Public Interest News Bulletin – June 25, 2010

  • 6.24.10 – San Jose Mercury News – the Santa Clara County public defender’s office has recently expanded the scope of its services so that attorneys are now staffing almost all misdemeanor arraignment hearings.  “Unlike most counties in California, Santa Clara County historically has not had public defenders or prosecutors at misdemeanor arraignments, a defendant’s first court appearance. Defendants charged with misdemeanors were arraigned before a judge who often offered a plea deal to quickly resolve the case. Many legal experts consider that a potential violation of the defendants’ constitutional right to counsel. Some believe that defendants plead guilty simply to get out of jail.  Earlier this year the county board of supervisors added $1 million to the public defender’s budget over the next two fiscal years to fund the attorneys to staff the arraignments.”  Link to article.
  • 6.23.10 – Tulsa World – former Oklahoma governor George Nigh and his wife are co-chairs of the Campaign for Legal Aid, and are spearheading efforts to raise $750,000 for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc., the statewide program that has seen other funding streams recede during the recession.  Link to article.
  • 6.23.10 – Washington Post – “The Obama administration released a strategy Tuesday to end homelessness by expanding programs to secure housing for veterans and families with young children and by building on efforts to help chronically homeless people.”  The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’s strategy seeks ways to maximize collaboration between the many federal, state, and local government entities that combat homelessness, and emphasizes how important a stable living environment can be to helping people deal successfully with other problems, such as mental illness.  The strategy focuses especially on homelessness among veterans and children.  Link to article.  Link to Opening Doors – Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness – 2010.
  • 6.22.10 – The Tennessean – the Volunteer State’s high court, which in 2009 had formed an Access to Justice Commission, is poised to “unveil [a plan] to make legal aid more available to state residents.”  The AtJ Commission had submitted recommendations to the court earlier this year.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: the Supreme Court’s website includes coverage of the announcement event, which laid out plans to convene a pro bono summit and create a resource website with self-help materials for Tennesseans with legal problems.]
  • 6.22.10 – WHBQ Fox 13 T.V. Station Website (Memphis) – as more local families are impacted by the recession, more are in need of legal services.  Memphis Area Legal Services held a press conference, attended by ABA President Carolyn Lamm and U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, which highlighted the crises faced by poor families whose homes are in foreclosure.  Lamm noted that non-LSC legal services funding remains scarce, and that increasing LSC funding is an uncertain proposition.  Link to article and video.
  • 6.21.10 – Houston Chronicle – the State of Texas has hired an experienced federal defender to “run its first-ever public defense office for death row appeals….The office was created by the Texas Legislature after a series of scandals generated by ill-prepared and mostly poorly-paid death row defense lawyers assigned to handle writs of habeas corpus across Texas.”  Brad D. Levenson, the new hire, will be working with an annual budget of $1 million.  Link to article.
  • 6.20.10 – New York Times – R. Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s new district attorney, is charting a different course than his predecessor by emphasizing a “smart on crime,” as opposed to “tough on crime,” approach.  Williams intends to prosecute fewer cases but to raise his office’s conviction rate.  He is also focusing less on minor crimes and more on violent crime, and reaching out to youth with a message that staying in school makes it easier to stay awayfrom criminal activity.  Link to article.  
  • 6.19.10 – [Ed. Note: Professor Laurence Tribe, who earlier this year was tapped by Attorney General Eric Holder to spearhead the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative, has lately been speaking about how his office may attack the problem of shoring up poorly funded pubic defense programs throughout the country.  Tribe recently spoke at an event sponsored by two Congressmen, called “The Constitutional Right to Counsel Summit: A Dialogue on the State Public Defense Crisis & the Federal Response.”  The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has put up a nice summary of the program.  Also, Prof. Tribe spoke last week at the American Constitution Society’s National Convention, and was featured on two panels: one concerning civil legal services (Main Justice has a summary of that panel), and one regarding indigent criminal defense issues (the Blog of the Legal Times has that summary).]
  • 6.18.10 – McClatchy News Service – funding for the Legal Services Corporation, a question which may be taken up by Congress shortly, remains a hot-button political issue in Washington, DC and in Central California.  “Some lawmakers now hope to boost funding for the Legal Services Corp. and lift some longstanding restrictions on its work. Others consider the agency a bastion of liberal activism and want it curtailed.  No region has a bigger stake in the political outcome than the [California] Central Valley, home to thousands of legal services clients as well as some of the federal program’s most vocal critics.”  Link to article.
  • 6.18.10 – New York Times – the small-but-formidable group of federal defenders working in Manhattan are held in high regard by their adversaries – U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara offers that they “have earned their reputation as among the finest public defenders in the country.” – and are accustomed to handling high-profile cases like the current “Times Square Bomber” trial.  Link to article.

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