Public Interest News Bulletin – February 26, 2010

  • 2.26.10 – Washington Post – Laurence Tribe, prominent Harvard Law School professor and Supreme Court advocate, is joining the Justice Department to focus on bolstering indigent defense programs throughout the nation.  Attorney General Holder and senior DOJ officials recently lamented the poor funding of public defense programs, and the consequent barriers to the justice system confronting indigent defendants.  Link to article.
  • 2.24.10 – Los Angeles Times (Editorial) – opponents of Sharon Browne’s nomination to the board of the Legal Services Corporation, in particular the Alliance for Justice and the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, “haven’t made a persuasive case.”  Some of the Alliance’s criticisms of Ms. Browne’s record “smack of guilt by association.”  The process used by ABA SCLAID in reviewing Ms. Browne’s qualifications to serve on the board is confidential.  So the Senate should hold open hearings to discuss criticisms of Ms. Browne and afford her a chance to reply.  Link to editorial.
  • 2.24.10 –National Law Journal – two decisions by the Supreme Court this week have limited lower courts’ interpretations of Miranda.  First, in Florida v. Powell, the Court “said that Florida’s alternative wording of the Miranda warning is acceptable, even though it does not explicitly state that a suspect has a right to have a lawyer present during questioning.”  One day later, in Maryland v. Shatzer, the Court established “more permissive rules for police who want to question a suspect for a second time after the suspect invokes Miranda‘s right to remain silent.”  Link to article.

  • 2.24.10 – Inter-County Leader (Northwest Wisconsin) – the Polk County District Attorney, Dan Steffen, has taken issue with the state’s budget-cutting measures that will affect prosecutors’ offices.  “State budget cuts have left Steffen and 71 other county district attorneys across the state to force assistant district attorneys to take five additional furlough days between the first of the year and June 19, with additional permanent layoffs seemingly to follow.”  He noted that there is no shortage of crime to prosecute in his county and pointed to a 2007 report which had highlighted a statewide shortage of prosecutors.  Steffen further lamented the fact that low and frozen salaries have led to high rates of attorney attrition as prosecutors’ offices lose mid-level attorneys who are saddled by educational debt.  Link to article.
  • 2.24.10 – “The Crime Report” Website – day after day, in courtrooms throughout the country, overworked attorneys seem not to notice how badly the justice system is working, as defendants are rapidly swept through the system without meaningful access to counsel and court officials.  “What is most surprising is that committed, hard-working professionals can routinely act in ways that fall short of what people in their positions are supposed to be doing. And still, they did not even realize that anything was missing.”  [Ed. note: the article’s author recently wrote a book called Ordinary Injustice, which explores what she perceives to be dysfunctions in the administration of criminal justice in the nation’s courts, and surprising apathy displayed to those dysfunctions by court officers.]  Link to article.
  • 2.24.10 – Toronto Star – this week Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) is launching “Your Rights, Your Language,” a province-wide, multilingual “legal rights support hotline.”  The project is intended to help longtime residents and has also reached out directly to immigrant communities that may face language barriers.  “In addition to English and French, the service provides legal rights information, support and referrals in Arabic, Chinese, Somali, Spanish, Tamil and Urdu.”  Outreach is being conducted through CLEO’s website, but also through Facebook and Twitter.  The project is funded by Legal Aid Ontario and the Trillium Foundation.   Link to article.
  • 2.23.10 – KEYT TV Station Website (ABC Affiliate in Santa Barbara, CA) – as officials in Santa Barbara County search for ways to reduce a $39 million deficit, the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices have been asked to slash 7% from their budgets.  Link to article.
  • 2.22.10 – Cincinnati Enquirer – Butler County, Ohio, is poised to create a public defender’s office, a move that is expected by its supporters to save money that would have been spent on appointed counsel for indigent defendants.  Momentum for the change developed as an older system through which judges hand-picked defense attorneys to take on indigent defendants’ cases came under criticism from the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Public Defender Commission.  Link to article.
  • 2.22.10 – Daily Record (Jacksonville, FL) –  a prosecutor kissed a pig under the watchful eye of a public defender.  Assistant State Attorney Sam Garrison made good on a bet between his office and the office of Public Defender Matt Shirk to see which could donate the most blood for a blood drive run by the Blood Alliance.   This time around the defenders parted with more blood.   Link to article.
  • 2.21.10 – San Bernardino Sun (California) – the San Bernardino County Child Support Services office has, remarkably, increased its child support collections during the past two years.  But in a measure of how hard the recession has hit non-custodial parents whose financial difficulties make it hard to afford support payments, the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino has seen increased requests for help in modifying support obligations.  Officials on both sides of the issue agree that help may be available to non-custodial parents who seek assistance in getting a support modification from a judge.  Link to article.
  • 2.21.10 – Honolulu Advertiser – Hawaii’s 11 specialized treatment courts, which take a holistic approach to helping nonviolent, repeat offenders avoid future criminal trouble by addressing root causes of bad behavior, are “handling fewer cases, providing less treatment and delaying more services” due to budget constraints.  While advocates for these courts tout their success rates among participants and the cost savings from not placing them into an overcrowded prison system, state officials face difficult fiscal questions about whether they can “afford to maintain these … programs, which have produced impressive results but reach relatively small numbers of clients, even as the Judiciary’s core services have been reduced because of budget cuts.”  Link to article.
  • 2.21.10 – Baltimore Sun (Editorial) – the Maryland General Assembly should pass Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to create a mandatory mediation program that would require borrowers and lenders to explore alternatives to foreclosure and require “lenders or loan servicers to make an affidavit before they file for foreclosure indicating that they have tried all other options first.”  The program would not alleviate all housing-related problems caused by the recession, but a similar program’s existence in Nevada demonstrates that many homeowners can be helped.  Link to piece.

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