)

September 30, 2016 – While the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management’s hearing focused on bringing in new, millennial talent to replace the retiring federal workforce, the hearing did paint a bleak picture of overall federal hiring.  There have been several new initiatives in the past few years designed to make the time for hiring window smaller.  The exact opposite has been the result, with an increase from an average of 90 days in 2013 to 99.6 days in 2015.  While most attorney positions are excepted service (and thus not representative of most of the hiring discussed) the articles provide a good overview of hiring authorities and demonstrate how government is going in the wrong direction with the hiring reform efforts. The bottom line is there may now be too many ways into the federal government, and hiring managers are having trouble using them.

“And this year, OPM began the Hiring Excellence Campaign to better educate hiring managers and human resources specialists about the existing authorities they have to bring in new talent. But persistent, repeat challenges are preventing agency chief human capital officers from hiring new talent — particularly candidates under age 40— more quickly. And removing those barriers will likely take many debate-filled proposals to shift the status quo. ‘It seems like every year or two there’s a new initiative,’ Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. ‘I understand some of those are for different people groups as well, and those are all strategic areas. My challenge is … when we come back to the data … in 2013, it took about 90 days to do a hiring. In 2014, it took 94.4 days to do a federal hire. In 2015, it now takes 99.6 days. Our length of time to actually get there is getting longer.'” (Federal News Radio)

“Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) read a list of government projects that once promised to bring new life to the federal hiring process, only to then show it in steadily declining health.” “Mark Reinhold, OPM’s chief human capital officer and associate director for employee services, defended the latest endeavor, saying the Hiring Excellence Campaign is designed to bring all the others together. ‘We’re attempting to take a more holistic approach,” he said, ‘so that we don’t over-emphasize any of those important aspects of hiring.'” (Washington Post)

And in related news: “President Barack Obama is directing America’s national security agencies to promote more diversity in their ranks, arguing that inclusiveness is an ‘imperative’ in a still-dangerous but increasingly interconnected world. Obama lays out his instructions in a Presidential Memorandum released Wednesday.” Read more about the directive here and the companion blog post here. (Politico)

October 2, 2016 – “A nonprofit law firm that aids low-income Indiana residents has won a $400,000 federal grant to help seniors who’ve fallen victim to neglect, battery or financial scams. Indiana Legal Services says the two-year grant will allow it to help about 400 seniors age 60 or older who’ve been victimized by helping them avoid eviction, seek protective orders against abusers and arrange other assistance for them. The grant was awarded through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to the nonprofit legal firm that provides free civil legal assistance to eligible low-income people through eight regional offices. Executive Director Jon Laramore says senior abuse has risen along with Indiana’s growing senior population. He says more safeguards are needed to protect seniors, particularly those who are ill or live on small, fixed incomes.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

October 3, 2016 – “Worcester’s Community Legal Aid has received $300,000 out of $1.9 million in federal funding to bankroll fair housing initiatives in Massachusetts. The grant is through the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) to assist victims of housing discrimination. ‘Community Legal Aid in Worcester and fair housing organizations across Massachusetts play a vital role in our communities by working to prevent discrimination in housing,’ Congressman Jim McGovern said in a statement. ‘This new federal funding will help so many families by supporting the great work local organizations are doing to protect equal access to housing for everyone in Massachusetts.’ Other organizations in Massachusetts receiving awards were:

  • Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston (Boston) – $300,000
  • HAP, Inc. (Springfield) – $125,000
  • Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, Inc. (Holyoke) – $300,000
  • SouthCoast Fair Housing, Inc. (New Bedford) – $425,000
  • Suffolk University (Boston) – $423,778″

(WBJournal)

October 3, 2016 – “Georgia State University College of Law has established the Center for Access to Justice, a regional and national base for the study of issues relating to access to criminal and civil justice for those with limited financial means. Similar centers exist across the United States, but there are none in the Southeast region. ‘There is a critical need in this area to ensure that the justice system functions fairly and effectively,’ said Lauren Sudeall Lucas, assistant professor of law and the center’s faculty director. ‘The experience of lower-income civil and criminal litigants is often fundamentally different from those with financial means. There are a lot of problems endemic to that system and not a lot of information available to understand the full scope of the problem or to find effective solutions.'” “Lucas will work with Darcy Meals, the center’s assistant director, and student fellows to generate, highlight and disseminate research that helps identify and better understand the problems people have in gaining access to justice, as well as inform potential solutions.” (Newswise)

October 3, 2016 – “A new tax clinic at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law aims to provide legal services to low-income families in need of tax law help while providing law students a unique educational opportunity to gain on-the-job experience before graduation. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program is a matching grant program from the Internal Revenue Service that provides federal funds to organizations so they in turn can provide services to taxpayers who are low income or who speak English as a second language. The University of Utah this month joins the list of several clinics across the country who help clients in need.” (University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law News)

October 3, 2016 – “The agency-by-agency results from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are out, and most agencies improved on their scores from last year. In 2016, overall satisfaction among federal employees improved one percentage point government-wide for the second consecutive year. The two major indices measure ’employee engagement’ (employees’ feelings about their job, organization and pay) and ‘global satisfaction’ (how satisfied they are with their leaders and the work experience). The average employee engagement score was 65 percent, and the average global satisfaction score was 61 percent. Just 6 of 37 large agencies experienced declines in their engagement scores, and 7 of the 37 saw dips in their satisfaction scores. Generally, small agencies performed better than large ones.” (FCW)

October 4, 2016 – While the technology CLE requirement has implications for more than just public interest attorneys, legal technology is a particularly important tool in bridging the justice gap. “[L]ast week Florida adopted new language into its Bar Rules which requires lawyers to stay abreast of legal technology advancements while also mandating that lawyers complete 3 credits of legal technology CLE per biennial cycle. In an opinion issued on September 29th, the Supreme Court of Florida changed the number of bennienial CLE credits required from 30 to 33 and mandated that 3 of those credits must be ‘in an approved technology program.'” (mycase)

October 5, 2016 – “The law school at the University of Michigan is receiving a $250,000 federal grant to develop expertise to challenge certain child-abuse convictions. The school’s Innocence Clinic will use the money to work on convictions in so-called shaken-baby cases. In 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously overturned a murder conviction in Calhoun County. The court said Leo Ackley’s rights were violated by a defense attorney who did a poor job in failing to vigorously challenge the evidence. The death involved a young girl. The court said the prosecutor produced no witnesses who said Ackley was abusive. The Innocence Clinic believes there are other people who have been wrongly convicted on flawed shaken-baby evidence.” (The Washington Times)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:
Shearman & Sterling LLP partner Linda Rappaport was selected by The Legal Aid Society of New York as one of the recipients of the 2016 Pro Bono Publico Awards for outstanding service to the Society and its clients. Every year, the Society recognizes the outstanding work of volunteer lawyers, law firms, corporations and other professionals who participate in the Society’s pro bono program by providing exceptional legal services to low-income New Yorkers. (Shearman News)

Music Bonus!“>  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 30, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Can you believe October is right around the corner?  And with it comes the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference for NALP members and the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair for employers, law students and law school professionals. Registration is now open for both events. Mini-Conference registration. Equal Justice Works registration.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Maine School of Law Apps for Justice Project uses technology to bridge justice gap;
  • Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law launches community legal clinic;
  • Maryland Judiciary opens third district court walk-in center;
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project opens Pittsburgh office;
  • Law schools work on access to justice;
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness costs as first eligible class approaches forgiveness;
  • Joint working group of the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada release report and proposed national benchmarks for legal aid;
  • Texas A&M University School of Law receives grant for new tax clinic;
  • Mitchell Hamline School of Law rolls out “Wheels of Justice”;
  • Call to end articling alternative LPP;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 22, 2016 – “Most individuals and small businesses don’t have access to affordable legal assistance. The problem is not that we don’t have enough lawyers; rather, there is a gap between what lawyers must charge and what clients can pay. This gap and the resulting tension is not sustainable – either for society or for the legal profession.” “The mission of the University of Maine School of Law Apps for Justice Project is to model how technology can be used to bridge this gap. Launched early this year and funded with a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, the Apps for Justice Project uses the powerful Neota Logic platform – the same platform that is used by multinational firms to routinize complex regulatory compliance issues – to develop and create practical, technology-based legal expert systems in the form of applications, or apps. These apps provide guidance, information and action plans that enable low- and moderate-income Mainers to effectively address their specific civil legal problems, either alone or with the help of affordable counsel. In designing these apps, we endeavored to mirror the problem-solving process lawyers follow: the application of abstract principles to specific cases, beginning with diagnosis, proceeding to inference, and then to treatment.” “The positive response our apps have received during our testing phase attests that designed well, legal expert systems can offer a new paradigm for both law practice and self-help assistance. Expert legal systems can offer business lawyers and those who represent individuals the opportunity for increased efficiencies, allowing the provision of legal services to a greater number of clients at a lower-cost, without sacrificing quality or attention.” (Portland Press Herald)

September 22, 2016 – “Campbell University’s law school will officially cut the ribbon of a new clinic in downtown Raleigh on Friday to give free legal help to disadvantaged residents. The school’s new Community Law Clinic is housed at the historic Horton-Beckham-Bretsch House. Eight Campbell law students, overseen by the clinic’s director, will work in the clinic, which will take referrals from area nonprofit agencies – Raleigh Rescue Mission, Urban Ministries of Wake County and StepUp Ministry. Campbell Law Dean Rich Leonard said the clinic should give students valuable practical experience while helping low-income residents who face legal hurdles. ‘I think it’s one of the most exciting initiatives the law school has ever undertaken,’ said Leonard, who won a grant for $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to launch the effort.” (The News & Observer)

September 23, 2016 – “On Friday, the Maryland Judiciary held a grand opening for a new walk-in center in Wicomico District Court. The center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is designed to help people who are representing themselves in civil legal matters. The center is staffed by attorneys who work for Maryland Legal Aid. While they do not provide representation, they can advise people, explain complicated court processes, or help with necessary paperwork.” “According to the Maryland Judiciary, this is the third District Court walk-in center in the state, with the other two in Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County. Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland John Morrisey says these centers benefit all parties involved. ” (WBOC)

September 25, 2016 – “The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, headquartered in Philadelphia, has opened a Pittsburgh office, making it the first among such programs nationally to have multiple locations in a state. Just as the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, founded in 2009, is located at Temple University Beasley School of Law, its Pittsburgh office is located at Duquesne University School of Law. As in Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh office is operating a student clinic in which law students from Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh law schools will earn college credit by examining vetted cases, seeking a way to prove actual innocence. The project does not accept cases in which incarcerated people claim they were put behind bars due to technical violations.” “The new office, housed in the law school’s Tribone Center for Clinical Legal Education, Uptown, is headed by Liz DeLosa, who manages all litigation case development and oversees all investigations.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

September 26, 2016 – The National Law Journal examines what some law schools are doing to focus on access to justice. “We have arrived at a critical moment where our most fundamental legal ideals are threatened by a profound justice gap. Millions of people — evicted tenants, indigent defendants and immigrant mothers — find themselves buffeted by legal processes that do not assure a meaningful right to be heard, much less representation by competent counsel. Teaching the next generation of lawyers the values, knowledge and skills needed to deliver on the promise of access to justice is paramount. To do this, Fordham University School of Law and other leading law schools are placing the issue of access to justice at the center of legal education.” The article details these great initiatives. (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

September 26, 2016 – As the time for the first eligible class to seek loan forgiveness approaches, CNBC summarizes the current state of the program and the costs and considerations to taxpayers. The article is a decent summary if you’re new to the issue. (CNBC)

September 28, 2016 – “In 2014, a joint working group of the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada (ALAP) collaborated to formulate and propose national legal aid benchmarks for Canada. After much consultation and discussion, we have now completed that work. The national benchmarks are guiding principles to achieve the shared goal of a national, integrated system of public legal assistance focused on improving access to justice and meeting the needs of disadvantaged people across Canada. These 6 national legal aid benchmarks, under headings of an overall vision, scope of services, priorities for service, spectrum of service, quality of service and an integrated service delivery sector, capture current evidence about legal aid and define pathways for the future, are intended to provide a foundation for national indicators with common data measurement. To explain these concepts further, the CBA has authored a separate report further elaborating on the rationale and potential of national benchmarks for Canada.” (Canadian Bar Association)

September 28, 2016 – “Today, the American Immigration Council released Access to Counsel in Immigration Court by Ingrid Eagly and Steven Shafer. The authors conducted the first national study of access to counsel in immigration courts and analyzed 1.2 million individual removal cases in immigration court between fiscal years 2007 and 2012. They found that access to legal counsel was uneven across geographic locations and nationalities. They also found that having a lawyer results in better outcomes for immigrants and that represented immigrants were more likely to be released from detention, more likely to apply for relief, and to obtain the relief they sought. These important findings highlight some of the disparities in the immigration court system. Whether or not immigrants obtain a lawyer varies widely depending on whether they are detained, where their court proceeding takes place, and what nationality they are. These inequalities and barriers to obtaining legal counsel need to be addressed because having an attorney is also strongly associated with positive outcomes. Overall, the study found that only two percent of those who applied for relief from deportation succeeded without an attorney.” (American Immigration Council)

September 29, 2016 – “The School of Law has received a grant from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to start a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. The grant is part of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) program, administered by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS to make the services of these clinics more widely available, particularly in underserved areas. This will help the school assist low income taxpayers on tax controversies, which include audits, assessments, collections and disputes before the IRS and U.S. Tax Court. The clinic also gives students an opportunity to work directly on federal tax controversy cases by receiving provisional admission to represent taxpayers before the IRS.” (Texas A&M Today)

September 29, 2016 – “Mitchell Hamline School of Law on Thursday unveiled its latest public service initiative, the Mobile Law Network, which will dispatch students across Minnesota in a revamped R.V. to perform pro bono legal services for those in need.” (Law.com) (subscription required)

September 29, 2016 – “The controversy over a pilot project to address a shortage of articling positions has been reignited with an Ontario law society committee’s call to end the program because it has been stigmatized by law school graduates and some in the legal profession. The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Law Practice Program (LLP) began in 2014 as a response to the increasing number of new graduates who were not able to find positions articling – the supervised, 10-month apprenticeship with a law firm that is required to become a lawyer. Students in the LPP spend four months in a ‘virtual’ law office where they take on a variety of cases, and then participate in a four-month work placement.” “While the report says the quality of the program is not in question, ‘there is a perception among candidates and some Articling Principals that the LPP is viewed as second-tier transitional experiential training with stigma attached to those who complete it.’ (Articling principals are the lawyers who supervise articling students.)” Some supporters of the program see the LPP as a path to the bar for minority candidates and/or those who disproportionately seek public interest positions and call for its continuation. A vote on this and other proposals will take place in early November. (The Globe and Mail)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Wyoming State Bar award recipients.

John B. “Jack” Speight, an attorney from Cheyenne, received the 2016 Community Service Award for his volunteer work as the Director of the Wyoming Lawyer Assistance Program since its inception in 2014. He also has been a generous donor to the WyLAP Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides grants to lawyers in need of assistance but unable to afford it.

Angie Dorsch, executive director of Equal Justice Wyoming, received the Bar’s Champion of Justice for Legal Services Award. As director of Equal Justice Wyoming since 2012, Dorsch has helped grow statewide legal services and pro bono work in Wyoming. She also works with the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission and the Equal Justice Wyoming Foundation.

Billie Ruth Edwards, an attorney from Cheyenne who died in January, posthumously received one of three Pro Bono Awards for legal services provided to indigent clients. He accepted five pro bono cases through Equal Justice Wyoming in 2015. Edwards also volunteered at monthly advice clinics, offering free legal advice and, to help ensure access to the legal system, would also provide full volunteer representation after meeting with clients at an advice clinic.

The Cheyenne law firm of Woodhouse Roden Nethercott also received one of the 2016 Pro Bono Awards for legal services provided to indigent clients. The firm regularly sponsors and participates in monthly Equal Justice Wyoming/Wyoming State Bar law clinics, and its attorneys are frequent volunteers for clinic nights in Laramie County. The volunteer attorneys also have taken on cases of clients they meet through those clinics, and pro bono work is a significant part of the firm’s culture according to the bar. (Wyoming News)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 23, 2016

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

Happy Friday! REGISTRATION is now open for the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference, an annual gathering of NALP members who counsel law students and lawyers on public service careers. We look forward to seeing you in October.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Université de Montréal announces launch of research consortium exploring access to law and justice;
  • Baylor Law School seeks to close access to justice gap with Legal Mapmaker program;
  • University of Virginia School of Law’s VITA program honored by ABA;
  • Alabama governor awards $1.9 million in support of domestic violence victims;
  • Nebraska’s new Rural Law Opportunities Program hopes to bring more lawyers to rural areas;
  • New York oversight board announces civil legal services grants;
  • Nova Scotia’s #TalkJustice Project moves to phase 2;
  • Think tank releases report card on Canada’s justice system;
  • Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center celebrates 100 years of service;
  • Congresswoman introduces Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act;
  • ABA launches free online legal Q&A service to broaden access to justice;
  • A new public interest center to open at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 15, 2016 – “Université de Montréal proudly announces the launch of an important research consortium set up to explore access to law and to justice. ADAJ groups brought together 42 researchers as well as collaborators from 9 universities and 44 justice partners. ‘The object of this initiative is to engage a series of pilot projects aimed at redirecting the focus of the judicial system on the individual citizen and thereby transforming justice into a community project,’ states Pierre Noreau, scientific director of the project, researcher at the Public Law Research Centre (CRDP) and professor with the Faculty of Law at Université de Montréal. The twenty research thrusts being launched simultaneously extend to the majority of issues currently facing citizens and the judicial system, notably the ever increasing numbers of self-represented litigants, the obscure wording of contracts and laws, the development of mediation and conciliation practices, the development of alternative penal measures, the compensation of class members through class action litigation, paperless justice, and so on. The project website (adaj.ca) details each of these key thrusts. ‘Each thrust draws on a combination of researcher proficiency and justice player knowledge to ensure that the research conducted inures to the benefit of both the people and the justice system as an institution. The object is to seek out tangible solutions to the challenges encountered by individuals accountable under the law,’ Mr Noreau goes on to say. Backed by a $2.5 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and another $1.4 million from various project partners, work by the ADAJ consortium will be spread out over a period of six years. ‘The initiative is the most comprehensive research exercise of its kind throughout the country,’ underscores Vincent Gautrais, director of the Public Law Research Centre. ‘We are of course delighted that it is being developed and spearheaded here in Québec. ADAJ represents a model for others to replicate. Indeed, the project provides proof that it is possible to build bridges between legal academics and practitioners. In this instance, the research will clearly focus on the public well-being.’ Originally developed within the framework of the Access to Justice Observatory, ADAJ helps foster the development of emerging professionals in the field of research about justice. ‘Over 150 students will assist project researchers,’ points up Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens, dean of the Faculty of Law at Université de Montréal. ‘ADAJ will serve as a veritable laboratory for research, training, action and change.'” (CNW)

September 15, 2016 – “Baylor Law School says 100 million Americans can’t afford legal services, while at the same time many new lawyers are unemployed despite the unmet need. Most of the cases with which the poor need help are related to what are called ‘basic human needs’ defined as being  related to shelter, food, safety, health or child custody. Stephen Rispoli, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs at Baylor Law school noted the biggest problem facing new lawyers is the high cost of setting up a practice, thus keeping the very people who would be available to help the poor being unable to do so. Legal Mapmaker is a new Baylor Law School program designed to prepare young lawyers to open law firms. It provides a model business strategy with two goals: help lawyers succeed, and help the public find affordable legal services by showing lawyers how to provide legal services efficiently and with low overhead.” ” More than 30 young Texas lawyers attended the first Legal Mapmaker conference and learned from experts who spoke on a range of topics from business plans, staffing and financial management to client relations, technology and community involvement.” (myCenTX.com)

September 16, 2016 – “Students at the University of Virginia School of Law have been recognized by the American Bar Association with the 2016 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Award for leading University efforts to help taxpayers prepare their own returns. Each year, the Law School’s VITA program collaborates with other students on Grounds to help low- and moderate-income clients, who are a mix of community members, University employees and students.” “UVA’s VITA outreach helped about 800 clients on their 2015 tax returns —about 30 percent of the ABA’s local-coalition efforts, which are coordinated by the United Way Thomas Jefferson Area.” (University of Virginia School of Law News & Events)

September 16, 2016 – “Gov. Robert Bentley has awarded grants totaling $1.9 million in support of nonprofit groups that assist rape and abuse victims in south and central Alabama. The Montgomery Area Family Violence Program, commonly known as the Family Sunshine Center, is using $1.4 million in grant funds to aid domestic violence victims in Autauga, Butler, Chilton, Crenshaw, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Montgomery, Perry and Wilcox counties. Lighthouse Counseling Center is using $290,000 in grants to continue its Standing Together Against Rape program for victims of sexual assault in Autauga, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes, Montgomery, Perry, and Wilcox counties. Child Protect is using funds of $144,000 to continue providing services for child victims in Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery counties. With a $64,775 grant, Legal Services Alabama will continue offering legal assistance to domestic violence victims in nine counties.” (AlabamaNews.net)

September 18, 2016 – “A new program involving three Nebraska colleges and the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln aims to increase the number of lawyers in rural areas. The Rural Law Opportunities Program, or RLOP, guarantees chosen high school students from rural Nebraska — basically anywhere outside Lincoln, Omaha and its suburbs — entrance into law school. In return, it’s hoped that when graduating from law school, the new lawyers will practice in a rural area.” “Wayne State, Chadron State College and Nebraska-Kearney each will select five high school seniors every year, beginning with the class of 2017. Once selected, students are guaranteed a spot in the Nebraska law school if they maintain good grades in college, complete their undergraduate requirements and score well on the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. [Nebraska College of Law interim dean Richard] Moberly said that 17-20 graduates — about 15 percent — in each of the past three Nebraska law school graduating classes have gone to practice in rural Nebraska. He hopes that RLOP will send an additional 10 new lawyers into those areas.” (Sioux City Journal)

September 19, 2016 – “The state Interest on Lawyer Account (IOLA) Fund and 83 civil legal services providers will divide a record $100 million that is being allocated through the Judiciary’s 2016-17 state budget. State court administrators announced Monday that state grants were approved by a state oversight board. The money was contained in the $1.89 billion Judiciary portion of the 2016-17 state budget approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature earlier this year.” “Court administrators said that the largest amounts of aid will be available in areas of the state with the most residents whose incomes are 200 percent or less of the poverty level. The individual grants range from the $9.8 million awarded to both Legal Services NYC and the Legal Aid Society of New York City to the $20,000 for the Advocates for Children of New York.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

September 19, 2016 – “Nova Scotia’s #TalkJustice project is gathering more stories and evidence to feed into a software program that should help identify issues with the justice system in the province. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society initiative will use SenseMaker to take stories from citizens about their experiences with the justice system and seek connections between them. It will also provide a look at what the average justice system experience looks like for a person in a particular community, which they hope will help identify problem areas. ‘We want this information to feed into the system ongoing all the time. Hopefully by the fourth phase we’ll have a system in place where that feedback can be entering the justice system ongoing,’ said LaMeia Reddick, a community connector for the barristers’ society’s project. The next step will be looking for ways to challenge the justice system to improve access.” (CBC News)

September 21, 2016 – “The Macdonald-Laurier Institute grades provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victims support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources. University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin is one of the report’s authors. With Canada’s justice system costing roughly $11 billion a year, he felt it was time to look at the numbers. The report card is based on comparable information, much of it from Statistics Canada. And while Perrin and co-author Richard Audas did not seek to explain or justify why some provinces performed better than others, they did highlight how the territories face challenges of isolation, geography and higher costs. Overall, Yukon scored lowest, followed by Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.” The full report is available here. (CBC News)

September 22, 2016 – “When the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center opened in San Francisco a century ago, it was the first group west of the Mississippi to provide free legal services to low-income clients. Today it assists 3,000 people a year through free clinics around California, litigates in state and federal courts and advocates for government policies that protect civil and employment rights. President Joan Graff took a break from preparing for Thursday’s 100th anniversary gala to speak with The Recorder about why issues from unemployment to immigration to disability rights all fall under LAS-ELC’s umbrella and what lies ahead for her organization.” Congratulations, and here is to 100 more years!  (The Recorder)

September 22, 2016 – “U.S. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH-03) recently introduced the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act, H.R. 6046, legislation to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with public and private entities to increase legal services for homeless and at-risk of homelessness veterans. Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15) and Congressman Pat Tiberi (OH-12) are the lead cosponsors of H.R. 6046.” The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and is awaiting further consideration. (US House of Representatives News)

September 22, 2016 – “The American Bar Association has rolled out a new web program, ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org, to give income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys. The new service, a virtual legal advice clinic, is now available in eight states — Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming — with plans to have service available in the majority of states by the end of this year. Geared to expand legal services for low-income communities, users of the service will have to meet income eligibility guidelines applicable to each state. While expanding access to legal services, the ABA Free Legal Answers program also expands pro bono opportunities for attorneys in a convenient way to match their schedules.” Nationally, attorneys can volunteer their services to existing and future participating state programs by clicking here. (ABA)

September 22, 2016 – “A new center at The Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law will house the growing array of public interest offerings at the school, enhancing Northwestern’s strong commitment to a public service ethic. Northwestern Law’s Public Interest Center will ensure strategic leadership of important public interest activities under a single umbrella. Its formation is made possible in part through the $100 million donation made by J.B. and M.K. Pritzker in 2015. ‘In tandem with the exceptional work of our Bluhm Legal Clinic and our public interest journals, we already have in place the key features befitting a premier public interest program,’ said Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Law. Among the center’s features are financial support for students doing public interest work during and after law school; a robust menu of course offerings, including a law and social policy concentration; career programming and counseling; a wide range of pro bono and public service opportunities; and passionate student organization participation and leadership. The Law School is committed to promoting the advancement of social justice and preparing students for public interest careers and pro bono work.” (Northwestern News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Blank Rome LLP Associate Joseph J. Patry was selected as the recipient of the “Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award” by the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, in recognition of his legal representation of tenants in the Housing Conditions Calendar in the D.C. Superior Court. Mr. Patry will be presented with the award on Thursday, September 29, 2016, at the Generous Associates Campaign and Pro Bono Volunteer Celebration. (Blank Rome LLP)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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