Public Interest News Bulletin – August 24, 2012

By: Steve Grumm (with an assist from John Kapoor)

Happy Friday, ladies and gents.  An important housekeeping item: the PSLawnet Blog is becoming the PSJD Blog.  We are relaunching our PSLawNet public interest jobs database as PSJD, effective 8/27.  The blog will move from https://pslawnet.wordpress.com to http://blog.psjd.org (link not active yet).  Those of you who receive from me a weekly email message about this bulletin will continue doing so.  Launching PSJD, which will offer an even better jobs database and career center for the public interest community, represents an exciting transition.  We look forward to all that’s new, but just as much look forward to our continued daily blogging.

Some nonprofit news before the public interest news.  This Nonprofit Quarterly post came to my attention this week.  Entitled “A Too-sad Truth about the Nonprofit Sector,” the post laments the culture of martyrdom which many nonprofits take on.  This can manifest itself in unreasonably low salaries and a shortage of office resources to work efficiently.  Many of the best nonprofit law offices, in my experience, tend to emphasize “law office” over “nonprofit” in terms of how they operate and present themselves to the world.  Of course the recession has made funding scarce, and many organizations are struggling just to keep afloat now.  Nevertheless, some executive directors argue that they will only go so far in keeping staff salaries down and skimping on infrastructure expenses because they will not sacrifice quality of service.  It’s a very difficult balance to strike for nonprofits.  And this debate is always worth having because it brings out some terrific ideas and solutions from organizations with starkly different cultures.

On a lighter note, the annual “Mindset List” for this year’s incoming college class is out.  The list looks at how an 18 year-old would view the world in light of what has, and hasn’t, happened during her lifetime. The list, while a little weak this year compared to its predecessors, succeeds at making me feel old if nothing else.  Funny to think that an incoming college freshman might see Bill Clinton only as a grandfatherly, elder statesman as opposed to, well, any of the many the other things Bill Clinton’s been.  

Okay, the week’s access-to-justice and public interest news, in very brief:

  • Legal Services Corporation board chair on the community’s funding woes and the latest LSC newsletter;
  • law school clinic at Santa Clara U. is sued by law firm for, well, operating;
  • legal services providers in Nevada receive $1.2m from mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds;
  • when fiscal woes plague nonprofits in the justice system, local communities suffer;
  • prosecutors moonlight to 1) supplement income and 2) perpetuate Irish-American stereotypes;
  • maybe prosecution work is for the dogs;
  • North Dakota’s economic boom is straining the both the civil and criminal legal-aid camps;
  • Think Progress thinks about LSC cuts;
  • DOJ petitioned to think about how its crime-fighting spending affects all players in justice system;
  • would narrowing the definition of “pro bono” lead to lawyers handling more poverty law cases?
  • the rise of, and importance in, pro bono from Chicago-area in-house counsel;
  • more needed from pro bono lawyers and the justice system is strained by increased numbers of low-income litigants;
  • a Texas County signs on for multi-county capital defense cost-sharing program;
  • Michigan goes online to help pro se litigants;
  • 10 tips for getting hired into a public defender’s office;
  • a NY State county wants to go from paid staff defenders to an assigned-counsel system to save $;
  • Deferred Action participants should be wary of those offering legal services.
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 8.23.12 – LSC board chair John Levi writes about the legal services funding shortages in Michigan and throughout the U.S.: In Michigan, LSC funds six programs with 29 offices across the state. These offices, both in Michigan and nationwide, are increasingly overwhelmed with requests for help. Nearly one in five Americans — 63 million people — now qualify for LSC-funded civil legal assistance because they live at or below 125% of the federal poverty guideline. That is an all-time high. As demand has been rising, the combined funding for LSC programs from federal, state, local and all other sources has dropped from $960 million in 2010 to $878 million in 2012.  As a result, legal service programs are turning away more and more people who seek help — 50% or more according to recent studies.  More than 21% of the state’s population now qualifies for LSC-funded civil legal assistance. Resources from LSC and other funders, however, have dropped dramatically. Projected overall funding for the six LSC grantees in Michigan for 2012 is $19.6 million — a decrease of nearly 24% from 2010 funding levels.”  (Op-ed in the Detroit Free Press.)
    • On a related note, LSC’s 8/21 edition of “LSC Upates” covers likely job cuts at grantee organizations, a recent board meeting, promoting access to justice through technology, LSC’s receipt of grant funding to improve data collection(!), and other odds/ends
  • 8.23.12 – “A Los Angeles law firm claims in court that Santa Clara University’s pro bono law center is practicing law for poor people illegally.  The Brachfeld Law Group sued Santa Clara University and Scott Maurer, supervising attorney for the university’s Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, in Superior Court.  Brachfeld claims that the Community Law Center improperly uses Maurer’s law license to collect attorneys’ fees, which Maurer shares with the university.  (Story from the Courthouse News Service.)
  • 8.23.12 – some of Nevada’s share of national mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds will go to legal services.  Legislators approved a one-year, $11 million plan.  (There is more for appropriation in future budget cycles.) Of this $11 million, “…nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners.” (Article from the Nevada News Bureau.)
  • 8.22.12 – when fiscal woes plague nonprofits like Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville Justice Coalition, which offers support services to crime victims, the entire Jacksonville community suffers.  (Story from the Florida Times Union.)  
  • 8.21.12 – having grown up in northeast Philadelphia, I can say with certainty that there’s nothing unusual about a guy named Colin working behind a local bar. What is unusual is when he’s an assistant district attorney.  The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at the ends local prosecutors go to when they struggle financially on civil-servant salaries.
    • It’s noteworthy that their public defender counterparts have it worse.  From an Inquirer story in June: “An experienced assistant [DA] in Philadelphia, one with seven years on the job, can make $65,000 yearly.  A public defender with exactly the same experience makes a lot less: $51,500.”

  

  • 8.21.12 – I’m a sucker for a story about a pooch in a law office.  “A new four legged volunteer is working at the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office. It’s part of an innovative pilot program, to provide emotional support to crime victims and witnesses.
    Malvern is a two-year-old, highly trained service dog.  District Attorney, Joyce Dudley, has been working to get a dog…into her office as…to provide a calming presence and create a more compassionate environment for victims and witnesses of crimes within Santa Barbara.  Over the next few months he will work in the D.A.’s office.”   (Story from KEYT.)
  • 8.21.12 – unforeseen consequences. North Dakota’s economic boom is straining both the civil and criminal legal aid camps. On the civil side, stakeholders are dealing with “an increase in demand for Legal Services lawyers— …requests for help have shot up at least 50 percent in the last year—that coincides with a series of budget cuts. Federal funding, which accounts for about 60 percent of the organization’s annual spending plan, shrank by 5 percent in 2011 and 14 percent in 2012, leaving the agency with a budget of about $1.6 million this year.”  On the criminal side, a state bar task force’s “final report, which the bar association’s board of governors adopted on August 16, draws the bleak conclusion that the widening gap between the indigent defense commission’s resources and the demand for its services has put the agency on the verge of a ‘constitutional crisis’.”   (Story from the American Lawyer.  Ho-hum; the PSJD Blog noted this back in July.)  
  • 8.20.12 – Two national defense attorney groups are asking the Department of Justice to better analyze how proposed criminal laws and crime-fighting strategies might add additional costs to the rest of the justice system [including indigent defense].  The Nat’l. Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined the…National Legal Aid and Defender Association in passing a resolution this month that calls for the DOJ to conduct “justice system impact statements” statements on future policy changes. The resolution suggests the DOJ could fund the studies through its criminal justice grant programs.  The American Bar Association adopted a similar resolution more than 20 years ago, but the NACDL and NLADA resolution also asks DOJ for impact statements for the grants it distributes to local police and prosecutors.”  (Story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 8.20.12 – would narrowing the definition of “pro bono” lead to more volunteer lawyers handling poverty law cases and providing direct representation to low-income clients?  The Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent doesn’t think so: “The reality is that choosing pro bono work is often a matter of blending personal interest with client need. Restricting personal choices will not increase poverty law pro bono. It is, rather, far more likely to reduce the total amount of pro bono and the percentage of lawyers who undertake it.  Our goal should be to educate lawyers about the unparalleled need for legal services to the poor. We should put, as our Pro Bono Challenge and American Bar Association Model Rule 6.1 do, a special emphasis on poverty law pro bono (which led to 58 percent of total Challenge law firm hours devoted to pro bono focused on poverty), and review and revamp the processes for referring, accepting and handling pro bono matters for the poor to make them more appealing and more efficiently undertaken.”  (Full piece in the National Law Journal.)
  • 8.20.12 – the rise in, and importance of, in-house pro bono in Chicago: “As more people have turned to them for help, Cabrini Green, like an increasing number of Chicago nonprofits offering legal services to low-income people, has sought help from new allies. Though legal nonprofits traditionally have recruited volunteers from the hallways of Chicago’s big law firms, they have begun courting lawyers who work in the legal departments of the region’s corporate giants, including McDonald’s Corp., Exelon Corp., Abbott Laboratories, Caterpillar Inc. and Allstate Corp.”  (Full story from Crain’s Chicago Business.)  
     
  • 8.19.12 – with the number and needs of pro se litigants rising, and with the civil legal services community weathering a severe funding storm, much is needed of pro bono advocates throughout the U.S.  (Full story from Associated Press.)
  • 8.19.12 – in Texas, Angelina County is set to participate in the Regional Capital Defender Program.  Participation in the “shared-cost, multi-county” program is expected to save money on providing indigent defense services to those facing capital chartges.  (Story from the Lufkin Daily News.)
  • 8.17.12 – Warren County is seeking to request permission from the New York State Mandate Relief Council to contract with lawyers to perform legal services for the indigent rather than having the work handled by its own county office in which the attorneys are county employees. The county estimates this change, if authorized, will save $200,000 annually.  (Story from the Post Star.)
  • 8.16.12 – After implementation of the Obama Administration’s “Deferred Action” program for unauthorized immigrants who arrived in this country as youth, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., is renewing warnings to those immigrants to guard themselves against scam artists posing as immigration attorneys. He suggests asking questions about the attorney’s background and qualifications and calling the New York State Unified Court System’s Attorney Registration Unit to see if the individual is accredited before hiring them to ensure that they are in fact qualified to perform that kind of work. Many scam artists will take thousands of dollars from immigrants while offering little if anything in return.  (Here’s Mr. Vance’s press release.)

Music!  That Beloit Mindset List has me thinking about the college years.  So let’s travel to the 1990s for Boulder, CO’s own Big Head Todd and the Monsters.  (The man does in fact have a physically big head.  Not sure about his ego.)  “In the Morning” is one of my favorite songs -and it’s a pretty love song, tempo notwithstanding – from the under-appreciated album Stratagem.

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