Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 13, 2017

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

Happy Friday the 13th!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Connecticut legal aid hires new director;
  • A new way to fund legal aid;
  • University of Connecticut School of Law launches new incubator;
  • Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas gets new CEO;
  • D.C. creates legal defense fund for illegal immigrants;
  • British Columbia Law Society ends paralegal access-to-justice initiative;
  • Idaho Supreme Court hears arguments on public defense reform;
  • Equal Justice Works receives grant to launch New Mexico Immigration Corps;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 5, 2017 – “New Haven’s legal aid agency has hired a new executive director. The State Street-based agency, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, announced that its Board of Directors has chosen Alexis H. Smith of Hamden as its next executive director.  She replaces Susan Garcia-Nofi, who departure was announced in late October. She has been serving as the interim chief.” (New Haven Independent)

January 6, 2017 – Interest on IOLTA has been the second largest source of funding for civil legal aid for years.  But in recent years, with falling interest rates, that funding has been significantly curtailed.  “Into this breach emerged a new program, equally as compassionate and as effective. In Massachusetts and Ohio, several banks have launched programs where law firms can choose to donate to IOLTA programs some or all of the ‘cash back’ benefits generated by millions of dollars of credit card transactions. Genius. Citizens Bank has taken the lead and is one of the first financial institutions to get involved. They have announced that law firms in both Massachusetts and Ohio have the opportunity to sign-on and direct their cash-back rewards to the local IOLTA distribution system. ‘The Citizens team has listened to the needs of their clients in the legal community and done a great job coming up with an innovative solution that helps law firms ensure the fairness of our legal system by contributing to civil legal aid for low-income and vulnerable Ohioans,’ said Angela Lloyd, Executive Director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.” (Above the Law)

January 6, 2017 – “UConn School of Law is launching a new Hartford-based incubator in February to provide affordable legal services to people who need it and help lawyers establish solo practices. Dubbed the Connecticut Community Law Center, the incubator is an initiative of the law school and the Hartford County Bar Association that aims to help people traditionally underserved by the justice system. That typically includes low- and moderate-income clients who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford standard legal fees. The center and the Justice Legal Center at the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, also scheduled to open early this year, will be the first in Connecticut.” (Hartford Business Journal)

January 6, 2017 – “After a thorough national search, the Board of Directors of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas named Maria Thomas-Jones as the new chief executive officer, effective immediately. The board met last month for its quarterly meeting, during which board members unanimously voted to select Thomas-Jones, who has served as interim CEO since February 2016. ‘On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to officially welcome Maria Thomas-Jones as the new CEO of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas,’ says Jan Langbein, board chair. ‘Maria has served LANWT effectively in many different capacities during her 17-year tenure with the firm.'”  (My San Antonio)

January 9, 2017 – “The nation’s capital is joining several other heavily Democratic cities in pledging to spend tax dollars to defend illegal immigrants against efforts by the incoming Trump administration to deport them. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday she plans to award grants to defense lawyers and nonprofit organizations to represent any of the District’s estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants who are faced with deportation. The $500,000 fund will also help illegal immigrants in the District apply for asylum and will provide representation for those residing in the city legally with green cards to obtain permanent U.S. citizenship. In a statement, Bowser said the District is ‘doubling down’ on its status as a sanctuary city, where D.C. police have already been instructed to not cooperate with federal authorities working to deport residents.” “Bowser will launch the initiative by shifting funds from the Office on Latino Affairs to a new Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program. City officials said that the fund would also accept donations from individual residents or groups. Nonprofits, private organizations and law firms in Washington will be eligible to win the grant money. Groups can begin applying Jan. 23, the first Monday that Trump will be in the White House. Although the funds are coming through the Latino affairs office, groups that serve immigrants from any region are eligible for grants, aides to the mayor said. The aides also said they envision nonprofit immigrant groups pairing with law firms to win grants, harnessing pro bono work of big firms and creating a network of new legal services for illegal immigrants.” (Washington Post)

January 9, 2017 – “Rose Singh, vice-president of the B.C. Paralegal Association, said hopes for a robust provincial system of less expensive legal services similar to Ontario’s 10-year-old paralegal scheme have been doused.” “In January 2013, a two-year pilot project was launched in the B.C. Supreme Court and the Provincial Court allowing paralegals under the supervision of a lawyer to appear in select locations on some family-law matters. The project ended in the Supreme Court in December 2014; the Provincial Court soldiered on until October 2015. Of the province’s roughly 13,000 lawyers, three participated, not enough data for the Law Society to conclude that paralegals provided a benefit.” The article is a good overview of the program, the shortcomings of the pilot, and other potential access-to-justice programs. (Vancouver Sun

January 11, 2017 – “Idaho’s Supreme Court will soon decide whether to revive an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state over its faulty public defense system. Attorneys on both sides told the high court Wednesday that they agree Idaho’s public defense system has serious deficiencies. But the state’s attorneys say the blame should lie on the counties, not Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the state’s Public Defense Commission. ‘The plaintiffs have identified serious issues,’ Idaho Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore said. ‘But they have named defendants who are not responsible for providing the services.’ The ACLU sued the state in 2015 on behalf of Idahoans who rely on court-appointed public defenders when they face criminal charges. They contend that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system is broken, and that by not fixing the problems the state is violating the 6th Amendment rights of its citizens. Indeed, Idaho Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter, many legislators and legal experts who have studied the issue on behalf of the state have all acknowledged that Idaho’s patchwork public defense system is deficient at best, and likely unconstitutional. But last year a lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, partly because the judge said he believed a court ruling requiring the state to adequately fund the public defense system would violate the separation of powers. The ACLU promptly appealed.” (The Daily Progress)

January 11, 2017 – “Equal Justice Works has received an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan to launch the New Mexico Immigration Corps, a partnership between Equal Justice Works, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), and University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL). The program will deploy attorneys and paralegals to provide critically needed civil legal aid to immigrant communities throughout New Mexico from September 2016 through August 2020.” “Beyond filling the immediate void in legal representation, this program will expand the pipeline of pre-law students, current law students, and young attorneys committed to serving New Mexicans. Over the grant period, Equal Justice Works will partner with UNMSOL to share best practices, promote public interest curricula, present internship and postgraduate employment options, and counsel students on debt relief.”(PR Newswire)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Greensboro Four – Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil. Read about these amazing men, and what individual conviction can do for a nation. (History.com)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 6, 2017

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

Happy New Year! And if you resolved to take on a new challenge this year, why not look into pro bono?  Law students have – to the tune of 2.2 million hours in 2016.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Montana Access to Justice Commission releases recommendations;
  • Public defender lawsuits;
  • New York governor vetoes indigent defense bill;
  • Connecticut Task Force releases access to justice recommendations;
  • Legal Aid of Roanoke celebrates 50 years of service;
  • Federal funding in New York for domestic violence and sexual assault victim programs;
  • Supporters of New York indigent defense bill consider lawsuit;
  • New Mexico judge refuses to dismiss suit against public defender’s office;
  • Missouri judge suspended over dispute with public defenders;
  • Michigan Indigent Criminal Defense Commission may continue its work;
  • Law students performed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 30, 2016 – “The Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has spent several years working to expand opportunities for low- and moderate-income people to get legal help. Now it’s releasing its conclusions on how to make sure Montanans in need can receive that help. The commission announced four major recommendations this week:

  • Making and publicizing a statewide list of legal resources for people in need.
  • Finding ways to link people with the programs or attorneys that can help with their specific legal problems.
  • Addressing the links between legal needs and other issues, like health, housing and employment.
  • Securing long-term funding to support legal aid services, from self-help programs for people who go to court to mediation and other ways of resolving issues outside of court.

The recommendations are based on more than a year of public testimony. The commission held seven listening sessions around the state to hear from attorneys, service providers and advocates.” “Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker says the commission will work with other organizations and agencies to achieve some of its recommendations. It will bring others to the state legislature during the upcoming session.” (KPAX)

January 1, 2017 – The ABA Journal has an excellent article on the wave of lawsuits filed by public defender offices, and how it is shaping the funding debate. (ABA Journal)

January 1, 2017 – “Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill Saturday that would have would have required the state to pay the full costs of public defenders for low income people facing charges. Currently, most counties pick up the tab for it. Counties are mandated by the state to offer representation to indigent defendants. The bill that was voted for unanimously by both the state senate and assembly, would have shifted the costs for these services from the county to the state over a seven year period.” “In 2014, the state assumed the indigent defense costs for five counties after a lawsuit known as Hurrell-Herring. Governor Cuomo said in his veto message that he feels the ‘groundbreaking advances in those five counties’ should be there for the rest of the state, but he didn’t think the bill reached that goal.” (WWNY)

January 2, 2017 – “The Task Force To Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters found that ‘many Connecticut residents cannot afford the legal assistance they need to protect essential human needs or face other barriers to accessing available legal services.” The four flagship legal services offices turn away thousands of income-eligible residents seeking representation, according to the task force report, because those offices are constrained by their own finances or those seeking assistance have incomes slightly above what’s necessary to secure the services.” Click here for the full recommendations. The Connecticut Bar Association was supportive of the task force’s recommendations. ‘The recommendations offer a series of steps that can be taken immediately to help civil litigants most at risk of being denied adequate legal assistance,’ CBA President Monte Frank said. ‘The focus on restraining orders, child custody and evictions targets the state’s most vulnerable citizens. The task force responsibly addresses the added societal cost of offering these additional legal services with a series of funding recommendations and by laying out a multi-year strategy for wider implementation,’ continued Frank.” (CT News Junkie)

January 2, 2017 – “The Legal Aid Society of the Roanoke Valley, which offers representation and advice to low-income families and others, opened its doors in mid-December 1966. It was headed by two lawyers — Charles Carrington and William Weinberg — with a small support staff that worked out of the basement of a Total Action for Progress building on Shenandoah Avenue. The first nonprofit of its kind in the state, it almost immediately proved divisive. ‘A blessing or a bane?’ wondered the headline of a Roanoke Times column that assessed the agency during the first week of February 1967, just two months after the office had taken on more than 90 initial clients. One of those cases — the defense in civil court of the welfare-supported father of seven children, a man whose in-laws were formally accused of neglect — served as the column’s resolutely unsympathetic centerpiece. ‘I don’t think it’s needed,’ a Roanoke judge said of Legal Aid in the piece. ‘I think that the overall point-of-view is the creation of a society to do everything for everybody rather than the individual doing all he can for himself. To put it in a nutshell, the government can go too far in trying to have a Utopia,’ the judge argued. Looking over that old clipping in December, senior staff attorney Henry Woodward chuckled. ‘I think that was a bit out of touch even then,’ he later said. Half a century has passed since then, and still Legal Aid remains, busy as ever. ‘The fact that it was difficult was often just a reflection of prejudices toward our clients. ‘People who are poor are poor because they deserve to be and shouldn’t be helped,’ Woodward said. ‘I think there’s a much wider base of understanding today.'” But there is still work that needs to be done.  Congratulations on 50 years providing access to justice.  (The Roanoke Times)

January 3, 2017 – “Efforts to help victims of domestic assault in Livingston County will see a more than $70,000 boost courtesy of federal funds provided to New York State. Chances and Changes Inc. was awarded $35,600 to partially fund three domestic violence victims’ advocates. The Livingston County District Attorney’s Office will also receive $35,600. The money will partially fund an assistant district attorney, investigator and probation officer to partner with Chances and Changes to provide domestic violence services and civil legal services. ‘The federal funding will allow local and statewide programs that have proven to be successful in helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to continue,’ state Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said in a statement. ‘By supporting these various community based services and law enforcement efforts, we can better protect victims and prosecute perpetrators of these despicable crimes.’ The funds were part of $7.7 million in federal funding announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The funding will allow the state to fund 11 new programs and support 117 existing programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Funding through the federal Violence Against Women Act was increased by nearly $662,000 to support programs offered by non-profit organizations, hospitals and law enforcement agencies across the state.” (Livingston County News)

January 3, 2017 – “Supporters of providing uniform representation to indigent criminal defendants in New York are trying to regroup following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Saturday night veto of a bill that would have required the state to take over all defense costs by the middle of next decade. Cuomo cited the costliness of the phased-in, seven-year takeover when vetoing A10706/S8114 on New Year’s Eve. He said the bill’s eventual cost of $800 million or more a year is so large that it could undermine the state’s finances in many other ways. Members of a disparate coalition which had pushed for Cuomo’s approval since the Legislature unanimously approved the bill in June 2016 tried to find some positives in the governor’s decision. But they insisted they would try to resume their campaign for a unified approach to providing adequate defense for criminal suspects unable to afford a lawyer, as decreed by the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). While saying they wanted to find another legislative solution to create a statewide indigent defense system, several supporters said Cuomo’s veto has advocates discussing litigation. Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said several leaders of the 52 counties not covered by the 2014 settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York contacted him Tuesday to discuss initiating a new lawsuit. Their aim, he said, would be to have the assistance that Albany is providing to the five counties covered by the Hurrell-Harring settlement—Schuyler, Suffolk, Onondaga, Washington and Ontario—extended to the other 52 counties. ‘A dozen counties have approached us with a strong desire to sue the state. We are going to review that possibility. If there is going to be an action, it would be a multi-county joint action,’ Acquario said Tuesday.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

January 3, 2017 – “A state District Court judge ruled Tuesday it wasn’t a normal job duty for a state public defender to ask that his employer be held in contempt of court for failing to provide an indigent defendant with an adequate defense. Sarah Singleton made the ruling in refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Damian Horne, a Santa Fe public defender for more than 15 years, against the Law Offices of the Public Defender. Horne’s lawsuit touches on the larger issue of whether the state is providing adequate counsel for defendants who cannot afford attorneys. Citing a budget crunch, the public defender’s office in November declined to provide lawyers for indigent defendants in Hobbs, leading a judge to hold the state’s chief public defender in contempt of court. In the whistleblower lawsuit he filed in January 2016, Horne said the public defender’s office placed him on paid administrative leave, removed him from 83 cases and required him to undergo a psychiatric examination and release his medical records. He alleges the office’s actions were in retaliation for him raising concerns about the defense of William Kalinowski, a Horne client and former homebuilder charged with fraud and embezzlement. Horne filed a motion asking a judge to hold the public defender’s office in contempt of court for failing to properly finance Kalinowski’s defense, including providing as much as $350,000 for forensic accountants. A judge declined to hold the public defender’s office in contempt but appointed a special master to oversee the case.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)

January 4, 2017 – “The Missouri Supreme Court suspended a Lincoln County judge accused of delaying the assignment of public defenders in probation cases Tuesday. The court suspended Judge Christina Kunza Mennemeyer without pay for six months starting Feb. 1. The action comes in response to a 2014 complaint filed by the director of the Missouri State Public Defender System, who said Mennemeyer deliberately waited to assign public defenders until after the deadline for requesting a new trial judge for a case had passed. Court documents say Mennemeyer also threatened to file complaints against attorneys who tried to represent defendants before she assigned them to the case. The dispute was over a Missouri law dictating when a public defender can appear in court or file on behalf of a defendant charged with a probation violation. Mennemeyer argued that no public defenders can represent a client before they are appointed by the court. After a request for a meeting with Mennemeyer to settle the disagreement was ignored, the public defender’s office filed a complaint with the Missouri judiciary’s Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline. The commission found that in all of the cases with a delayed appointment, the defendant had no money or valuable assets, and Mennemeyer had violated the judicial code of ethics. On Tuesday, the court accepted the commission’s recommendation. Missouri Supreme Court Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote in a concurring opinion that Mennemeyer ‘purposely subverted the rights’ of some defendants in her ‘feud’ with the public defender and was therefore in violation of judicial ethics.” (Springfield News-Leader)

January 4, 2017 – “The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission will be able to continue its work. Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation Wednesday reestablishing the commission. It was established in 2013 when Snyder signed legislation that set statewide standards for court appointed public defense attorneys. The commission, among other things, collects data about indigent defense services in Michigan, creates standards for effective representation, and creates requirements for who qualifies for a public defender.” “The legislation would also move the commission into the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.” (WMUK)

January 5, 2017 – “The law class of 2016 performed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work while on campus, which is valued at more than $52 million. That’s according to new figures compiled by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), which polled all American Bar Association-accredited law schools in November to find out how much pro bono work their recent graduates did. It’s the first time a nationwide student pro bono survey has been conducted, according to AALS Director of Communications James Greif.” “The actual number of law student pro bono hours is likely much larger than the 2.2 million reported by the AALS. Its figure is based on responses from only 80 of the 205 ABA-accredited schools, and represents just 45 percent of the law student population. The comprehensive number could be more than double what was reported. Some law schools said they don’t currently track student pro bono hours, but will do so in the future, Greif said. The AALS plans to conduct the pro bono survey annually. Performing pro bono even before officially launching their legal careers can have a lasting impact on students’ lifetime commitment to such work, several pro bono advocates said.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

A school field trip to the Wyandotte County Courthouse was a life-changing experience for 13-year-old Rhonda Mason. It set her on a career path that now, some 30 years later, has been realized with her appointment as a judge. And when Mason is sworn in in January, she will make history as the first African-American judge in Johnson County, Kansas.  After she is sworn in, Mason will likely take over the civil court docket. She said she is eager to take on her new duties and looks forward to serving the community. “I am just really honored and humbled,” she said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.” Congratulations Judge Mason. (The Kansas City Star)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 22, 2016

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

Happy Holidays! Big news this week – the ABA has filed suit against the Department of Education regarding the retroactive denials of some previously qualified employers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  Coverage is below.

We here at PSJD thank you for your support and wish you the happiest of holiday seasons.  The Digest will take a holiday next week and return in the new year.  Happy New Year!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Deficit forcing Legal Aid Ontario to scale back services;
  • LA Justice Fund will offer legal help to potential deportees;
  • ABA sues government over retroactive denials to lawyers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • Indigent defense bill finally goes to New York governor’s desk;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 16, 2016 – “Potentially thousands of Ontarians who can’t afford a criminal lawyer will have to represent themselves at trial, as a deficit at the provincial agency that funds legal aid means it has to cut back dramatically on services. While Legal Aid Ontario will still issue legal aid certificates — which cover a person’s legal fees — for criminal defence lawyers in cases where there is a ‘substantial likelihood of incarceration,’ it will generally no longer do so in other matters. That means that impoverished individuals who may not be facing jail time but could be deported, fired or slapped with a hefty fine if they are convicted — and get a criminal record in the process — will be left to fend for themselves in courtrooms across the province. The news was announced in a memo from LAO president and CEO David Field, issued Friday afternoon and obtained by the Star. ‘Despite our best efforts to predict client demand for expanded services, our forecasts were well below actual demand,’ he said in the memo. ‘The end result was that we provided more services for clients than we had available funding for. We now need to take steps to bring client services in line with our funding.'” (The Star)

December 19, 2016 – “A new fund will provide $10 million dollars to provide legal help for immigrants in Los Angeles County who face deportation proceedings without a lawyer. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of  the L.A. Justice Fund, which he said is a direct response to President-elect Donald Trump’s threat to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants and other ‘dangerous rhetoric.’ The fund is a joint effort between the City and County of Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation, the Weingart Foundation and the California Endowment.” “The fund will focus on helping immigrants in the county under temporary status such as the Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, military families, refugees and unaccompanied minors. It will not provide aid to immigrants with a serious criminal history, Garcetti said. A press release from the Mayor’s office said the fund will begin serving immigrants early in 2017, after the funding partners decide how the funds will be best allocated.” (KCET)

December 20, 2016 – “The American Bar Association and a group of individual public interest lawyers sued the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday claiming that the agency illegally walked back a loan-forgiveness program meant to encourage attorneys to take low-paying public-sector positions. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, claims that the department has arbitrarily tightened its definition of what sorts of organizations qualify as providers of “public interest law services” under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The moves, the lawsuit contends, have illegally trimmed the ranks of lawyers who qualify for the program enacted in 2007 by President George W. Bush, which forgives student loan debt for full-time public interest lawyers. To be eligible, attorneys must work in the public sector for 10 years and pay down their loans. According to the suit, some lawyers have gotten word recently that their work doesn’t qualify for the program years after being told the exact opposite by representatives of the Education Department. The department’s eligibility decisions apply retroactively, meaning that years of work that lawyers assumed would apply toward loan forgiveness may not be recognized.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)(ABA)

December 21, 2016 – “A decades-long movement to the make the state responsible for the cost of providing counsel to indigent criminal defendants has reached a critical point with the transmission to Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a bill providing for a state takeover of all defense costs.After a seven-year phase-in period, the bill (A10706/S8114) would provide for the state to relieve New York City and the 57 upstate counties of the entire financial burden for the adequate defense of individuals charged with a crime that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a constitutional right in its 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. A full takeover would take effect on April 1, 2023, under the bill. Currently, the state provides about $80 million for indigent criminal defense services and the counties and New York City provide $360 million. Cuomo has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the bill, which was approved unanimously by each chamber of the state Legislature in June. His spokeswoman, Dani Lever, repeated on Wednesday the response his office has given to inquiries about the bill for months, which is that the governor is continuing to study the measure. Cuomo has until Dec. 30 to decide.” (New York Law Journal)(registration required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Happy Holidays!
History of Christmas
History of Hannukkah
History of Kwanzaa
History of Boxing Day

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

 

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 16, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Low bono, online practice comes to Canada;
  • Seattle consulting firm offering pro bono services to nonprofits promoting tolerance and understanding;
  • Family law foundation awards grants to Michigan nonprofits;
  • Twelve legal tech startups selected to participate in the first-ever Startup Alley at ABA’s TECHSHOW conference;
  • ABA Legal Technology Resource Center releases fourth annual ABA TECHREPORT;
  • Ontario provides grant to Innocence Canada;
  • Legal Services of Northern Virginia launches VA Law Help 2 Go;
  • Chicago’s City Council approves $1.3 million legal fund for immigrants;
  • New Victoria Legal Aid Office opens in Shepparton;
  • Attorneys petition Indiana Supreme Court to write public defender rules;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 9, 2016 – “A lawyer from Brooks, Alberta, is trying out a unique business model — offering her services online for a fraction of the cost, part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself legal representation. Sarah Bisbee says she got tired of turning away people who couldn’t afford her $300-an-hour fee.” “Bisbee realized most of the hourly fee was going to overhead costs so she decided to launch something she has never seen in Canada — an online law practice. Besides finding a developer who shared her vision for the website, Bisbee had to make sure her approach met the Law Society of Alberta’s rules. Now, she offers potential clients a $79 online consultation and from there, clients can choose what kind of help they want from a lawyer, if any. Bisbee provides consultation, prepares documents, and even coaches people on how to fight their case in court, all by phone and email. She says the approach drops the cost to clients up to 75 per cent.” (CBC News)

December 9, 2016 – “Seattle-based consulting firm The Ostara Group is seeking applications from emerging nonprofits promoting tolerance and understanding to be awarded 25 hours of pro-bono support in fundraising and organizational strategy. ‘The rise of hate-motivated speech and attacks has been dramatic in the wake of the presidential election,’ according to the firm’s news release. “According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were nearly 900 hate incidents reported across the country in the 10 days following the election.” The grant is open to anyone in Washington wanting to start a nonprofit or to existing nonprofits with budgets that were less than $300,000 in the most recently completed year. Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, with decisions announced by March 31. More information and an application can be found at www.ostaragroup.com/blog.” (Capitol Hill Times)

December 9, 2016 – “Two local nonprofits have received grants from a national family law foundation. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) Foundation awarded $5,000 each to the Children’s Assessment Center in Grand Rapids and Legal Assistance Center in Grand Rapids. The AAML Foundation awards grants each fall to nonprofits involved in issues pertinent to family law. This is the first time the national foundation has selected Michigan nonprofits as recipients.” (Grand Rapids Business Journal)

December 12, 2016 – “A competition has been underway to select 12 legal technology startups to participate in the first-ever Startup Alley at the American Bar Association’s TECHSHOW conference in March. For the first time ever this year, ABA TECHSHOW is reserving a portion of its exhibition hall to showcase 12 innovative legal startups. In addition, on TECHSHOW’s opening night, the 12 startups will face off in a bracketed pitch competition judged by TECHSHOW attendees to pick the most innovative startup. This is a cooperative effort of ABA TECHSHOW, Above the Law, Evolve Law and Lawsitesblog.com, spearheaded by the chair of this year’s TECHSHOW planning board, Adriana Linares.” One of the 12 winners “helps law firms, companies and law schools manage their pro bono with streamlined sourcing, tracking and outcome reporting on a modern, tech-forward platform.” Check out the full list of winners and their innovative ideas. (Above the Law)

December 13, 2016 – “The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center has released the fourth annual ABA TECHREPORT, a comprehensive publication exploring how attorneys are using technology in their practices. ABA TECHREPORT examines data from the LTRC’s new six-volume 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report to highlight key trends — and the practical takeaways — for today’s lawyers.” (ABA News)

December 13, 2016 – “Ontario is helping to provide access to justice for people who may have been wrongfully convicted of a crime and cannot afford legal representation. Over the next three years, the province is providing Innocence Canada with $275,000 annually to help them sustain operations. The Law Society of Upper Canada is providing an additional $25,000 annually ― a total of $900,000 over three years. The non-profit organization is dedicated to identifying and advocating for individuals who may have been convicted of a crime they did not commit and to preventing wrongful convictions through legal education and reform. Improving access to justice is part of the government’s plan to keep communities safe and help people in their everyday lives.” (Ontario Newsroom)

December 14, 2016 – “Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV) is proud to announce the launch today of VA Law Help 2 Go, a program that will enable those who use smartphones and other mobile devices to access brief informational videos about common civil legal issues in Virginia. The program was spearheaded by LSNV in partnership with the Virginia Legal Aid Society and Blue Ridge Legal Services and funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Innovative Initiative Grant program. This technology initiative advances LSC’s goal of enabling users to access important legal information when and where it’s convenient for them.” (Business Wire)

December 14, 2016 – “Chicago’s City Council has approved a $1.3 million fund to help immigrants with legal services, including those facing deportation. There was widespread support for the fund, which will use money set aside from a little-used property tax relief program. Three aldermen voted against it Wednesday. Aldermen in support say the fund is a response to the election of Donald Trump, who has promised to taken an aggressive approach to immigration, including deporting millions. Two Chicago groups will help the city run the fund for immigrant legal services, including initial screenings. Experts estimate 150,000 Chicago area residents don’t have permanent legal status. Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Council Wednesday that Chicago needs to stand by people who are fearful. He’s also seeking private donations for the fund.” (Washington Times)

December 15, 2016 – “Victorians in the state’s north will have improved access to legal support after the Andrews Labor Government  unveiled a new Victoria Legal Aid office in Shepparton. Attorney-General Martin Pakula officially opened the new office which has modern, custom-designed spaces with an open-plan layout, discreet well being areas, and two conference rooms for private consultations with clients. The office accommodates 11 staff, including seven lawyers and four support staff with specialist skills in criminal and family law, including family violence and child protection matters.” (Premier of Victoria)

December 15, 2016 – “Two Indianapolis attorneys are determined to change the way public defense operates in Indiana — and now they’re taking their fight to the Indiana Supreme Court. Mike Sutherlin and David W. Frank filed a petition to the court on Thursday, to compel the court to address issues plaguing the state’s public defender system. They say the system is woefully underfunded, and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial is routinely violated in Indiana. The 16-page document, filed on behalf of Allen, Johnson and Vigo county residents Jauston Huerta, Calvin Wilson and Kenneth Alford, requests that the court author a series of rules, procedures and standards which would ensure, at a minimum, constitutional representation under the Sixth Amendment to individuals who rely upon the public defender system. The three men, the petition states, all received inadequate representation from their assigned public defenders when they were moved through the criminal court system. They are also plaintiffs in separate lawsuits against their respective counties.” “The petition comes after the Sixth Amendment Center, a public defense advocacy firm in Boston, issued a 212-page report in October 2016, that shows how some of Indiana’s biggest public defense problems stem from how the system is funded.” (Indy Star)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Thirty-seven attorneys were recognized for their volunteer service on December 9, at the Kona Courthouse (Keakealani Building) in Kealakekua. This group of volunteer attorneys provided free legal information to more than 500 West Hawaii residents who visited the Self-Help Desk at the Kona Courthouse in 2016. The number of people who sought and received services at the Kona Self-Help Desk increased by more than 200 from 2015 to 2016. Congratulations and thank you for all your assistance. (Hawaii 24/7)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 9, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Audit: Montana public defender office owed millions, not collecting;
  • Ontario to hire more judges and prosecutors to tackle trial delays;
  • Chicago mayor creates $1 million legal fund to assist immigrants;
  • App helps transgender Canadians access legal info;
  • Acadiana Legal Services Corporation receives $1.5 million grant historically awarded to Legal Services;
  • Maine Justice Foundation launches new LGBT Justice Fund;
  • Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services issues report;
  • Public Counsel launches the Audrey Irmas Project for Women and Girls’ Rights with grant from the Audrey Irmas Foundation for Social Justice;
  • ParDONE wins Ontario Access to Justice Challenge;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 1, 2016 – “A financial audit of the Office of the State Public Defender found the agency doesn’t know how much money it is owed by criminal defendants and that the office is not trying to collect the money while facing a $3.5 million budget shortfall. The November audit said the defender’s office estimates it was owed $3.95 million in court-ordered fees as of June 30, but has written off $2.8 million as uncollectible. ‘These unpaid assessments represent money due to the office that could be used to fund a portion of the office’s operations instead of the (state) General Fund,’ auditors found. State agencies should have policies in place to ensure timely billing and should make all reasonable efforts to collect money owed to them, the audit said. Office managers told auditors there are several obstacles to collecting the fees that state law allows if judges determine defendants have the ability to pay. OPD says it’s been unsuccessful in getting complete information from courts about the amount of fees owed and paid by individual defendants. It also notes there is no centralized database allowing the state to track the amounts due by each defendant and the order in which defendants are to pay for fines, restitution and public defender fees. Managers also question whether they have the legal authority to collect the money, and believe that work should fall on the court system. The audit notes the legislature’s Task Force on State Public Defender Operations is supporting legislation to transfer the responsibility for collecting public defender fees to the Department of Revenue. ‘Due to this, we will make no further recommendations at this time,’ the audit said.” (Daily Inter Lake)

December 1, 2016 – “Ontario has announced the biggest expansion of its criminal-justice system in more than two decades, two weeks after a judge scrapped a first-degree-murder charge because the accused had spent four years in jail waiting for his trial to be completed. The expansion is an attempt to meet new Supreme Court deadlines for timely trials. Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi said on Thursday the province’s criminal courts are “bottle-necked” and there is no “sugar-coating” the challenge facing them. The government will add 13 judges, 32 prosecutors, 16 duty counsel serving accused people and 26 court staff. It also announced several measures aimed at improving its bail system and ensuring low-risk people do not languish behind bars until their trial is completed. The price for the expansion and bail changes is $25-million a year.” (The Globe and Mail)

December 2, 2016 – “The Taxpayer Advocate Service of the IRS recently approved a three-year grant for the Notre Dame Tax Clinic. The IRS awards matching grants through its Low Income Tax Clinic Program to qualifying organizations to develop, expand, or maintain low-income taxpayer clinics. The mission of the LITC program is to represent low-income taxpayers who have controversies with the IRS; educate clients about their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers; and identify and advocate for issues that systemically impact low-income taxpayers. The Notre Dame Tax Clinic opened in the 2016-2017 school year and provides free tax-related legal services to qualified, low-income clients. Second- and third-year law students represent low-income and English-as-a-Second-Language clients in tax disputes with the IRS. It is the Law School’s fifth community-oriented law clinic.” (University of Notre Dame News)

December 2, 2016 – “Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday took $1 million earmarked for a widely-ignored property tax rebate and used it to create a “Legal Protection Fund” for immigrants living in “anxiety and uncertainty” and threatened with deportation after the election of Donald Trump. The mayor upped the ante in his immigration war of words with Trump by forging a partnership with the National Immigration Justice Center and challenging the private and philanthropic communities to join the effort and provide legal resources to immigrant families living in fear. The $1 million will allow the NIJC, which is based in Chicago, and its law firms to consult and represent more than 3,000 additional people. According to the center, roughly 150,000 Chicago-area residents are not legally permanent U.S. residents. Thousands more are worried about their immigration status.” (Chicago Sun Times)

December 2, 2016 – “Navigating Canada’s legal system is tricky for most people, but it can be even more challenging if you’re a member of the transgender community. People who are transgender face higher rates of unemployment, discrimination, and violence. And since the median annual income of a transgender Ontarian is only $15,000, seeking legal counsel is often out of reach. That’s where JusticeTrans comes in. Launched in 2015 by Benjamin Vandorpe, a graduate from Osgoode Hall Law School and a trans-identified man, JusticeTrans is an app that provides access to up-to-date legal information about transgender rights. It’s free to download, and has province-based data about issues like housing, arrests, and name changes.” “JusticeTrans has grown quickly in its first year. Vandorpe’s brought on a board of directors, and is working to partner with law firms across the country. In July, he was named one of six finalists competing for $50,000 in seed funding through the Ontario Access to Justice Challenge, a program that recognizes early-stage companies enhancing access to justice and challenging the status quo of legal services.” (THIS)

December 6, 2016 – “A $1.5-million federal grant that had gone to Legal Services of North Louisiana for several years has been awarded, instead, to the Acadiana Legal Services Corporation. LSNL Board Chairman Ben Politz did not respond to a request for comment on whether the loss of federal funding could mean cutbacks in staffing and services at LSNL. But Greg Landry, executive director for ALSC, said he plans to more than double the firm’s staffing to help serve the northern parishes and to cultivate existing expertise in the area to do so.” “LSNL will receive some transitional funding from the grant to ensure continuity of services for current clients.” (The Times)

December 7, 2016 – “The Maine Justice Foundation is launching a new LGBT Justice Fund. Executive Director Diana Scully says six founders have already stepped forward to contribute to the fund, which will provide support for vulnerable LGBT people who need civil legal aid. ‘Or, in some instances, there may be groups who would like to do some systemic work to tackle issues that face LGBT people,’ Scully says.” A launch event is planned for next week. (Maine Public)

December 7, 2016 – “To expand civil legal services for Texans of modest means: Bolster resources at law libraries, collect more information about pro se litigants, and promote technologies that will help make it easier for more people to identify affordable legal counsel. Those are some of the conclusions reached in a report issued Dec. 6 by a Texas Supreme Court-appointed 19-member commission. The court established the commission slightly more than one year ago and assigned it the task of gathering information about how to make available more civil legal services for low- and middle-income Texans.” Click the link for the Commission’s specific recommendations. (Texas Lawyer)

December 7, 2016 – “Public Counsel is excited to announce the establishment of the Audrey Irmas Project for Women and Girls’ Rights. This project is the result of a four-year, $1 million grant from the Audrey Irmas Foundation for Social Justice. During its 46-year existence, Public Counsel has provided a wide range of legal services for low-income women and girls. Audrey Irmas’ generous contribution will allow us to make our delivery of direct legal services to women and girls more holistic and effective, and permit us to greatly expand our systems change efforts on their behalf.” (Public Counsel)

December 8, 2016 – “In July, Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone, in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that six legaltech startups would work out of the LIZ’s workspaces for four months before competing for $50,000 in prizes through the Ontario Access to Justice Challenge. Yesterday, ParDONE was announced as the winner of the Challenge’s $25,000 top prize. ParDONE’s platform is meant to help people with criminal records reduce the cost and time of the record suspension application. ParDONE automates the record suspension process, while keeping clients up-to-date on the process.” “Legally Inc., at second place, took $15,000 in seed money, while Law Scout took home $10,000. Included in the three prizes is the opportunity to work out of the Legal Innovation Zone for an additional four months.” (betakit)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Troutman Sanders announced today the recipients of its annual Pro Bono Awards. Partners Andrew Perel, William Hurd, Stephen Piepgrass and associates Chris Davis and Jasmine Hites were recognized for their outstanding pro bono performance. Read about their outstanding work here – Troutman Sanders News & Knowledge.

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 2, 2016

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

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

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

The summaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

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

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

Music Bonus! 

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 23, 2016

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are the week’s headlines:

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

The summaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

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

Music Bonus!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 18, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

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

The summaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

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

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

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 11, 2016

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

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

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

The summaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

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

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 4, 2016

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

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

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

The summaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

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

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

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