Public Interest News Bulletin – September 24, 2010

This week: cold, hard cash for debt-laden prosecutors and public defenders; USA Today smacks down US Attorneys; legal services funding needed in the Lonestar State; four years in jail without a trial because the state can’t fund a public defense; LSC’s doing some financial oversight; law students aiding servicemembers who are about to be deployed (well done!); mandatory pro bono for Mississippi lawyers(?); legal services funding found for the Lonestar State (good timing!); national poverty data are out, and opponents of poverty are not going to like the news; the strain on legal services in Tennessee; LSC’s looking for a president; do prosecutors wield too much power at the expense of judges?   

  • 9.23.10 – the Blog of the Legal Times reports that long overdue funds from the John R. Justice Act, a loan repayment program for prosecutors and public defenders authorized in 2008, will finally begin flowing to beneficiaries throughout the nation.
  • 9.22.10 – USA Today has run an analysis piece – yes, its’ a USA Today story longer than two paragraphs! – on the state of ethics among federal prosecutors nationally, concluding that “prosecutors repeatedly have violated that duty in courtrooms across the nation. The abuses have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions.”  Although acknowledging that the instances of misconduct or negligence are not broadly representative of the federal prosecution community, the story paints a picture of increasingly faltering work from prosecutors who are either overworked, under-supervised, or willing to break the rules in order to win.  (Also, Main Justice, an independent news organization which covers all things related to the Justice Department, picked up on the USA Today report.) 
  • 9.22.10 – in the Cherokeean Herald of Texas, state supreme court justice Nathan L. Hecht reviews the recession’s impact on low-income Texans, highlights the dramatic declines civil legal services funding that limit providers’ ability to serve a swelling client base, and calls on the state legislature to once again appropriate funding in support of legal services.
  • 9.19.10 – Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger reports on a proposal being considered by the state’s high court “that would require lawyers to provide at least 20 hours of free service to the poor each year.”  There is debate within both the Mississippi bar and the legal blogosphere (see this Wall Street Journal Law Blog post) about whether or not traditional volunteer service can/should be made compulsory.   This question stems from the release of a report, The Unmet Civil Needs of Low-Income Mississippians, by the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.  The report outlined “difficulties people encounter in gaining access to civil legal representation….  Between a third and half of those who apply for legal aid are turned away….  About 550,000 poor people are eligible for services, and about 30 legal services attorneys are available in Mississippi.”   The mandatory pro bono requirement doesn’t appear to be a specific recommendation made in the report, but rather one among many options the Supreme Court is considering to narrow the justice gap.   Here’s a Clarion Ledger article on the report’s release
  • 9.15.10 – the Chattanooga Times Free Press runs a thorough story illustrating the strains on Tennessee’s civil legal services system as the number of potential clients increases but funding does not.  “It’s a dilemma that led the Tennessee Supreme Court to announce in late 2008 that fixing the state’s legal aid crisis would become its No. 1 strategic priority. The goal is the same in 2010, with the court recently declaring the lack of access to legal help ‘one of the most pressing issues’ facing Tennessee’s court system.”  The problem boils down to simple numbers; because of funding shortages there are not the means to hire the lawyers necessary to serve all potential clients who face dire legal problems.  “There are only 81 legal aid lawyers who work full time in one of Tennessee’s five legal aid centers. Twenty-seven work for Legal Aid of East Tennessee, serving a client base of 300,000 out of the approximately 1 million residents statewide whose low incomes qualify them for free legal help.  It means the state’s full-time legal aid lawyers every year wind up accepting only one in five cases brought by people seeking their services, a Tennessee Supreme Court study found.”
  • 9.13.10 – the Blog of the Legal Times reports that the Legal Services Corporation’s search for a new president continues.  According to John Levi, the LSC board chair, “‘We’re looking for a lawyer who has first-rate management skills. But we’re also looking for someone who understands the needs that are out there and isn’t afraid of them,’ Levi said. ‘We view this is a great opportunity for the LSC.’  Levi said that the LSC search committee will likely draw about eight or 12 candidates from the pool of applicants and select the next president from there. He said he and the other board members would like to see a president in place by the beginning of next year.”
  • 9.10.10 – in an Anchorage Daily News opinion piece, former Alaska attorney general John Havelock notes that prosecutors, who shoulder enormous responsibilities in the operation of the justice system, also have extraordinary power that can be dangerous to the system if it is unchecked.  Havelock supports political appointments of prosecutors rather than elections because “campaign contributions lay a hand on the scale of justice.”  He also supports “enhancing the discretionary power of the judiciary” so that prosecutors do not wield so much influence in all facets of criminal proceedings, from charging decisions through sentencing.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Read the heartbreaking story of a man accused of murder in Georgia.  He is indigent, mentally ill, and has been in prison since being charged of the crime in 2006 because there are insufficient funds to provide for the necessary defense in a capital case.  This is frightening.  (Via PSLawNet Blog) […]

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