Public Interest News Bulletin – April 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Today is the 140th anniversary of Arbor Day, which has its roots, so to speak, in a Druidic tree-worship ritual.  I made that up.  It is the 140th.  But we’re just supposed to plant trees, not worship them.  Unless that’s your thing.  Anyway, for the occasion here’s the Screaming Trees’ 90s indie anthem “Nearly Lost You”, a favorite from my flannel-clad adolescence.  Great drums.  Blistering guitar lick.  (Far be it from me to give credence to gender stereotypes, but I predict the fellas will like this one more than the ladies.)

Unrelated: huzzah(!) to our partners at Street Law, Inc., who celebrated a 40th anniversary here in DC on Wednesday.  Special shout-out to exec. director Lee Arbetman, who, based on the photographic evidence I’ve heard about, was an even more dapper dresser in Street Law’s early days than now.  (Congrats, Lee, Megan and company!)

Friday Trivia: there are three words in the English language that begin with “dw”.  What are they?   

Now to business.  This week in access-to-justice, funding, pro bono, and related news:

  • the websites of for-profit AZ law firms can use the ol’ dot-org, says ethics opinion;
  • in Spokane, WA, client demand for legal aid rising but funding is a challenge;
  • the NY AG directs $3 million to legal services on foreclosure matters;
  • last week’s White House Forum on the State of Legal Assistance;
  • $450K in grants from the NY Bar Foundation split amongst 67 groups;
  • Two grants will help U. of Wisconsin law students help vets in need;
  • funding challenges confronting the Vermont Bar Foundation and legal services community;
  • in the UK, the House of Lords still opposed cuts to legal aid funding;
  • Florida governor’s veto of $2 million legal services appropriation draws lots of reaction;
  • support for state funding of legal services in Connecticut;
  • the LSC board chair on closing the justice gap;
  • Illinois AG directs $20 million to legal services.  Nice way to close.

The summaries:

  • 5.1.12 (from the future!) – the forthcoming ABA Journal runs a short piece about an Arizona state bar ethics opinion that allows for-profit law firms to use “.org” website domain extensions.  I predict that the “.org” will never, ever be misused by a for-profit outfit providing “legal assistance services” or some such.  No chance.  Right? 
  • 4.26. 12 – the Spokane Journal of Business looks at the increased demand for legal services within the local, low-income community even as providers struggle with funding pressures.  (Password-protected.  Sorry.)
    • Personal aside: I gained my first exposure to civil legal aid in Washington State while working as a Jesuit Volunteer with the Northwest Justice Project’s Yakima field office.  One of my fondest Eastern Washington memories is running Spokane’s annual Bloomsday race, a 7.5-miler that, amazingly, draws upwards of 50,000 people.  It’s a beautiful course. 
  • 4.25.12 – the New York Attorney general directed $3 million to be shared by 31 public interest law offices for foreclosure defense funding.  The funding comes from settlements over questionable mortgage lending practices.  (Here’s the Legal News Line story.)
  • 4.24.12 – last week’s White House Forum on the State of Legal Assistance gathered access-to-justice stakeholders from the legal services world, law firms, and government.  (Read the full summary from the DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative.)
    • Phyllis Holmen, executive director of the Georgia Legal Services Program, recounts her experience participating in the forum: “Six of us were chosen from around the country, directors of legal aid and legal services organizations accustomed to toiling quietly in the hinterlands. We work on behalf of low-income folks with the kind of life-and-death legal problems that the poor face: the plague of domestic violence, the near impossibility of maintaining a family structure in the face of grinding poverty, the gut-wrenching choices that have to be made between paying medical bills or buying groceries.  The opportunity to tell the president of the United States why we think our work is important was unprecedented. It was a chance to speak at the highest level of our government about the cause to which I have devoted my career: justice for all.”  (From the Daily Report.)


  • 4.24.12 – “Sixty-seven organizations across New York State have received grants totaling $450,000, The New York Bar Foundation announced today….Thirteen grants will support Youth Court activities, while others will support programs that assist domestic violence victims, low-income immigrants, public service attorneys, vulnerable senior citizens and incarcerated women.”  There’s a slew of organizations receiving grant money, all of which are listed in the story from the Saugerties Post Star.


  • 4.24.12 – “Two new grants will help University of Wisconsin law students gain valuable experience while helping veterans who need legal assistance.  The two Pro Bono Initiative grants for $5,000 each come from the State Bar Legal Assistance Committee and have been awarded to Dane County Veterans Legal Clinic to start a free legal clinic and to the UW Law School Pro Bono Program to expand its efforts to involve more law students in pro bono activities.”  (Story from the University of Wisconsin’s website.)
  • 4.24.12 – “[L]ike so many organizations, the Bar Foundation has found itself with less money to give out in the past few years, while the need for the kind of legal services it helps fund has risen.  Vermont Supreme Court Associate Justice John Dooley is a member of the board of directors of the Vermont Bar Foundation. He spoke with VPR’s Jane Lindholm about the financial challenges faced by the organization. (Listen to the interview on Vermont Public Radio.) 
    • As an aside, when I was a 3L my dad and I went skiing in Vermont.  We stayed at a family-owned place called the Swiss Inn.  Turns out the owner was a native Philadelphian (like me and Pa Grumm) and he owned a couple of the Jersey Shore video-game arcades that sucked quarters from my pockets like a vacuum cleaner when I was a youth.  He was very generous to me at the Swiss Inn afternoon happy hour.  My quarters, after all, had paid for his inn. 
  • 4.23.12 – in the UK, the House of Lords still refuses to go along with broad-based proposed cuts to the legal aid system. Watch the video on BBC.  Watching British legislative sessions is downright enjoyable.  Ever seen the SNL spoofs? 
  • 4.21.12 – “Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush claims state finance officials have been misinterpreting state law regarding funding for the public defenders in Shelby and Davidson counties for 20 years and that the offices are owed $45.2 million — $28.4 million for Shelby and $16.8 million for Davidson.  The public defenders, who appeared before a state legislative committee this week, are asking the state legislature to restore that funding and fix the error going forward.”  (Here’s more in the Commercial Appeal.)
  • 4.20.12 – a Hartford Courant op-ed makes the case for a legislative measure that would boost funding for legal aid in the Nutmeg State: “The Judicial Branch has recognized the seriousness of this problem. It has proposed legislation that would use increased court fees to raise $5.2 million for legal aid — enough to maintain the current level of services. There has been broad bi-partisan support to address the legal aid funding crisis. And the Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly has approved the bill on a 45-to-1 vote.  The pending legislation would successfully restructure funding for legal aid, and provide a future anchor to fund access to justice. It is vital that the Connecticut legislature approve this measure. Our system of justice depends on it.
  • 4.20.12 – writing in The Hill, LSC Board chair John Levi, who has been very active in his public advocacy of LSC’s mission, explores the “widening justice gap, and why we must close it.”
    • Speaking of closing gaps, as noted last week a House proposal would cut LSC funding from the current, FY12 figure of $348 million –  which itself represents a ~14% cut from the FY11 figure – to $328 million.  A Senate proposal would ratchet funding back up to $402 million.  To put the House proposal in context: in 1981 LSC’s appropriation was about $321 million.  If that figure simply kept up with inflation, LSC’s funding in 2011 should have been over $800 million.  We’ll be lucky to get to half of that this year.
  • 4.18.12 – great funding news out of Illinois, from the state attorney general’s website: “Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that $20 million in funding from the national foreclosure settlement reached this year will be given to legal assistance programs in Illinois to address the current foreclosure crisis and to provide access to the justice system for homeowners and renters.” 

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