PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin – March 9, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Along with teaching us to embrace and cultivate a sense of searing guilt for the remainder of our earthly days, the nuns in my Catholic elementary school imparted to their pupils much common-sense wisdom.  One such bit of wisdom is “fall back, spring forward”, a phrase which reminds me what I’m supposed to do with my clocks twice a year.  So, a reminder to spring your clocks forward by one hour tomorrow night.

Speaking of our earthly days, this afternoon I’m joining my family at Arlington National Cemetery to bury a great aunt and uncle, the latter having been a retired Air Force pilot.  This will be a solemn, but not a sad, event.  Aunt Kay and Uncle Jim, who were married, died late last year after long, happy lives together.  Uncle Jim was one unique cat, and his life story offers an object lesson in cherishing every waking moment.  I knew him as an older man who sky-dived, scuba-dived, and bungee-jumped into his 70s.  My dad knew Uncle Jim as his mom’s gregarious younger brother who, on holiday leave from the military, would sweep into their house like a hurricane – showering gifts on the kids and ribbing my grandfather, a Philadelphia fireman whose German-American roots left him wanting quieter, more sedate family interaction.

Uncle Jim knew what sacrifice in life meant, and he endured hardships.  But I can truthfully write that only once did I see him without a smile on his face for any more than a few seconds.  That was at his wife’s funeral last October.  He died weeks later.  Throughout his life Uncle Jim seemed to know better than most that, come what may, our clocks spring forward faster than we may wish.  So we must seize every single moment as they try to pass us by.   

This week:

  • Maryland’s public defender law getting a rewrite, but litigation about the right to counsel still likely to follow;
  • Kentucky prosecutors and public defenders might need a stiff bourbon to deal with the next state budget;
  • Badger student pro bono gets a boost;
  • why mandatory pro bono ain’t the solution;
  • in the U.K, proposed legal aid cuts run into a House-of-Lords buzz saw (a phrase that is fun to write and not often written, I’d wager); 
  • chickens coming home to roost in battle between U. Md. legal clinic & state lawmaker;
  • pardon this! A proposed law school clinic on executive pardon power;
  • Presidential Management Fellows application snafu draws attention of lawmakers;
  • show me more funding! LSC cuts will impact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri;
  • juvenile justice developments in the Buckeye State. 

The summaries:

  • 3.9.12 – “Lawmakers have reached a compromise to rewrite Maryland’s Public Defender Act to accommodate a Court of Appeals decision that found criminal defendants weren’t given proper access to attorneys.  The consensus amendments, if passed early next week, would not require judges to work weekends and would dramatically reduce the number of people arrested for crimes with shorter jail terms.  Lawmakers are looking at changing the law ahead of a mandate from the Court of Appeals that would require public defenders to be available within 24 hours after an individual is arrested.”  (Story from the Gazette.)
  • 3.8.12 – in the “just because it could have been worse doesn’t mean it’s now good” department,” Kentucky’s next biennial budget isn’t likely to please local prosecutors or public defenders.  From Gannett: “The proposed state budget pending in the General Assembly has local prosecutors…concerned.  The House of Representatives in the Kentucky General Assembly passed a proposed budget…that would cut most state agencies by 8.4 percent… The Senate will take up the budget next week and will likely make some changes.  The House’s budget opted not to make the further cuts proposed by Gov. Steve Besher to prosecutors and public defenders but also won’t restore their funding cut out of this year’s budget. If this budget passes…it will mean a further backlog of cases and potential reduction in staff, prosecutors said.”
  • 3.7.12 – the University of Wisconsin Law School will bolster pro bono programs through two grants from the state bar.  One grant will help launch a free, law-school staffed legal clinic for veterans.  The second will support the law school’s new Pro Bono Society, which will engage law students and alumni pro bono efforts.  Here’s more from the State Bar of Wisconsin.  
  • 3.7.12 – the Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent makes the “pragmatic and philosophical” case against mandatory pro bono as a solution to our country’s access-to-justice crisis.  Here is Lardent’s blog post on the Association of Corporate Counsel website.  
  • 3.7.12 -House of Lords = Radical Progressive Revolutionaries(?)  Civil legal aid advocates in the U.S. are not the only ones facing waves of government funding cuts.  The present UK government is trying to push through measures that would considerably slash legal aid funds.  But the House of Lords, which hitherto I’d thought was a legislative body preoccupied mainly with things like croquet and ascots, is pushing back.  They are dealing blow after legislative blow to the government’s justice bill, as reported by the Independent
  • 3.6.12 – a Maryland lawmaker opposed to the work of the U. of Md.’s law school environmental clinic has thrown down the funding gauntlet.  We’ve covered the particulars of this ongoing battle before (see my colleague Kristen’s great summary here, and more here).  This is the latest from the Nat’l. Law Journal: “State Sen. Richard Colburn has proposed a budget amendment that would pit the state’s two public law schools against each other, transferring $500,000 from the University of Maryland, which houses an environmental law clinic that has angered some Republican lawmakers, to the University of Baltimore School of Law, to start a law clinic that would represent farmers.   Colburn and state leaders including Gov. Martin O’Malley have spoken out against the environmental law clinic for representing plaintiffs in a pollution lawsuit against a local chicken farm that supplies Perdue Farms Inc. They contend that publicly funded law clinics should not file suits that hurt state businesses.”  It’s a fascinating story raising questions around academic free expression, use of state education funds, combating pollution, and the power of local business interests large and small.    
  • 3.5.12 – Pardon this!  A novel idea for a law school clinic. From Pro Publica and the Wash. Post: “For years, lawyers, faith-based groups and students have helped file petitions for inmates seeking to cut short lengthy prison sentences. But there have been no comparable resources for felons who sought pardons after serving their time.  That may soon change. In response to stories published in December by ProPublica and The Washington Post, former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) plans to launch the nation’s first law school clinic and training program devoted to pardons.  Ehrlich’s proposal takes aim at the inequities identified by ProPublica’s investigation into the dispensation of presidential pardons over the past decade.”  [The investigation showed disparities in pardons granted based on race and whether a petitioner had congressional support.]    
  • 3.5.12 – a snafu with the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program application process has raised larger questions for Republican lawmakers.  From Government Executive: “The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked Office of Personnel Management officials to explain a recent [PMF] program mishap.  In a March 1 letter to OPM Director John Berry, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla….sought more information related to a Jan. 23 incident when OPM mistakenly sent acceptance emails to 300 semifinalists who hadn’t qualified for the [PMF] program. About a quarter of the 1,186 semifinalists received the erroneous letters. Later that day the same applicants received another email informing them there was an error in the system.  In the letter, Issa and Ross expressed concern that the notification mistake was ‘indicative of larger IT failures at OPM,’ including the agency’s recent troubles with retirement processing and”  A Washington Post commentator wonders if the PMF issue is a mole hill rather than a mountain
  • 3.3.12 – juvenile justice developments in the Buckeye State.  From the Dispatch: “Juveniles in Ohio who are arrested for offenses that could land them in a detention center or youth prison can waive their right to legal representation without ever speaking to a lawyer.  That will change if a proposal by the Ohio Supreme Court goes into effect. The new rule would require juvenile defendants to meet with a lawyer before choosing not to use one.”

And since we’re closing with Ohio, I leave you with Mark Kozelek’s achingly beautiful Carry Me, Ohio.


Public Interest News Bulletin – December 16, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  From my perch here in Washington I’m looking at a freakishly warm December morning, a disappointingly cold cup of coffee, a newspaper headline about Newt Gingrich (what year is this?) and a stack of unwritten holiday cards (a phenomenon that recurs every year, Newt or no Newt).  This week’s Bulletin contains a little bit of everything.  Here’s what we’ve got: 

  • a new Connecticut provider to serve DV and human trafficking victims;
  • ACLU of Montana critical of state’s public defense program;
  • speaking of, a class-action over Georgia’s long-criticized public defense system may settle;
  • young lawyers in “The OC” lend aid to the county’s legal services program;
  • more public defense funding woes, this time addressed by Missouri’s high court;
  • an unexpected glut of federal employee retirements;
  • too many strings attached to law student summer public interest funding?;
  • “A call for prosecutorial accountability”;
  • Expanding New York State’s appellate pro bono program;
  • A veterans diversionary court program in Oklahoma;
  • LSC funding cuts hit hard in Mississippi;
  • A formerly deferred associate recounts a formative experience representing DV victims;
  • more medical-legal partnerships needed in the Lone Star State?
  • cash-strapped government law offices leveraging private bar resources.

Here are the summaries:

  • 12.15.11 – a new nonprofit law office in Connecticut will serve a highly vulnerable population.  From the New Canaan Observer: The Rights, Advocacy and Empowerment (RAE) Law Group has been formed to “promote, enforce and advocate for the rights of victims and survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The group will serve clients in Fairfield, New Haven and Middlesex counties.”  RAE apparently takes referrals from other service providers and provides representation for a “modest fee.”
  • 12.15.11 – indigent defense trouble in the Treasure State.  From TV station KXLH: “The ACLU of Montana asserts there are many problems with the state’s public defender system and it’s asking the Montana Legislature to do its part in ensuring the agency operates smoothly.  If you can’t afford an attorney one will be appointed for you, and it’s likely the public defender could also be managing about 200 other cases….  The report also states attorneys aren’t getting the feedback and training they need to be successful in the courtroom.”  A lack of funding is seen as the main culprit.  Here’s a link to the ACLU’s report, which is being published 5 years after the Montana moved from a county-by-county to a statewide system.  The news isn’t all bad, but funding still is lacking.
  • 12.14.11 – a class action regarding Georgia’s embattled indigent defense system may be settling.  The AP reports (and this is the whole article so no need to click through): “The Southern Center for Human Rights says a potential settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit that claims the state of Georgia must provide attorneys to handle the appeals of dozens of convicted criminals.  The case had been scheduled for a hearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter on Thursday. Kathryn Hamoudah of [SCHR], which brought the case, said Wednesday the settlement was not yet final and she did not know the details.  Plaintiffs want the state to make changes to make sure hundreds of indigent defendants have lawyers to represent them in their appeals. They claim cuts to the statewide public defender system has robbed them of their constitutional right to make their case.  The lawsuit was filed in 2009.”
  • 12.14.11 – as a native Philadelphian I have little use for Orange County, CA.  From afar it seems so La-la Land-ish.  The OC did produce punk rock juggernaut Social Distortion, but otherwise it’s not my bag.  Nevertheless, here’s some good news about young lawyers pitching in to aid an overburdened legal services provider.  The Orange County Register reports that the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s evictions unit is staring down LSC funding cuts and swelling caseloads.  The county bar’s young lawyers division heeded a call for help.  The YLD’s chair hoped “for maybe 10 volunteers [to handle pro bono eviction cases], but more than 40 responded to the call. Two weeks ago, about 35 went through training in wrongful-detainer law, and another session will be held in a few weeks. Then they’ll start taking cases.” 
  • 12.14.11 – Show Me Oral Arguments!  A long-simmering controversy concerning the overburdened Missouri public defense program made it to the state’s high court.  Last year a defender refused new cases because the office’s caseload was overwhelming its ability to represent clients.  From the Springfield News-Leader: “The question is simple on its face: Does the Missouri Public Defender Commission have the authority to turn away defendants?  But the issue, taken up in oral arguments Tuesday in the state Supreme Court, splintered off into discussions ranging from constitutional rights to ethical burdens, from separation of powers to rule-making authority. No clear solution was offered.  The judges…also didn’t give an indication of how they are leaning. [E]ach stated conflicting concerns — forcing public defenders to represent clients regardless of caseload concerns or leaving the decision to local judges to find representation for poor defendants.”
  • 12.12.11 – Uncle Sam is losing workers left and right to retirement.  From the Federal Times: “Retirement applications for the first 10 months of 2011 soared 24 percent from the same time last year, topping 92,000, according to statistics from the Office of Personnel Management….”  OPM Director John Berry told Congress last month…” that the rising retirement rate “…was likely caused by cash-strapped agencies offering buyouts and taking other steps to cut their workforces.”  What does this mean for aspiring civil servants?  The good news is obvious: open positions.  The bad news, of course, is the government-wide hiring freeze.  But the freeze has some cracks in it.  (That’s metaphor torture, for those scoring at home).  Agencies can still hire to fill “mission-critical” positions, so it’s not as though federal recruiting has stopped altogether.  This could bode well for law grads looking for a way in.


  • 12.12.11 – is it becoming too burdensome for law students to get summer public interest funding from their schools?  From every law school dean’s fav periodical, U.S. News and World Report: “It’s fellowship application season for first and second year law students who want to work in public service law next summer. Many law schools offer…summer fellowships, which provide a stipend ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, to students who pursue service-oriented roles rather than positions at big firms…. Many law students and J.D.’s report that their public service internships were fulfilling…. But some say that the internship applications come with too many requirements, warning aspiring public servants to carefully consider whether to participate.  Many law schools…require students to do between 5 and 10 hours of volunteer work on campus, and some also insist that students volunteer at fundraising auctions. ”  Oh, the horror!  I’m okay with requiring someone to do 5 hours of service to qualify for funding.  If nothing else it may separate the truly public-interest oriented students from those who would rather be at a firm but wish to hedge their bets.
  • 12.12.11 – “A Call for Prosecutorial Accountability” appears as an op-ed in the National Law Journal: “Last term, the Supreme Court…limited municipal civil liability for prosecutors in Connick [v. Thompson]. In justifying this holding in part by stating that prosecutors are ‘personally subject to an ethics regime designed to reinforce the profession’s standards,’ the Court pointed to the existence of the [ABA] and state grievance mechanisms that set ethical standards for prosecutors and discipline them when they break the rules.  [Yet] new research analyzing the policies and procedures for disciplining attorneys in each state…shows that prosecutors are rarely held accountable when misconduct occurs….  Inspired by the Connick decision, students from the Liman Prosecutorial Mis­con­duct Research Project at Yale Law School examined the basis of the reliance on current attorney-sanctioning mechanisms. The resulting investigation of the disciplinary procedures in various states found that the process and results are largely inadequate for investigating claims of misconduct and holding prosecutors accountable.”
  • 12.12.11 – “One year after establishing an experimental pro bono civil appellate program to handle family law appeals for people who cannot afford counsel, the New York State Bar Association is expanding the initiative to several other areas of law,” according to the New York Law Journal.   “Two upstate nonprofit organizations, the Legal Project in Albany and the Rural Center of New York in Plattsburgh, are providing staff support. The program is supported by a grant from the New York Bar Foundation.  During the first year, volunteer attorneys handled six appeals before the 3rd Department, one of them precedent-setting.  According to the American Bar Association, the State Bar’s pro bono appellate project is one of only 10 such programs in the country.”
  • 12.11.11 – The Oklahoman looks at a diversionary judicial program for veterans in the Oklahoma City area.  “Veterans who get into legal trouble in Oklahoma County can apply to the program. Those who qualify have to go before a board that includes prosecutors, public defenders, counselors and veterans advocates. If they are selected for the program, they sign a contract agreeing to participate.  If they fail the program, charges can be refiled. Part of the contract includes waiving the statute of limitations on their case. They are not required, however, to plead guilty to a judge.”  The county prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices joined forces to create/administer the program.
  • 12.10.11 – the LSC cuts are hitting hard in Mississippi.  From the Clarion-Ledger: “[T]wo Legal Services programs in Mississippi that provide civil legal help for the poor will see federal funding reduced by more than $821,000 in 2012.  The cuts in funding for the Mississippi Center for Legal Services, which serves 43 counties in the central and southern part of the state, and the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, which serves 39 counties in the northern part of the state, were the result of a 14.85 percent reduction nationally in federal spending for Legal Services programs…. About 600,000 poor people in Mississippi are eligible for services, and about 30 attorneys are available in Mississippi for Legal Services.  The number of Legal Services attorneys is about one per 20,000 low-income residents.”
  • 12.9.11 – a formerly-deferred DLA Piper associate recounts the positive experience he had spending his deferral period with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s domestic violence project.  After recounting two of his emotionally charged case experiences, he closes the piece: “Now, I am a second-year associate…working mainly in construction law. I am constantly aware of how much there is to learn about this area of law, and about practicing law, period. But learning the ropes in a court…with real live clients whose safety may be at stake, and in an often intense courtroom setting, forced me to understand how to respond swiftly and how to think outside of the box…. [T]hose experiences are easing my path from naïve, wide-eyed associate to useful lawyer…. I am very grateful to my firm and to AVLF for allowing me to start my practice with this experience. Serving as a Deferred Fellow turned out to be both incredibly useful and a great luxury: it gave me confidence, and it gave me the time and the support to learn skills I will always be able to use throughout my career.”
  • 12.9.11 – more MLPs needed in the Lone-Star State?  From the Public News Service: “When a health problem persists despite medical treatment, the real issue could be a legal matter. There’s a growing national trend toward medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), which help people figure out whether they might benefit from lawyers in addition to doctors.  A weak economy and state budget cuts have been magnifying the need for such assistance, according to Priscilla Noriega, who directs an MLP in the Brownsville office of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.”