Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 18, 2017

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

Happy Friday! With all that has happened this week, you may be looking for ways to combat the hate. PSJD has many resources to help you find and connect with pro bono opportunities in your area.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Duke Law School emphasizes public interest with new certificate program;
  • DC lawyers support record-breaking legal aid fundraising campaign;
  • Pennsylvania county launches domestic violence court;
  • Broadway performers vocalize support for Legal Service Corporation at ABA rally;
  • ABA launches second site to assist veterans;
  • SOAR for Justice announces inaugural scholarship;
  • ABA Center for Innovation announces eight inagural fellows;
  • Akin Gump announces new pro bono counsel;
  • Stanford Law School clinic announces website for nonprofit pro bono support;
  • Missouri sued over lack of attorneys for parole violators;
  • New York University School of Law launches new center to support state attorneys general in environmental litigation;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 11, 2017 – “Duke Law School recently announced its first certificate for Juris Doctor students. The new program—the Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate—is specifically designed for students who have an interest in public service. Stella Boswell, assistant dean of public interest and career development, said public service jobs have become more competitive in recent years.  As a result, law students have to clearly demonstrate a strong interest in public work—something they can accomplish with the new certificate.” “Students in the program must perform at least 75 hours of community service and work full-time in the public sector during a summer while pursuing their degree. ” (The Chronicle)

August 11, 2017 – “The Generous Associates Campaign is a fundraising drive run by associates at Washington, D.C. law firms each summer. This year’s campaign kicked off on June 1. Although contributors to the campaign include associates, partners, non-lawyers, and the firms themselves, it is a campaign that allows the true generosity of the associates in our legal community to come through in spectacular fashion.” This year, the campaign raised $1.79 million, beating the goal by almost $300,000. (Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia)

August 11, 2017 – “Lancaster County [Pennsylvania] launched a Domestic Violence court Thursday with the goal of providing a safe avenue for victims and immediate treatment for offenders, while more efficiently handling domestic violence cases. A group of specialized prosecutors familiar with the intricacies of domestic-violence cases will handle the court’s caseload. Attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office will be on hand for defendants without private counsel. Twelve defendants appeared before the court during its first session. The court will be held every other Thursday at the Lancaster County Courthouse.” (Penn Live)

August 11, 2017 – “Broadway performers from War PaintHello Dolly and other productions voiced their support for the Legal Services Corp. on Friday by performing at a rally at the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City. The event, titled ‘It’s Only Fair! An ABA Concert and Rally for the Legal Services Corp.,’ was staged in an uncertain budget year for the LSC. President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating all funding for the agency, while House and Senate committees have recommended budget amounts below the LSC’s $527.8 million funding request for fiscal 2018. The LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the United States. ‘This is no time to eliminate or even cut funding to the Legal Services Corp.,’ ABA President Linda A. Klein said between the performers’ songs and speeches by LSC supporters.” “An ABA grassroots campaign has garnered more than 20,000 supporters whose message has been delivered to Congress, Klein said. It’s not too late for others to send their message through www.DefendLegalAid.org. The ABA was there for the birth of the LSC, and it was there in the 1980s and 1990s when policymakers threatened to eliminate funding. The ABA is making the case once again, Klein said, and this time it is armed with better information. Talking points for those who are sending a message to their representatives include the following: Every year, the LSC provides legal aid for 1.9 million individuals and their families. Funding for LSC only accounts for 0.0001 percent of the total federal budget.” (ABA Journal)

August 14, 2017 – “At its annual meeting in New York Saturday, the American Bar Association announced the launch of VetLex.org, a website, developed in partnership with the law firm Jones Day, that matches veterans in need of pro bono legal services with attorneys willing to provide such services. For now, the new site is only accepting registrations from attorneys, law firms and legal organizations interesting in providing services. By Veterans Day, the site will open on a pilot basis in a limited number of cities and states to accept veterans’ cases. The site will become fully operational nationally in 2018, the ABA’s announcement said. Once the site opens to veterans, it will provide an online tool for them to obtain pro bono counsel for their specific legal needs, including civil, criminal or administrative matters. It will also provide educational information on basic legal concepts, and serve as a repository for paperwork, such as DD 214s, that is required by various service providers. The ABA expects that the site will also be used by organizations that serve veterans in helping them find lawyers to assist their clients.” (Law Sites)

August 14, 2017 – “In furtherance of the goal of supporting survivors of abuse with the costs of obtaining a legal education and increasing the number of future lawyers committed to careers in domestic violence advocacy and law reform, the inaugural SOAR for Justice Scholarship awards $500 – $1000 to qualified California law students with proven track records in social justice. Individuals of all races, ethnicities, national origins, religions, ages, sexes, sexual orientations and gender identities, as well as differently abled persons, survivors of domestic violence, candidates from traditionally underrepresented communities and historically oppressed groups, bilingual and bicultural candidates, and those who are the first in their family to complete college or graduate school, are encouraged to apply.” “The deadline to apply is September 29, 2017 and awards will be announced during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2017.” (SOAR for Justice)

August 14, 2017 – “One will work with the Legal Services Corporation to develop web portals to help low-income Americans find appropriate legal aid resources. Another will help innocence projects develop a tool to better communicate with each other. These will be two of the eight first-time Fellows announced Monday who will work under the umbrella of the American Bar Association Center for Innovation. The Center was established in September 2016 at the recommendation of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services to encourage and accelerate innovations that improve the accessibility, affordability and effectiveness of legal services and to transform how the public accesses the law and legal information. The Fellows, who were selected by the ABA Center for Innovation Fellows Committee, will begin work later this summer. Each will spend between three months and one year at the Center, and the group includes five NextGen Fellows, who will spend a year on projects, and three Innovation Fellows, whose fellowships run up to four months. ‘We’re thrilled to welcome these Fellows to the Center for Innovation,’ ABA President Linda A. Klein said. ‘They’re not only helping lawyers and their clients in creative new ways, they’re also giving us a glimpse into what legal services could look like in the decades to come.'” See the list of fellows and their projects at the link. (ABA Center for Innovation) (Legal News)

August 15, 2017 – “Akin Gump has found its new pro bono counsel, announcing recently that an associate at the firm with a history of work with nonprofits and programs aimed at providing service to immigrants fleeing violent situations would be taking over the position. Lauren Connell, previously an associate in the firm’s corporate practice, will succeed Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP’s first pro bono counsel Fiona Brett and step into a role that will have her assisting in the management of the firmwide pro bono practice, both maintaining relationships with the organizations Akin Gump has previously partnered with, and looking in a variety of fields for new pro bono opportunities for the firm’s attorneys.” (Law 360)(subscription required)

August 15, 2017 – “Stanford Law’s Organizations and Transactions Clinic announced today the launch of a website offering free access to hundreds of sample legal documents for attorneys who represent nonprofit organizations. As described on the website, model legal documents for nonprofits are often hard to find. Several organizations make available corporate governance models, though it’s difficult to find examples of other documents, especially materials relating to charitable programs and other activities specific to nonprofits. ‘We wanted to make a contribution toward addressing that gap in the resource base,’ said Jay A. Mitchell, Professor of Law and director of the clinic. The site’s roughly 200 form and precedent legal documents relate to a wide range of matters, including corporate governance, programmatic and earned income activities, and fiscal sponsorship, resource sharing, affiliation, and other relationships unique to nonprofits. The website also contains brief discussions of the clinic’s approach to the design of legal documents and client communications, which centers on accessibility and practical use by clients. ‘We think it’s instructive to try to learn from the design community in how we approach legal documents. We thought the site was a way to share that point of view in a concrete way,’ continued Mitchell, who has published about the intersections of design and legal documents. Mitchell and Michelle Sonu, Lecturer in Law and Clinical Supervising Attorney, led the project with support from the Robert Crown Law Library and Stanford Law’s communication and information technology departments.” (Stanford Law School Press)

August 15, 2017 – “While many states try to reverse incarceration rates, Missouri is held back by thousands of offenders returning to prison each year for not honoring the terms of their early release. The revolving door from parole violations isn’t unique to the Show-Me state. But a new class-action lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the parole revocation process is a ‘sham’ and ‘byzantine’ because hearings are often never held and Missouri Department of Corrections officials don’t provide attorneys. ‘Plaintiffs are constantly rotated in and out of the prison system — often at the result of non-criminal technical parole violations, and often based upon unsubstantiated accusations that the parolee committed a new criminal offense,’ according to a copy of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. ‘The vast majority of parolees in the State of Missouri need and are entitled to appointed counsel to help them navigate these arcane proceedings. Yet, as a matter of practice, procedure, and custom, the Defendants systematically deny indigent parolees their right to counsel.’ Instead, the lawsuit claims, parolees often don’t speak on their own behalf, nor present evidence or cross-examine witnesses during parole revocation proceedings ‘to which they are also constitutionally entitled.'” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

August 17, 2017 – “NYU School of Law announced today the creation of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory roll-backs and other actions that undermine key clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. The non-partisan State Impact Center will support state attorneys general on clean energy, climate, and environmental initiatives of regional or national importance in a number of ways, including providing legal, analytic, and communications support, as well as facilitating coordination across multiple offices of state attorneys general.” “A primary goal of the State Impact Center is to enable interested state attorneys general to expand their capacity to take on important clean energy, climate, and environmental matters by recruiting and hiring NYU fellows to serve as special assistant attorneys general.” (NYU News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

ABA Medal winner John Feerick called on lawyers to help close the justice gap by volunteering to help those in need and by supporting the Legal Services Corp. “Why not find a place to serve or create a program that can make a difference?” he asked. Feerick, the former dean at Fordham University School of Law, spoke Saturday in New York City at the ABA Annual Meeting’s General Assembly where he received the ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor. (ABA Journal)

Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Brittany Swett.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 11, 2017

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

Happy Friday! This week is bittersweet here at PSJD.  We are thrilled to welcome our 2017-2018 PSJD Fellow Brittany Swett. Brittany comes to us from the University of San Diego School of Law. She is a fantastic addition to the team, and we couldn’t be more excited to start her fellowship year.  But that also means we have to say good-bye to our 2016-2017 PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris. We have had such a great year together, and it is sad that’s it’s coming to an end.  Her contributions to PSJD were invaluable, and we are extremely grateful for her hard work. We also say good-bye to our 2017 Publications Coordinator Allison Katona. She has put together the 2017-2018 Comprehensive Fellowship Guide and contributed in so many other ways.  We are excited to see what she does next.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Big Law’s bid to improve access to justice through pro bono (perspective);
  • Dean Susan Westerberg Prager Endowment Fund to benefit Southwestern Law School public interest students;
  • Virginia attorney general launches new resource guide to help servicemembers;
  • DC Mayor Bowser renews grants that provide legal help to D.C. immigrants;
  • Major new pro bono projects help imprisoned immigrants, struggling students in Atlanta;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 3, 2017 – Lisa Dewey, Pro Bono Partner at DLA Piper and Director of New Perimeter, Sara Andrews, Senior International Pro Bono Counsel at DLA Piper and Assistant Director for New Perimeter, and Eve Runyon, President and CEO of Pro Bono Institute share an excellent perspective on the expansion of global pro bono as law firms have become more global and government funding cuts have curtailed local response to legal needs. (Bloomberg Law)

August 4, 2017 – “Southwestern Law School announced the establishment of the Dean Susan Westerberg Prager Endowment Fund to benefit the Southwestern Law School Summer Public Interest Law Grant program which is supported through fundraising efforts of the Public Interest Law Committee (PILC). Sterling Franklin, trustee of Morris S. Smith Foundation and a friend of Dean Prager, established the Fund with a $50,000 gift.  The endowment will generate an annual $2,000 Prager Summer Grant to support one student doing public interest law work.  The Fund’s 2017 awardee is Ms. Jeannette Beaudelaire ’18.” (SWLaw Blog)

August 4, 2017 – “ A new online resource to help meet the legal needs of servicemembers, military families and veterans in Virginia has been launched. Attorney General Mark Herring announced the launch of the Virginia Military and Veteran Legal Resources Guide on Friday. The resource will help them with legal protections, rights and resources that are currently available under the law.” “The Virginia Military and Veteran Legal Resource Guide was created by volunteer attorneys from Herring’s office who spent more than a year developing it. It is available online, and it will be distributed in hard copy and digital in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, veteran service organizations and others. Some of the topics covered in the new guide include employment help with the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act and continuing health care. It also covers consumer protections such as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act limiting interest rates on loans, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, tax deductions and exemptions for certain military pay, family law regarding child custody and visitation protections, programs ensuring access to ballots for deployed servicemembers, and access to legal services.” (CBS 19)

August 8, 2017 – “After announcing $500,000 in grants to serve immigrants in D.C. facing or fearing deportation in January, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration is bringing the grants back for a second year. ‘It is a clear need for residents in the District, and we’re addressing it,’ says Betsy Cavendish, the mayor’s general counsel. ‘Washington, D.C. is blessed with a very civicly engaged bar and our lawyers are some of the most generous pro bono givers of their time and expertise in the country. And we are also fortunate to have a very diverse population that brings great cultural contributions from around the world to the city. We’re matching up that vibrant sector of our community with the attorneys to hopefully provide more security.'”  (DCist)

August 9, 2017 – “Pro bono leaders from the city’s big firms gathered at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton on Tuesday for updates from Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Michael Lucas of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF) on two ambitious new pro bono initiatives that are quickly gaining traction. The SPLC launched an unprecedented deportation defense project at the Stewart Detention Center in April, and AVLF last year started a project at Thomasville Heights Elementary School in southwest Atlanta that provides legal aid to resolve housing problems that cause children to struggle with school and miss days. Both pilot projects embed staff lawyers on-site—at the immigration court and the elementary school, respectively—and recruit volunteer lawyers from the private bar to help with individual cases. Each has gained enough support to start expanding to new locations, Werner and Lucas told the Atlanta Pro Bono Roundtable members.” (Daily Report)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

University of Windsor associate professor Reem Bahdi is the 2017 recipient of the Guthrie Award from the Law Foundation of Ontario, in recognition of her contributions to the field of access to justice. Bahdi says it has an intuitive appeal. “Wrapped up in the idea of human dignity is the idea that everybody is equal, everybody is entitled to human rights, everybody has potential.” “And in an ideal world, we would live in a way that allows individuals to live up to their potential and not put social or political or economic barriers in the way.” As a legal scholar, she’s particularly interested in access to justice. Bahdi helped develop the Palestinian justice system, created a model for judicial education to advance human rights in the West Bank by promoting human dignity and worked to form Windsor’s mandatory access to justice course for law students. Dean of law Christopher Waters noted Bahdi’s diverse contributions to legal education have put her at the forefront of access to justice, theoretically and literally. Read more about her amazing work at the link. (Windsor Star)

Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Brittany Swett.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 4, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Can you believe it’s August already? As we move into the fall recruiting season, don’t forget about all the job search resources in the PSJD Resource Center.  And, as I yearn for cooler temperatures, my thoughts also turn to planning pro bono celebrations in October. If you are doing the same, check out the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono resources for all your planning needs.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Maryland Legal Aid creates subsidiary to expand statewide legal services;
  • Holland & Knight donates $100,000 to Miami Legal Services in honor of firm founder;
  • More students seeking public interest internships;
  • Mayor De Blasio, New York City Council reach deal limiting legal fund for immigrants facing deportation;
  • The International Trademark Association officially launches Pro Bono Clearinghouse;
  • North Carolina legal aid gets cut again;
  • Match site launches for progressive lawyers and non-profits;
  • Committee OKs plan to halt pro bono legal work by University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights;
  • University of Georgia School of Law creates Veterans Legal Services Clinic;
  • Department of Education files response to ABA lawsuit regarding PSLF;
  • Montreal-based law firm EXEO launches free smart virtual assistant to help future immigrants;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 26, 2017 – “Maryland Legal Aid is expanding its services with a new, wholly owned subsidiary. The Maryland Center for Legal Assistance — through a contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts — will run the District Court Self-Help Resource centers located in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, Upper Marlboro, Salisbury and the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center in Annapolis. Running of the self-help centers is the first service the MCLA will offer. Its work may also be expanded to offer more legal services, Maryland Legal Aid announced Wednesday. The help centers work on a range of civil legal matters including landlord-tenant disputes, consumer matters such as debt collection and credit card cases, child support and criminal record expungement to remove barriers to attain housing, employment, a license, and child custody. In 2016, the centers helped more than 55,000 self-represented litigants, Maryland Legal Aid said. ‘The new Maryland Center for Legal Assistance will serve as another dependable resource for Marylanders to receive high-quality legal help and to gain the knowledge and tools necessary to represent themselves in court,’ said MCLA Managing Director Sarah Coffey Frush in a statement. MCLA is a separate legal entity which does not receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation, unlike Maryland Legal Aid.” (The Daily Record)

July 27, 2017 – “Holland & Knight is honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding partner Chesterfield Smith with a $100,000 gift to Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. Smith, who was born July 28, 1917 and died in 2003, was a vocal advocate for pro bono legal services for the poor. The firm commits at least 3 percent of its billable hours to pro bono legal services each year.” (Daily Business Review)

July 31, 2017 – “While a summer job at a large firm is lucrative, a bumper crop of law students is taking low or no-paying public interest jobs instead, in part because it’s a way to gain hands-on legal experience. This year, the University of Georgia School of Law sharply increased the number of public interest fellowships it offered—from 22 to 36. That’s up from only eight or 10 summer stipends a couple of years ago, said Alexander Scherr, associate dean for clinical programs and experiential learning.” “UGA provided $68,000 in public interest fellowship funding this summer, a $15,000 increase from last year, Scherr said, thanks to a new initiative to raise contributions from alumni.” “Meanwhile, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society hosted 26 interns this summer, who came from all five Georgia law schools, plus Harvard, Yale, the University of Oregon and other schools nationally, said the group’s deputy director, Cathy Vandenberg. That’s up from 15 to 20 students it has hosted in the past, Vandenberg said.”  (Daily Report)

August 1, 2017 – “Mayor de Blasio and the [New York] City Council have struck a deal in a fight that had cut off legal help for immigrants facing deportation. The city’s $26 million will not go to pay for lawyers for immigrants convicted of 170 serious crimes — a restriction de Blasio had insisted on — but anonymous private donors have stepped in with $250,000 to aid those who can’t get the taxpayer money. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which provides lawyers for immigrants fighting deportation, had been refusing new clients since June because of the dispute. Mayor de Blasio said people convicted of serious felonies should not get city assistance, but Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito objected to that rule and inserted language into the budget legislation passed by the Council to bar any such restrictions. Under the deal reached Monday, the Council agreed to rescind that condition. While de Blasio will get his way on the city cash, the private money will go directly to NYIFUP to continue defending those with serious convictions, as it has done in the past.” “With the money out of limbo, the program will now resume taking new clients as soon as possible, according to the Legal Aid Society.” (New York Daily News)

August 1, 2017 – “The International Trademark Association’s (INTA) Pro Bono Clearinghouse has officially opened to potential clients facing trademark issues in the US and Germany. The clearinghouse had a pilot soft start on 1 January. In its current form, the clearinghouse offers a host of practitioners in the US and Germany that can help with trademark issues. Eligible clients will be matched with an INTA attorney to help guide them. The intended clients are low-income individuals and directors of non-profit or charitable organizations with low operating budgets that have no other option or don’t have access to legal advice in trademarks.” (IPPro The Internet)

August 1, 2017 – “Poor people who need help fighting a landlord or keeping government benefits can get an attorney for free through North Carolina legal aid programs, but new state budget cuts mean fewer may have that option.” “For years, the three leading legal aid groups have received state funds to represent people in civil matters in part through budget earmarks and a small portion of the fees from court filings and criminal cases. Legal aid funds already had been cut by more than half since 2008 to $2.7 million during the last fiscal year. This year the reduction looks deeper and permanent, and the reasons for the cuts remain unclear. The state budget approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly last month over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto eliminated the practice of setting aside $1.50 from each filing fee and repealed the law distributing funds for general legal services. Of the $1.1 million that remains, most will go to help represent domestic violence victims for protective orders or child custody matters. Although the legal aid groups also get funds from other sources, their leaders said in interviews the new state cuts could mean nearly 35 attorneys and staff ultimately will be laid off, resulting in several thousand potential clients unable to get help each year.” (US News & World Reports)

August 1, 2017 – “President Donald Trump has inspired a new online dating service—between lawyers seeking pro-bono work and opposition non-profits in need of help. We the Action, launching Friday, will be an online portal to connect lawyers with legal work waiting to be done, from reviewing leases and contracts to filing Social Security claims to potentially heading to court in immigration cases. Non-profits will be able to post the services they need, and search through online profiles created by attorneys detailing expertise and availability. Several connections have been made already by the 501(c)(4), funded and incubated by the California-based Emerson Collective, the organization founded and led by Laurene Powell Jobs.” “Eleven larger organizations are forming the backbone of support and outreach: Access Democracy, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Equality New York, the International Refugee Assistance Program, the Latin American Coalition, Let America Vote, NARAL Pro Choice America, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands and Voto Latino.” (Politico)

August 2, 2017 – “A center founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to help the poor and disenfranchised moved one step closer to losing its ability to file lawsuits on Tuesday. A committee of the UNC Board of Governors voted 5-1, with one abstention, to strip the UNC Center for Civil Rights of its ability to sue on behalf of clients or provide legal counsel. Ban proponents say the center’s courtroom work strays from the university’s education mission, but supporters of the center say students gain valuable experience through working on cases and that the ban would effectively defang the center.” “The Board of Governors likely will consider the ban at its Sept. 8 meeting.” (WRAL)

August 2, 2017 – “The University of Georgia School of Law is establishing a Veterans Legal Services Clinic funded by a lead gift from renowned trial attorney and alumnus James E. “Jim” Butler Jr. in memory of his father, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Butler Sr., who was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. Butler Sr. was also the grandfather of James E. “Jeb” Butler III, a 2008 graduate of the law school. The new clinic will provide veterans in Georgia with legal assistance they might not otherwise have access to or be able to afford, with particular regard to denied or deferred claims before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also includes an educational scholarship component.” (University of Georgia News)

August 2, 2017 – “In court documents filed late Monday, the federal agency reaffirmed earlier statements that borrowers could not rely on FedLoan Servicing, the company overseeing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, to accurately say whether they qualify for debt relief. The department’s position signals that there are no guarantees of loan forgiveness for people who have received assurances from the servicing company, a troubling realization for the hundreds of thousands of people participating in the program.” “‘Though the department’s contractor has made occasional errors in individual notifications to borrowers, it has corrected those errors,’ Education Department attorneys wrote in Monday’s filing. ‘Moreover, it has provided borrowers … ample opportunities to seek reconsideration of its decisions.’ The attorneys said the final decision on forgiveness is, and has always been, in the hands of the Education Department. That means borrowers will know for sure that their loans will be forgiven only after they have completed the 10 years of payments.” (The Washington Post)

August 2, 2017 – “EXEO, a Montreal-based law firm specialized in immigration and international mobility, launches IVA (Immigration Virtual Assistant) a free, AI-powered virtual assistant to assist close to 180,000 people looking to immigrate to Canada each month. As one of Canada’s pioneering legal technology initiatives geared to the general public, IVA is the first tool to cover more than 25 permanent and temporary Canadian immigration categories.” “Accessible via Facebook Messenger, IVA uses a Q&A format to provide users with information regarding the possibilities that are open to them. IVA covers more than 25 immigration program categories, from work permit applications to student visas to permanent residence programs. IVA’s content is vetted by lawyers and researchers who track changes to the Canadian regulations. Updates are done in real time, using adaptive programming. This Canadian initiative is the result of more than 1,000 hours of research and programming, as well as the work of a multidisciplinary team of lawyers, researchers, copywriters, programmers, graphic designers, artificial intelligence specialists and web designers.” (Markets Insider)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

Wiley Rein LLP obtained a lifesaving ruling in a compelling pro bono immigration case, securing asylum for a teenage refugee who had fled to the United States to escape gang-related criminal activity, violence, and homelessness in his native Honduras. Read more about the case, and this win at the link. Congratulations to the team! (Wiley Rein News & Insights)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 28, 2017

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

Happy Friday! There are a number of new programs in the news this week. And in great news, the process of funding LSC for another year has begun. Keep up the pressure on your representatives!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Services of Eastern Missouri introduces new Education Justice Program;
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission closes St. John’s Family and Child Office;
  • The true value of public service loan forgiveness;
  • Additional funding for immigration and refugee services in British Columbia;
  • The Roddenberry Foundation launches $1 million fellowship fund for US-based activists;
  • Florida International University College of Law launches low bono family law initiative;
  • Senate subcommittee approves Legal Services Corporation funding;
  • Seattle launches legal aid program to help prevent evictions;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 20, 2017 – “According to a national study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Missouri is the second-worst state in racially disproportionate suspension rates, and has the greatest gap between the suspension rate of elementary school aged children of color and that of white children. In response to this staggering statistic, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM), a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance and representation to low-income people in eastern Missouri, has created a new unit with a big goal: ending the school-to-prison pipeline and creating an equitable educational system. ‘The education justice program is a new unit, comprised of three people, and we are seeking to achieve education equity and racial justice for all children,’ said Susie Lake, staff attorney for the new project. ‘And we’re going to attempt to do that through impact litigation and other impact advocacy tools.’ ‘We will work to address these inequities, because we know that school suspensions can have a profoundly negative impact on children, families and communities,’ said Education Justice Program Director Luz María Henríquez.” (The St. Louis American)

July 20, 2017 – “A program giving extra attention to child protection issues has been axed from the Legal Aid Commission in St. John’s because resources are needed elsewhere. The Family and Child Office is closing around July 31. There will be no layoffs according to Nick Summers, provincial director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission, but there will be less support for clients.  For the past 10 years, the office has given people a lawyer, paralegal and social worker to help them through the legal process — but not anymore. Now the social worker will be available to all lawyers in the commission, not just the Family and Child Office.” “Not all clients dealing with child protection issues used the services of the Family and Child Office. Many were represented by other legal aid lawyers.” “Summers stressed the closure was not made to target a vulnerable sector, but to provide a boost to all areas of legal aid by removing an enhancement to one group.” “He said two other family and child offices elsewhere in the province will remain open.” (CBC News)

July 21, 2017 – Contributing to the Huffington Post, Isaac Bowers, Director for Law School Engagement & Advocacy for Equal Justice Works, responds to Jason Delisle’s most recent article on Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Jason Delisle is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an outspoken critic of PSLF.  Isaac does a good job of debunking erroneous information and providing a reasonable and balanced argument for the value of PSLF. (Huffington Post)

July 25, 2017 – “The Legal Services Society has received confirmation that the federal government will provide additional funding to ensure continued legal aid services for immigrants and refugees. LSS announced last month it would stop taking applications for immigration and refugee services effective August 1, 2017, due to a lack of funding to keep up with increased demand. The new funding allows LSS to maintain services until November 2017 and federal-provincial discussions regarding immigration and refugee legal aid in BC are concluded. “Refugees are an extremely vulnerable group. Many have faced persecution and torture and they need help to navigate our complex legal system,” said Mark Benton, QC, Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Services Society. ‘This new funding demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to helping those who need our support and assistance.’ The need for increased funding is the result of the global refugee crisis, which resulted in a 145 percent increase in legal aid refugee cases at LSS over the past three years. The new funding is necessary at this time because LSS, unlike other legal aid plans, cannot reallocate funding from other services to cover a deficit in immigration services.” (Cision)

July 25, 2017 – “The Roddenberry Foundation is pledging $1 million towards activism through its inaugural Roddenberry Fellowship—a year-long program for 20 individuals from across the United States —who will each receive $50,000 to pursue a project or initiative in one of four fields:

  • Civil Rights
  • Climate Change and Environmental Justice
  • Immigration and Refugee Rights
  • LGBTQIA and Women’s Rights

The Fellowship includes tailored support for each activist as they launch a new initiative or amplify an existing early-stage project. ‘It became clear to us that we wanted to support the increase in civic engagement and activism we’ve been seeing across the country,’ says Lior Ipp, CEO of the Roddenberry Foundation. ‘In an era in which more and more people are fighting for what they believe in, we don’t have the luxury to be bystanders. In fact, we have an obligation to help.’ Five fellows will be selected in each of the issue areas, and together they will form a year-long cohort who will receive tailored support to build and scale their initiatives.” (Cision)

July 25, 2017 – “ FIU LAW Practice, an initiative of the FIU College of Law, dedicated to helping local families, will offer affordable legal services to low- and moderate-income families who do not qualify for free legal services. The practice, first-of-its-kind in Florida, will assist families that fall within 125 and 200 percent of the poverty guidelines. That means that a family of four in Miami-Dade county making between $30,376 and $48,600 may be good candidates for the services, which specialize in family law legal matters such as divorce, child support and domestic violence cases. ‘Our mission is to increase access to justice for those who seek it while building relationships within the local community,’ said Michelle Mason, senior associate dean who serves as the community liaison for the FIU LAW Practice. ‘In a recent study by the Justice Index Project, nearly 50 percent of Florida litigants appearing in court on a range of civil legal matters do so without legal representation, which may not be in their best interest.’ The practice will charge clients based on a sliding scale, with service prices ranging from $75 – $125 per hour. FIU LAW Practice will utilize the legal clinic’s current screening process to confirm eligibility based upon federal poverty guidelines and levels. FIU LAW Practice will also serve as a legal incubator for recent law graduates, admitted to the Florida Bar.  The incubator combines approaches used in medical residency programs with those used in a business incubator setting.  The goal of this hybrid, apprentice-style approach is to assist new lawyers through both practical training and mentorship as they launch their careers. FIU LAW Practice will hire two fellows in the first year.” (FIU Law)

July 26, 2017 – “As part of a $53.4 billion spending bill, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies voted Tuesday to sustain funding for legal aid. The subcommittee, chaired by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, approved an appropriation to the Legal Services Corp. for $385 million. This is equal to what the agency is currently receiving for fiscal year 2017 and $85 million more than what the U.S. House of Representatives provided in its proposed budget.” “The measure now advances to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations where it is scheduled for consideration Thursday.” (The Indiana Lawyer)

July 26, 2017 – “On Monday, Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold announced the launch of a pilot program to provide legal aid for incarcerated people accused of crimes, with the goal of helping them avoid eviction and homelessness. Some people who wind up in jail and can’t make bail miss rent payments and risk losing their homes, said Anita Khandenwal, director of the county public defense office. But the repercussions don’t stop there. ‘The consequences of a criminal eviction can really snowball,’ Khandenwal said. ‘There’s the intended consequence of serving jail time, but there’s also loss of housing, [employment] license, employment opportunity, or job you already have.’ Herbold secured funding in the city’s annual budget last year to hire three attorneys for the program. The legal aid pilot is modeled after existing ‘holistic defense’ efforts in Washington, DC and New York, a philosophy of legal work that says lawyers should look beyond their cases and help tackle the roots of a client’s crime, from poverty to mental health issues to addiction. The program’s civil lawyers, employees of the public defense office, will assist public defenders during a client’s court case. One example of where the new attorneys may come in handy, Herbold said, is during the plea bargaining process. A civil lawyer may think of housing issues that could arise from a guilty plea that a criminal defense lawyer might not have considered. Having civil attorneys assist public defenders to understand the impacts of jail time on individuals’ housing and employment will help ‘[improve] the quality of representation’ in the Seattle Municipal Court system and make it easier for formerly jailed people to reintegrate into their communities, Khandelwal said. Over the two-year pilot, attorneys will collect data to better understand how involvement in the legal system impacts housing instability, homelessness, and other ‘civil consequences.'” (SLOG)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia honored Kristen Lejnieks, a partner at Jones Day, with their Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award. Legal Aid’s Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award recognizes attorneys who have provided outstanding pro bono service through individual representation and/or leadership in facilitating such representation by their colleagues. This past year, Kristen has set herself apart through her effective leadership as Jones Day’s coordinator for the Housing Right to Counsel Project. Under Kristen’s leadership, Jones Day’s participation in the Project has soared. A number of Jones Day attorneys are now involved with the Project, helping many tenants avoid eviction and the terrible repercussions that follow. Read more at the link. (Making Justice Real)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 21, 2017

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

Happy Friday! There are a number of expansion of service and opportunities stories this week.  A feel-good week in the news for the most part. In other news, the State Department suspends another fellowship program, which is significant, but only affects people already in certain programs.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Iowa Access to Justice Commission releases report;
  • Georgia state grant bolsters legal aid for domestic violence victims;
  • Another city explores providing legal aid to tenants facing eviction;
  • St. Mary’s University School of Law increases number of Summer Public Interest Fellowships;
  • State Department suspends Diplomacy Fellows Program;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 13, 2017 – “The Iowa Supreme Court’s ‘Access to Justice Commission’ has released a report that outlines steps to remove barriers to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged Iowans.” “The report identifies dozens of recommendations and goals. They include recruiting more rural lawyers, creating a veterans legal clinic and developing an app to help people navigate legal issues and resources. The report also suggests ways to encourage the corporate community in volunteering and charitable giving around access-to-justice issues.” (Iowa Public Radio)

July 13, 2017 – “A $2.4 million state grant that funds legal services for domestic violence victims can mean the difference between life and death for some legal aid clients.” “Georgia Legal Services received the lion’s share, $1.6 million, of the $2,425,000 that the state Legislature allocated this fiscal year. The Judicial Council of Georgia, which disburses the annual grant, allocated $700,974 to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the remaining $116,674 to five domestic violence shelters to pay private lawyers to represent their residents.” (Daily Report)

July 17, 2017 – “A Baltimore city councilman introduced legislation Monday aimed at establishing a fund that would help low-income tenants facing eviction and other housing problems to hire attorneys, an effort that cities across the nation are exploring or have implemented. If Councilman Robert Stokes’ bill is approved, the city would ask voters to amend the city charter in next year’s election to establish a Tenant Legal Assistance Fund and authorize the mayor and council to dedicate money to it. The fund would help pay for lawyers to represent tenants in Baltimore’s rent court, where most renters arrive without attorneys to face landlords who almost always have some form of representation. It would also ‘provide legal assistance to low-income renters facing eviction,’ assist renters in disputes with landlords and try to make renters more aware of their legal rights. The bill calls for financing the fund with dedicated city revenue — fines and fees — plus grants from private foundations and charities.” (The Baltimore Sun)

July 18, 2017 – “The St. Mary’s University School of Law has increased the number of Summer Public Interest Fellowships available to law students to encourage a future generation of lawyers committed to public interest careers. ‘For the past 90 years, St. Mary’s Law and our students have taken very seriously our obligation to address the justice gap and to serve community members in need,’ said Stephen M. Sheppard, J.S.D., Dean of the School of Law. ‘Expanding our ability to offer Public Interest Fellowships paves a bit more of the pathway for our law students to fulfill our Catholic Marianist mission: To educate lawyers for service, justice and peace.’ With the help of a grant from the University to the School of Law’s Office of Career Services, the number of students participating in Public Interest Fellowships this summer increased from one to five. There is an overwhelming demand for legal aid services and the fellowships aim to help meet that need by encouraging students to pursue public interest legal careers, said Robin Thorner, J.D., Director of Career Services for the School of Law.” (St. Mary’s University News)

July 19, 2017 – “The State Department has suspended a program that fast-tracks top recruits, sparking outrage from students and graduates who planned on joining the diplomatic corps. The Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP), established as part of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in the early 2000’s, allows recipients of several prestigious fellowship programs to fast track their applications to the elite Foreign Service branch — a notoriously long-winded process layered in bureaucratic red tape.” “Over 260 fellows, alumni of U.S. national security internships, and State Department officials signed a hastily-circulated a petition, addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to reverse the decision. The letter called the move ‘counterproductive’ and ‘an abrogation of commitment and a breach of trust’ to fellows who were promised access to DFP before the program was axed without warning. ‘With the suspension of the DFP, after years of preparation for a career in the Foreign Service, alumni of national security fellowships are no longer recognized for their vigorous academic and language training’ the letter reads. The State Department confirmed the program is on hold.” (Foreign Policy)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors presented Pro Bono Service Awards to two Ohio attorneys, a corporate legal department, and a law firm in recognition of their extraordinary commitment to equal justice. The recipients are:

  • Ann S. Bergen, an attorney based in Willoughby who has volunteered her legal skills and expertise with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland for 25 years, including serving on the organization’s board.
  • David E. Butz, an attorney with the Canton law firm of Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths, & Dougherty Co., L.P.A who has taken on more than 100 pro bono cases with Community Legal Aid Services in Akron.
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s in-house attorneys who have handled numerous pro bono cases during their 10-year partnership with Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
  • Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, a Columbus-based law firm that has worked with Ohio State Legal Services for more than a decade, taking on numerous consumer debt and eviction cases.

(Legal Services Corporation News)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 14, 2017

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Changes proposed at University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights;
  • Hawaii legislature cut funding for free or low-cost legal services;
  • British Columbia legal aid will cease to accept immigration & refugee applications as of August 1;
  • New ABA network increases legal services for homeless youth;
  • Legal chatbot DoNotPay announces massive expansion;
  • Public defender fees waived for those found not guilty in California;
  • New York City immigrants facing deportation denied legal help amid Mayor de Blasio, City Council funding dispute;
  • Esquire launches program to help law firms make the most of pro bono budgets;
  • New Duke University School of Law certificate helps students get head start on public interest careers;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 6, 2017 – “A UNC committee has presented five alternatives for changes at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, but cautioned that there is no guarantee the center’s mission would survive under significant restructuring. The center has been under the microscope of the UNC Board of Governors for months after a few board members objected to the center representing clients in lawsuits against local governments and agencies. They want to ban the center from litigation, saying legal action should not be taken under the UNC banner. Center supporters have warned that such a prohibition could effectively end the civil rights work and endanger other legal clinics at the UNC and N.C. Central University law schools. The center was founded by the preeminent civil rights lawyer and former NCCU chancellor, Julius Chambers, who was a UNC law school alumnus. A committee appointed by UNC Chancellor Carol Folt issued a supplemental report, dated June 27, that outlines five alternatives for the center.” “‘The UNC-CH Committee wants to emphasize in closing that the availability of these alternatives is not an assurance that any of these alternatives is viable,’ the report said. The board could discuss the issue at a retreat next week but isn’t expected to take any action until September at the earliest. The supplemental report, meant to answer a question by the board about alternative structures, was issued as the legislature adjourned. Other questions submitted by board members had been answered in a previous report. The possibility of ending the center’s legal powers has led hundreds of supporters of the center to write to the board. At a public hearing in May, speakers said the center, and similar legal clinics, provide students with key education and practical experience — a requirement of the American Bar Association.” (The News & Observer)

July 6, 2017 – “Free or low cost legal services for residents in need is in jeopardy as funding for civil legal services has been cut from the Hawaii State Judiciary’s budget for at least the next year. In fiscal year 2016, the Judiciary received $600,000 for civil legal service organizations to help low-income residents, victims of domestic abuse, homeless people, veterans, immigrants and the elderly. In fiscal year 2017, that number was $750,000. For the 2018 fiscal year that started July 1, no money was allocated toward these services in the Judiciary budget.” “Legal Aid Society of Hawaii serves from 8,000 to 10,000 clients each year out of 20,000 calls it receives, said Sergio Alcubilla, director of external relations for the nonprofit. It has its own staff attorneys and is the largest public interest law firm in the state. The lack of state funding will impact the number of clients and cases it can take on, he said. ‘There are a lot of vulnerable people in our communities, and any legal situation can push them over that brink when living paycheck to paycheck,’ Alcubilla said. Aside from Judiciary funding, the nonprofit has been receiving about one fourth of its budget from the national Legal Services Corporation, which the Trump Administration wants to defund. It also receives grants for specific purposes, such as from the state Office of Community Services specifically for helping victims of human trafficking. Alcubilla said the Judiciary money was especially helpful because it wasn’t tied to one specific use.” (Honolulu Civil Beat)

July 6, 2017 – “British Columbia’s Legal Services Society (LSS) has announced that it will no longer accept applications for immigration and refugee cases as of Aug. 1 due to lack of funding. The federal government is responsible for funding immigration and refugee legal aid. According to the Legal Services Society, the federal government gives the B.C. government $900,000 annually for immigration legal aid which the province gives to the LSS, along with an additional $800,000, for a total of $1.7 million each year. Based on current projections, LSS estimates it will need an additional $1.07 million to maintain services until the end of the year.” “LSS issued 350 contracts for refugee services in 2013-2014 with that number jumping to 860 contracts in 2016-2017.” (The Lawyer’s Daily)

July 6, 2017 – “More than 200 criminal cases across the country have been tossed due to unreasonable delays since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Jordan decision one year ago, court data shows. The cases include murders, sexual assaults, drug trafficking and child luring, all stayed by judges because the defendant’s constitutional right to a timely trial was infringed. While provinces and the federal government have taken steps over the past year to speed up Canada’s sluggish courts, legal observers say more drastic and urgent changes are needed. ‘Not nearly enough has been done by the government in order to repair this crumbling system,’ said Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. ‘Until the government views the justice system as a priority, we’ll continue to see murderers set free.’ Advocates say governments must provide more funding for every facet of the system, including judges, Crown attorneys, legal aid and infrastructure. Ottawa is also being urged to reverse decisions made under the previous Conservative government to expand mandatory minimum sentences and to close three of six RCMP forensic labs in the country. The Jordan decision, as it has come to be known, was issued on July 8, 2016, when the high court ruled the drug convictions in British Columbia of Barrett Richard Jordan must be set aside due to unreasonable delay. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the old means of determining whether proceedings had taken too long were inadequate. Under the new framework, unreasonable delay was to be presumed if proceedings topped 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in superior court.” (CBC News)

July 10, 2017 – “In an effort to increase legal services to [homeless youth], the American Bar Association (ABA) recently launched the Homeless Youth Legal Network (HYLN). The initiative helps homeless youth ages 25 and younger, while also providing opportunities for legal professionals and service providers. ‘The Homeless Youth Legal Network is a fine example of how the American Bar Association can link youth experiencing homelessness with experts in the legal community who can help,’ ABA President Linda A. Klein. ‘This project, made possible with a grant from the ABA Enterprise Fund, shows how we can harness the power and reach of the ABA to improve access to justice by providing much-needed legal assistance to vulnerable populations.'” “To help other programs better serve homeless youth, HYLN identified 12 programs to serve as models during the first phase of this initiative. These 12 pilot sites will provide technical assistance to emerging programs, document best practices, and share data on legal barriers and improved outcomes resulting from legal advocacy. By identifying existing services, as well as unmet needs, the groups leading this initiative—the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, Commission on Youth at Risk, and Section of Litigation Childrens’ Rights Litigation Committee—hope to create a national directory of legal services available to homeless youth. In addition to helping homeless youth, HYLN benefits attorneys and service providers by offering them technical assistance, training, and learning opportunities. A pro bono initiative is currently being piloted in Florida to recruit and train lawyers and law firms while also matching them with homeless youth shelters and drop-in centers nationwide.” (Associations Now)

July 11, 2017 – “Noted legal aid chatbot DoNotPay just announced a massive expansion, which will help users tackle issues in 1,000 legal areas entirely for free. The new features, which launched on Wednesday, cover consumer and workplace rights, and will be available in all 50 states and the UK. While the bot will still help drivers contest parking tickets and refugees apply for asylum, the service will now also help those who want to report harassment in the workplace or who simply want a refund on a busted toaster.” “Through DoNotPay, a user has a simple, instant message-like conversation with a bot by typing their issue in their own words. Even colorful complaints like, ‘My airline screwed me’ will be registered by the system. Then, a virtual lawyer decides how to best help a user based on their answers to a series of questions. The bot usually crafts a claims letter with the information provided, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in legal fees. DoNotPay can also connect users to outside aid, like a nonprofit that provides pro bono representation or avenues for action in more serious cases. The legal guidance is free, instant, and — in some cases — life-changing.” (Mashable)

July 11, 2017 – “Californians accused of a crime but found not guilty will no longer have to pay for their public defenders after Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a criminal justice-reform law striking the requirement. Under a bill authored by a pair of Los Angeles-area state senators, people using court-appointed counsel must only repay courts for legal costs if they are convicted. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said the current reimbursement laws are a detriment to low-income Californians and that Senate Bill 355 closes a damaging loophole which punishes individuals who are falsely arrested.” (Courthouse News)

July 11, 2017 – “A program offering free lawyers to immigrants facing deportation has stopped taking clients due to a clash between Mayor de Blasio and the City Council over whether city cash can aid people convicted of serious crimes. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has been refusing new clients since June because of the dispute over the legal services money, said Andrea Saenz, the program’s supervising attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. ‘Right now, we’re not serving our community. And people are scared that they’ll get arrested by ICE, and we want to be able to tell them that New York City has your back and we’ll get you a lawyer,’ she said. ‘I never thought we’d be in this spot for this long.’ The city budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 included $26 million for lawyers for immigrants threatened with deportation — but Mayor de Blasio said the money should not go to people convicted of 170 serious crimes. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito objected to that rule, and inserted language into the budget passed saying only income — not criminal convictions — could be considered in admitting people to the program. Yet de Blasio wouldn’t agree to go along with that condition, only saying vaguely that the dispute would be resolved in the contracting process. The fight left the legal services groups in limbo, unable to spend any money because they don’t know who they’re allowed to represent. About 100 detained immigrants have missed out on lawyers in the six weeks the program has been out of commission, Saenz said.” (Daily News)

July 11, 2017 – “Esquire Deposition Solutions, LLC, the nation’s leading provider of court reporting, video, and interpreting services, is pleased to announce a new Pro Bono Court Reporting Program that creates partnerships with law firms across the country to offer discounted court reporting services to allow more individuals equal access to justice.” (Esquire)

July 12, 2017 – “Duke Law students can now get a head start on careers in public interest law through a new certificate program, the first the Law School has offered to JDs. The Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate is open to students who demonstrate through their coursework and service an interest in working in a nonprofit or government setting after graduation. In addition to working with a dedicated law school career counselor, students in the program will be assigned both a peer and a faculty mentor who will assist in planning courses to take and navigating opportunities during law school.” (Duke Law)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Executive Director David Hall will retire from his position after 42 years at the helm, the organization announced Wednesday. ‘It has been my honor and privilege to work alongside colleagues and friends with such inspiring values, compassion, and dedication for justice,’ Hall said in a statement to staff announcing his decision. ‘Siga la lucha.” Read more about his contributions and career at the link.” (Texas Bar Blog)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – July 7, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Welcome to July. If this is  your time for reflection, check out PSJD’s new self-assessment tools.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Ontario withdraws threat to suspend immigration and refugee services;
  • Delaware lawmakers restore legal aid funding to state budget;
  • Maryland lawmakers seek legal aid for tenants facing eviction in Baltimore;
  • ABA’s charitable arm gave more than $70M to programs worldwide: annual report;
  • New legal partnerships seek to expand access to justice through churches in Tennessee;
  • ABA unveils free online tool to help veterans identify legal needs;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 30, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario has backed away from its threat to suspend immigration and refugee services, which would have cut the group’s costs by about 40 per cent. It said it needed to pare down the annual cost of the program from $33.6 million to $20.5 million. The group first announced it was considering cutting back those services in May, and then began a province-wide consultation on the idea. At the time, it said the organization couldn’t continue to foot the cost overruns for its refugee program, as it had been doing for the past number of years. On Monday, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) posted a brief update on its website, that said ‘as a result of intensive stakeholder consultations in May and June, and ongoing discussions with government, LAO has decided to continue immigration and refugee services at the current level at this time.'” (CBC News)

June 30, 2017 – “Lawmakers in Dover have restored crucial state funding for legal aid services in the state’s budget, avoiding what some had feared would have been devastating cuts to three organizations that provide representation for Delaware’s poor. Late Sunday, Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly agreed on a deal to balance the state’s budget and eliminate a more than $350 million revenue shortfall that had pitted lawmakers against each other and caused them to miss their June 30 deadline. The leadership from both parties finally announced the budget accord after midnight on Monday. The deal restored the bulk of a $600,000 line item for legal aid, which had been removed in earlier negotiations by the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee. The agreement also restored about $66 million in cuts, including a $36.4 million grant-in-aid bill, which provides state money for nonprofits like civil legal aid groups. Last week, the JFC said the state couldn’t afford to fund grant-in-aid at all.” (Delaware Law Weekly)

July 3, 2017 – “A state and city lawmaker began drafting separate bills this week to make more publicly funded lawyers available for low-income tenants facing eviction in Baltimore, which spends more money ousting renters than trying to help them remain in their homes. Del. Sandy Rosenberg and Baltimore City Councilman Robert Stokes, both Democrats, hope their efforts can generate momentum for an issue that has stalled in Maryland while gaining traction across the nation. Stokes has drafted a ballot initiative that would ask city voters in next year’s election to approve or reject the establishment of a ‘tenant legal assistance fund.’ And Rosenberg has asked Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services to research how other cities and states are funding, or proposing to pay for, more lawyers for tenants. The Baltimore Sun on Sunday detailed New York City’s $77 million program to provide lawyers to tenants facing evictions and a pending $4.5 million funding increase in Washington, D.C., for the same purpose. Boston and Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a similar proposal, which has been shown in San Francisco to reduce the amount of public funds needed to operate homeless shelters. In response to the story, Rosenberg said Sunday that he had asked Legislative Services Director Warren Deschenaux ‘to research how New York, Washington, San Francisco and Boston are paying for legal counsel for tenants in housing court or proposing to do so.'” (The Baltimore Sun)

July 5, 2017 – “As the charitable arm of the ABA, the ABA Fund for Justice and Education helps support more than 200 law-related public service and educational programs each year. Earlier this month, the FJE released its annual report (PDF) for the period from Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2016. In addition to a list of individual and organizational donors, the report outlines how the FJE spent the $71.67 million budget. Less than 2 percent of the budget went to administrative and fundraising costs, leaving more than $70 million to be spent directly on the charitable programs which accomplish FJE’s goals. These include expanding access to justice, promoting diversity, safeguarding civil liberties and advancing the rule of law internationally. The American Bar Endowment was one of the FJE’s largest donors, providing more than $3 million in 2015-16.” (ABA Journal)

July 5, 2017 – “Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, Christian Legal Society and Chattanooga Gospel Justice Initiative are among those working together on a new effort to expand Access to Justice in Chattanooga through area places of worship. One such partnership has been created with White Oak United Methodist Church in Red Bank.  A pro bono legal clinic will be hosted at the church on Tuesday.  The partnership will also include legal issue training awareness for church leadership through the TFJA and pro bono legal clinics at the church.  Voluntary pro bono attorneys will be available to counsel on a wide variety of civil legal issues.” (The Chattanoogan)

July 5, 2017 – “Veterans who need help identifying legal needs in their lives can take advantage of a new online tool.
Legal Checkup for Veterans, a free website, is part of a signature initiative by ABA President Linda A. Klein to improve legal services for veterans, according to an ABA press release. Legal technology company CuroLegal developed the website with the help of ARAG legal insurance and volunteer experts. The website currently focuses on family law, housing and employment. Users are asked to provide their ZIP code and are asked a series of questions. They include whether the user has stable housing, needs shelter, is getting divorced, has disputes over child custody and property, has a job, and is being discriminated against based on pay. Underneath each question is a ‘more information’ option. For example, the option underneath a question about unequal pay tells the user that federal law and the laws of most states don’t allow larger employers to pay workers differently because of gender, race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation or age. At the end of the survey, users are informed about areas of the law where they may have claims and action they can take. Those who have claims related to property distribution in a divorce, for example, are advised to gather documents to support the value of assets and debt. Users can text or email a copy of the page summarizing their potential legal issues to themselves or others so it can be discussed with an advocate or family member. Users can also click on a button that provides them with resources that can help with their legal issues, such as contact information for a free legal services provider or a lawyer referral service. Those with a potential employment claim are provided contact information for the local office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact information for the local veterans service organization may also be listed, depending on the legal issues identified.” (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“Norman Dorsen, a passionate human rights advocate who led the American Civil Liberties Union for 15 years and was involved in some of the biggest civil liberties cases of the second half of the 20th century, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86. Mr. Dorsen’s career-long focus on civil liberties was informed by his involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings in 1954. He went on to argue Supreme Court cases that established juveniles’ rights to due process and that acknowledged the rights of children born out of wedlock. He was also one of the first lawyers to argue before the court in favor of abortion rights and gay rights. Mr. Dorsen was a key figure at New York University School of Law, where he joined the faculty and became the director of the civil liberties program in 1961. Partly through Mr. Dorsen’s influence, the school gained a reputation for attracting students and faculty with an interest in public interest law.” Our community has lost a great advocate. Read more about his amazing contributions at the link. (The New York Times)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 23, 2017

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

Happy Friday! The Digest is taking a vacation next week. We hope you have a safe and happy July 4th holiday, and we will return on July 7.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Bay Area legal tech firm announces funding partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid;
  • Legal Aid Manitoba faces increased refugee claims, flat funding;
  • Nearly $50 million in California state budget will go to expanded legal services for immigrants;
  • Two more Legal Aid Ontario offices unionize;
  • Ontario supporting increased access to justice in French;
  • BYU law school launching think tank to make legal system more accessible;
  • New legal hotline a lifeline for Ontario’s low-income Chinese and Southeast Asians;
  • LA County votes to contribute $1 million to LA Justice Fund;
  • Minneapolis legal service will continue to serve those who don’t speak English for free;
  • Consumer watchdog accuses student loan companies of preventing public servants from accessing loan forgiveness;
  • Wisconsin State Supreme Court to hold hearing on court-appointed lawyer rates;
  • Legal Aid Ontario offers funding to Ottawa community organization to support Black youth;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 15, 2017 – “One Legal, a North Bay based legal technology company, has today announced an extended partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal), the Bay Area’s leading provider of civil legal aid to the most vulnerable members of the community. This joint venture adds a revenue-sharing element to the ongoing donation of the firm’s technology, and has been launched in response to steep budget cuts proposed in the current draft of the federal budget for 2018. Headquartered in Oakland and serving seven Bay Area counties, BayLegal may be faced with losing up to one-fourth of its total funding in the coming year. Next year’s proposal eliminates the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), an independent agency established by Congress, which provides financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. Last year, BayLegal received $4.1 million from LSC, and client services will be severely cut if they cannot supplement the difference moving forward. With the Giving Back program, One Legal is stepping up to fill the gap made by federal budget cuts. In addition to providing no-cost access to its legal services and products to BayLegal, One Legal will invite law firm customers to enroll in a program whereby 5 percent of the net revenue arising from their use of the One Legal platform is donated directly to BayLegal. It is one of the most generous corporate/non-profit partnerships ever announced in the legal sector.” (PRNewswire)

June 15, 2017 – “Legal Aid Manitoba is experiencing a huge spike in applications, which a report out Thursday predicts could eventually lead to a staggering 11-year delay for refugees waiting for a hearing. Without an increase in funding, by the year 2021, refugee claimants could be waiting more than a decade for their cases to be heard, the report obtained by the Canadian Press states. Meanwhile, Legal Aid Manitoba is still waiting to find out how much funding it will get from the province this year. In just over two months — from April 1 to June 11, 2017 — Legal Aid Manitoba processed 243 immigration cases. Last year, 308 cases were processed for the total fiscal year.” (CBC News)

June 15, 2017 – “California state lawmakers approved $45 million in a state budget plan to expand legal services for immigrants, a response to the Trump administration’s call to increase deportations. The funds, greater than what Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked in May and which will be an ongoing allocation through 2020, will go to a coalition of legal services agencies, immigrant rights groups and faith-based organizations called One California. The $30-million legal assistance program, run by the state Department of Social Services, was first assembled to help thousands of immigrants apply for naturalization and former President Obama’s deferred action programs. With the additional money, providers will now also be able to help immigrants fighting deportation or removal proceedings. In a statement, the coalition called it a modest and reasonable investment to bolster much needed relief services.” (Los Angeles Times)

June 15, 2017 – “Workers at two Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) offices voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) this week. Both the Central District office (with offices in Barrie, Peterborough, and Oshawa) and the North Toronto District office (with four offices in Scarborough) will be joining their partners at two other LAO offices already represented by OPSEU.” “Workers at the two LAO offices cited a number of reasons for wanting to unionize, including the security of having terms and conditions of employment that cannot be changed unilaterally, and having a voice to raise and address issues collectively, rather than individually.” (OPSEU)

June 16, 2017 – “Ontario, in partnership with the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, is improving access to justice in French by establishing the province’s first continuing professional development centre for Francophone legal professionals. The pratiquO pilot project will help Francophone and Francophile justice professionals in Ontario meet the Law Society of Upper Canada requirement to complete 12 hours of professional development every year, and help non-jurists upgrade their legal skills in French.” (Ontario Newsroom)

June 19, 2017 – “A team at Brigham Young University is looking to make the law more accessible to those who can’t afford a lawyer. LawX, a legal design lab starting this fall at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, aims to create products and solutions to make navigating the legal system easier. The students will brainstorm, design a solution, test prototypes and implement a final solution, all in one semester. ‘We won’t just be thinking how to solve problems,’ said Kimball Parker, the founder of the legal education website CO/COUNSEL who will also oversee LawX. ‘We will build the solution.'” “The lab’s first project will be focusing on making sure people without a lawyer can answer complaints on time.” “The lab team will be made up of a handful of second- and third-year law students, along with a fellow who will do extra work such as helping a product continue after the semester ends.” (Daily Herald)

June 19, 2017 – “For some low-income people in Ontario, it could be a lifeline. A new toll-free hotline operated by the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC) went live Sunday, providing free legal consultations in five different languages for non-English speakers. ‘We know how much need there is out there,’ said Avvy Go, director of the CSALC and lawyer specializing in what’s informally called ‘poverty law.’ The clinic has been operating on Dundas Street West in downtown Toronto for nearly 30 years. New funding from Legal Aid Ontario allowed it to open its services to low-income Chinese and Southeast Asian people in every corner of the province.” “The grant of $100,000 helped cover costs of the hotline and two new staff members — one lawyer who speaks Mandarian and Cantonese and one who speaks Vietnamese —  as well as new community outreach. According to Go, most of the clinic’s work is related in some way to immigration or employment. ” (CBC News)

June 20, 2017 – “The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to contribute $1 million to a legal aid fund for people at risk of deportation and confirmed that anyone convicted of a violent felony will not be eligible to benefit from the fund. The eligibility requirements for the county’s share of the L.A. Justice Fund — specifically the prohibition of convicted felons — drew protests from immigration advocates in April and forced the board to cancel a planned vote on the matter.” “The board’s vote Tuesday focused on finalizing an agreement with the California Community Foundation to act as the county’s intermediary in granting aid. That agreement included an exhibit spelling out the eligibility criteria.” “Niels Frenzen, director of USC’s Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, said the county’s money would free up other funds for immigrants with prior convictions. ‘When there are limited funds, it’s not always possible to provide for the representation of everyone facing removal proceedings,’ Frenzen said. “However, the county’s contribution to the L.A. Justice Fund provides significant new funding for immigrants under the threat of deportation who do not have felony records, which in turn frees providers to use non-L.A. Justice Fund funds to represent other immigrants, including those with criminal histories.’ The L.A. Justice Fund is aiming to raise $10 million. The county intends to contribute an additional $2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and the city of Los Angeles has tentatively committed $2 million, an amount approved by a council committee Monday.” “Private entities are expected to contribute the remainder of the $10 million and can set their own rules for eligibility.” (mynewsLA.com)

June 21, 2017 – “Minneapolis’ Somali and Spanish speaking residents will continue to receive free rental legal advice services in their languages after the city of Minneapolis renewed funds to a nonprofit. The Minneapolis City Council approved $100,000 and a six-month extension for services from the tenant advocacy organization HOME Line to keep offering confidential service in English, Spanish and Somali to tenants in the state — particularly aiming to help immigrants and low-income households.” (Minnesota Daily)

June 22, 2017 – “Student loan companies are making it difficult for nurses, social workers, firefighters, cops, and other public servants to access the debt forgiveness to which they’re entitled, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials said Thursday. That assessment is based on a review of thousands of student loan complaints submitted to the bureau between March 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) was the fourth most complained about issue among borrowers who submitted complaints about their federal student loans, the report released Thursday by the CFPB found.” “The CFPB’s findings come as the program faces an uncertain future — the Department of Education’s budget request asks Congress to eliminate PSLF for borrowers taking out loans after July 1, 2018. The CFPB’s analysis will also likely add fuel to consumer advocates’ concerns that borrowers who qualify for PSLF and are counting on it may be struggling to access the program, either because they don’t have enough information about it, or they have the wrong facts about its requirements. The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2015 that about 4 million workers are eligible for the program, but just 552,931 borrowers were on track to receive forgiveness as of the end of last year. The program’s first major test will come in October of this year when the first cohort of borrowers are eligible for forgiveness.” “Borrowers planning on using PSLF should make sure they’re submitting their ECF forms and checking to see that their accounting of their eligible payments matches what their servicer has on file, said Seth Frotman, the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman. The CFPB is launching a campaign Thursday, called ‘Certify Your Service’ aimed at helping borrowers who believe they qualify for PSLF know what to do to access it. ‘We know that for many borrowers Public Service Loan Forgiveness is incredibly important for their financial futures,’ Frotman said. ‘What we would strongly encourage borrowers to do is to make sure that they’re on track.'” (Market Watch)

June 22, 2017 – “The state supreme court will hold a public hearing on a petition requesting increased pay for court-appointed lawyers and a declaration of unreasonableness concerning rates paid to attorneys who take public defender cases. At the court’s open rules conference yesterday, the last one of the term, the court unanimously voted to set a public hearing date, likely in December, and solicit comments related to petition 17-06, which would raise the per hour fee paid to court-appointed attorneys, under Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 81.02(1), from $70 to $100. The petition also asks the court to declare, through SCR 81.02(2), that an hourly rate less than $100 for legal services rendered by private attorneys who take appointments from the State Public Defender, under Wis. Stat. § 977.08, is unreasonable.” (State Bar of Wisconsin News)

June 22, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is providing $100,000 of funding to a project headed by an Ottawa-based organization to provide services to Black students facing suspension or expulsion hearings. The Somali Centre for Family Services of Ottawa has been given a one-time grant worth $100,000 to provide legal representation, advocacy or legal education to Black students who are in conflict with the education system. The funding for this grant is from an investment begun by the Province of Ontario in 2015 that was earmarked to create new legal aid services. In consultations held as part of LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy, community partners reported that Black children are among those that are disproportionately punished, suspended and expelled. LAO is offering these grants to help students and their families because expulsion can often lead to the heightened involvement of youths in the criminal justice system.” (Cision)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana announced 26 area attorneys donated 50 or more hours of pro bono legal assistance in 2016. Although not required, 50 hours of free legal assistance to low-income people is a goal established by the Indiana Supreme Court. Attorneys achieving this benchmark are: Douglas Adelsperger, Laura Boyer, R. David Boyer II, Johanna Campbell, John Cowan, Jonathan Cress, Melanie Farr, Travis Friend, Ronald Felger, Yvette Gaff Kleven, Stephen Griebel, Damian Gosheff, Alan Hofer, Nicholas Hursh, Roy Kiplinger, James McEntarfer, Jerri Mead, Timothy Stucky, Joshua Tourkow, Douglas Ulmer, Konrad Urber, David Van Gilder, Benjamin Williams, Nathan Williams, Sarah Wladecki and Michael Yates. Sarah Sladecki was named new VLP attorney of the year. Steve Rademaker and Timothy Claxton of Allen County, James McEntarfer of Steuben County, Andrew Kruse of DeKalb County and Johanna Campbell of Wells County were named pro bono attorney of distinction. Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams was named law firm of the year. Adelsperger & Kleven LLP was given the Pro Bono Award for Passion & Excellence. (News-Sentinel)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 16, 2017

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

Happy Friday! This week has been a tough one. Thank you to all of those who have rendered aid and worked to bring people together.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Boston Bar Foundation awards grants;
  • Report says Tennessee’s public defender system needs more money;
  • Legal Services Corporation presents new justice gap report to Congress;
  • Endowment fund for veterans honors memory of Texas lawyer;
  • Over $900,000 awarded to prevent foreclosures and redevelop DC communities;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 11, 2017 – “Nearly $1 million in grants will be given to 20 community organizations that provide legal services to domestic violence survivors, veterans, at-risk children and others. Last year, groups that received the grants helped more than 38,000 people who needed legal assistance. The grant recipients this year include Casa Myrna Vasquez, Boston’s largest provider of shelter to domestic violence victims. Other groups to receive the grants include the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, the Irish International Immigration Center, Prisoners’ Legal Services and Veterans Legal Services. The Boston Bar Foundation and the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts will provide the grants.” (Lowell Sun)

June 12, 2017 – “A new report says Tennessee is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate legal defense to residents who can’t afford an attorney. The report was compiled over an 18 month period at the request of the Tennessee Supreme Court. The task force report concludes that Tennessee is failing to provide the state’s system of public defenders with adequate resources to represent indigent residents in court. The final report makes seven recommendations. Among them: Increase the pay private attorneys receive from the state when they are asked by the courts to defend a poor client.” (WMOT)

June 14, 2017 – “Today Legal Services Corporation (LSC) will issue a new report, The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans. The report is a study of the ‘justice gap’ in the U.S.—the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet them. Last year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help at all.” The full report is available here. (Legal Services Corporation)(ABA Journal)

June 14, 2017 – “A legal aid endowment fund for Texas veterans has been established to honor the legacy of Texas trial lawyer Joe Jamail. The Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services was established by Jamail’s longtime friend and one-time employee Richard Mithoff. Mithoff contributed $100,000 to launch the fund which has grown to $400,000. The money will be used to help veterans avoid homelessness, promote stability in their family relationships and help them with employment problems. Jamail, who died in 2015, was a Marine before he was a lawyer. The endowment is managed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation which was created in 1984 to provide funding for civil legal aid in Texas.” (Houston Chronicle)

June 15, 2017 – “The DC Bar Foundation announced the recipients of the third distribution of the Foreclosure Prevention and Community Redevelopment Legal Assistance Grants Program. A total of $939,000 was awarded to projects that will increase access to justice by:

  • Representing low-income and elderly residents in foreclosure cases at DC Superior Court;
  • Ensuring that affordable housing properties in DC transition to market rate in a way that avoids displacement of low-income DC tenants;
  • Combatting the causes of affordable housing loss due to significant rent increases, sale of properties, termination of government subsidies, and unsafe conditions; and,
  • Assisting tenant groups with the establishment and maintenance of their affordable housing limited equity cooperatives to prevent them from converting to market rate housing.”

Click on the link for a full list of grantees and projects. (DC Bar Foundation)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law students in action: Duke University School of Law students Eleni Bakst ’17, Suzie Jing ’18, and Blair Mason ’18 share their experiences working with families detained while seeking asylum at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Their project was one of many organized by the Duke Law Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono as part of its annual Southern Justice Spring Break Trip. (YouTube)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 9, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Lots going on this week — especially here in DC. And it’s also summer intern time. Check out PSJD’s Having Fun on the Cheap for tips for exploring and enjoying your internship city.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Connecticut experiments with legal advocates for abused animals in court;
  • New grant helps Ohio’s Community Legal Aid take community lawyering approach;
  • Maine appointed counsel working without pay as legislators debate;
  • Georgetown Law program offers fellowship for young DC police officers;
  • Opinion: the legal profession is failing low-income and middle-class people, proposes solution;
  • LA County drops $50 public defender fee for criminal defendants;
  • Opinion: why student loan forgiveness is a social justice issue;
  • New Mexico’s top court should acknowledge excessive PD workloads and craft remedy, ABA says;
  • DOJ ends settlement practice that funded community organizations;
  • Virginia State Bar proposal would encourage pro bono by retired lawyers;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 2, 2017 – “Many states have victim’s advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success. There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It’s up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.” (Fox News)

June 2, 2017 – “Community Legal Aid Executive Director Steven McGarrity has big plans for a new Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation neighborhood stabilization grant. The grant, which is for up to $1.3 million over four years, will support community redevelopment legal assistance. ‘I’m beyond thrilled,’ McGarrity said. ‘The money is going to allow us to put in place a team of attorneys who focus specifically on community redevelopment efforts, working within neighborhoods and with collaborative partners to make real and lasting change.’ OLAF board members voted in March to approve the grant, with $350,000 to be released this spring. ‘Future funding will depend on the success of the first year,’ said McGarrity. ‘Most of the money will go to Youngstown to improve the educational system there. We will also be doing some work in Akron, using leverage of banks to invest in low-income communities.’ McGarrity said the grant will allow Legal Aid to do more ‘community lawyering’ work that will give people access to other support including education, job training and financial help, rather than simply addressing one legal problem.” (Akron Legal News)

June 4, 2017 – “But a system welcomed by the state’s poor has found itself in the midst of a political spat as lawmakers debate a $6.8 billion, two-year budget proposal from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who now only wants to fund the commission through January without back pay for lawyers. As a result of shortfall that lawmakers created in the last budget deal, court-appointed attorneys who provide indigent legal services throughout the state are working without pay. Funding ran out last month, and several attorneys say it’s causing stress and uncertainty.” “LePage is calling for an overhaul of a system that he says doesn’t fully meet American Bar Association standards such as caseload limits, training, expertise and oversight over attorney quality. Lawmakers and lawyers have rebuffed his efforts to create a contract-based system, and the governor says he’s fighting back against an ‘inefficient status quo.’ ‘The right to counsel exists to ensure they receive a fair trial, it is not a ‘make work’ program for lawyers,’ his original budget proposal reads. But skeptics of LePage’s effort say funding is the issue. Maine Indigent Defense Center founder Robert Ruffner is calling for a state public defender representing indigent defense lawyers, and more resources for oversight, training and guidance. ‘There aren’t any improvements to the system that will have any effect, any meaningful effect, that are free,’ he said. At least one attorney is declining to volunteer as a lawyer of the day to send a message to lawmakers.” (McClatchy DC Bureau)

June 5, 2017 – “A select group of rookie D.C. police officers and some civilian employees are embarking on a two-year fellowship program through the Georgetown University Law Center aimed at identifying and training the next generation of police leaders. The program launched Monday. The 19 participants will join monthly workshops and community activities and will be expected to develop a special project. They also will have one-on-one mentoring with some top police officials.” “Workshops and other activities will center on various policing strategies, including changes being made in light of police shootings and other incidents that have angered neighborhoods.” “‘This is a unique opportunity for fellows to build critical connections and thoughtfully explore some of the toughest issues confronting both the police and the community,’ William H. Treanor, the dean of Georgetown Law, said in a statement. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, also in a statement, said the program is to ‘not only to strengthen our officers’ credentials and experience, but also the bond we have with the communities we serve.'” (The Washington Post)

June 5, 2017 – ” We do not expect charities and generous doctors to provide 80 percent of the medical needs for low-income patients, so why do we think this is possible for our legal needs? As law schools become increasingly unaffordable — resulting in plummeting enrollment and debt levels that make it impossible for graduates to offer legal services at affordable prices — the legal profession needs some major changes. Professionals must first acknowledge that not every legal task must be performed by a licensed lawyer. Instead, we need to adopt a tiered system of legal-services delivery that allows for lower barriers to entry. Just as a pharmacist can administer vaccines and a nurse practitioner can be on the front line of diagnosing and treating ailments, we should have legal practitioners who can also exercise independent judgment within the scope of their training. Such a change would expand the preparation and independence of the existing network of paralegals, secretaries and investigators already assisting lawyers.” (The Washington Post)

June 6, 2017 – “In response to growing concerns about fees that can burden poor people accused of crimes, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to eliminate the $50 registration fee charged to people who need a public defender because they can’t afford to hire their own lawyer. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas spearheaded the effort to eliminate the fee, which was created to bolster the county budget. ‘Though this isn’t the biggest move ever, this is important’ to remove what can be a barrier to justice, Kuehl said before the 4-1 vote. San Francisco and Santa Barbara counties also have stopped charging the fee.” “The county has charged the fee since 1996, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states must provide criminal defendants legal counsel free of charge if they cannot afford an attorney themselves. The fee is supposed to be waived for people who can’t afford it. But that often doesn’t happen, according to officials with the public defender’s office.” (KPCC)

June 6, 2017 – “The budget proposal recently released by the Trump administration should greatly concern anyone who believes that higher education should be widely accessible, equitable, and premised on actualizing the American Dream.  Two components pertaining to student loan repayment and forgiveness are particularly troubling: the first would lengthen to 30 years the mandatory repayment window before graduate school loan debt can be forgiven; the second would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.” “For disadvantaged students, higher education is the surest path to socioeconomic advancement; but the path is fraught with risks.  These students must essentially gamble on themselves and on the chances that they will be able to repay their loans and reap worthwhile payoffs beyond their obligations.  Student loan forgiveness provisions are intended to spread some of these risks across society, given the reams of data confirming the broad public benefits of an educated citizenry. Some people argue that disadvantaged students should simply forego law school in favor of other pursuits.  This is where the notion of social justice becomes particularly important.  Lawyers from disadvantaged groups are more likely to represent other disadvantaged people and interests, thereby, broadening access to justice.   The salaries for these lawyers tend to be lower than others.  Without income-based repayment options and loan forgiveness, it would be very difficult for many people to justify taking on the risks of legal education.  The result would be a legal profession that remains aloof and unresponsive to the needs of large swathes of the population – namely, the poor and most of the middle-class.  These issues are transcendent, impacting most any profession for which its societal value is not fully reflected in the typical salaries – teaching and social work, for example.  Therefore, in order to ensure the preservation of our democracy, we should remain true to the social welfare origins of the federal student aid system.  Loan forgiveness options must be fortified as a matter of social justice and equity, not restricted.” (The National Jurist)

June 6, 2017 – “An amicus brief filed by the ABA says the New Mexico Supreme Court should acknowledge public defenders have excessive caseloads in Lea County and craft a remedy that considers lawyers’ ethical obligations. The ABA brief (PDF), filed on Monday, says excessive workloads can force public defenders to choose among the interests of their clients. ‘The public defenders are in a classic Catch-22: competent work for one client inevitably results in unreasonable delay or lack of work for other clients,’ the brief says. If the state supreme court decides to impose caseload limits, the number should be determined using methodology that relies on the expertise of defense lawyers to establish the time needed to provided effective assistance of counsel, the brief says. The brief also says the state supreme court should order lower courts to allow the public defender to decline cases in the county until a workload study can be completed to determine the appropriate workload. If a study isn’t undertaken, courts should rely on the public defender to determine when workloads are manageable, the brief says. The ABA filed the brief in a petition filed with the court by the state public defender’s office. The PD is asking the court to order private lawyers to represent indigent defendants for free or to order court clerks to stop accepting new cases for minor crimes after a certain number has been reached, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported in March. The office also suggests the court appoint a special master to find long-term solutions.” (ABA Journal)

June 7, 2017 – “The Trump Justice Department is banning federal attorneys from reaching settlements in criminal and civil cases that direct defendants to give money to third-party organizations, a practice that Republicans criticized during the Obama administration. A June 5 memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the DOJ would no longer reach settlements requiring payouts to ‘third-party organizations’ that were ‘neither victims nor parties’ to the lawsuits. In a statement, Sessions said funds ‘should go first to the victims and then to the American people ― not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends’ of the party in power. ‘Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement,’ Sessions said. ‘With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.’ The memo will hurt nonprofit groups that provide services to communities hurt by corporate wrongdoing like mortgage fraud and environmental abuses. Republicans have called out groups like La Raza, a Latino advocacy group; the Urban League, a civil rights group; and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which works to expand access to financial services in poor neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity has also benefited, although that organization hasn’t come under criticism.” (Huffington Post)

June 7, 2017 – “A Virginia State Bar panel is hoping to boost the number of retired lawyers who qualify for special status to provide pro bono services for needy clients. Bar rules allow for so-called ’emeritus members’ to provide no-cost legal service under specified conditions, even though they pay no bar dues and may not otherwise practice law. Participation has lagged. In fact, there is only one such member in the state, according to VSB records. Members of the VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services hope to remove an impediment by dropping a requirement that the work of an emeritus lawyer be under the ‘direct supervision of a supervising attorney.’ Under the revised rules, the chief requirement remains that an emeritus member must provide services only through ‘Qualified Legal Services Providers,’ which include legal aid offices and law school clinics. Qualified providers also would include the online service virginia.freelegalanswers.org, according to Karl A. Doss, the VSB director of access to legal services.” “The proposed amendment provides that to receive emeritus status, retired attorneys must submit to a competency review and provide the VSB Executive Committee with a letter from their physician certifying the applicant’s competency. Retired and associate attorneys applying for emeritus status must also fulfill any outstanding MCLE obligations, Doss said. The VSB Access Committee unanimously approved the proposed amendments May 9. The proposed changes are up for comment through June 30.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law students in action: “On the dusty outskirts of small-town Dilley, Texas, out of the sight of drivers traversing I-35, lies the South Texas Family Residential Center and the 2,400 beds it maintains for its temporary inhabitants: immigrant mothers and their children escaping desperate situations in their home countries. Many of these families come from Central America’s Northern Triangle— El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—fleeing widespread gang violence and aggressive domestic situations. They arrive at the U.S. border seeking safety for their children and themselves. In January, a group of Fordham Law students traveled to the center to help the women prepare for their meeting with an asylum officer, an interview that could potentially save their lives.” Hear their inspiring stories at the link. (Fordham Law News)

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

Comments