Public Interest News Bulletin: October 15, 2010 (Updated 10/18)

This Week: Memphis Area Legal Services and Liz Lemon share something in common; a new report highlights Access to Justice troubles in the U.S.; Massachusetts D.A.’s are sounding alarms about budget cuts, pointing fingers at public defender; an access-to-justice op-ed continues its tour of Texas newspapers; some Harvard Law students do good work in the Big Easy; funding woes for Seattle public defenders (and it’s probably raining there, to boot); Michigan Law to develop cross-border human trafficking clinic with Mexican advocates; learn about the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; mandatory pro bono in Mississippi isn’t that big a deal, so calm down; New York State bar chief chimes in on the need to shore up legal services funding; New Mexico Legal Aid’s executive director explains what’s at stake if poor people can’t access the justice system; proposed federal legislation would support public defenders, but probably won’t see a vote.

  • 10.14.10 – from the Salem News we learn that Massachusetts prosecutors are questioning a disparity between funding for the state’s indigent defense program and for their own offices.  “The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association says taxpayers now spend twice as much to defend accused criminals as they do to prosecute them.”  The MDAA argues that caseloads are much higher in prosecutors’ offices than with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the public defender.  CPCS retorts, however, that many of the cases it handles are civil matters in which prosecutors are not involved, and that the prosecutors’ budget figures don’t include the budget for police, who do investigative and support work.  This article, while short, does a good job of highlighting the major sticking points in prosecutor/defender budget battles throughout the country.
  • 10.11.10 – the National Law Journal reports that the University of Michigan Law School ” has received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State to establish a human trafficking clinic at the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Unidad Académica de Derecho, a law school located in north central Mexico. The Mexican clinic is an offshoot of the human trafficking clinic that Michigan launched in 2009, which was the first of its kind in the United States …  One of the goals of the Mexican clinic, which will represent a partnership between the two law schools and a local nongovernmental organization called Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights), is to educate people about human trafficking. Although it will officially be part of the Mexican law school, the Michigan law school will help set up the clinic.”  We at the PSLawNet Blog think this is an interesting approach to addressing a problem – human trafficking – that by definition defies international border controls, while at the same time exposing the Michigan and the Mexican law school’s students to transnational practice issues.
  • 10.10.10 – on, New York State Bar Association president Stephen P. Younger chimes in with an op-ed about the importance of access to justice for the state’s poor.  He joins with New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in seeking solutions to the under-funding of the state’s legal services infrastructure.  “It runs counter to our basic concept of fairness to deprive someone of shelter, their child, or much needed government benefits without the aid of a lawyer.”  Funding for legal services is “woefully inadequate.  Our state’s core operating funding for these critical legal services amounts to only $3.68 per indigent person, compared to an average of $23.51 funded by our neighboring states.”  Younger moves on to make a fiscal case for boosting government support of legal services.  “Ironically, New York’s funding levels are not just morally unjust, they are also fiscally irresponsible. Last year, for every dollar spent on civil legal services to poor New Yorkers, more than $1.50 came back to our state — for a total of $361 million — through added federal benefits such as disability payments, supplemental social security or federal grants for civil legal services.”  Younger calls on the state’s legislators to create a “permanent and adequately funded Access to Justice fund.”  Good stuff.  The PSLawNet blog is pleased to see legal luminaries in the Empire State addressing an acute crisis.  As we’ve noted before, Chief Judge Lippmann has made access to justice a priority.

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