Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 5, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Funding is the story of the week. Let’s take a moment to celebrate what these funds can do in the right hands. We’ll get back to the greater funding debate later.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Advocacy groups take British Columbia government to court over legal aid;
  • Idaho Supreme Court allows ACLU class action public defense case to proceed;
  • Seattle Mayor signs $1 million immigrant legal defense fund;
  • Corporate Pro Bono publishes 2016 Benchmarking Report;
  • Kentucky starts hotline for free legal help over custody and visitation issues;
  • Foundation gives $500,000 to University of Maine School of Law’s immigration clinic;
  • Pro bono reporting in Indiana draws mixed reaction;
  • Michigan will soon be asked to pay more for indigent defense;
  • Stop gap budget includes LSC funding, but crisis is not averted;
  • South Texas College of Law Houston receives $1.27 million gift to launch criminal defense certification program;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 27, 2017 – “Three Vancouver advocacy groups say funding cuts to B.C. legal aid have made it harder for women fleeing abusive relationships to get help from lawyers. As a result, West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF) and the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC), with help from the Single Mothers’ Alliance B.C., have filed a constitutional challenge against the province and the Legal Services Society.” “In their challenge, BCPIAC and West Coast LEAF say the financial eligibility criteria and the cap on legal hours imposed by the Legal Services Society is unconstitutional. The B.C. Government has not responded to a request for comment on the challenge.” (CBC News)

April 28, 2017 – “The Idaho Supreme Court today ruled that the ACLU’s class action lawsuit challenging Idaho’s public defense system statewide will proceed. In a unanimous decision, written by Idaho’s Chief Justice, the Court said that the Idahoans who brought the suit had raised systemic violations of fundamental constitutional rights. The case will now proceed for the courts to determine the extent of the violations. The lawsuit, called Tucker v. State of Idaho, was filed in 2015 by the ACLU, the ACLU of Idaho, and the global law firm Hogan Lovells.” “[The] Idaho Supreme Court opinion dismisses Idaho Governor Butch Otter as a defendant in the case, concluding that his connection to Idaho’s public defense system is too indirect for him to be held accountable for Idaho’s human rights violations regarding public defense. The class action lawsuit will continue, however, against both the State of Idaho itself as well as the members of its Public Defense Commission.” (ACLU News)

April 28, 2017 – “Mayor Ed Murray was joined by Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess in signing an ordinance creating a $1 million legal defense fund for Seattle residents and workers who cannot afford legal representation or services in immigration proceedings.” “The legal defense fund will be structured as contracts that eligible community-based organizations can apply for to hire immigration attorneys, legal staff, and services to aid immigrants who are detained, as well as those who are not detained but facing deportation and other complex cases. Unlike other courts, people in immigration proceedings do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs will administer the program, which will become available this summer.” (The Skanner)

May 1, 2017 – “CPBO is pleased to share the 2016 Benchmarking Report: An Overview of In-House Pro Bono. This report summarizes the responses of 55 legal departments, providing unique insight into current trends in in-house pro bono. Key hightlights:

  • 87% of departments have pro bono committees
  • 92% of departments have non-attorneys who participate in pro bono
  • 91% of departments work with legal services providers that provide professional liability insurance
  • 55% of departments enter into pro bono partnerships with other legal departments
  • 29% of departments engage in global pro bono”

(Corporate Pro Bono)

May 1, 2017 – “A new telephone hotline gives qualifying parents free legal assistance related to their custody and visitation concerns. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) Office of Child Support Enforcement (CSE) has an agreement with the Legal Aid Society (LAS) to operate the ‘Custody and Visitation’ Hotline. The statewide service is for eligible parents, on an income-based scale, who have concerns regarding custody and visitation issues with their children. Steve Veno, Commissioner of the CHFS Department for Income Services, which oversees the CSE, said an LAS attorney will handle all hotline calls and provide legal advice or assistance to callers such as how to file a motion, how to file or change a child custody or visitation order in the appropriate court and how to work through visitation and custody issues.” (WKYT)

May 2, 2017 – “The Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law has received a $500,000 grant to offer legal services to immigrants over the next four years. The money comes from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation of South Portland, which provided the seed money to get the clinic started five years ago and has given some funding each year for its operation. But this is the first year the foundation has underwritten the program’s entire cost — and comes at a time when requests for legal help at the clinic are on the rise.” (Bangor Daily News)

May 3, 2017 – “The first round of data collected from Indiana’s new pro bono reporting rule invoked opposing reactions among the members of the Coalition for Court Access who recently reviewed the numbers. Some thought the amount of time and money lawyers donated to legal aid was shameful, while others were thrilled with the level of giving.” “Being just the first year, drawing inferences from the numbers is difficult, but Scott Wylie, member of the CCA pro bono working group, said the numbers provide a start.” “The numbers show less than 50 percent of Indiana attorneys in 2015 gave their time to helping clients who either could not pay anything or could only pay a greatly reduced rate. Of the 15,544 Hoosier lawyers covered by the reporting rule, 41 percent donated only their time. Adding in the 896 attorneys who gave both time and money, that total bumps up to 47 percent.” (The Indiana Lawyer)

May 3, 2017 – “Lawmakers’ years-old promise to invest in criminal defense for poor people is about to be tested as a state panel proposes new limits on court-appointed attorney caseloads. The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, created under a 2013 law that came with a legislative promise that the state would pay for reforms, has proposed three new standards for Michigan’s county-run court-appointed attorney systems. The standards would limit attorneys to no more than 150 felonies or 400 non-traffic misdemeanors per year, forbid judges or judicial employees from choosing or paying the attorneys who argue in their courtrooms, and set new minimum qualifications for attorneys who represent criminal defendants who can’t afford their own lawyer.” “The commission will accept public comment on the new standards through October, with a public hearing to happen in late summer or early fall, before final proposals are sent to the Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs for approval. The first batch of standards, which were unveiled in 2015, haven’t yet been approved. LARA spokesman Jason Moon said a decision should happen ‘in the next several weeks.'” (Lansing State Journal)

May 3, 2017 – Over the weekend, Congress reached a deal to keep the government open through September. “The spending agreement Congress brokered retains $385 million for Legal Services Corp., the national organization that funds services for low income, disabled and senior citizens. That measure restores the current year’s funding at budgeted levels.” However, that does not mean the danger has passed. Far from it, experts warn. “‘The crisis is not averted. Quite the contrary,” said Steve Gottlieb, executive director of Atlanta Legal Aid. ‘We will see all summer about what happens the next year.’ ‘[T]he budget the president proposed [for 2018] has no money in it for the Legal Services Corp,’ Gottlieb said.” As has been widely reported, the White House is gearing up for the bigger budget fight at the end of the summer. Pressure needs to continue on Congress to fully fund civil legal aid. (Daily Report)

May 4, 2017 – “South Texas College of Law Houston has received a $1.27 million gift aimed at launching a criminal defense certification program, which is meant to train defense lawyers to more effectively represent indigent defendants in the city’s courts. The money came from an anonymous donor, the school said in a statement, adding that it would be the first program of its kind in the state. The program would be geared toward preparing lawyers to meet the minimum experience requirements to be appointed as counsel for indigent defendants, the school said.” “Law students can join the program, which focuses on criminal law and procedure, in their second year. Students in the program also will participate in a yearlong Criminal Defense Clinic—an addition to the school’s Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics—in which they work alongside criminal defense attorneys on staff who are themselves included on the county’s indigent list. After graduation, the lawyers will be mentored by Houston-area criminal defense attorneys to help ease their transition into practice, the school said, adding that the mentorship program will produce attorneys who are prepared for defending indigent defendants in court.” (Texas Lawyer)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania has presented Nicole Sloane, an assistant Erie County public defender, with the Gideon Award for indigent defense work. She received the award, which recognizes “a person or organization who has significantly improved, promoted, elevated or otherwise benefited indigent defense in Pennsylvania,” in Harrisburg on Friday, according to the PDA. Sloane clerked for Erie County Judge William R. Cunningham before becoming an assistant public defender in 2006. She earned her law degree in 2005 from Duquesne University School of Law. Sloane was commissioned as an officer during her service in the U.S. Army and served as a member of the Army National Guard. She is also the only Erie County lawyer who is certified to try death penalty cases. (GoErie.com)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 28, 2017

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

Happy Friday! What great week we had in San Francisco. As always, new ideas and energy flowed, and we were renewed. LSC this week announced the pilot states for their legal portal initiative, and we check in on a few access to justice projects.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Penn Law and Southern Poverty Law Center establish post-graduate fellowship;
  • Legal Services Corporation announces pilot states for access to justice portal project;
  • Indiana Legal Services celebrates 50 years of service;
  • First participants in Texas Bar legal incubator program help close the justice gap;
  • Update on the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project;
  • Free legal advice to survivors of sexual assault through Newfoundland and Labrador pilot program;
  • Bill regarding pro bono hours reporting passes California Senate Judiciary Committee;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 24, 2017 – “Penn Law and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have created a new, two-year, post-graduate fellowship for a new or recent graduate to work with the SPLC’s Special Litigation Practice Group. The Penn Law Civil Rights Fellow will serve as an integral member of the SPLC’s legal group, conducting legal research and analysis and developing theories to support new litigation projects and advocacy campaigns; drafting legal memoranda, pleadings, affidavits, motions, and briefs; interviewing witnesses and potential clients; participating in discovery and trial practice; and engaging in public speaking and attending meetings and conferences.” “‘Now, more than ever, we need public interest lawyers who are dedicated to representing those who face discrimination and injustice,’ said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Associate Dean & Executive Director of the Toll Public Interest Center. ‘Through this partnership, a Penn Law graduate will serve on the front lines of the fight for civil rights. It is an extraordinary opportunity made possible by the generosity of our alumni, and we are truly grateful.’ The fellowship is being funded through the combined efforts of several Penn alumni. They include: Todd R. Snyder, L’88 and Phoebe Boyer; The Joseph H. Flom Foundation; Mr. David J. Loo, WG’87; and The Harry Shapiro Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, recommended by the Shapiro family.” (Penn Law News and Events)

April 24, 2017 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Microsoft Corporation, and Pro Bono Net have named Alaska and Hawaii as state partners in a pilot program to develop online, statewide legal portals to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance. These portals will use cutting-edge, user-centered technology to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar, and community partners.” “‘Many people find it difficult to access legal services,’ said LSC President James J. Sandman. ‘The goal of the portals is to simplify that process by providing a single, statewide point of access to effective help for people needing civil legal assistance. Each user will be guided to available resources based on the nature of the matter and the user’s personal circumstances.’ Alaska’s proposal was submitted by the Alaska Access to Justice Commission and Hawaii’s proposal was submitted by Legal Aid Society of Hawaii with support from the Hawaii state judiciary and other justice community partners. Alaska and Hawaii were selected because of their demonstrated track records in establishing new and collaborative resources for meeting civil legal needs; their embrace of technology’s potential to expand access to legal assistance; and their vision of partnering with allied non-legal networks such as social services, public libraries, and health care institutions to help people identify and resolve their legal issues and related social needs.” (Legal Services Corporation)

April 24, 2017 – “Saturday night’s gala marking the 50th anniversary of Indiana Legal Services had the feel of a family reunion. Former and current ILS attorneys, paralegals and staff along with lawyers who volunteer their services and friends of legal aid hugged, laughed and traded stories throughout the dinner held at the Indiana State Museum. Employees were recognized and standing ovations were given to former executive director Norman Metzger and longtime administrative assistance Ida Hayes.” “[Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David] praised ILS employees and alumni for having a commitment and work ethic that benefits not only the individual clients but improves the legal health of the entire state. ‘Everyone is better in Indiana because of Indiana Legal Services,’ David said.” (The Indiana Lawyer)

April 24, 2017 – “It’s the first day of the rest of the lives of 10 lucky lawyers who are the first group of participants in the State Bar of Texas’s new legal incubator. The participants in the Texas Opportunity and Justice Incubator, which opened this month, have emerged from an intense three-week boot camp that turbocharged the launches of their solo practices, which will at least in part serve poor and middle-income Texans. ‘They have an entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to build something for themselves while giving back to the community,’ TOJI Director Anne-Marie Rabago said. ‘A big piece of what these incubator programs work toward is making legal services available to those who don’t qualify for legal aid because of income or other reasons, yet can’t afford attorneys at market rates.’ In addition to helping to close the justice gap, TOJI, the main project of State Bar of Texas President Frank Stevenson, aims to help lawyers set up sustainable legal practices that serve modest-means clients.” (Legal Tech News)

April 25, 2017 – “The Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, a research effort looking at the effects of unbundling on access to justice, was formally launched on 18 April 2017. The project offers Albertans a roster of lawyers prepared to provide work on a limited scope retainer and aims to gauge lawyers’ and clients’ satisfaction with limited scope work and ultimately determine whether some legal help is better than no legal help at all. At present, the project boasts a roster of 49 lawyers with offices throughout Alberta, from Peace River to Medicine Hat, practicing in almost every area of civil law, including 39 whose services include family law matters. The project’s website is intended to link potential clients with participating lawyers. It promotes participating lawyers and their firms, and lists their contact information, the areas of law in which they offer limited scope services and the locations of their practices. Roster lawyers are also being promoted through the National Self-Represented Litigants Project.” “The data-collection phase will end in September 2018, following which the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family will analyze the results of the client and lawyer surveys and produce a report evaluating the project and its implications for access to justice in Alberta.

Some interesting observations may already be made.

  • The concept of coaching as a legal service provided to litigants without counsel, which [the author] had thought was relatively new, is surprisingly popular among roster lawyers, 24 of whom will provide coaching for court appearances and other aspects of the ligation process, including disclosure and examinations for discovery.
  • More than a fifth of roster lawyers will provide their services by telephone or online, disposing of the need for a physical office.
  • Three-fifths of roster lawyers will provide help drafting pleadings and other court documents. Two-fifths will appear in court on behalf of a client, and half will provide advice on commencing or continuing court proceedings.

Lawyers may join, or leave, the project at any point during the data-collection phase of the project.” (Slaw)

April 25, 2017 – “Victims of sexual violence will soon be able to avail of free and independent legal advice in Newfoundland and Labrador following the announcement Tuesday in St. John’s of a sexual assault response pilot program. The federal government is funding the three-year program with an annual grant of $250,000. Details are still being finalized, but Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons said he hopes the service will be available by the end of this year. ‘By offering free legal advice, the sexual assault response pilot program will help ensure survivors of sexual crime have access to justice,” Parsons said during a joint announcement alongside federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.'” (CBC News)

April 26, 2017 – “A bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to expand access to justice among indigent Californians by requiring attorneys to report to the State Bar the number of pro bono hours they have worked and the amount they have donated to legal aid organizations passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 316 is a mandatory reporting, voluntary disclosure bill that gives attorneys the option of disclosing the information publicly on their State Bar profile. The public would be able to see if an attorney failed to report at all or chose to keep the reporting private.” (Union City Patch)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issues a yearly list of law firms who meet its “40 at 50” goal — firms where at least 40 percent of attorneys dedicated 50 or more hours to pro bono work the prior year. Seven firms made the first list in 2004, and by 2015, that number jumped to 33. It remained at 33 for 2016. For 2016, 11 firms had at least half of all their lawyers meet the 50-hour mark, compared to 14 firms for 2015. Of those, three firms had 60 percent or more attorneys meet the 50-hour mark in 2016: Jenner & Block and Miller & Chevalier, where more than 65 percent met the mark, and Ropes & Gray, where 75 percent of attorneys met the goal. View the complete list here. Congratulations to the firms and lawyers making a difference in their communities. (National Law Journal)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 14, 2017

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

Happy Friday! The big news – the federal hiring freeze has been lifted. See the coverage below and join the continuing conversation on NALPconnect.

And we are looking forward to seeing our members at the NALP Annual Education Conference next week.  Because we will be sharing our news in person, the Digest will not be published on April 21. We will return on April 28 with all the news and exciting updates from our programming and events.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York state budget contains some indigent defense funding for counties;
  • Tennessee Indigent Representation Task Force presents report and recommendations;
  • Federal hiring freeze lifted;
  • Law Society of British Columbia issues report: A Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid in British Columbia;
  • Canadian Forum on Civil Justice issues Justice Development Goals Status Report;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 10, 2017 – “The state will provide New York City and counties outside the city a measure of the relief they have been seeking for decades to pay for constitutionally mandated representation for New York’s indigent criminal defendants. While falling well short of a state takeover of the approximate $450 million annual cost of providing counsel as the Supreme Court mandated in Gideon v. Wainwright, the 2017-18 budget sets the stage for state assumption of a larger portion of localities’ indigent defense funding. The budget, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, obligates the state to reimburse counties for the improvements in indigent defense coverage promised to five counties through its 2014 settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. Those improvements include having counsel at each defendant’s initial appearance in court, reducing caseloads for legal aid lawyers and improving the resources available to lawyers representing indigents. William Leahy, head of the state Office of Indigent Legal Services, said Monday the Cuomo administration estimates that extending Hurrell-Harring will cost about $250 million when fully implemented in 2023. In the budget, the state pledged to reimburse the counties and the city for those costs going forward. ‘This is less than whole, but it is what I have been saying since the day after the Hurrell-Harring settlement was signed, that the state has to make sure that all counties are in compliance with the constitution,’ Leahy said. When Cuomo vetoed a bill on New Year’s Eve that would have provided for a seven-year assumption of all local government costs to provide Gideon-mandated representation, he pledged to offer a more limited plan. The budget does not relieve the city and counties of the roughly $450 million spent each year to provide counsel to indigent defendants. Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, one of the legal services groups that have long advocated for Gideon improvements, said the indigent defense piece of the budget is ‘terrific’ and moves the state closer to assuming its rightful role as the sole funder of indigent legal services.” (New York Law Journal)

April 10, 2017 – “Almost a year-and-a-half after the Tennessee Supreme Court created it to review how Tennessee provides legal representation for poor criminal defendants, the Indigent Representation Task Force is presenting a set of recommendations Monday. Chief among them: Give District Public Defenders enough money to do their jobs and create another task force, one that would consider whether to create “an independent central commission to oversee” public defense in Tennessee. Although it avoids crisis language, the report makes it clear that the state’s criminal justice system, including the part of it designed to uphold the right to an attorney, is overloaded. ‘The information gathered by the Task Force established that there has been a dramatic increase in the ratio of cases to the justice system’s capacity during the past 20 years,’ the report says in an executive summary. ‘While the system has used its best efforts to manage the increasing caseload, its ability to continue doing so is not sustainable without additional resources.’ The task force’s report is extensive, at more than 200 pages, detailing the history of public defense in Tennessee, the system’s current architecture and the challenges it faces.” (Nashville Scene)

April 11, 2017 – “The White House will lift President Trump’s federal hiring freeze on Wednesday, following fire from critics who said it hampered the government from carrying out core functions. The end of the freeze is part of guidance ordering federal departments and agencies to submit restructuring plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by the fall. ‘It does not mean the agencies will be free to hire willy-nilly,’ OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday. ‘What we’re doing tomorrow is replacing the across-the-board hiring freeze that was put in place on day one and replacing it with a smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan.'” “The memorandum requires all agencies to ‘begin taking immediate actions’ to reduce the size of their workforces over the long term and achieve the savings called for in Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Agency heads must develop a plan to ‘maximize employee performance’ by June 30 and submit a final version of that plan to the White House budget office by September.” (The Hill)

“Mulvaney says under the new guidance, some agencies will wind up hiring more people, while others will end up ‘paring’ the number of employees ‘even greater than they would have during the hiring freeze.'” “Still, the impact of this latest move is likely to be limited too. It will be up to Congress to set actual spending levels for federal agencies, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were highly critical of Trump’s spending plan.” “Mulvaney also said the administration is asking agencies, along with members of the public, to submit suggestions for how to rebuild the executive branch ‘from scratch.'” “However, nearly every recent administration has taken on the same rebuilding task, whether calling it ‘reinventing government’ as the Clinton administration did, or appointing a blue-ribbon commission as Reagan did, or instituting the Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative, as Obama did.”(NPR)

BUT the State Department will maintain the hiring freeze for an undetermined time. “The State Department will maintain a hiring freeze even as other federal agencies lift their freeze. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly told his agency’s employees in a Wednesday memo that State will keep its freeze in effect. ‘Although the Office of Management and Budget lifted the federal hiring freeze effective April 12, 2017, the Department will maintain its hiring freeze in effect for the present time. Any change to this policy will be notified promptly,’ the memo said.” (The Hill)

April 11, 2017 – “Legal aid should be publicly funded and available to all members of a democratic society, particularly those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, says a new report from The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC). ‘All people, regardless of their means and without discrimination, should have access to legal information and publicly-funded professional legal advice to assist them in understanding whether a situation attracts rights and remedies or subjects them to obligations or responsibilities,” says the report entitled: ‘A Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid in British Columbia,‘ issued by the LSBC Legal Aid Task Force. Nancy Merrill, who chaired the nine-member task force, said: ‘Everyone should have universal access in terms of a diagnostic service and be able to find what legal services are available.’ While the vision was designed to be inclusive rather than excluding sectors of society, Merrill said the task force did not ‘drill down’ to examine who should provide this advice. The advice would also consider the individual’s ability to access the free market for legal services. The task force, struck in Sept. 2015, was charged with developing a vision of legal aid for the LSBC that was in line with s.3 of the Legal Profession Act. For the past 15 years, the LSBC has been silent on the issue. The report, though, stops short of advocating for universal legal aid. Merrill said that the full range of fully funded legal services (advice through to court appearances) would go to a society’s more marginalized or at-risk individuals. The LSBC vision sets these out as legal issues involving the state where liberty or security of the individual is at risk; children whose security is at risk; people with mental or intellectual disabilities that impair their ability to access government or community services; family law where the physical, economic, or emotional security of a family is at risk; persons disadvantaged because of poverty, and immigrants and refugees. Merrill acknowledges these categories are similar to those that the Legal Services Society lists as eligible for legal aid. The difference, she said, in the range of problems that should be considered. The LSBC vision is broader.” (Canadian Lawyer Legal Feeds)

April 13, 2017 – “The Action Committee’s “Canadian Access to Justice Initiatives: Justice Development Goals Status Report” has been published and is available in both English and French. This Report uses the nine Justice Development Goals set out in the Action Committee’s ‘A Roadmap for Change’ report as a framework to explore current initiatives and to identify areas for future work in access to justice in Canada. The Justice Development Goals Status Report was produced by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. In addition, the Forum has also published the ‘Status Report: Working Data Document’, which includes data from the ‘Canadian Access to Justice Initiatives: Justice Development Goals Status Report’, as well as raw data from the recent Justice Development Goals Survey that is not discussed in the Report.” The full reports are available at the link. (Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Action Committee)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

For you baseball fans in honor of opening day. On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league. (History.com)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 7, 2017

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

Happy Friday! It’s a little over a week to the NALP Annual Education Conference.  We are excited to have our members join us in San Francisco for great programming and networking. And we are thrilled to host Julia Wilson, CEO of One Justice, as our Public Interest Luncheon Speaker.  You can read more about this amazing advocate below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Iowa State Public Defender announces mandatory furlough days;
  • New Mexico public defenders take funding battle to  Supreme Court;
  • New York University School of Law expands pro bono opportunities for students;
  • How to make in-house pro bono work;
  • Lawsuit settlement to boost indigent defense in Suffolk (New York);
  • ACLU sues over public defenders for children in Washington State;
  • NYCLU asks legislators to spin “Wheel of Justice” to garner support for public defense funding;
  • Montana Supreme Court Justices call for funding for civil legal services;
  • New York State Bar devises new portal to find legal help for immigrants;
  • National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List 2017 announced;
  • Report says legal aid put $10.5 mil in Maine economy;
  • New York to set aside $10M of state budget for immigration legal services;
  • Alberta access to justice study launched by Law Foundation of Ontario;
  • Stanford Law School receives $7.4 million gift for public interest and public service work;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 30, 2017 – “In addressing a state budget shortfall, 223 Iowa State Public Defender employees have been informed they must take five unpaid furlough days before the end of June. State Public Defender Adam Gregg sent a letter to employees Thursday explaining the furlough days are mandatory due to the $457,481 reduction announced as part of a de-appropriation bill signed by Gov. Terry Branstad in February that cut $117.8 million from the state’s 2017 budget. Gregg said Thursday in a phone interview the decision was made late Wednesday about how the cut to his office would be handled. He said furlough days are to make up for the budget shortfall and that all employees, including himself, must participate in order to achieve the savings. ‘We ran a lean operation and we were under budget this year but when you have to make up for nearly a half million dollars in three months, it was best to do this,’ Gregg said. ‘A shared sacrifice is a better alternative than a permanent closure of one or more of the offices.'” (The Gazette)

March 30, 2017 – “The state Law Offices of the Public Defender, which for years has complained that it doesn’t have enough money to adequately represent New Mexico’s poorest defendants, is asking the state Supreme Court to step in and address the problem. The agency filed a petition Tuesday proposing that the Supreme Court order private attorneys to represent indigent defendants for free or order court clerks to stop accepting new cases alleging minor, nonviolent crimes after a certain number of cases has been reached. ‘Some of these are extreme solutions,’ Chief Defender Bennett Baur said Thursday. ‘None of them are perfect. But they are solutions to the problem.’ Baur also suggests in the court filing that the Supreme Court appoint a special master to find long-term solutions for the ongoing problem in New Mexico of too many accused criminals and too little money and lawyers to represent them.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)

March 30, 2017 – “NYU Law is partnering with Paladin — a tech start-up that connects lawyers with pro bono cases aligned with their interests. Current NYU Law students and alumni are able to utilize the service at no charge by signing up online. Paladin is the latest addition in the law school’s efforts to pair students with pro bono opportunities. According to Associate Director of the Public Interest Law center Miriam Eckenfels-Garcia, NYU Law already holds partnerships with several organizations such as New York State Courts, Asian American Bar Association, Legal Services NYC, Greenpeace and Sidley Austin LLP. This additional opportunity to connect NYU Law students with these cases is particularly important as the New York State Bar requires 50 hours of pro bono work for admission. According to NYU Law guidelines, this requirement can be satisfied both in the United States or overseas, as long as it is law-related, unpaid and supervised by an attorney or law school instructor.” (Washington Square News)

March 30, 2017 – Law360 has an interesting article on how companies see pro bono work, and how they make it a part of their legal department culture. (Law360)

April 2, 2017 – “Legal defense for poor criminal defendants in Suffolk County is getting a significant boost, thanks to settlement of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The settlement sent $5.4 million to Suffolk, which will allow the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County and other assigned public defenders to have caseloads and resources more in line with what prosecutors and private attorneys have had. ‘It’s going to make a very big difference,’ said Laurette Mulry, Legal Aid’s attorney in charge. For the agency, it will mean reducing caseloads by hiring 23 lawyers to add to its staff of 100. All of those lawyers will work in Legal Aid’s District Court bureau, where some lawyers now handle up to 500 cases a year. The suit said the low quality of defense violated defendants’ constitutional right to adequate counsel. Another 42 new hires — investigators, interpreters, social workers and support staff — will boost the quality of the work Legal Aid does, Mulry said. The state made the money available to Suffolk as part of a settlement with the NYCLU, which sued the state over what it called inadequate legal defense for poor people in Suffolk and four upstate counties. In these counties, defense attorneys for the indigent often didn’t meet their clients before their first court appearances, had enormous caseloads and had little access to investigators and others who could help develop defenses in a case.” (Newsday)

April 3, 2017 – “The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is suing the state’s Office of Public Defense in an effort to get the state to do more to make sure children charged with crimes have good legal help. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Thurston County Superior Court, specifically challenges what the ACLU describes as the agency’s failure to protect juvenile defendants in Grays Harbor County on the Pacific coast, but the issues aren’t limited to Grays Harbor County, said Emily Chiang, the organization’s legal director. While the ACLU has previously sued several jurisdictions to improve representation for defendants who can’t afford lawyers — including a landmark 2013 federal court decision against the cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon — this case is about getting the state to enforce public defense standards on its own, she said. ‘There’s a very competent and well-run state agency here. It should be their job,’ she said. ‘I don’t think the ACLU should be in the business of managing public defense resources.’ The lawsuit seeks to have the court declare that Grays Harbor County is violating the constitutional rights of children charged with crimes and that the Office of Public Defense has the authority to require remedial measures.” (The Columbian)

April 3, 2017 – “The NYCLU broke out its ‘Wheel of Justice’ and asked legislators to give it a spin and test their fate in New York’s ‘broken criminal justice system,’ as a way to raise awareness and promote support for the Justice Equality Act. The bill, (A.1903) which would provide full state funding for public defenders, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, and passed both the Assembly and Senate last session, but was vetoed by the governor in December. It has not yet been reintroduced in the Senate by last year’s sponsor, Senator John DeFrancisco, R- Syracuse.” “The Wheel of Justice was placed at the entrance of The Legislative Office Building during a recent busy day at the state Capitol to help raise awareness of the bill. Legislators and other passersby spun the wheel, which landed on various legal outcomes including ‘death,’ ‘ruined,’ ‘kids taken,’ ‘racism,’ ‘silenced,’ ‘eviction,’ ‘go to jail,’ ‘homeless,’ ‘beaten up,’ and ‘take the blame.’ Originally built to make their case in the case of Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York, which found that the state was negligent in funding public defense, the ‘Wheel of Justice’ features true stories of New Yorkers and their experience with the criminal justice system. The wheel made a comeback as a way to ‘educate legislators and the public,’ according to NYCLU’s Legislative Director Robert Perry.” (The Legislative Gazette)

April 3, 2017 – “All seven current justices of the Montana Supreme Court, along with eight retired members, are calling on Congress to continue funding two groups that help provide legal aid for people who can’t afford it. The justices sent a letter this week to U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, asking them to support maintaining current funding levels for the Legal Services Corporation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. President Trump’s budget proposal, released last month, eliminates federal money for both agencies.” (KTVH)

April 3, 2017 – “A new online portal matching New York attorneys willing to provide pro bono legal services with immigrants who need them because of shifting federal immigration policies was announced Monday by the New York State Bar Association and its affiliated foundation. The state bar and its New York Bar Foundation are contributing $40,000 each toward creating the portal and hiring a pro bono fellow to help administer it. Once it goes live later this spring, the portal will put immigrant advocacy groups and the pro bono lawyers together, state bar president Claire Gutekunst said in a statement Monday. She noted that the success rates of immigrants seeking to establish or maintain residency in the United States are up to 14 times more successful when they have legal representation in residency proceedings.” (New York Law Journal)

April 3, 2017 – “In the past year, lawyers fought for the disabled, voting rights and women’s health. They volunteered their services for those who bravely serve our country — helping some secure citizenship and others maintain their right to religious freedom. They helped connect the community and law enforcement in Chicago and San Francisco, advocated for Texas foster children and worked to improve health care in South Dakota.” See the full National Law Journal 2017 Pro Bono Hot List at the link.  Congratulations to the firms and attorneys making such a difference in their communities. (National Law Journal)

April 4, 2017 – “Civil legal aid meant more than $105M in positive economic impact in Maine in 2015. That’s according to a report by Maine’s Justice Action Group, which says $13M in federal benefits reached people in need. Nearly $7M was awarded in child and spousal support to Maine families. More than $6M in earnings was realized by helping immigrant workers get the legal right to work. The report says $2.5M was saved by communities through helping folks avoid evictions, thus cutting spending on homeless shelters. ‘Anyone who commits time or money to an effort wants to know what’s happening in return. What’s the benefit? Is there a benefit to me? Is there a benefit to society in general? I think this study, to a large degree, answers that question. This is part of the benefit that you — meaning whoever has contributed to legal services — this is what the return is,’ said Andrew Mead, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice. The study found that providing free legal services brings cost savings to the state and puts money back into the local economy.” (WABI)

April 5, 2017 – “Looking to fight back against President Trump’s immigration policies, the state is set to dedicate $10 million in its emerging new budget for immigrant legal services, the Daily News has learned. The commitment, to be announced by Gov. Cuomo and the eight-member Senate Independent Democratic Conference, is said to be the largest of its kind in state history.” “The funding is designed to build on the Liberty Defense Project, a public/private partnership Cuomo recently announced that will offer pro-bono legal services and other resources to immigrants regardless of their status.” (Daily News)

April 5, 2017 – “A group of lawyers has launched the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, an initiative to provide a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to access to justice — empirical research to test whether self-represented litigants actually benefit from unbundled services. The idea that limited scope work could improve access to legal help has been cited by many reports on access to justice, but no one has ever conducted any empirical research to test the idea, says John-Paul Boyd, executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family in Calgary. ‘This project will test the hypothesis that providing litigants with some legal information is better than none and test clients’ and lawyers’ satisfaction,’ says Boyd. ‘It’s the first empirical study in Canada — if not elsewhere — to look at satisfaction.'” (Canadian Lawyer Legal Feeds)

April 6, 2017 – “Stanford Law School recently received an estate gift of $7.4 million that will be used to expand the support it offers to public interest and public service students, alumni, and the broader community. The gift, from an anonymous donor, will significantly expand the permanent endowment for the school’s public interest work and is among the largest gifts in the law school’s history earmarked for programs for students and alumni, not capital improvements. ‘The generosity of this gift is noteworthy,’ said Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean M. Elizabeth Magill. ‘But just as important is that this new endowment funding will allow us to expand our already strong support for students and graduates who wish to pursue careers in the public interest.'” (Stanford Law School News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

We are so excited to have Julia Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of One Justice, as our keynote speaker for the Public Interest Luncheon during our Annual Education Conference.  As one of her colleagues said recently, “She is one of the hardest working women in public interest.” That is the truth! Read more about Julia here and here.  We are very excited to hear her thoughts and have her share the incredible work she is doing.

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 31, 2017

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

Happy Friday! The big news this week is the Department of Education’s answer to the ABA lawsuit regarding qualifying employers for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  DOE’s position is there was no reversal because there were no prior approvals. Read on to follow the twists of logic used to come to this conclusion.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Access to Justice BC to receive $300,000 in funding;
  • University of Arizona College of Law launches pro bono patent program;
  • New York governor launches Liberty Defense Project that will provide pro bono legal services to immigrants;
  • Ontario to increase legal aid eligibility threshold;
  • In answer to ABA lawsuit, Education Department says it never changed loan forgiveness rules;
  • In-house counsel add voices to fight to save Legal Services Corporation;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 24, 2017 – “Access to Justice BC [British Columbia] will be receiving a grant of $300,000 over three years from the Law Society of BC and the Law Foundation of BC. In an announcement issued on Tuesday, The Law Society of BC and Law Foundation of BC agreed to contribute $150,000 each to the fund. ‘Access to Justice BC is not about supporting a prescribed set of actions or an intellectual concept. The aim is to bring about a culture shift by aligning justice system stakeholders in taking user-centred, collaborative and evidence-based approaches to access to justice innovation,’ said Chief Justice Robert Bauman in a statement. Bauman is chairman of the group. ‘It is about producing the kind of collective impact that will transform users’ experiences with the justice system,’ he said. Established in 2014, Access to Justice BC consists of a board of 30 members and aims to improve access to justice for family, indigenous and civil law for all communities in British Columbia. The group has expanded its efforts over the years, which is why it needs the monetary assistance to help build its infrastructure. Access to Justice BC will receive $100,000 per year over the three years to fund initiatives.” (Canadian Lawyer)

March 24, 2017 – “The University of Arizona’s College of Law is launching a pro bono patent program for Arizona inventors. The Arizona Public Patent Program is designed to help financially under-resourced independent inventors, small businesses and startup companies obtain free legal counsel from local patent attorneys in filing patent applications and protecting their innovations. In 2015, nearly 3,000 patent applications were filed in Arizona, according to a UA news release. The complex legal process can cost up to $20,000. The UA is just one of four law schools in the country designated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a pro bono hub to serve inventors.” (Tuscon.com)

March 24, 2017 – “Gov. Cuomo on Friday announced the launch of The Liberty Defense Project, which will offer pro-bono legal services and other resources to immigrants regardless of their status. ‘During these stormy times, it’s critical all New Yorkers have access to their full rights under the law,’ Cuomo said. ‘The first-of-its-kind Liberty Defense Project will provide legal support to protect immigrants and ensure this state is living up to the values embodied by the Lady in our Harbor.’ The effort will be coordinated by the state’s Office for New Americans and team together 182 advocacy organizations, 14 law schools, 21 law firms and 14 bar associations.” (New York Daily News)

March 27, 2018 – “Ontario is providing more people with affordable access to legal services by increasing the financial eligibility threshold for legal aid by another six per cent. Effective April 1, 2017, about 140,000 more people will be eligible to receive the legal services they need, regardless of their ability to pay. This has been made possible by the province’s investments in Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) to increase access to legal aid services for low-income and vulnerable people province-wide. This is part of Ontario’s 2014 commitment to expand access to legal aid services provided by LAO to an additional one million Ontarians in ten years. With more than 500,000 additional people who will be eligible for legal aid, Ontario is now more than half-way to this goal. Improving access to justice is part of the government’s plan to keep communities safe and help people in their everyday lives.” (Ontario Newsroom)

March 28, 2017 – “In response to a lawsuit from the American Bar Association, the U.S. Department of Education appears to be arguing that it has never issued any approval to participate in its Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The ABA sued the DOE on Dec. 20, after the PSLF program began disqualifying ABA employees and other public interest lawyers who had previously been approved for participation in the program. But in its answer filed March 23, the DOE appears to argue that it did not change the terms of the PSLF program, because approvals issued by its loan servicer were tentative. Therefore, it says, there were never any approvals.” “Name plaintiff Geoffrey Burkhart, who at the relevant time worked for the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, alleged in the lawsuit that he’d received confirmation in 2014 that his ECF was accepted. Before taking the job, in fact, he confirmed eligibility with both the ABA and the loan servicer, FedLoan Servicing. FedLoan Servicing later sent him a letter accepting his ECF, which was attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit. But more than two years later, the complaint says, FedLoan Servicing sent Burkhart a letter saying the ABA ‘do[es] not provide a qualifying service,’ and therefore his participation in the PSLF program was revoked after ‘further research and after consulting with the department.’ That means Burkhart’s 2.5 years of loan payments will not count toward loan forgiveness, despite the initial assurances of FedLoan Servicing. The Department of Education’s answer denies that Burkhart’s ECF had ever been approved, or that its letter revoking his participation was a reversal.” The ABA is committed to holding DOE accountable on PSLF, and we will keep you posted as the case progresses. (ABA Journal)

March 28, 2017 – “Leaders of corporate legal departments—representing technology, pharmaceutical, media, entertainment, retail and manufacturing, among other industries— urged Congress in a letter on Tuesday to preserve the LSC at a funding level of $450 million, essentially the same amount it received in fiscal year 2010 adjusted for inflation. The LSC’s fiscal 2017 budget request was $502 million. Top in-house lawyers said the ‘minimal investment in LSC generates a significant positive return for business and the health of individuals and communities across the nation.’ And they said the agency creates a ‘level playing field’ for many lower- and moderate-income families who cannot afford a lawyer. The LSC’s national framework, they said, provides the basic structure for civil legal services and ‘supports the countless hours of pro bono representation provided by corporate legal departments and in-house attorneys.'” (Law.com)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law students in action: Ten Vanderbilt Law students spent their spring break in Biloxi engaging in pro bono service work as a part of the Law Students for Social Justice organization. Three teams of students worked on education, expungement and other cases for low-income residents under the direction of staff attorneys at the Mississippi Justice Center. “All three groups made a real impact,” said Hannah Keith, the student organizer of the Pro Bono Spring Break program. “We made a dent in the attorneys’ workload.” (Tennessee Bar Association)

AND

It’s tax season, and many people are working with tax preparers.  But some preparers are giving away their services for free to elderly or low income clients.  They’re tax law students in the Pro Bono program at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  The Pro Bono program provides volunteer services to many causes year round: clerks for pro bono lawyers, research, wills and other areas of the law. Student Robbin Wilder says the program teaches her valuable skills working side-by-side with lawyers, and keeps her humble and grounded.  She and fellow student Reed Swearingen plan to keep doing pro bono work after they become lawyers, which program Director Pam Robinson says is part of the point – to help make a difference in people’s lives by giving back. Listen to the full story at the link. (South Carolina Public Radio)

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

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 24, 2017

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

Happy Friday! We are once again recognizing law students in action. If you’d like your project featured, let us know.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • California Chief Justice asks federal officials to stop making immigration arrests at courthouse;
  • Missouri public defender director won’t extend paid parental leave for employees;
  • Private attorneys pledge to take on some cases from overworked St. Louis public defenders;
  • Legal aid wins funding boost in Alberta budget;
  • Legal Aid of Western Michigan launches online intake interview;
  • Tenants battling bad landlords find help from new app;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 16, 2017 – “The chief justice of the California Supreme Court asked federal immigration agents to stop making arrests at courthouses, saying ‘stalking undocumented immigrants’ at the facilities thwarts people’s access to justice. Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye wrote in a letter to top federal officials that she is concerned about recent reports of immigration agents going to the courts to track down immigrants for arrest, saying the practice will affect the public’s confidence in the court system. ‘Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,’ she wrote in the letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, adding that crime and domestic violence victims and witnesses all go to the courts seeking justice and due process of the law. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had no immediate comment on the letter.” (The Mercury News)

March 17, 2017 – “Michael Barrett, director of the Missouri State Public Defender System, has notified Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens that he cannot and will not expand paid parental leave for his employees. Barrett put the information in a letter he sent to the governor Wednesday. Urging other branches of government to follow suit, Greitens signed an executive order Monday giving roughly 45,000 executive branch employees six weeks of paid parental leave if they are the primary caregiver and three weeks if they are the secondary caregiver. The time off is on top of vacation and sick days. The Office of Administration estimated the executive order’s cost to the state would be about $1.1 million annually.” “Barrett, whose department falls under the judiciary branch, wrote in his letter that while he applauded the governor’s efforts, and said he wanted to do the same for his employees, he added that ‘regrettably’ he wouldn’t. The office has more than 560 employees, 334 of whom are attorneys. ‘I believe that these mission-critical employees would instead prefer that I work to alleviate their impossible caseload burden and deliver them a salary that is worthy of their contribution to the state and its citizens,’ Barrett wrote.” (The Joplin Globe)

March 20, 2017 – “The state’s overburdened public defender system could soon see some relief, as private attorneys in the St. Louis area have committed to taking over some cases on a volunteer basis. A new nonprofit group, the Missouri Coalition for the Right to Counsel, has proposed a system where younger attorneys in the private sector try certain jury cases in the circuit courts of St. Louis and St. Louis County, where they can gain trial experience and reduce the caseloads for public defenders. More than a dozen St. Louis area firms have pledged to provide volunteers, who will undergo training from public defenders in April and then begin assisting with their overwhelming workload.” “Regardless of outside help, lawmakers still have a duty to address the issue statewide, [Missouri Public Defender Michael] Barrett said. ‘In no way is this meant to allow the state to get out of its obligation to provide counsel to poor people in Missouri,’ said Barrett, who also helped create the coalition. And to make that clear, the help has an expiration date; the firms only plan to provide volunteers for two years.” (St. Louis Dispatch)

March 20, 2017 – “Criminal lawyers in Alberta are celebrating a boost in funding to the province’s beleaguered legal aid services. ‘We’re all pleasantly surprised that the government has shown such a commitment,’ Kelly Dawson, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, said Monday. In last week’s budget the province committed $81 million to legal aid for the upcoming year.” “The funding increase comes after the province dedicated more money towards hiring 50 new Crown prosecutors and 30 support staff earlier this month.” (CBC News)

March 20, 2017 – “Low-income individuals and seniors who are seeking legal services now have another way to make an initial connection with a local nonprofit. Legal Aid of Western Michigan in Grand Rapids has launched an online intake interview, which will help potential clients determine whether they meet eligibility requirements for Legal Aid’s services. The tool can be accessed by computer, tablet and smartphone.” “Legal Aid designed the tool to let those who don’t qualify find out quickly — and provide them with the contact information of other places where they might find help. The guided online intake tool is interactive and should take less than 15 minutes to complete.” (Grand Rapids Business Journal)

March 21, 2017 – “Tenants and advocates fighting evictions can get some much-needed assistance from an award-winning new app launched by a nonprofit startup. JustFix.nyc is piloting a dashboard interface to make it easier for community organizers and legal aid attorneys to keep track of open maintenance cases — like leaks, mold or rodent infestations — and communicate with multiple tenants in one building or across a complex, according to startup co-founder Georges Clement. Clement — who developed the app with Dan Kass and Ashley Treni while they were fellows at Blue Ridge Labs, the Robin Hood Foundation’s tech incubator — saw the need for such a tool after spending many days observing housing court proceedings. They saw how tenants rarely had legal representation, unlike their landlords, and often ended up simply showing judges photos on their smart phones to prove poor apartment conditions — which were inadmissible as evidence unless they wanted to give up their phones. By streamlining the ability to monitor open cases, he said, it will be easier for housing advocates to negotiate with landlords and build strong legal cases against them — especially in rent stabilized buildings where owners may be trying to push out low-income tenants through harassment and neglect.” (dnainfo)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law Students in Action:  Students from the University of Connecticut School of Law spent their spring break providing free legal assistance to immigrant detainees at the York County Prison who are seeking asylum.  Congratulations to Anna Cabot, a very dedicated group of law students, and several volunteer alumni attorneys, who have just returned from the second annual spring break service trip to assist detained asylum-seekers.  You can see a TV news segment about the trip at the link. (WGAL)

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

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 17, 2017

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  The big news is Trump’s budget, which proposes eliminating 19 agencies including the Legal Services Corporation. We have reactions below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Law firms urge government to continue funding legal services;
  • Flood Proof launches app;
  • Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and Pro Bono Net launch new website for veterans/volunteer lawyers;
  • Law students’ report says Canada in violation of Charter;
  • Paladin co-founder newest Entrepreneur-in-Residence at 1871;
  • Chicago judge orders access to lawyers at police stations;
  • North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice issues recommendations for court improvement;
  • Trump White House releases proposed budget – cuts LSC funding;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 10, 2017 – “Leaders of more than 150 U.S. law firms with offices in all 50 states sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget Thursday, urging it to continue funding the Legal Services Corp. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget has reportedly put funding for the bipartisan nonprofit on the chopping block. ‘The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate,’ the law firm leaders wrote. In the letter, which is addressed to OMB Director John Michael Mulvaney, the law firm chairs and managing partners said that lawyers in their firms provide millions of hours of free pro bono service “to individuals in desperate need of assistance,” noting that they do this by working closely with independent legal aid agencies around the country that are funded by the LSC. ‘Our ability to provide pro bono legal services is directly dependent on partnership with legal aid organizations,’ they wrote.  The LSC, they said, provides essential support for the firms’ pro bono work because those agencies screen cases for merit and eligibility and train and mentor attorneys. In addition, low-income people living in rural areas often can only find free legal assistance through LSC grantees, they said. The firm leaders told Mulvaney that LSC funding is money well-spent, in part because civil legal aid is able to leverage pro bono services provided by private firms. The LSC has asked Congress to appropriate $502.7 million in the 2017 budget.” (The American Lawyer)

March 10, 2017 – “Flood Proof: Free Legal Help for Homeowners with Title Problems launched a new iPhone app to streamline the process for homeowners seeking to obtain a clear title to inherited property. “Homeowners who were affected by the August floods and lack clear title to their home need to gather information and documents to prove title. The Flood Proof App is a tool that will allow flood victims to do exactly that from their home or place of temporary residence, and hopefully minimize the number of times that they have to take off of work or arrange child care in order to make multiple trips to an attorney’s office,” said Judy Perry Martinez, Special Advisor to the newly created American Bar Association Center for Innovation and former chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services.” “The Flood Proof app was developed with support from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation, Stanford University Law School and the LSU Law Center. The project is led by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in collaboration with the Baton Rouge Bar Foundation, Southern University Law Center, LSU Law Center, Louisiana Appleseed, and the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation. Generous support funding the project is provided through grants from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Louisiana Bar Foundation, the Equal Justice Works Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.” (brproud)

March 10, 2017 – “The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and Pro Bono Net are pleased to announce the launch of a new website, www.vetsprobono.org, to support and engage both veterans and volunteer attorneys.  The new site leverages the probono.net technology platform, which is used to support broad-based networks of legal aid, civil rights and pro bono lawyers across the country. The site offers veterans and their families information about appealing unfavorable VA benefits decisions, including informational videos and frequently asked questions. The new web platform delivers a winning ‘trifecta’ solution: making it easier for veterans to file federal court appeals, making it more efficient for attorneys to volunteer and ask for cases to represent veterans in need, and making it more effective for The Veterans Consortium (TVC) staff attorneys to carefully match the right client with the best volunteer. The Consortium’s volunteers will be able to find available pro bono cases, as well as have the ability to indicate their interest in specific cases. To support their representation of veterans, the site also provides volunteers a library of resources on a wide variety of veterans’ issues. In addition, TVC will soon launch an interactive interview to generate an informal brief hosted on Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI’s) platform. The brief was designed for veterans who are appealing benefit denials in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Through LHI and its Connect feature, appellants respond to questions with an easy-to-use interface and then are able to share their drafts with TVC staff for review before filing them with the Court. ‘This partnership between Pro Bono Net and The Veterans Consortium demonstrates an ideal use of online tools and expertise to support a truly national network of volunteers to serve veterans across the country,’ says Mark O’Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. The Veterans Consortium and Pro Bono Net also teamed with Neota Logic and Just-Tech, LLC to build and integrate the tools needed to make this technology initiative a reality. Ed Glabus, Executive Director of The Veterans Consortium, summed up the project in these words: ‘This new web platform is a leap ahead for our staff and dedicated volunteers, and helps us live our credo that our veterans in need, our nation’s defenders, deserve the benefits and compensation they were promised, and the best legal services free of charge, to meet their challenges. We couldn’t have accomplished this rapid increase in capability and capacity without our outstanding high tech and mission driven partner Pro Bono Net.'” (probono.net Press Release)

March 13, 2017 – “Law students from across the country issued a report that argues Canada’s continued participation in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The report, compiled by hundreds of law students on behalf of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls on the government to suspend the agreement in response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.” “The report shows how refugees turned back on Canadian borders could face detention, deportation or lack of access to legal representation in the United States. By continuing to be part of the agreement, Canada “is breaching” both its own Charter of Rights and the International Refugee Convention, the report notes. Despite mounting pressure, immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said last month Canada was not considering reviewing the agreement.” (Metro News)

March 13, 2017 – “The co-founder of a startup matching lawyers to pro bono cases will join the push for diversity in tech at 1871. Kristen Sonday was announced Saturday as 1871’s next Entrepreneur in Residence through the Code2040/Google for Entrepreneurs program, where she’ll work to expand opportunities for underrepresented minorities.” (Chicago Tribune)

March 14, 2017 – “In a city where fewer than 1 percent of people in police custody are visited by an attorney, a judge’s order will help the poor access a free lawyer while at the police station. Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County signed an order Tuesday that would make a county public defender or a designated private attorney available to anyone who is in custody at one of the Chicago Police Department’s 22 stations with lockup facilities.” “Under Evans’ order, arrestees will now have access to legal aid during normal weekday business hours. [24-hour First Defense Legal Aid’s] group of volunteer attorneys will be on call after hours, on weekends and on holidays.” (Huffington Post)

March 15, 2017 – “Electronic filing of documents in criminal cases and civil lawsuits, data analytics to improve case flow and increased funding for indigent defense and public interest lawyers are among the recommendations a statewide panel has made to improve the North Carolina court system. The North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice presented its final report to Chief Justice Mark Martin on Wednesday. Martin appointed the 65-member commission almost two years ago and tasked members with the first comprehensive evaluation of the state court system in two decades. ‘The commission’s recommendations create a framework for dramatic, systemic improvement in the administration of justice in North Carolina,’ Martin said in a statement. ‘The work of this blue-ribbon commission will help ensure that North Carolina’s Judicial Branch meets the needs and expectations that the people of North Carolina have for fair, modern and impartial courts.’ Recommendations were made in five areas: criminal investigation and adjudication, civil justice, technology, legal professionalism and public trust and confidence.” (WRAL)

March 16, 2017 – “On Thursday, the Trump administration released a preliminary 2018 budget proposal, which details many of the changes the president wants to make to the federal government’s spending. The proposal covers only discretionary, not mandatory, spending. To pay for an increase in defense spending, a down payment on the border wall and school voucher programs, among other things, funding was cut from the discretionary budgets of other executive departments and agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department took the hardest hits. The proposal also eliminates funding for these 19 agencies.” One of the proposed eliminations is funding for the Legal Services Corporation. (Washington Post)

LSC Statement: “President Trump’s budget proposal released today calls for defunding the Legal Services Corporation, but LSC leaders expressed confidence that Congress would continue to support the vital mission of the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income people. ‘I look forward to working with Congress to continue LSC’s work,’ said James Sandman, President of LSC. ‘I am optimistic that the bipartisan support we have enjoyed in Congress for more than four decades will continue for years to come.'” (LSC Press Release)

ABA Statement: “The American Bar Association is outraged that the administration  proposes to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation in its budget and calls on every member of Congress to restore full funding. LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice. Some of the worthy services the LSC provides include securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors. Their offices are in every congressional district and they help almost 1.9 million people annually. More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs. If veterans become homeless, or disaster victims cannot rebuild, their costs to society are significantly more.” (ABA News)

NLADA Statement: “Today the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a framework for the FY18 federal budget that recommends the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The OMB proposal would further clog courts with individuals who would be forced to represent themselves without the assistance of an attorney, and deny equal access to justice for millions of people in our country.  NLADA, the nation’s judiciary, the legal profession, and a host of other organizations are joined in our resolve to educate Congress about the critical role LSC plays in guaranteeing our nation’s promise of justice and fairness for all. Civil legal aid is integral to the effective functioning of our justice system, and to the principle that the quality of justice you receive should not depend on how much money you have.” (NLADA Statement)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law Students in Action: Students in Boston University School of Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC) have been working to help those caught in the confusion following President Trump’s executive orders on immigration enforcement and deportation. Supervised by Clinical Instructor Sarah Sherman-Stokes, IRC students recently worked in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to ensure compliance with the Massachusetts Federal Court Order that put a seven-day hold on the enforcement of President Trump’s executive order of January 27, 2017, which blocked travelers coming to the US from seven majority Muslim countries. Students, on a volunteer-basis, went to Logan Airport and provided legal support for travelers who were having issues or were simply curious about their rights. (Boston University School of Law News)

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

Comments

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 10, 2017

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

Happy Friday! This week was a big news week for new projects. And with the release of the revised immigration executive order, a lot of pro bono news. If your school is doing a spring break project (doesn’t have to be immigration), let us know.  We’d like to celebrate your efforts.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Tennessee legal aid society receives grant for foreclosure prevention, community redevelopment;
  • Western Michigan University Cooley Law School receives grants for elder law clinic;
  • ABA Center for Innovation will hold design event to create app for hate crime victims;
  • Employer certification process under PSLF;
  • Mexico opens immigrant defense centers in US consulates;
  • University of New Mexico School of Law program that helps overturn wrongful convictions facing defunding;
  • Facebook Chatbot, ‘DoNotPay,’ provides legal aid for refugees;
  • Judge’s report urges Ontario to let paralegals appear in family court;
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and Goldman Sachs launch pro bono Immigration Clinic;
  • USC Gould School of Law establishes first named clinical law professorship;
  • Southern Poverty Law Center launches immigration pro bono project;
  • Legal Services Corporation launches data collection for 2017 Justice Gap Study;
  • Concerts for Indigent Defense;
  • Charles Koch Foundation gives $2.2m to the University of Pennsylvania Law School for criminal justice system research;
  • ACLU files suit over Missouri indigent defense;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 2, 2017 – “Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, which is Tennessee’s largest nonprofit law firm and has an office in Oak Ridge, has received a two-year grant from the Tennessee Bar Foundation to increase foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment legal assistance.” “With these funds, Legal Aid Society is hiring a new attorney and a new paralegal to provide legal assistance in its Murfreesboro and Tullahoma service areas and expand its foreclosure and consumer work in its Oak Ridge, Gallatin, and Nashville service areas.” (Oak Ridge Today)

March 3, 2017 – “A local school has been awarded funds by three organizations to prevent the financial exploitation of senior citizens. Western Michigan University Cooley Law School said this winter its Sixty Plus Inc. Elderlaw Clinic was awarded $53,950 total for its programs for seniors in Ingham County and the surrounding area. The clinic received $33,000 from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Aging and Adult Services Agency PREVNT Initiative. The Capital Region Community Foundation awarded $10,950, and the Lansing Area Community Trust granted $10,000 toward the initiative.” (Grand Rapids Business Journal)

March 3, 2017 – “The ABA Center for Innovation will hold a design event in Boston to produce an app that assists victims of hate crimes. ‘Legal Design Sprint: Responding to Hate Crimes Through Technology’ will be held at Suffolk University Law School on March 20 and is sponsored by the Center for Innovation and Suffolk Law, along with CuroLegal and Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab. The all-day event will bring together participants in the legal, technology and design spheres with the goal of creating a mobile app that will allow users to determine whether they are victims of a hate crime and provide them with resources and information to report it. According to Center for Innovation director Janet Jackson, the project was the brainchild of Nicole Bradick, chief strategy officer at CuroLegal. It is being funded by a $25,000 grant from Cisco.” (ABA Journal)

March 3, 2017 – Here is a good basic article on employer certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and a summary of the ABA lawsuit from our friends at Equal Justice Works. (Huffington Post)

March 5, 2017 – “Mexico on Saturday formally began operating centers for the defense of Mexican immigrants in its 50 consulates and embassies in the United States. The centers ‘are specifically designed to provide consular assistance as well as legal representation to all Mexican migrants who require support in America,’ the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement. ‘This significant progress in terms of protection answers to the instruction of the president of the republic to strengthen support for our nationals in that country.'” “The ministry’s statement adds that ‘through these (centers), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides an exclusive space for Mexicans in need of consular assistance to receive information, guidance and direct legal advice, with the support of a strong network of local allies, including lawyers and organizations specialized in the defense of the rights of the migrants.'” (CNN)

March 6, 2017 – “A UNM School of Law program that works to overturn wrongful convictions could be losing its funding soon. Since 2009, the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project (NMIJP) has helped UNM law students investigate claims of innocence in legal cases after the accused has already been convicted.” “But now the program is losing funding, and needs a savior of its own. Grant funds, approximately $200,000 per year, are relied upon to keep NMIJP afloat by providing a means for pursuing investigative and operational costs, including the ability to test DNA, Gordon Rahn, NMIJP project director and research professor, said. However, that grant expires this May, and the funding stream may be discontinued. ‘Due to the state’s budget crisis and its impact on UNM and the Law School, there are no funds available through the law school’s budget for us,’ he said. ‘Without funding from other sources, it is likely the program cannot continue beyond the end date of the grant.'” (Daily Lobo)

March 6, 2017 – “A chatbot which helped people to appeal parking fines is now providing refugees in the US, Canada and the UK with free legal aid. The chatbot, created by 20-year-old Stanford student Joshua Browder, is called DoNotPay, and was originally used to help people in London and New York with legal matters such as appealing parking tickets and receiving compensation for late flights. After the success of the app, lawyers and non-profit organisations approached Browder with the idea of extending the technology to help refugees seek asylum. DoNotPay asks users questions in plain English to assess their eligibility for asylum. The chatbot can also record a user’s details, provides instructions on how to submit applications, and has the ability to automatically fill in immigration applications for the relevant country. In a statement to Mashable, Browder stated his hope that DoNotPay will ‘allow anyone to have a right to safety, regardless of the ability to afford a lawyer.’ DoNotPay uses Facebook Messenger, which does not use automatic end-to-end encryption. Browder stated that he chose to use the the messaging platform as it was ‘the most accessible platform and the most appropriate to launch with.’ Browder also states that data from any interaction with the chatbot is deleted from his servers after ten minutes, and it is also possible to erase the data from Facebook Messenger. DoNotPay can be reached through a search on Facebook, and represents the many possible uses of chatbots.” (Neowin)

March 6, 2017 – “In what could prove to be a huge shakeup of the family court system in Ontario, the former chief justice of the provincial court is recommending that paralegals be allowed to provide some family law services unsupervised, including appearing in court. The recommendations from former Ontario court chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo in a report released Monday were hailed by paralegals and condemned by lawyers, leaving the provincial government and the legal regulator to work out how to implement what are clearly divisive ideas.” “At the same time, the judge dismissed the idea of more funding for family lawyers through Legal Aid Ontario, although she said it was ‘proposed repeatedly’ throughout consultations for her report. ‘Recommendations like expanding legal aid to cover existing gaps are not practicable,’ she said. ‘Moreover, I do not agree that the solution to any crisis in access to legal services lies solely with (legal aid) or the government.’ The report, commissioned by the Ministry of the Attorney General and the law society, comes as the family court system is facing a crisis. According to the province, over 57 per cent of people did not have a lawyer in family court in 2014-15, or about 21,000 people. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said in a statement Monday that the government and the law society will work on an ‘action plan’ to address the recommendations by fall 2017. The government is also seeking public feedback on the recommendations until May 15.” (The Star)

March 6, 2017 – “Cadwalader is collaborating with Goldman Sachs on the launch of a pro bono Immigration Clinic. The joint effort brings together Cadwalader and Goldman Sachs attorneys and staff to provide eligible undocumented immigrants with the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. ‘We’re excited about establishing this important program with a valued and long-standing client like Goldman Sachs,’ said Cadwalader’s Managing Partner Pat Quinn. ‘We are committed to working with like-minded clients on pro bono initiatives that provide communities in need with access to legal assistance and representation.'” (Cadwalader News)

March 6, 2017 – “USC Gould School of Law is establishing its first named clinical law professorship at USC with a generous $1.5 million gift from longtime supporter Audrey M. Irmas, whose philanthropic commitment to women and children is well-known throughout California. Professor Niels Frenzen, founding director of the USC Gould Immigration Clinic, will be installed as the first Sydney M. and Audrey M. Irmas Endowed Clinical Professor. The gift will expand the Immigration Clinic’s work and student participation in advocacy and representation of immigration clients. ‘Audrey Irmas has been a steadfast supporter of USC and the Gould School of Law for many decades,’ said Dean Andrew Guzman. ‘We are deeply grateful to have such a committed member of the Trojan Family supporting a critical need for our clinics at the law school.'” (USC Gould News)

March 7, 2017 – “The Southern Poverty Law Center today announced a new project that will enlist and train lawyers to provide free legal representation to immigrants who have been detained in the Southeast and are facing deportation proceedings. When fully implemented, it will be the largest detention center-based deportation defense project in the country.” “The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) will begin at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the Innovation Law Lab and the American Immigration Representation Project. It will then be expanded to other detention centers throughout the Southeast.” Attorneys can sign up for SIFI here. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

March 7, 2017 – “With support from two funders, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, LSC is conducting a national report that documents the ‘justice gap’ – the difference between the need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need. LSC is updating its 2005 and 2009 justice gap studies. As with LSC’s two prior justice gap studies, LSC is asking grantees to collect data about individuals who come to their offices with a legal problem that they are unable to serve or unable to fully serve. The data collection will last for six weeks – from Monday, March 6, 2017 to Friday, April 14, 2017. Grantees should submit their completed data collection matrix by email to JusticeGapStudy@lsc.gov by the close of business on Friday, April 28, 2017.” (LSC News)

March 8, 2017 – “Concerts for Indigent Defense is musicians and their communities standing together in support of the Constitutional right of all Americans to be represented by a lawyer when accused of a crime – even if one is too poor to hire one. Concerts for Indigent Defense are not fundraisers; they are awareness-raisers, about a cherished Constitutional right that is badly neglected every day across America. New Orleans will kick off this annual effort on Saturday, March 18, 2017, to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the fundamental constitutional right to counsel. This year’s featured Concert for Indigent Defense will be simulcast across the country on www.ConcertsforIndigentDefense.org at 5p.m. central time. Musicians, national legal organizations, and a range of supporters have already pledged their support for the nationwide effort, which will be presented in 2018 as a follow-up to Concerts for Indigent Defense: New Orleans.” (Concerts for Indigent Defense)

March 8, 2017 – “The foundation of libertarian Charles Koch has given a grant of up to $2.2 million to the University of Pennsylvania Law School for research on ways to improve fairness in the criminal justice system. The funding, from the Charles Koch Foundation, will go to the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the law school. The center focuses on whether the rights of disadvantaged populations are adequately protected when they interact with the criminal justice system.” (Philly.com)

March 9, 2017 – “A new lawsuit alleges the state of Missouri routinely violates the rights of people who need public defenders because of those attorneys’ large caseloads. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday alleging that public defenders cannot pay enough attention to their clients, who have been charged with crimes ranging from stealing to murder. That, the ACLU claims, violates the state and federal constitutions. ‘Every year in Missouri, tens of thousands of people are pushed through the system without having an attorney who has the time and resources to be able to provide them a defense,’ ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert said. ‘The American Bar Association puts out standards on how long should be spend on a criminal defense case, and the public defender system fails to meet that standards 97 percent of the time. It’s not just a case here and there.'” (St. Louis Public Radio)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Exelon announced today that its legal department has been honored by Pro Bono Institute (PBI) with the 2017 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award in recognition of its efforts and leadership to provide legal assistance to those who could otherwise not afford it. The Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award is presented annually to an organization that has provided exemplary pro bono service and leadership and reflects Exelon’s commitment to giving back in the communities where its people work and live. Fortune recently named Exelon to its 2017 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, which, in part, recognized the company for social responsibility efforts such as those praised by PBI. In 2016, Exelon employees served more than 170,000 hours of community service, and Exelon companies and the Exelon Foundation donated more than $46 million to nonprofits – the largest amount ever. (Yahoo Finance)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 3, 3017

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • St. Charles Parish Public Defender’s Office may cut lawyers/lawyer pay;
  • Proposal would bar North Carolina public law schools from providing legal representation;
  • Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Southern Poverty Law Center partner on scholar program;
  • Yale Law School launches six new clinics;
  • Alberta’s justice system has reached breaking point says prosecutors;
  • Montana governor signs bills addressing criminal justice costs;
  • Legal Aid Ontario offers coverage for second judicial pre-trials across Ontario;
  • Eviction Defense Project launches in Milwaukee;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 24, 2017 – “Dealing with a budget crunch, the St. Charles Parish Public Defender’s Office has put its 11 attorneys on notice of possible layoffs and salary cuts. District Public Defender Vic Bradley Jr. said the move comes with a $138,000 deficit. Without cuts, Bradley projected the figure could easily surpass last fiscal year’s $392,596 budget shortfall. ‘We can’t keep going that way,’ he said. ‘We have to cut costs. We’re spending twice what we were taking in for the last couple of months.’ Bradley said it’s possible one lawyer will be cut and the others will take a pay cut. He recently notified them by letter that their contracts have been ended and pay will be renegotiated. ‘The money is not just coming in,’ he said. ‘The court costs are not there.'” (St. Charles Herald Guide)

February 24, 2017 – “A proposal headed to the UNC system’s Board of Governors would bar public university centers and institutes in North Carolina from providing legal representation to clients in any sort of litigation. The broadly worded measure, submitted to the board’s education policy committee in a memo credited to member Joe Knott, would almost certainly affect organizations like the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights. The Center for Civil Rights has provided support, counsel or other aid in a variety of cases involving school desegregation, voting rights and compensation for victims of the state’s former forced-sterilization program. System policy currently allows that, but Knott’s cover memo said the board should decide that ‘filing legal actions against the state or city and county governments does not come within the primary purpose of centers and institutes.’ But the attached proposal, drafted in the style of the ones already included in the system policy manual, goes much farther than barring participation in the sort of civil matters that have drawn criticism from some board members previously. It forbids centers and institutes from filing ‘a complaint, motion, lawsuit or other legal claim,’ in its own name or for others, ‘against any individual, entity or government.’ Moreover, they wouldn’t be able to ‘act as legal counsel to any third party,’ employ people who do, or arrange for someone’s representation. As worded, it would apparently forbid the system’s law schools, at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University, from setting up or operating centers or institutes to help out with such things as the Innocence Project.” (The Herald-Sun)

February 24, 2017 – “The Indiana University Maurer School of Law is partnering with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center on a program aimed at attracting law students interested in social justice and equality issues. The Julian Bond Law Scholars program includes scholarship, mentoring and summer externship opportunities. The program is named after the civil rights leader, who also founded the SPLC. The university says the program will give law students an ‘affordable  pathway to a professional career; eliminate the stress and anxiety that some students feel when trying to find employment after their first year of law school; and provide unparalleled hands-on legal experience, while allowing students to make a difference in advancing social justice issues.’ IU says the program will provide one scholarship worth 50 to 100 percent of tuition each year. Julian Bond Law Scholars will also be able to take part in a formal mentoring program and will be offered summer externships after completing their first year of law school. The externships will include a $4,000 stipend to cover living expenses and a research assistantship during the scholars’ second or third years.” (Inside Indiana Business)

February 27, 2017 – “This semester six new clinics launched as part of a growing experiential learning program at Yale Law School. The clinics provide students with hands-on experience in a number of fields, including immigration, reproductive rights, environmental law, consumer protection, domestic violence, and human rights.” The new clinics are the Arbitration Project, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), the Environmental Justice Clinic, the Reproductive Rights and Justice Project, and the Rule of Law Clinic. (Yale Law School)

March 1, 2017 – “The justice system in Alberta is facing a crisis, according to Crown prosecutors. The Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association took the unusual step of calling a news conference Wednesday after Edmonton’s chief Crown prosecutor stayed 15 separate criminal prosecutions on Feb. 28 because of a lack of resources. Those charges included impaired driving, assaulting a police officer, and weapons charges. The choice to stay charges because of a shortage of prosecutors is affecting the whole province, said James Pickard, assistant executive director of Specialized Prosecutions with Alberta Justice. ‘Since January 2017, all across Alberta, we are confident in stating that approximately 200 significant charges have been stayed due to a lack of resources,’ he said. In Edmonton in December 2016 alone, 20 charges were abandoned because there were too few Crown prosecutors to see them through, he said. Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley acknowledged the short staffing to be a problem. ‘We’re concerned as well,’ she said.” “Criminal defence lawyer Kelly Dawson said although the situation appears politically charged with the provincial budget coming down this month, the Crown prosecutors raise real issues. ‘The government has been receptive to meeting with us, consulting with us,’ he said. ‘But at some point you wonder if they’re really listening to anything other than public pressure.'” (CBC News)

March 1, 2017 – “Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a package of bills that seeks to cut costs for the state public defender’s office and help reduce recidivism. One bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to establish a pilot project in up to four regions that would put clients in touch with social workers and other services that might help address the reasons they got in trouble with the law.” “Bullock held a ceremonial signing for the pilot project bill on Wednesday while also signing a bill that would allow jail inmates free phone calls to their attorneys. The law is expected to save the public defender’s office about $35,000 a year in collect calls as well as time public defenders spend visiting clients in jail.” “Another bill signed Wednesday eliminates the requirement to appoint a public defender for an unknown parent in child abuse and neglect cases, which could save the state about $100,000 annually, said sponsor Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula.” “A fourth bill, requested by the Department of Corrections, allows criminal records for juvenile offenders to be shared electronically, rather than on paper, and calls for sealing most formal and informal youth court records when the youth involved turns 18. That bill takes effect immediately.” (Missoulian)

March 1, 2017 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is working to decrease criminal court delays and better support its clients by providing coverage for mandatory second judicial pre-trials to courts across Ontario. A second judicial pre-trial is a substantial meeting between Crown and defence with a judge to determine options for resolving a case, or to examine the evidence and outstanding issues before a case goes to trial. This proceeding is often effective in either settling many criminal matters or reducing delays help to spare the expense of time and money on a needless trial. For eligible matters legal aid clients receive additional coverage on their legal aid certificates for the second judicial pre-trial. Over the last ten months LAO has worked with the Ontario Court of Justice, criminal defence bar and the Ministry of the Attorney General on a project to fund second judicial pre-trials or substantially similar events in several Ontario Court of Justice locations as a pilot project. This pilot has been successful in increasing the number of early resolutions to criminal cases, while also improving how cases are managed if they need to come to trial. LAO will now provide coverage for lawyers representing eligible clients to participate in these second case management events across the province as of March 1, 2017. The roll-out of coverage for second judicial pre-trials across the province follows from an initiative by both the Ontario Court of Justice and the Ministry of the Attorney General to decrease criminal court delays.” (CNW)

March 1, 2017 – “Legal Action of Wisconsin has successfully launched its new Eviction Defense Project (EDP), which seeks to reduce housing instability for low-income Milwaukee County families, especially those with children. Housed at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, EDP provides tenants facing eviction with access to free civil legal aid and on-site, limited scope, representation.” “A close collaboration between Legal Action and others made the EDP possible:  The Legal Services Corporation, the Milwaukee Justice Center, Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, Marquette University, the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Community Advocates, Quarles & Brady LLP, and many volunteer attorneys.  The support of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court was also critical in allowing Legal Action to launch the project.” (Urban Milwaukee)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

A lesson from the past that is relevant today.  On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signs a bill creating the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, this federal agency oversaw the difficult transition of African Americans from slavery to freedom. The Freedmen’s Bureau, born out of abolitionist concern for freed slaves, was headed by Union General Oliver O. Howard for the entire seven years of its existence. The bureau was given power to dispense relief to both white and black refugees in the South, provide medical care and education, and redistribute “abandoned” lands to former slaves. The latter task was probably the most effective measure to ensure the prosperity and security of the freedmen, but it was also extremely difficult to enact. Many factors stymied the bureau’s work. White Southerners were very hostile to the Yankee bureau members, and even more hostile to the freed slaves. Terror organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan targeted both blacks and whites and intimidated those trying to help them. The bureau lacked the necessary funds and personnel to carry out its programs, and the lenient policies of President Andrew Johnson’s administration encouraged resistance. Most of the land confiscated from Confederates was eventually restored to the original owners, so there was little opportunity for black land ownership. Although the Freedmen’s Bureau was not able to provide long-term protection for blacks, nor did it ensure any real measure of equality, it did signal the introduction of the federal government into issues of social welfare and labor relations. (History.com)

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

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – February 24, 2017

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

Happy Friday! I was thrilled to be at Duke University School of Law this week to present the 2016 Pro Bono Publico Award to Gabrielle Lucero. Read more about her exemplary contribution to pro bono in her community on PSJD and stay tuned to the PSJD Blog for her guest post. Thank you to Stella Boswell and her team at Duke for an amazing celebration of pro bono.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Austin City Council approves emergency funds for immigrant legal services;
  • DC District Court certifies class in Pacer fee lawsuit;
  • Hunton & Williams LLP receives Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Medal for pro bono work;
  • Judges and lawyers push for better access to British Columbia justice system;
  • Immigrant Justice Corps announces 2017 Justice Fellows;
  • ABA study finds Louisiana’s public defender system understaffed by about 1,400 lawyers;
  • New Mexico judge rules against underfunding public defenders;
  • Law Foundation of Ontario issues grants to examine technology and access to justice;
  • Grant from Massachusetts Attorney General will help veterans;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 16, 2017 – “Austin City Council approved $200,000 in emergency funding for immigration legal services Thursday, while immigrants and advocates took to the steps of City Hall outside to protest ICE raids and national anti-immigrant policies. The grant expands a preexisting contract the city holds with Catholic Charities of Central Texas, which provides pro bono legal service to help immigrants understand their rights and legal statuses. Justin Estep, the director of legal services for Catholic Charities, says the money is much needed.” (KUT)

February 16, 2017 – “The United States District Court for the District of Columbia certified a class of all individuals and entities who paid fees to obtain court records though the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The proposed class representatives, three nonprofit legal advocacy organizations, overcame the government’s primary challenge to class certification, which was that they were not adequate class representatives. The National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice, all nonprofit entities that paid fees to obtain court records from PACER, filed suit to recover the allegedly excessive fees charged by the government for PACER access. Plaintiffs claim that the PACER fee schedule violated the E-Government Act of 2002, 28 U.S.C. § 1913) and seek reimbursement of the excess fee pursuant to the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346, on behalf of all individuals and entities, excluding class counsel and federal governmental agencies, who paid PACER fees from April 2010 through April 2016. Plaintiffs assert that the PACER fees result in a profit that violates the E-Government Act, inhibits “public understanding of the courts” and thwarts “equal access to justice.” For example, although the 2012 cost to the judiciary for providing technology and access to PACER was approximately $41 million, the judiciary collected more than $145 million in PACER fees that year. Plaintiffs seek a refund of the excess fee for themselves and the class members.” (JD Supra Business Advisor)

February 16, 2017 – “Hunton & Williams LLP today received the U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Medal for the firm’s pro bono legal work on behalf of Coast Guard members.” “‘While we are honored to receive this prestigious award, it truly has been our privilege to serve the Coast Guard and its families, and we look forward to continuing and expanding our partnership,’ said Managing Partner Wally Martinez, a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, who helped start the pro bono legal assistance program and is among the program’s most active participants. Martinez also received a Meritorious Public Service award for his personal contributions. Begun in 2012, the Coast Guard partnership has involved about 30 of the firm’s lawyers who have contributed nearly 1,800 volunteer hours in five states. The firm assists Coast Guard members and their families with legal issues involving real estate, estate planning, bankruptcy, immigration and other matters. Lawyers from the firm’s New York, Miami, Norfolk, Richmond, Atlanta and Washington offices have all been involved in the partnership. The Meritorious Public Service Medal is given to recognize substantial contribution to the Coast Guard that produced tangible results and specific individual accomplishments that provide unique benefits to the public.” (Business Wire)

February 16, 2017 – “As the old saying goes, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ Those words are being invoked by many of BC’s judges and lawyers who are demanding the provincial government fix a troubled legal system. In a report entitled ‘An Agenda for Justice,’ the Canadian Bar Association’s BC branch is making wide-ranging recommendations it would like to see made provincial election issues ahead of the May vote. The association is concerned about access to the justice system, pointing to struggles with long case delays and an overstretched legal aid system. ‘Legal aid funding is so limited that in Provincial Court, approximately 40 percent of British Columbians are unrepresented by a lawyer in family court cases and 20 percent are unrepresented in criminal cases,’ states the report. ‘The impact is that, through no fault of their own, people who are unrepresented take up more court time and more taxpayer-funded resources to go through the system.’ Among other recommendations, the Bar Association suggests increasing funding for legal aid lawyers from $84 an hour to $135.” The report concludes, ‘the Government of British Columbia and Members of the Legislative Assembly have the opportunity — every day — to improve the lives of British Columbians by taking steps to ensure they have access to justice that is delivered in a timely manner, by courts supported by up-to-date legislation and technology, and with a studied interest in their needs and challenges.'” (News 1130)

February 16, 2017 – “Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), the country’s first fellowship program wholly dedicated to meeting immigrants’ need for high-quality legal assistance, announced today its 2017 fellowship class, a select group of talented and promising new lawyers who will represent immigrants fighting deportation and seeking lawful status and citizenship.  Twenty-five graduates from top law schools from around the country were chosen for the prestigious fellowship at IJC, which was conceived of by Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and incubated by Robin Hood in 2013.” Click the link for the complete list.  Congratulations Fellows! (Immigrant Justice Corps)

February 17, 2017 – “The state public defender system in Louisiana is understaffed by 1,406 lawyers, according to an ABA study of their workloads.The study (PDF) found that 1,769 full-time public defenders are needed to provide reasonably effective assistance of counsel in Louisiana, but the state only employs 363 full-time equivalent PDs. An ABA press release summarizes the findings. Currently, the state has the capacity to handle 21 percent of the workload to provide indigent defense that complies with prevailing professional norms, the study concludes. The study was conducted by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the consulting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville.” (ABA Journal)

February 17, 2017 – “A state district court judge in southeastern New Mexico has rejected arguments by public defense attorneys that they are too overloaded with work to provide adequate representation to poor defendants facing jail time. District Judge William Shoobridge of Lea County said in an order released Friday that attorneys with the Law Offices of the Public Defender have been providing reasonably competent representation to indigent defendants in the area despite financial pressures. The order is a setback for the Office of the Public Defender as it seeks to suspend work on some indigent cases while seeking more state funding. Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur says his office is weighing an appeal to the state Supreme Court and that he would continue to raise issues of high caseloads and lack of resources.” (Artesia Daily Press)

February 21, 2017 – “The Law Foundation of Ontario has issued grants to the Winkler Institute at Osgoode Hall Law School and Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone so they can examine how technology and innovation can improve access to justice for young people. ‘Together, these projects will give the Foundation insight into how technology can be harnessed to help young people facing legal problems,’ said Linda Rothstein, chair of the foundation’s board. ‘The projects will enable youth to explore creative solutions while allowing them to create tangible prototypes that use technology to improve access to justice.’
The effort to improve youth access to justice was inspired by Elizabeth Goldberg, who was the foundation’s chief executive from 2007 to 2015 and who previously served on the foundation’s board of trustees.” (Financial Post)

February 22, 2017 – “The state is helping hundreds of veterans by awarding $350,000 in grants to four Massachusetts organizations. The grant funding will go to Community Legal Aid, Inc., in Worcester; Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center in Gardner; The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School in Boston; and Veterans Legal Services in Boston, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office announced Wednesday. Veterans seeking health services benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system, housing and education assistance, discharge status upgrades, general legal representation, and veteran-specific employment will benefit from the funding, Healy’s office said in a statement.” (Mass Live)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Legal Aid Ontario will honour HIV/AIDS legal activist Ryan Peck with the Sidney B. Linden Award at a ceremony Feb. 23 at Osgoode Hall, in recognition of his commitment to helping low-income Ontarians in the pursuit of access to justice. The award is named in honour of Legal Aid Ontario’s first board chair, Justice Sidney B. Linden, who has been involved with legal aid for over 35 years. Since its inception, the award has been presented to eight deserving recipients. The Toronto lawyer and the executive director of HIV & Aids Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) told The CJN he was surprised to be chosen for the award. “I went to law school because I was interested in issues surrounding social and economic justice, and I have devoted my career to those issues,” he said. (CJN)

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

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