Public Interest News Bulletin – October 1, 2010

This week: lots of coverage about hearings on legal services funding in New York; a “Civil Gideon” proposal in Wisconsin; $3.62 million in cy pres funding will benefit legal services providers, mostly in Illinois; changing the beleaguered Michigan public defense infrastructure?; turning a federal internship into a federal job; Attorney General Holder tells the Senate to hurry up on judicial confirmations; a deferred associate looks back on his one-year public service placement; humanizing a defendant in a capital trial is no easy feat; a call for a legal services funding boost in Texas; making the wheels of justice turn more smoothly in Philly courts (and by the way, go Phils!); the Washington Post editorial board laments the state of indigent defense funding; a sobering, and hopefully effective, fundraising effort in Texas to curtail domestic violence; a new volunteer initiative driven by a Florida lawyer; and an Indiana prosecutor stands up for his office’s LRAP program.   

  • 9.30.10 – a handful of news outlets from throughout the Empire State are reporting on a statewide series of hearings about access-to-justice issues.  The hearings are the result of efforts by New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to raise awareness about under-funding of civil legal services and to find solutions.  The New York Times and the New York Law Journal report on the first of the four hearings, which took place in Manhattan.  From the Times, we see half of the dilemma facing legal services providers: “Since 2008, there has been a 40 percent increase at the Legal Aid Society in requests for help on health care issues and an 800 percent increase in requests for help with foreclosures…”  From the Law Journal, we see the other half: “Current funding is provided through what Judge Lippman called a ‘hodgepodge’ of mechanisms…  Due to plunging interest rates because of the poor economy, IOLA revenues have dropped to $7 million this year from $32 million in 2008, and the other sources of aid have not made up the difference.”  After the Manhattan hearing, a second one took place across the state in Rochester.  Here’s coverage from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Chief Judge Lippman’s end goal is to craft a formal report to use in urging the legislative and executive branches for increased financial support of civil legal services.  The hearings are just the latest step in his campaign.  Earlier this year Lippman created a high-level task force to explore how to expand civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers.  He also created an “Attorney Emeritus” program through which retired lawyers can volunteer their time on pro bono matters.  Indeed, Lippman has gone so far as to call for a civil right to counsel in some matters.  Read more about his efforts in Item One of PSLawNet’s 6.11.10 Public Interest News Bulletin.
  • 9.29.10 – the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (subscription required – boo!) reports on a cy pres award that will benefit Illinois legal services providers as well as other providers throughout the country: “Organizations that help provide legal services to the poor in Illinois and legal aid groups around the country will receive $3.62 million in unclaimed funds from a nationwide class-action settlement involving a rate increase on life insurance policies. This week, five legal aid organizations and foundations serving Illinois are expected to receive a total of more than $1.8 million of the unclaimed funds from the $93 million settlement. Another $1.8 million is to be disbursed to 111 legal aid organizations serving other states throughout the country.”  One of the Chicago-based beneficiaries is the Chicago Bar Foundation, and this makes the PSLawNet Blog happy because we’ve worked with CBF before and have great admiration for them.  UPDATE: here’s freely accessible National Law Journal coverage.
  • 9.29.10 – and in our third story in a row from the northern Midwest, the Michigan Campaign for Justice is advocating that the state “create a statewide public defense system” to replace the patchwork, county-by-county systems that exist now and which have been the subject of intense scrutiny.  “A study commissioned by the state legislature on the public defense system gave Michigan failing grades in 2008 for the way defense attorneys provide counsel to indigent defendants…”, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.
  • 9.28.10 – speaking of the Post, in an op-ed  Attorney General Eric Holder urges the Senate to move with more dispatch on federal judicial nominees.  He recounts a few specific cases of relatively uncontroversial nominees waiting for months for confirmation hearings, and further notes that “[l]ast year, 259,000 civil cases and 75,000 criminal cases were filed in the federal courts, enough to tax the abilities of the judiciary even when it is fully staffed. But today there are 103 judicial vacancies — nearly one in eight seats on the bench. Men and women who need their day in court must stand in longer and longer lines.  The problem is about to get worse. Because of projected retirements and other demographic changes, the number of annual new vacancies in the next decade will be 33 percent greater than in the past three decades. If the historic pace of Senate confirmations continues, one third of the federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020. If we stay on the pace that the Senate has set in the past two years — the slowest pace of confirmations in history — fully half the federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020.”
  • 9.28.10 – Andrew Ardinger, a deferred law firm associate from the Class of 2009, has spent the past year in a public service placement with the Oakland-based Public Interest Law Project.  He’s been submitting articles periodically about his experience to the American LawyerHere’s his final AmLaw piece before returning the law firm world.  Ardinger reviews his experience with PILP, which seems to have been overwhelmingly positive: “On a professional development level, too, this experience has been outstanding. As I have noted before, there are only six attorneys in the office, and one legal assistant. It was a very warm, genial work environment, and the two attorneys with whom I worked most closely were, from the first day, obviously committed to mentoring me and helping me develop as an attorney.”  Ardinger’s experience was pretty hands-on; he drafted motions/pleadings, made some court appearances, and forged relationships with clients.  The PSLawNet Blog has been following the deferred-associates-in-public-service-placements phenomenon closely.   See our recent post on the issue, which tracks back to some of our past coverage.
  • 9.27.10 – courtesy of Connecticut’s Middletown Press, here’s a pretty interesting story about capital-case trial strategy.  While the case is still in the trial phase now, prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty in the event of a guilty verdict.  The story emphasizes the public defender’s apparent goal of highlighting mitigating factors and humanizing a man who’s accused of doing some terrible things during a home invasion.  Seems like an uphill battle given the facts.
  • 9.25.10 – the Houston Chronicle is late to the party, picking up an op-ed from Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht that originally ran in the Cherokeean Herald, which not only got the drop on the Chron but has a much cooler name.  In the piece, which we included in last week’s News Bulletin, Hecht laments the decline in legal services funding and, while acknowledging budgetary constraints, argues that the state legislature should appropriate funds to support the legal services community.

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