Archive for Public Interest Law News Bulletin

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 to (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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PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin – August 17, 2012

By: Steve Grumm (with help from John Kapoor)

Happy Friday, dear readers.  The week’s most well-travelled public-interest news item deals with a Legal Services Corporation announcement that its grantee organizations may cut 8% of attorney and support staff positions as those organizations struggle with depleted funding sources.  There’s a tendency, I think, to take some comfort in the idea that the worst of the Great Recession has passed (notwithstanding the precariousness of the present recovery).  But the longer-term fiscal challenges spawned by the recession are in some ways hitting the legal services community hardest now.

At best, one may hope that LSC funding can creep back into the high $300 millions, given budget-cutting propensities on Capitol Hill.  IOLTA funding is dependent mostly on interest rates, which remain at historic lows as policy-makers hope that loose credit will contribute to economic stimulus.  And legal services providers who had financial reserves have by and large exhausted them at this point.  There is less federal money, a whole lot less IOLTA money, and the rainy-day funds are dry.  Not a pretty picture.

Sorry to begin on a down note. There is some good public-interest news below.  Before moving into that, here are two other interesting items:

  • a PAC for nonprofits.  From the Chronicle of Philanthropy: “CForward, a political-action committee that was set up last year to promote candidates who pledge to stand up for nonprofits, has made its first endorsements.  They include five contenders for state legislatures and one each for city council, mayor, and the U.S. House of Representatives ‘Our choices are not based on any single issue, or geography, gender, or political party,’ the group said in a statement. With governments cutting budgets across the country, it looked for candidates that would ‘promote our role in creating jobs, attracting investment dollars and maintaining the civil society required for traditional business to thrive’.”
  • the ABA Journal’s annual Ross Essay contest, announced yesterday, is looking for haiku poetry.  Frequent readers of this weekly blog – all six of you – may recall that just two weeks ago I graced the blog’s pages with my haiku about a baseball player trade.  Sadly, and somewhat unfairly in my view, the ABA is looking only for submissions on themes of: “Innovation, Inspiration, Law Practice, On Being a Lawyer or the U.S. Supreme Court.”  Haiku’s tough.  It is not easy to condense thoughts into seventeen syllables.  (Guess how many syllables that previous sentence was.  Yes!)

On to the public interest news.  The week in very short:

  • the New York State 50-hour pro bono requirement for attorney licensing is back in the news again;
  • funding in NYC for legal services providers to assist illegal immigrants with the federal “Deferred Action” program;
  • an increased pressure on already-strained Florida public defenders;
  • the job-cuts forecast from LSC;
  • bill introduced in Michigan to create indigent defense commission;
  • two good-news items on law school clinics (NOLA and NC);
  • funding for a pro se assistance attorney in the Gem State;
  • the development of Boston’s alternate adjudication track for nonviolent, homeless offenders;
  • an editorial on how the NOLA public defender’s office has weathered a fiscal storm;
  • OLAF (one of my favorite legal services acronyms) releases its 2011 annual report. 

The summaries:

  • 8.16.12 – “When New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman first revealed his intention in May to require all newly minted New York lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work, it looked like the burden would fall directly on New York law schools. But with details of the measure still spare, deans around the country are saying they’re worried the proposal could have a much wider impact, affecting not only local institutions but law schools nationwide and abroad that send their graduates to practice law in New York….  Some [New York-based law school administrators applauded Lippman for tackling what he has dubbed the justice gap…. Others voiced concern that the measure would pose financial and administrative burdens on their schools. Most simply asked for details, which Lippman has said he will provide in late fall after an advisory committee reports back to him with feedback from legal services providers, schools and students. As word of New York’s novel approach to pro bono has spread, deans and administrators from out-of-state schools have begun to weigh in, asking what kind of administrative and financial obligations the measure might pose for their institutions.” (Story from Thomson Reuters.)  
  • 8.16.12 – legal services providers throughout the U.S. will be assisting illegal immigrants to participate in the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  Here’s some good funding news out of NYC: “The New York City Council is spending $3 million on legal services for young illegal immigrants who want to apply for the right to work legally in the U.S…. Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced Wednesday that the city funding will go to the Legal Aid Society and other community-based organizations.”  (Full story from CBS Moneywatch.)
  • 8.16.12 – an increased pressure on already-burdened Florida public defenders’ offices: “Public defenders are being ordered by local courts to fill a role they haven’t had to play in decades, if ever. Jim Purdy, public defender for the circuit that includes Volusia and Flagler counties, said the local court has begun appointing his office to help death row inmates ask the governor’s office for clemency. Purdy said his office is ‘critically short on manpower…. None of the elected public defenders in the state ever remember being appointed to (a clemency hearing) until this year and many . . . have been in office for 20 to 30 years,’ Purdy said.”  (Story from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.) 
  • 8.15.12 – “The nation’s providers of civil legal assistance predict that funding cuts will leave them no choice this year but to lay off about 8 percent of lawyers and support staff, close branch offices and narrow the types of services they provide, Legal Services Corp. announced on August 15.  A survey of the 134 agencies depending on grants from LSC, the largest source of funding nationwide for civil legal aid, shows they are on pace to lay off 350 attorneys and 400 support staff this year because of budget cuts from Congress and other funding reductions….  About one of every six programs expects to close offices in 2012.” (Story from the National Law Journal.)
    • And here’s the news release from LSC.
    • Some coverage out of Colorado: “Whether Colorado’s program would be affected wasn’t immediately clear. Colorado Legal Services has seen its total budget cut by nearly 30 percent in recent years. The group has received a reprieve of sorts when the Colorado Supreme Court earlier this year approved a request for a one-time transfer of $1.5 million from the attorney registration fees fund to CLS.  However, the underlying funding mechanisms haven’t been fixed, and how to remodel that funding structure remains at the top of many bar association’s priorities.”  (Story from Law Week Colorado.)
  • 8.15.12 – in Michigan, the members of the state house introduced a bill “to create the Michigan indigent defense commission and to provide for its powers and duties; to provide for constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases; to provide standards for the appointment of legal counsel; and to provide for certain appropriations.”  Here’s some filing information and here’s a copy of the bill.
  • 8.13.12 – good news on the law school clinic front in both NOLA and North Carolina:
    • Four grants totaling $557,000 to Loyola University’s College of Law will help its law clinic educate and represent low-wage workers in the New Orleans area. The grants will underwrite three years of work by the Workplace Justice Project, which is part of Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.”  (Story from the Times-Picayune.) 
    • Elon University School of Law announced plans to open an Elder Law Clinic in the Fall 2012 semester. This clinic will serve the growing elderly population of the area in need of free legal services while simultaneously providing students with experience in the practice of elder law, an area of law that has will see exponential growth in the future.  (Story from WFMY.)
  • 8.12.12 – in keeping with the trend of trying to accommodate increasing numbers of pro se litigants in local courthouses, “Canyon County [Idaho] commissioners approved a preliminary budget Thursday that includes $60,000 from the Idaho Supreme Court to hire an attorney to help people who are serving as their own lawyer in civil cases.”  (Story from the Idaho Press-Tribune.)   
  • 8.12.12 – here’s a feature-length piece on the evolution of Boston’s “Homeless Court,” which offers an alternative adjudication system for nonviolent, homeless offenders: “Launched in late 2010, the program aims to serve the unique needs of Boston’s homeless defendants, who often find themselves cycling through the court system for minor, nonviolent offenses, or in contempt for failing to respond to court summonses they often don’t receive because they’re living on the streets. It’s a gentler form of justice, but no quick fix. Defendants…who volunteer for Homeless Court are required to make a yearlong commitment. During that time, they get mental health and substance abuse counseling and a bed at the Pine Street Inn, or, for those with more severe mental health or addiction issues, at Shattuck Hospital. Defendants without a high school diploma are offered tutoring and GED prep classes. All are required to brush up their job skills or learn new ones.”  (Full story from the Boston Globe.) 
  • 8.11.12 – in NOLA, a Times-Picayune editorial argues for more prudent budgeting by the Orleans Parish public defender’s office. Budget volatility forced large cuts in the Orleans Parish public defender’s office earlier this year. But a report commissioned by the Louisiana Public Defender Board has concluded that a lack of fiscal prudence and other management mistakes aggravated the circumstances.  But management was not the only issue.  Public defenders in New Orleans have a staggering case load. Attorneys assigned to Municipal Court each handled 2,500 cases last year. That’s more than six times the national standard of 400 misdemeanor cases.  The editorial concludes arguing for more sustainable funding streams for the defender to avoid future volatility. 
  • 8.10.12 – “The [Ohio Legal Aid Foundation (OLAF)] says it’s saved more than 2,300 homes since 2008 using both its own lawyers and volunteer attorneys in private practice. And calls for free legal help have jumped about 60 percent over those four years. But funds — which come from federal grants, donations and court fees and interest – are drying up.”  (Short piece from WKSU.  And here’s a link to OLAF’s 2011 annual report, released earlier this month.)

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Public Interest News Bulletin – August 10, 2012

courtesy of

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, from Washington, DC, where the sun is emerging after several hours of drenching summer rain.  Did you know that this day in history is a hugely significant one for the museum-goers among us?  On August 10, 1793, the Louvre opened its doors with its twofold mission of celebrating beautiful art and making non-French people feel uncultured.   But here in the US of A, on August 10, 1846 Congress chartered the Smithsonian Institution, which has since connected millions upon millions of people with art, science, and history.  

Speaking of history, unfortunately some of the history being written today concerns persistent economic hardships confronting families throughout the U.S.  Here’s an NPR story on the growth of poverty in the U.S. “According to a recent survey by The Associated Press, the number of Americans living at or below the poverty line will reach its highest point since…1964. Close to 16 percent of Americans now live at or below the poverty line. For a family of four, that’s $23,000 a year. On top of that, 100 million of us — 1 out of 3 Americans — manage to survive on a household income barely twice that amount. How is this poverty crisis happening?…”  (Full story.)

  • On a related note here is a slideshow – The Faces of Food Stamps – that looks at the stories of several food stamp recipients, including the economic circumstances that forced them to seek help for themselves and their families.  Just for some broad-brush context: over one in seven Americans benefits from food stamps (a/k/a the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) these days.

The week in access-to-justice news, in short:

  • report both criticizes and praises NOLA’s public defender in relation to a funding crisis the office is working through;
  • stricter standards for determining eligibility for indigent defense in the Bay State?;
  • a new initiative to make technology work for Washington State civil legal aid programs and clients;
  • a pro bono attorney is appealing sanctions in hopes of getting an en banc hearing from the 9th Circuit;
  • will the ABA roll out a legal job corps?;
  • legal aid funding woes in the Sunflower State;
  • ditto in Old Dominion;
  • staff reductions coming at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid;
  • on a brighter note, the Florida Bar Foundation is expecting a windfall;
  • public defenders must defend themselves from professional indignities;
  • Ohio legal aid providers face harsh fiscal realities;
  • same thing for a Northern California provider;
  • the St. Louis Post Dispatch calls for $ for the state’s indigent defense system;
  • Memphis gets help from the Public Defender Corps program;
  • DC law-firm associates raise almost a million bucks for the Legal Aid Society;
  • the vital role of pro bono lawyers in helping Chicagoans who face foreclosure;
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 8.9.12 – “A new report on the Orleans Parish public defender’s office places most of the blame on the office’s leadership for a major budget crisis earlier this year that forced heavy bloodletting. But the review also praised Derwyn Bunton, the chief public defender, for helping to build a professional office from what was a bare bones operation comprised of part-time lawyers before Hurricane Katrina.  The 66-page report, commissioned by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, comes six months after a major fiscal crisis for an office that represents more than 80 percent of criminal defendants in Orleans Parish and handled 30,000 cases in 2011.”  (Full story from the Times-Picayune.)
  • 8.9.12 – a Boston Globe editorial argues for stricter standards in determining whether a criminal defendant should be financially eligible for a public defender’s services. The piece highlights the fact that the state’s high court has recently taken notice of what it sees as overly lax standards for assessing indigence.
  • 8.7.12 – some folks with the Northwest Justice Project (which is where I fell in love with the idea of being a public interest lawyer) talk about their work “creating a series of instructive videos for through the federal Communities Connect Network Project (part of the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) which aims to increase access to technology and improve legal literacy for unrepresented Washingtonians.”  The interview was conducted by the good people at
  • 8.7.12 – “A coalition of public interest groups and two law professors are supporting a call for en banc review of sanctions imposed on an Arizona pro bono attorney in a blistering opinion by a federal appeals court panel.  In a June 21 opinion (PDF), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a personal award of costs against attorney Howard M. Shanker, finding that he ‘grossly abused the judicial process’ by pursuing a harassing, duplicative lawsuit on behalf of his clients.”  I don’t know anything about the merits of the case.  I include this in the Bulletin b/c some parties supporting the en banc review are worried about a chilling effect with respect to the willingness of pro bono counsel to bring cases if they fear the possibility of sanctions.  Granted, this is affirmative litigation, which is not the normal posture for a lot of pro bono cases.  Nevertheless the ABA Journal article is worth a read.   
  • 8.7.12 – speaking of the ABA, they may really get into the postgraduate employment business, and this could impact the public interest community: “ABA President-elect James R. Silkenat told of a plan to create a legal job corps to match unemployed lawyers with underserved communities during a speech to the ABA House of Delegates….  Silkenat, who becomes ABA president in 2013, said there is a need to find meaningful jobs for lawyers and to make sure all parts of society have access to legal assistance. ‘Access to justice is more than just a catchphrase,’ he said.  Silkenat told the ABA Journal that the job corps would operate in both cities and rural areas. A few law schools have tried to implement the idea, he said, but ‘the ABA is the only party that can put it together nationally’.”  Hmmm.  (Full article in the ABA Journal.)
  • 8.7.12 – this article is ostensibly about $4000 of county funding for Kansas Legal Services, but goes on to highlight how KLS’s funding has been hit in the recession’s wake and the challenges it faces at present.  (Story in the Hillsboro Free Press.)
  • 8.6.12 – Jacksonville Area Legal Aid is looking at a sizeable staff cut: “Funding declines for [JALA] will cause the organization to lay off about 20 percent of its staff in the coming weeks.  Including satellite offices, JALA employs about 85 people. A 20 percent cut would indicate a loss of 17 positions.”  IOLTA funding falloffs are the main culprit: “JALA received $1.2 million in 2011, and is projected to receive $550,000 in 2013 and $350,000 in 2014.”  (Story from the Jacksonville Daily Record.)
  • 8.6.12 – on a brighter note, almost half a million dollars is flowing to the Florida Bar Foundation: “Attorney General Pam Bondi today announced that ProVest, LLC, one of Florida’s largest service processing firms, has agreed to pay $462,500 to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the legal aid program that assists low-income individuals facing foreclosure. The settlement with ProVest resolves allegations regarding improper service of process in foreclosure cases filed in courts throughout Florida.”  Here’s the press release.
  • 8.6.12 – former public defender and current law professor Jay Silver recounts the professional indignities suffered by those who choose careers in public defense.  Criticism can come from all quarters – family members, clients, etc. – so a thick skin and strong sense of commitment are necessary for defenders to succeed.  (Full story from the National Law Journal.)   
  • 8.5.12 – a look at the harsh funding climate in which Ohio’s legal services providers are operating.  Frightening quote: “The Legal Aid Society of Columbus employed 74 people in 2008. Now, it employs 42.”  (Full story from the Columbus Dispatch.)
  • 8.5.12 – from Northern California: “A local nonprofit that has helped represent nearly 10,000 clients in legal matters in Placer and surrounding counties over the past four years alone has lost $165,847 in grant funding over the past two years, along with vital state and federal funding.  In the wake of massive federal and state funding cuts, Northern California Legal Services Motherlode Region, based in Downtown Auburn, and its other offices throughout Northern California, have had to start turning away many low-income residents desperate for legal help. Now, the legal nonprofit can only help people covered under very specific grants.  As of July 26, there was no new intake of clients except for seniors over 60 and those with health-related legal matters. As of Aug. 6, intake for some emergency cases will continue through September and will be reevaluated after that. The free legal clinics offered by the organization will also continue, but the staff and attorneys have been cut nearly in half over the past few years.”  (Full story from Auburn Journal.)
  • 8.5.12 – following a state supreme court ruling about public-defender caseloads, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial laments the under-funding of the state’s indigent defense system and argues that funding the system adequately now will save the state money in the long term: “Judges, prosecutors and public defenders have met privately time and time again without results. Prosecutors have scoffed, saying they’re as overworked as the public defenders — although, of course, they choose which cases to prosecute. Judges say they’re caught in the middle.  The Legislature and governor deal with this problem the way they deal with so many others: They punt.  Not every problem can be fixed with more funding. This one can. Do the math.”  (Here’s the full editorial.)
  • 8.5.12 – Public Defender Corps attorneys are starting work in The River City.  “Memphis is joining a movement to reform how indigent defendants are treated — in and out of the courthouse.  The idea is that public defenders may be able to help curb recidivism by helping their clients address many underlying problems, such as mental illness, unemployment and drug or alcohol addictions. Memphis’ forward-thinking helped the city earn a part in the lauded national Public Defenders Corp. program, said Jonathan Rapping, founder and president of Atlanta-based Southern Public Defender Training Center. The center and the D.C.-based Equal Justice Works lead the program, which also receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.”  (Full story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.)  Unfortunately DOJ is no longer going to fund the Public Defender Corps program.  My understanding is that Southern Public Defender Training Center and Equal Justice Works are hunting for other funding options now.
  • 8.3.12 – finally, some good funding news: “In a year fraught with financial uncertainty, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia recently got some good news: the civil legal services group’s annual Generous Associates Campaign blew past its goal and previous fundraising highs, taking in a record $901,000…. Money earned from the campaign, which is run by associates at law firms across the city, makes up between 20 to 25 percent of the organization’s operating budget….” (Full story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 8.1.12 – the Chicago Lawyer reports on the vital role of pro bono attorneys in running a courthouse based foreclosure prevention program administered by Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.

Music!  Reading news stories from Memphis and St. Louis has got me thinking about the Mississippi.  So here’s some riverboat gambling music from Wilco, which, before becoming an art-rock darling, was a scrappy Illinois  rock band.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – August 3, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  All other news this week was eclipsed by the Glorious Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Franchise’s personnel decisions.  In the midst of a woeful season, the Phils traded away center fielder Shane Victorino, a fan favorite because of the grit, grace, and enthusiasm with which he plays the game.  I commemorate Victorino’s (a/k/a “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”) splendid Philadelphia years in haiku:

Flyin’ Hawaiian

Embodied Philly baseball

He’s gone; I’m dyin’

I don’t often post my original poetry here.  YOU’RE WELCOME.  Heh.  Before turning to this week’s access-to-justice news, here is a pair of other, more serious items that have caught my attention:

  • Much ink has been spilled over the questions of whether and how the widening income gap between the U.S.’s wealthiest and poorest is impacting American culture.  Much of the spilled ink takes form as speculation; relatively little hard data is available to help us explore the question.  But some interesting Pew research shows that we are increasingly segregated by income with respect to the neighborhoods/housing-clusters we live in.  There are fewer mixed-income and middle-class neighborhoods.  Here’s a Washington Post article and here’s a link to the Pew research overview.
  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy put out research on a salary gender gap among junior-level nonprofit employees: “Even early in their careers, women are likely to make less than their male counterparts, according to a Chronicle survey of entry-level nonprofit workers. The study of more than 900 people who have been in the nonprofit workforce less than five years also found that women have lower salary expectations than men do.”  Read more here and play around with charts that sort the data by education level, including one sorting for “Law degree, medical degree, or PhD.”

Okay, access-to-justice and public interest news (which happens to be heavy on indigent defense this week):

  • the Nat’l. Center for Access to Justice has launched a survey on law student pro bono;
  • The Montana Legal Services Association benefits from national mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds;
  • The Virginia Legal Aid Society shutters an office;
  • Some public defenders in the Peace Garden State (great nickname!) face swollen caseloads;
  • Four NorCal immigration legal services providers splitting $650K in foundation funding;
  • Short-staffed Philly public defender’s office pulls out of 3 busy courtrooms;
  • A community-based diversionary court program is lowering recidivism in D.C.;
  • NOLA defender sues traffic court, says “Show me the money!”;
  • the Show Me State’s high court issues a (limited) decision on public defender caseload limits;
  • the Legal Services Corporation releases its 2011 annual report;
  • the Wisconsin ATJ Commission begins a series of public hearings;
  • a possible prosecutors’ strike in Contra Costa County, CA(?);
  • a county near Pittsburgh, PA may go to more staff defenders, fewer appointed counsel;
  • Garden State pro bono numbers;
  • grant funding available for state ATJ commissions;
  • a look at caseload pressures on Bluegrass State public defenders;
  • Why can’t we end poverty in the U.S.?;
  • a look at the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society;
  • Calcasieu defender’s office in Louisiana forced to cut back on conflict counsel;
  • Music!  And Space!

The summaries: 

  • 8.1.12 – “The National Center for Access to Justice is preparing a Guide to Strengthening Law Student Pro Bono to Increase Access to Justice and is seeking your help.  If you work in a court, legal services program, law school, law firm, Access to Justice Commission, bar association, or other justice system setting, we hope you will respond to this call. The Guide is focusing on ‘volunteering,’ as distinct from clinics, externships, fellowships, and other activities which law students pursue for credit or pay.  The Center is gathering examples of best practices in which law students, as volunteers, are making a difference….  The Center seeks your input via a survey monkey instrument or via email, Please also feel free to email the Center’s Executive Director with any questions, David Udell,”  
  • 8.1.12 – Montana’s attorney general announced how the state’s share of settlement funds from a class-action over shady lending and foreclosure practices are being divvied.  The Montana Legal Services Association will receive $863,000 to serve low-income homeowners facing foreclosure-related problems.  (Here’s the AG’s announcement.)  
  • 8.1.12 – public defenders in North Dakota are facing swollen caseloads and are short on attorneys to handle them.  The state’s indigent defense program director cites a “crushing” caseload in one rural office on the state’s western edge.  (Full story from the Williston Herald.) Unsolicited speculation by your author: North Dakota has enjoyed a natural-resource-driven economic boom of late, and droves of people have found employment there.  I suspect that with all of this inflow and churn, the state government – including its indigent defense program – is feeling some strain to keep up with the need for services.  Also, speaking of western North Dakota, if you’ve never been to Theodore Roosevelt National Park you’re missing out.
  • 8.1.12 –  The Silicon Valley Community Foundation “announced Tuesday, July 31, that it is donating $654,090 in grants to organizations providing immigration [legal] services for low and moderate-income residents of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. This is the foundation’s third year of donating to legal services for immigrants in the area. The money will be divided between four organizations: Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, the Mission Asset Fund, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the International Institute of the Bay Area.  The organizations receiving the grant money all offer various immigrant services, including visas, naturalization, asylum and assistance to survivors of violence.”  (Full story from the Mountain View Voice.)
  • 8.1.12 – the Philly public defender’s office has pulled out of three courtrooms on account of longstanding attorney shortages: “Staffing has been eliminated for now at three of the busiest Common Pleas courtrooms in Philadelphia.  The action is not being taken by city officials.  Rather it’s a form of protest by the defender’s association. (Here’s a WHYY interview with Philadelphia Public Defender Ellen Greenlee.)
  • 8.1.12 – a report from the D.C. Superior Court (our trial-level court) highlights the success of a neighborhood court diversionary program, most of the participants of which are minor drug offenders.  The main takeaway is that the recidivism rate among East of the River Community Court (ERCC) participants was markedly lower compared to defendants in the regular court system. Here’s a link to the report, courtesy of the Legal Times.
  • 7.31.12 – “The chief public defender in Orleans Parish and the state board that oversees indigent defense in Louisiana filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the four New Orleans Traffic Court judges, seeking millions of dollars they claim the court has illegally withheld in fees slated for poor defendants. The lawsuit, filed in East Baton Rouge Parish, claims the judges have failed to follow state law in collecting and turning over an indigent defense fee that rose from $35 to $45 per conviction this year. The lawsuit follows a standstill between the state Public Defender Board and the judges over the court’s responsibility to make up for past failures and pay what it owes.”  (Full story from the Times-Picayune.)
  • 7.31.12 – “A divided Missouri Supreme Court concluded Tuesday that a judge exceeded his authority when appointing a public defender despite a rule that restricts new clients to control caseloads…. The state public defender system has set maximum caseload standards for its offices. When limits are exceeded for three consecutive months, the public defender director can certify that the local office has limited availability for cases. Officials then are supposed to work with prosecutors and judges to reduce demand for public defenders and can refuse new cases if an agreement is not reached…. The Supreme Court ruled, in a 4-3 decision, that the caseload rule should have been applied because nothing was shown to suggest that the protocol was invalid or inapplicable.”  (Here’s the full AP story.)  More coverage:
    • “With Tuesday’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that Missouri State Public Defenders Commission has the authority to set rules governing procedures for the district offices.  But the twist: The court did not decide whether this specific rule, which allows a district office to close when caseloads reach a maximum level set by the commission, was proper.”  (Full article from the Springfield News-Leader.)
  • 7.31.12 – the Legal Services Corporation has released its 2011 annual report.  Here are some key data points from the report’s “By the Numbers” section:
    • The number of Americans eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance reached an all-time high: 64.6 million.
    • LSC’s 135 grantees employed 8,363 full-time staff at 915 offices throughout the United States and its territories.  4,097 were attorneys, 1,447 were paralegals.  [Ed. note: according to prior year’s (2010) report, there were 9059 full-time staff working with LSC grantee programs.]
    • 32,101 private attorneys accepted pro bono cases through LSC-funded programs.
    • Cases closed: 899,817, including 79,578 with the involvement of pro bono attorneys.
    • 117,595 clients were at least 60 years old.
    • 637,426 were women.
    • 105,090 of the cases involved domestic violence.
    • Total number of people in all households served: 2,284,162.
  • 7.31.12 – “On Tuesday [7/31/12], the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission hosted a public hearing to learn more about that challenge.” The committee is hosting a total of six hearings throughout the Badger State, and intends to produce a report based on the data and stories it gathers.  (Full story from WQOW.)
  • 7.30.12 – From Contra Costa County in N. California: “Contra Costa supervisors voted Tuesday to impose a labor contract on [unionized] county prosecutors that includes deep pay cuts, despite District Attorney Mark Peterson’s assertion that he can find savings the county needs elsewhere in his budget…. The District Attorney’s Office is the most understaffed, overworked prosecutorial unit in the Bay Area, and cutting compensation further will hurt morale and likely lead to more attorneys leaving, Peterson said…. The supervisors said they were only able to pass a balanced budget this year because the county’s employee unions have made sacrifices, and that deputy district attorneys need to do the same…. The prosecutors say they have been discussing striking, and could challenge the contract in labor court.”  (Full story from the Silicon Valley Mercury News.)
  • 7.30.12 – Westmoreland County (PA) officials are mulling a plan to cut the number of private lawyers appointed to represent criminal defendants. Court administrators estimate that about $150,000 a year can be saved by retaining a staff of five attorneys earning an annual salary rather than the current system in which dozens of lawyers are appointed and paid on an hourly basis. ‘Other than personnel, this is the courts’ largest line item,’ said court administrator Paul Kuntz.  Last year, judges appointed more than 50 private lawyers who represented about 330 defendants. The county paid $368,000 for those lawyers.  Attorneys are appointed by the courts to represent criminal defendants when there is a conflict of interest with the public defender’s office. For the last several months, court officials have explored methods to reduce these costs.  Kuntz surveyed 33 counties throughout Pennsylvania and found that most — 25 — used independent staff to deal with these cases.  (Full story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)
  • 7.30.12 – Garden State pro bono numbers.  “New Jersey’s top 20 firms racked up 100,746 pro bono hours in 2011, breaking 100,000 for the second time but leaving intact last year’s record of nearly 104,000 hours.  Still, the 2011 figure represents an impressive average of more than 33 hours for each of the 3,027 attorneys at the top 20 firms.  And the proportion of those who did 20 hours or more of pro bono went up in 2011, from 25.7 percent to 28 percent.  Leading the pack once again were the same firms that have held the top four spots since 2008: Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, Gibbons and McCarter & English, both in Newark, and Porzio Bromberg & Newman in Morristown.”  (Full story from the New Jersey Law Journal.)
  • 7.30.12 – funding available for state access-to-justice commissions: “With funding from the Public Welfare Foundation, the ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is making grants to strengthen the Access to Justice commission movement nationally by facilitating development of new Access to Justice commissions and expanding agendas and promoting innovative initiatives in existing commissions.”  (Here are grant application process/timeline details from the ABA.)  Tip of cap to Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice blog.
  • 7.29.12 – here’s an article looking at the pressures weighing upon Kentucky’s indigent defense network (the Department of Public Advocacy), with particular focus on the very busy Bowling Green office.  (DPA just released its 2011 annual report.)  From the article: “The picture of the overworked public defender buried in casework is rooted in fact, particularly in the Bowling Green office….  The Bowling Green office handled 5,437 new cases, the fifth-highest total among the 30 trial offices. The average caseload of 515.1 new cases per attorney in the local office is the third-highest average in the state, and when ongoing criminal cases are factored into a public defender’s caseload, the Bowling Green office had the highest average attorney caseload, with each attorney responsible for 799.8 cases….  Overall, Kentucky’s public defender caseload, which includes the Trial and Post-Trial divisions, has increased by about 43.5 percent from 2002 – when 108,078 new cases were assigned to the DPA – to last year, according to the DPA’s annual report.”  (Full article from the Bowling Green Daily News.)
  •  7.28.12 – Prof. Peter Edelman, chair of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and longtime supporter of civil legal aid, asks why we cannot end poverty in the U.S.  Edelman IDs federal programs that have helped the poor – Social Security, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, and then asks: “With all of that, why have we not achieved more? Four reasons: An astonishing number of people work at low-wage jobs. Plus, many more households are headed now by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income from the jobs that are typically available. The near disappearance of cash assistance for low-income mothers and children — i.e., welfare — in much of the country plays a contributing role, too. And persistent issues of race and gender mean higher poverty among minorities and families headed by single mothers.” (Read the full New York Times op-ed.)
  • In Louisiana, “Calcasieu Public Defenders Office announced it must cut back services due to budget shortfalls and that the office will withdraw as counsel for about 400 felony cases it’s now appointed to handle.  A spokesman says they will work with the judges to assign new attorneys from the private bar.”  The positions being cut are four of the office’s six conflict attorney slots.  (Full story from KPLC.)  

Music!  Hard to withstand The Temptations if you want to smile on a Friday morning. (Edit: link fixed.)

Space!  Check out this extraordinary time-lapse footage of Earth as seen from the International Space Station.  As trite as this notion may seem, perspective is everything, and viewing Earth from above is somehow humbling, frightening, and tremendously satisfying at once.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, from a sweltering, sun-drenched Washington, DC.  There is much public interest news to cover this week.  Before that, two other items of interest:

  • Is the U.S. experiencing the highest poverty levels in the last half-century? With new poverty data set for release in several weeks, experts expect that the poverty rate will hit its highest mark since the mid-1960s.  “Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.”  (Story from Washington Post.)
    • Another trend that augurs poorly for the poor is the potential for a continued rise in food prices as a result of drought conditions throughout most of the U.S. (Again, the Washington Post.)
  • From the law-firm world…the National Law Journal has published “The Equity Gap: a Special Report on Women in the Partnership.” The intro: “Virtually every firm claims to be committed to helping women succeed, and they all seem to offer an array of women’s programs — affinity groups, business-development training and work/life balance initiatives. But are large firms committed to promoting women into the equity partnership? Our study of the largest firms in the United States by headcount shows that women represent just 15 percent of equity partners. At just five firms surveyed, women make up more than 25 percent of equity partners.”  (Here’s the multi-part report.)

On to the public interest news.  This week in very short:

  • Access to justice a la Canadien;
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado raises $1.4m;
  • Cal. Western Law’s bridge-to-practice incubator program includes a public service component; 
  • This weekend: the Public Defender Advocacy Hiring and Training Conference for law students;
  • “So how do we define pro bono, and does clinical work count?,” asks a law professor;
  • civil legal services providers across the country benefitting from national mortgage foreclosure settlement funds;
  • the funding woes confronting Peach State legal services providers;
  • DC’s local court expands limited-scope representation to allow pro bono counsel to serve low-income litigants who would otherwise go pro se;
  • The Legal Services Corporation’s board is meeting in Michigan;
  • Birmingham, AL is moving from an appointed counsel system to a staffed public defense program;
  • Everything’s bigger in Texas, including pro bono;
  • A concise overview of successful pro bono models;
  • Recent innovations in legal education highlight a move toward experience-based learning.
  • Mick Jagger is 69 years old and I don’t know what to make of that.  Happy weekend.

The summaries:

  • 7.27.12 – ATJ news from our northern neighbors: “The Canadian Bar Association will take on pro bono family law and poverty law test cases as part of a major push in the coming year to improve the public’s access to justice, says its incoming president.  Robert Brun told The Lawyers Weekly that the CBA will provide representation to litigants pro bono in select cases that could set important precedents on the right to legally aided counsel in areas including prison law, mental health law and refugee law….  The CBA is also announcing a ‘major access to justice initiative’ at its Vancouver annual meeting next month, Brun said. The two-year project will include representations to governments.”  (Story from The Lawyers Weekly.)
  • 7.24.12 – “The Legal Aid Foundation [of Colorado] raised nearly $1.4 million in its 2011-12 Campaign for Justice, providing a welcome funding boost to a system strapped for cash.  Donations from law firms accounted for about 68 percent of the total, with many donor firms giving at the foundation’s suggested leadership level of $350 per associate…. The foundation is the fundraising arm of Colorado Legal Services, which has seen its budgets slashed in recent years.”  (Full story from Law Week Colorado.)
  • 7.24.12 – “California Western School of Law started the Access to Law Initiative last month. It places eight attorneys who each operate their own practices in an office in downtown San Diego’s Symphony Towers. In exchange, the attorneys pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service and ‘sliding scale fee’ legal service.  The new lawyers are mentored by professors and practicing attorneys.  Attorney Eric LaGuardia, a consumer rights lawyer who said he ‘represents the little guy,’ told KPBS the program acts as an incubator for recent law school graduates.  The program was started by California Western professor Robert Seibel and modeled on an initiative at City University of New York. San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law is currently establishing a similar project….” (Full story from KPBS.)
  • 7.24.12 – “Hoping to attract law students and young lawyers facing an increasingly dismal job market, representatives from public defender offices across the country are converging in Washington this weekend to make their pitch.  Since 2008, the D.C. Public Defender Service has organized a biennial conference dedicated to raising the profile of indigent criminal defense work. Public defender offices are often represented at general public interest job fairs, but PDS director of legal recruiting and conference organizer Jennifer Thomas said they saw a need for an event focusing on topics unique to public defender recruitment and jobs.  ‘In the civil legal services…everybody assumes you’re on the side of the angels. In criminal defense, the public perception is very different,’ she said.”  (Full story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 7.23.12 – in a blog post, Prof. Stephen Ellmann of New York Law School ruminates on the definitional ambiguity of “pro bono” and argues that clinical work performed by law students, even though credit-bearing, should count as pro bono for purposes of NY State’s to-be-imposed 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the bar.  (Here’s the full blog post.)
  • 7.23.12 – a look at how the civil legal services community is using funds from the national mortgage foreclosure class action settlement.  Attorneys general across the country are granting some of the settlement funds to legal services providers to bolster housing advocacy for those facing foreclosure and related legal problems.  (Here’s the information from a DOJ Access to Justice Initiative press release.)  
  • 7.23.12 – the funding woes of Georgia’s legal services providers: “Funding for the Georgia Legal Services Program, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation has dropped 13.5 percent since 2008, when their combined total budget was $24.2 million. To weather the losses, they’ve reduced staff, cut programs and dipped into reserve funds, even as the population they serve — people with civil legal problems who can’t afford a lawyer — has increased….  Atlanta Legal Aid, for example, has suspended its retirement plan for employees and for the past three years has dipped into its endowment to avoid layoffs, said its executive director, Steven Gottlieb.  But this year, Gottlieb finally had to lay people off. He said attrition and layoffs have shrunk Atlanta Legal Aid’s staff from 133 employees to 115 since the recession began. Another five to 10 people are also working fewer hours.”  And as is the case in many other jurisdictions, IOLTA revenues have fallen through the floor.  (Full story from the Daily Report.)
  • 7.23.12 – “In two high-volume branches of the District of Columbia Superior Court, civil legal services groups hope to prove that when it comes to pro bono representation, a little is a lot better than none. A policy recently adopted by the court gives the green light for pro bono lawyers to enter temporary appearances for low-income litigants in small claims and debt collections cases. Legal services lawyers say the change means they can provide much needed representation using minimal resources…. Under the new policy…lawyers can file a notice with the court that they’ll be representing a client for a single day of proceedings. Once proceedings are over for the day, the attorney-client relationship ends. There is precedent at the court for limited-scope representation. Beginning in 2007, the court began allowing temporary pro bono representation in the landlord and tenant branch. Last June, a similar policy was put in place for the paternity and child support branch.” (Full, but password-protected, story in the National Law Journal.) 
  • 7.23.12 – from a press release, details about the Legal Services Corporation board meeting which is taking place in Michigan on the 27th.
  • 7.23.12 – “Jefferson County [Birmingham and vicinity] courts will switch to a public defender system as part of a statewide effort to control the spiraling cost of providing lawyers for criminal defendants unable to afford counsel, officials said. The new public defender’s office will replace the current system of judges appointing lawyers for indigent defendants.  It’s hoped that a new defender will be in place this fall, and s/he will hire staff.  “Officials estimated the Birmingham division public defender’s office will have 40 lawyers and support staff.”  (Here’s the full story from the Birmingham News and here’s more coverage from the Montgomery Advertiser.)
  • 7.23.12 – “Despite having fewer average full-time equivalent lawyers in 2011 compared to 2010, the 18 firms sharing pro bono information for their Texas lawyers donated more hours than the previous year.” (It’s password protected, so that’s all I’ve got from this Texas Lawyer article.)
  • 7.17.12 – the National Jurist looks at innovations in legal education: “Law schools are pushing the boundaries of the traditional law school model and experimenting at a level that legal education has not seen for several years, a new story reveals.  The National Jurist invited every law school in the U.S. to submit a nomination for how it is innovating its curriculum. More than 40 schools responded, showing that schools are experimenting with boot camps, mentoring programs, technology and programs that mirror the medical school model.”  The magazine’s next issue, due out in late August, will highlight some schools’ novel approaches to training tomorrow’s lawyers.

Music!  Yesterday marked the 69th birthday of Mick Jagger, a rock & roll legend who is nonetheless rightly criticized for wearing tights way past his time (if ever a time there is).  Here’s one of the Rolling Stones’ best.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 20, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  The presidential election season, quite like law school on-campus interview programs, no longer waits until late summer to shift into fifth gear.  Oh, what unmitigated joy.  I find it a challenge, amidst minute-by-minute coverage of campaign tiffs over tax returns, allegations of cronyism, and the like, to keep an eye on what the truly important news is.  Lately I’ve been focused on economic matters.  The global economy is humankind’s most complex creation.  And we live in a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty.  Two evolving news stories seem highly important to me.           

First, Congress and the Obama Administration face a serious decision on what to do about expiring tax cuts and the prospect of drastically reduced federal spending.  As is explained in this Washington Post piece, we are approaching the so-called “fiscal cliff”: “Economists say the automatic actions slated to take place at the end of the year — an increase in payroll taxes and in income tax rates, as well as large cuts in domestic and defense spending — would tip the country back into recession.  Congress could prevent that outcome, but lawmakers are pledging to do so only on their terms, creating fears of more partisan gridlock. Democrats insist that taxes rise for higher-income earners; Republicans want to include the affluent in any renewal of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.  Meanwhile, the prospect of a government-induced recession is already taking a toll on the economy.”

Second, PBS’s Frontline series “Money, Power, & Wall Street”, which aired this spring, provides excellent insight into the evolution of American investment banking, its role in 2008 global financial crisis, and present state of the Wall Street investment sector.  As to the latter, the question of whether or not appropriate systemic checks are in place to avoid a future financial bubble-burst is an open one.  And of course opinions differ as to whether and how regulatory safeguards can keep up with rapid investment-market innovation.   Upshot: the Frontline reporting on these aspects of a very tumultuous past five years, which have left us looking into an uncertain future, is excellent.

On to public interest news.  This week in very short:

  • joint military/civilian pro bono initiatives to benefit servicemembers;
  • the public defender caseload limits in Washington State are a victory for the justice system;
  • in NY, nonprofits can now get their bail-posting on;
  • more attorney support for an understaffed PA defender’s office;
  • an NYC task force convened to look at the poor legal job market includes several public service lawyers;
  • eleemosynary sentiment benefits a Vermont Law legal clinic;
  • the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says “no” to a cy pres proposal;
  • the Chicago Bar Association and Foundation say “congrats!” to pro bono award winners;
  • impact of legal services funding cuts in northeastern New Jersey;
  • a glass ceiling shatters in the Ocean State;
  • legal services funding news from Down Under;
  • a look at insufficient indigent defense funding in several states;
  • Washington State’s public defenders are uncertain about implementing the state’s new caseload limits;
  • more stringent standards to determine eligibility for a public defender in the Bay State;
  • the Pro Bono Institute’s report on Biglaw pro bono in 2011 is a mixed bag, with overall good news but some trouble spots;
  • cy pres funding allows two Peach State law schools to create new public interest scholarships.
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 7.19.12 – the Navy JAG’s blog looks at the ABA Military Pro Bono Project: “The…Project, established in 2008, is an innovative collaboration between the military and civilian bars designed to expand legal support for active-duty enlisted service members nationwide.  The Project accepts case referrals from military legal assistance attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families regarding civil legal problems; working to place those cases with qualified civilian attorneys ready to provide free (pro bono) assistance beyond what can ordinarily be provided by military counsel.   The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, an ABA clearinghouse designed to link military attorneys with local civilian attorneys who may provide guidance and expertise in specific subject matters to best serve military clients.
  • 7.18.12 – an op-ed in the Seattle Times voices support for the newly imposed public defender caseload limits in Washington State.  The piece notes that King County’s (Seattle and vicinity) well-respected indigent defense system has operated with caseload limits for some time, and those limits have contributed to high-quality defense work.  
  • 7.18.12 – “Non-profit groups can post bail for poor defendants charged with minor crimes under new legislation signed Wednesday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Supporters say the law creates more fairness in the bail system for indigent defendants facing low-level offenses. Some defendants frequently languish in jail, unable to afford even low bail amounts, according to public defenders.  The bill exempts “charitable bail” organizations from the licensing requirements imposed on for-profit bail-bond businesses, which typically charge interest or require collateral when hired to post bail for criminal defendants.” (Story from Thomson Reuters.)
  • 7.17.12 – some progress in resolving an understaffed-public-defense-office problem in PA – one that spawned an ACLU lawsuit.  “Indigent defendants who were denied representation by the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office earlier this year will be represented by a pool of 10 attorneys employed by the county to handle cases in which the office has a conflict.  Deputy Court Administrator Mike Shucosky said the attorneys, known as conflict counsel, agreed to take on the cases in order to assist the county in resolving its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.  Hundreds of defendants were left without representation after Chief Public Defender Al Flora announced in December that his office, due to a lack of staffing, was limiting the types of cases it would accept to serious felonies, with certain exceptions.”  (Full story frm the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.)
  • 7.17.12 – the NYC Bar has convened a task force to explore the anemic lawyer job market.  The task force includes several attorneys from the nonprofit and government arenas.  “The Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys; New York City’s Corporation Counsel; Deans and leaders of Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, CUNY and Cardozo Law Schools; law firm leaders from Paul Weiss, Simpson Thacher, Skadden Arps and Freshfields; the chief in-house counsel from BNY Mellon, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Xerox and Con Ed; and the heads of The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services of New York are among those convening at the New York City Bar Association to address what City Bar President Carey Dunne has described as the ‘plight of young lawyers’…. The New York City Bar Association’s ‘Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession’ will be led by City Bar Vice President Mark Morril, who said, ‘The group we have assembled has the depth and breadth of experience necessary to assess the problem and the leadership position to be heard on significant recommendations for change if they are warranted’.” (Full story in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.) 
  • 7.17.12 – a $100K gift will support a Vermont Law School clinical program.  “Alden Fiertz [widower of a former Vermont Legal Services attorney] has given $100,000 to strengthen the social justice partnership between Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC) and the Upper Valley Haven, which provide a range of legal, housing, food and other services to needy families.  The two institutions have had an informal partnership for years, but the Fiertz family’s donation will allow the SRLC to expand its free legal services for people in poverty.”   (Full story from Vermont Business.)
  • 7.17.12 – (Full disclosure: I love Frosted Mini-Wheats.)  A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has cy pres implications.  Essentially, the court rejected the idea that cy pres funds could go to charities that support feeding the poor in a case involving a false advertising claim against a cereal maker.  “The Ninth Circuit found that the cy pres provisions bore no resemblance to the claims in the case, which were about false advertising to consumers, not food for the indigent. The court cited its own precedents in Six Mexican Workers v. Arizona Citrus Growers, issued in 1990, and Nachshin v. AOL LLC, issued on Nov. 21. Both rulings struck down settlements because no nexus existed between the cy pres provisions and the class members.  ‘The gravamen of this lawsuit is that Kellogg advertised that its cereal did improve attentiveness,’ [Judge] Trott wrote. ‘Thus, appropriate cy pres recipients are not charities that feed the needy, but organizations dedicated to protecting consumers from, or redressing injuries caused by, false advertising’.”  (Full story from the National Law Journal.) 
  • 7.16.12 – a glass ceiling shattered in the Ocean State: For the first time in Rhode Island, a woman is leading the Office of the Public Defender.  Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday swore in Mary McElroy to head the office, which he says critical to the state.  (Full story from WPRI.)  
  • 7.16.12 – for those whose interests know no borders, here’s some legal services funding news from kangaroo country: “COMMUNITY lawyers are calling for a doubling of federal spending on legal assistance services to help the estimated half a million Australians who miss out on legal help each year.  Community Law Australia, a coalition of community legal centres from across the nation, says the federal government must inject an extra $330 million a year into the system to ensure all Australians can access a basic level of legal assistance.”  (Full story in the Sydney Morning Herald.)
  • 7.15.12 – this short piece notes that Washington State’s public defenders are still sorting through the impact that the state high court’s recently imposed caseload standards will have on their offices. (Full story in The Daily News.)  [Editor’s note: the article refers to the court’s “ruling” and “decision.”  Strictly speaking the new rule is an order of the high court.  The order did not stem from a case that the court heard, but rather from the court’s authority to govern law practice in the state.] 
  • 7.13.12 – more stringent standards to determine eligibility for indigent defense in Massachusetts: “Criminal defendants in Massachusetts must prove that they can’t afford their own attorney before a judge can appoint a lawyer to represent them at taxpayer expense, the state’s highest court ruled Friday.  In a series of rulings, the Supreme Judicial Court tightened rules governing when defendants can get court-appointed lawyers.  The SJC also found that retirement account funds can be considered when calculating whether a defendant is indigent.”  (Full story from the Associated Press.)
  • 7.12.12 – “The Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project has released its report on the 2011 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® data. One hundred thirty-four participating firms reported in 2011, performing a total of 4,476,866 hours of pro bono work – a slight increase over 2010. This is the third highest year since the inception of the Challenge in 1995….   A particular point of concern is that service to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means decreased by 9.7 percent from 2010. Challenge firms donated 2,578,958 hours to this group in 2011.  Charitable giving by firms, however, was strong.”
  • 7.12.12 – two Georgia law schools, the University of Georgia (Bulldogs!) and Mercer University (Bears!) are benefitting from hefty cy pres residual awards which will go to funding public interest scholarships.  (Full story in the National Law Journal.) 

Music!  How about Boise, Idaho’s finest, Built to Spill, with “Center of the Universe”?

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 13, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  Things are busy, so this week you’re spared from my rambling preamble.  Lucky you, Friday the 13th notwithstanding.  Here’s the week’s access-to-justice news:

  • budget cuts hit North Penn Legal Services hard;
  • pro bono up in the Volunteer State (thus marking the 1546th time I’ve made a pro bono/Volunteer State pun);
  • a look at California’s pilot Civil Gideon projects;
  • Shpoonkle Pro Bono(?);
  • Uncle Sam’s new hiring processes are officially in place;
  • Chicago’s John Marshall Law School secures HUD grant to fight housing discrimination;
  • an Illinois county goes online with civil legal aid resources for clients;
  • cuts in indigent defense funding in the Empire State;
  • how Washington State indigent defense programs are responding to newly imposed caseload limits;
  • a 16-county, West Texas indigent defense project is a clinical program housed at Texas Tech Law.
  • Super Music Bonus

The summaries:

  • 7.12.12 – terrible news out of Pennsylvania: “A budget shortfall of $1 million for North Penn Legal Services, the only free civil legal aid provider in Northeast PA and a member of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, forced the organization to lay off 15% of its staff, and close two offices effective June 30. Those layoffs consist of attorneys, paralegals, support staff, intake workers, and administrators. The combined loss of service from office closings and staff layoffs will be 1,538 fewer cases handled and mean that NPLS employs one legal aid advocate for every 10,000 people living in poverty in its twenty county service area.”  (Full story on the PA Legal Aid Network website.)
  • 7.12.12 – this data had surfaced a few weeks ago, but it’s a pleasure to re-report on Tennessee’s increased pro bono numbers: “More attorneys in Tennessee are performing free, or pro bono, work for clients. That’s according to new data from the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which show that more than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing pro bono work for deserving clients.  The percentage is up 6 percent from last year. Not only that – it’s the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report their pro bono work in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year. The 46  percent figure does not include attorneys who have yet to renew their licenses and report hours.”  (Full from the Memphis Daily News.)
  • 7.11.12 – Tiela!  My friend Tiela Chalmers does an interview with ProBono.Net about her stewardship of a pilot program in California to expand the availability of civil legal services for individuals whose basic needs – housing, health, etc. – are threatened.  “The Shriver projects were created by statute in California with the idea of exploring what it would look like if we provided legal services on a really large scale. The Legislature, via the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, ultimately funded seven pilot projects in areas of basic human need – essentially housing and family law –around the state. LA’s Housing Project is the largest. It’s a collaboration between the LA Superior Court and four legal aid agencies: Inner City Law Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles (NLSLA) and Public Counsel.  The system is based on centralized intake in the downtown courthouse, at the Eviction Assistance Center, run by Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles. Once cases are taken and initial papers done, we decide whether the case should be full scope, or limited scope. If it’s appropriate for full scope, we refer the case to Inner City, LAFLA, or Public Counsel.”  Here’s the full interview.   
  • 7.11.12 – via a press release, lawyer-client matching site Shpoonkle (yes, that’s the name) announces that it’s getting into the online pro bono clearinghouse game with the launch of Shpoonkle Pro Bono: “Shpoonkle Pro Bono is an innovative non-profit organization focused within the legal community, whose mission is to serve as a national exchange for various charities and legal aid organizations by offering a centralized portal for both online fundraising and vetting legal work to attorneys.”  (I’d never heard of Shpoonkle before.  Wikipedia says it’s a recently created “reverse auction” clearinghouse, through which people with legal needs solicit dollar bids from attorneys on how much their legal work would cost.  It’s evidently stirred controversy in the legal community.)
  • 7.9.12 – big news for law students and recent grads who want jobs with Uncle Sam: “The government’s new program to attract students and recent graduates to public service takes effect Tuesday.  Agencies must transition from the current system to Pathways Programs, an initiative that grew out of a 2010 executive order directing agencies to make it easier for students and recent grads to pursue careers in the federal government. The new program includes three tracks: for current students, recent graduates and Presidential Management Fellows. Participants will be classified under a new Schedule D within the excepted service, and each program will honor veterans’ preference. Excepted service positions are designed to streamline the hiring process and have different evaluation criteria from the competitive service, in which applicants compete for jobs under the merit system.”  (Full article from Government Executive.)
  • 7.8.12 – an Illinois county is going online to connect residents with civil legal aid resources: “Legal assistance for low-income residents of Woodford County is as close as their personal computers. Or, absent those, their local library. The Woodford County Legal Self-Help Center came online last week. The website is designed to provide information and answers to questions about simple, civil legal issues.”  Illinois Legal Aid Online developed the website.  Here’s the site itself, and here’s the reporting from the Peoria Journal Star.
  • 7.8.12 – “[New York State] is reducing funding to counties for indigent defense by 25 percent – and offering the same amount through grants to improve the quality of the defense.”  This piece in the Hornell Evening Tribune homes in how Steuben County, NY will handle the cuts.
  • 7.8.13 – a glimpse at how Washington State counties are responding to the state high court’s newly imposed public defender caseload limits: “In the three weeks since the state Supreme Court announced a new cap on public defender caseloads, Tri-City court officials have been busy crunching numbers from almost 9,000 criminal cases spanning two years.  As head of the Benton & Franklin Counties Office of Public Defense, Eric Hsu must devise a numerical case-weighting system that will satisfy the newly adopted standards and each county’s budget constraints.  Yet, while the annual limits might be dropping for many contract lawyers who represent poor defendants, it does not necessarily mean they will see fewer cases.  That’s because the value given to each crime based on its complexity and other factors could end up being just a fraction of one point, leaving room for adding more cases before hitting that magical number set by Washington’s highest court.  Of equal concern is the fact that private law firms that handle some of the defense work in the Tri-Cities may no longer be allowed to continue taking cases.”  (Full story in The Tri-City Herald.)
  • 7.3.12 – here’s a piece looking at a West Texas public defense program, serving 16 counties, which is housed at Texas Tech Law and incorporates students into its operations.  It’s a sort of large-scale clinical office.  “The [Caprock Regional Public Defender Office], a program administered through the Texas Tech University School of Law Clinical Programs and funded by a Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant to Dickens County provides representation to indigent and juvenile defendants in 16 counties in Northwest Texas….  The CRPDO works to give access to legal counsel and increase the quality of representation provided to indigent citizens and juveniles accused of crimes. The CRPDO uses a cost-effective delivery model for indigent defense services and uses experienced defense counsel, and the resources available through the Texas Tech School of Law, including the assistance of qualified law students. The program is the first of its kind and will serve as a model for the state of Texas and possibly the entire country.”  (Full story from Texas Tech Today.)

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 6, 2012

By: Steve Grumm


Happy Friday, dear readers.  And happy Independence Day weekend.  I had an opportunity, yesterday, to live my patriotism. I had jury duty!  And although I thanked them privately, I wish to give a shout-out to the staffers who run D.C. Superior Court’s jury selection program.  They were kind, professional, and actually quite funny.  They knew how to keep a room full of impatient people calm.  Thanks, again. 

New Year’s resolutions are standard fare nowadays.  What I don’t understand is why folks don’t use Independence Day as a chance to lead their own, personal revolts – to declare independence from whatever in life may be hindering them.  For instance, on or around July 4, 1989 I declared independence from vegetables.  That didn’t stick.  Turns out a prerequisite for that would have been declaring independence from my mom.  But nowadays I’ve got more independence to declare my independences.  This year I’ve declared independence from people who treat strangers rudely.

Twice recently I’ve had to endure an adult belittling a service worker – once in an airport and once in a coffee shop.  I was behind these two people in line as they threw temper tantrums.  I’m a conciliator by nature.  So I’m often inclined, when these kinds of people – as they invariably do – turn around and look for affirmation from those around them, just to smile a thin-but-polite smile in hopes that it calms them down.  But I was so astonished at the airport person’s behavior that I realized the last thing I should be doing, even if passively, is affirming the behavior.  So I met this person with a blank stare.  And when he tried to elicit my support I continued staring but didn’t reply.  Ultimately he turned back around and became quiet.  I no longer wish to suffer adults who behave like children.  So I’ve declared independence from them. Feels good.

I’ve also declared independence from kale.

On to the access-to-justice news.  This week in very short:

  •  NJ law school clinic not subject to state’s open-public-records law;
  • Massachusetts prosecutors getting a pay bump;
  • Using Groupon to pay for civil legal aid;
  • when judges push plea deals, it may thin out the docket, but at what cost to defendants’ rights?;
  • Legal Services of New Jersey levels criticism at a state bar pro bono blueprint;
  • a kerfuffle over how indigent-defense contract lawyers are paid in Miami-Dade;
  • from Michigan: should defenders working with special-needs clients be trained specialists?;
  • a look at the forthcoming LSC appropriation battle;
  • Wyoming Center for Legal Aid, chartered in 2010, slow to get operating;
  • how funding cuts have affected indigent defense programs throughout the Sunshine State;
  • Virginia legal services community rolls out a high-tech, online pro bono clearinghouse;
  • state funding cuts to legal aid will continue through the Garden State’s next budget cycle;
  • Massachusetts prosecutors and defenders who are benefitting from John R. Justice Act LRAP funds can re-up this summer;
  • differing points of view about Washington State’s newly imposed indigent defense caseload limits;
  • the AmLaw pro bono report, 2012.

This week in less short:

  • 7.5.12 – law school clinic not subject to state’s open public record law: “The developer of an outlet mall in Sussex County can’t get records from a Rutgers University law clinic that represented two groups seeking to block its construction, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The ruling says the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, a training ground for Rutgers law students that handles cases for little or no cost, is not subject to the state’s public records law. The decision was praised by the law school and environmentalists who said it would combat “witch hunts” against those seeking help to protect the environment. The developer’s attorney said the developer should have been allowed to see who was behind the opposition to the project, which has won local approval but has yet to be built.”  (Story from the Star-Ledger.)
  • 7.5.12 – short and sweet salary news out of Massachusetts: “The $32.5 billion state budget approved last week by the Legislature includes 5 percent increases for all the state’s district attorneys…”  (Story from South Coast Today.)  
  • 7.3.12 – using the Groupon system to support a free legal advice clinic in Maryland: “Free legal advice is being offered to low-income residents in Maryland through a partnership between the JustAdvice Initiative and Groupon Grassroots, the philanthropic arm of Groupon.  JustAdvice, run by Civil Justice Inc. and the University of Maryland School of Law, has been offering low-cost legal consultations in areas such as family law, housing, employment and criminal matters since 2009 and is staffed by student attorneys and volunteer lawyers. The goal is to offer a low-cost alternative for those who do not qualify for Legal Aid but can’t afford to hire a private attorney….  Groupon subscribers can pledge support for the initiative in increments of $10 on the Baltimore Groupon Grassroots page through July 8. Each $10 donation goes toward legal advice for one person.”  (Story from the Baltimore Sun.) 
  • 7.3.12 – an examination of conflicting justice-system values when courts try to promote docket efficiency by encouraging arraignment pleas from defendants who have limited access to counsel: “More than eight of 10 cases in Northampton County are now resolved at arraignment, through guilty pleas or applications for first- or second-offender programs. It’s an approach the county embraced two years ago to address a packed docket in which cases were being delayed month-to-month without resolution.  It is heralded by court administrators for saving time and effort and easing jail crowding, and by some defense attorneys for the deals it offers. But it also has critics in the legal community who say it can trample on defendants’ rights by pushing a rush to judgment.”  (Story from Pottstown Mercury.)
  • 7.3.12 – some pro bono drama in the Garden State: “A New Jersey State Bar Association task force proposing to raise the roof on pro bono legal efforts is meeting opposition from an unlikely quarter — Legal Services of New Jersey, the state’s largest pro bono provider. In a…report titled “Closing the Justice Gap,” the task force recommends a raft of measures, including establishment of a judiciary commission; creation of a statewide pro bono web portal; allowance of CLE credit for pro bono work; and clarification and expansion of what qualifies for exemption from mandatory pro bono service. But LSNJ has decried the recommendations as the product of a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to assess the most pressing legal needs of the poor and the real obstacles to meeting those needs, including the economic realities at small and solo firms and the pressure at larger ones to rack up billable hours.  (Here’s the story from the New Jersey Law Journal.  Here’s a video clip from the state bar regarding the “Closing the Justice Gap” report.)
  • 7.2.12 – a kerfuffle over how indigent-defense lawyers re paid in Miami-Dade: “A new system aimed at limiting fees paid to court-appointed lawyers violates the U.S. Constitution and means poor defendants will get only ‘token representation’ by underqualified and overwhelmed lawyers, according to legal actions filed Monday…. The Miami branch of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an official objection and a request to the state’s Supreme Court trying to halt the ‘Limited Registry,’ a new system passed by lawmakers and set to begin July 1.  The new law creates a voluntary pool of lawyers who get first crack at receiving clients who, because of ethical conflicts, cannot be represented by the Public Defender’s Office or a second state-funded defense firm. Right now, private lawyers who represent indigent clients can earn up to $75 an hour on time-consuming criminal cases. But lawyers in the new pool will only receive a flat rate of between $750 to $2,500 on cases depending on the degree of the felony — with no chance to earn more money.”  (Full story from the Miami Herald.)
  • 7.2.12 – indigent defense news out of Michigan: “State lawmakers are in the process of drafting legislation to make sure people who cannot afford attorneys get adequate legal representation in criminal court. One of the complaints about Michigan’s system is it does not ensure public defenders have the skills and experience they need to properly represent their clients.  State Senator Bruce Caswell served on the governor’s commission on indigent defense. He says the system has to recognize the special needs of defendants who are children or people with mental health issues.” (Story from Michigan Public Radio.)  
  • 7.2.12 – “Once More, LSC Budget a Risk,” a piece in the National Law Journal, looks at the impending LSC appropriations battle, and highlights the impact that last year’s appropriation cut has already had on grantees throughout the country.  (The article’s password-protected, but if you can track it down I recommend the read.  It’s a good “where things stand now” piece. )
  • 7.2.12 – in 2010, at the behest of the state’s judicially created access-to-justice commission, the Wyoming legislature enacted a measure to create the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid in order to buttress funding for legal services in the Cowboy State.  While the organization was supposed to begin operating in 2011, to date it is still building an infrastructure.  Critics – including the state’s LSC-funded provider, Legal Aid of Wyoming, are restless, while proponents argue that moving slowly is the best course. Story from the Casper Star-Tribune.
  • 7.1.12 – Virginia’s going high-tech with its new statewide pro bono clearinghouse system: “Virginia’s system of providing free legal services to the poor is expected to improve significantly with a new online case management system that makes a limited debut Monday.  Justice Server eventually will allow lawyers throughout the state to log onto their office computer and select a free or “pro bono” case that’s fed into the system by legal aid organizations. Lawyers will be able to instantly search for the type of case they are interested in handling — uncontested divorce or landlord-tenant disputes, for example — and will have access to the entire case file with the click of a mouse.  Steve Dickinson, executive director of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said the system will replace cumbersome and time-consuming procedures “based on technology that peaked sometime in the 1970s.”  (Full story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.)
    • This raises an interesting-but-off-topic question for me: what, if any, technology that peaked in the ’70s is still holding out today?
  • 7.1.12 – state funding cuts to legal services continue in the Garden State.  “Though the governor added $600,000 in the fiscal 2013 budget for clinical legal programs for the poor administered by the law schools at Seton Hall and Rutgers in Camden and Newark, he cut $5 million for civil legal services. And he vetoed a Democratic bill that would have given $10,000 and a stable funding source to Legal Services of New Jersey. The organization represents low-income residents and lost $10,000 of its funding via Christie’s veto pen last year.” (Story from the Philly Inquirer.)  
  • 6.29.12 – Massachusetts prosecutors and defenders who are benefitting from the John R. Justice loan repayment program should look into re-upping.  Applications are due on 9/7, according to this announcement.
  • 6.29.12 – “Shocking cases of inadequate public defense in Washington [State] have led the state Supreme Court to take an unusual step. The high court has imposed a mandatory cap on the number of cases lawyers for the poor can take. You might assume public defenders would be cheering – finally they’re going to get relief. But in fact some lawyers are downright offended and angry.”  By “public defenders,” the piece is referring to attorneys who take indigent defense cases on a contract basis – and who stand to lose revenue because of what they see as one-size-fits-all caseload caps that they could safely exceed without diminishing they quality of their representation.  (Story from Northwest Public Radio.)  
  • 6.27.12 – The American Lawyer’s 2012 pro bono report is out: “For the first eight years of this century, The Am Law 200’s pro bono performance traveled in one direction: up. Between 2000 and 2008 average pro bono hours per lawyer swelled by more than 65 percent. Then the recession hit, marking the beginning of a persistent decline. In 2011 average hours fell to the lowest level in more than three years, with the percentage of lawyers who did more than 20 hours of pro bono work plunging to 43.5. Today, the future of pro bono looks a whole lot murkier than it did just a few years ago. While a recovering economy could lift pro bono work back to boomtime levels, it’s just as likely that changes in law firm staffing and an increasing fixation on cost control could depress pro bono hours for years. At the same time, innovative uses of technology and partnerships with clients could amplify firms’ efforts—a textbook case of doing more with less.”  

Super Musical Bonus.  Given not only the recent fireworks, but also the extraordinary heat-wave so many of us are enduring, a song called “July Flame” seems appropriate.  So here’s July Flame from Laura Veirs of Portland, Oregon.

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Public Interest News Bulletin: June 29, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.

Let’s immediately get the SCOTUS stuff out of the way.  My colleague Maria summarized the recent blockbuster decisions here.  (And SCOTUSblog has their as-always nuanced coverage.)  With that done…

There is a good deal of recent news about the fiscal challenges confronting state and local governments.  Layoffs are very much in the spotlight.  There is not good data on how many lawyer positions have been impacted so far during this period of post-recession fiscal reckoning.  Anecdotally, we know that many state/local government law offices are smaller than they were five years ago.  And on another front, this fiscal news can’t be good for legal services organizations which rely – or relied – on state grants. Let’s look at what the news is telling us:

  •  the New York Times reports: “Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government…. Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its post-recession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 706,000 jobs.”  On the state level, while revenues are back up there is fiscal angst about impending pension obligations.  Municipalities are up a creek, with property values – property taxes being the municipal bread and butter – having declined so precipitously.
  • the Wall Street Journal explores how state and local funding is likely to shape up over the next few years: “Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisors projects state and local government spending and investment will fall to about 10% of GDP by 2020, which would be the lowest level since the mid-1960s…. State and local government has subtracted from U.S. economic growth in every quarter since the middle of 2010.  Their 11.9% share of 2011 GDP was the the lowest since 2006….Much like the taxpayers they serve, these governments are going to be saving more.”
  • Sign of the times: Stockton, CA, a city of ~300,000 people, is going into bankruptcy.   

Unrelated: here’s yet another report on The Millennial Generation.  (I don’t remember being the object of such scrutiny as a Gen Xer, maybe because social scientists were about as interested in us as we in them.  We were invisible, latch-key kids even to researchers.  Hah.)  The 2012 Millennial Impact Report looks at the generation’s attitudes towards engaging the nonprofit community.  Tip of cap to the ABA’s Cheryl Zalenski, who via Twitter brought this to my tweetention.  Wow.  First and last attempt to coin a Twitter word.  Already embarrassed.  

This week in access to justice (or lack of):

  • indigent defense funding in Guam (yep, Guam);
  • Biglaw pro bono down
  • in CA, San Jaoquin County’s budget for prosecutors and defenders is leveling after years of cuts;
  • the rising cost of indigent defense in the Hawkeye State; 
  • a recent LSC summit about using technology to promote access to justice;
  • from Indiana, a look at the county-state push-pull over indigent defense funding;
  • funding to the rescue for the cash-strapped NOLA public defender;
  • with newly imposed caseload guidelines, Washington St. cities must figure out indigent defense funding;
  • “Pro Bono Partnerships Between In-House and Outside Counsel – Why Everyone Wins”
  • the Volunteer State sees a volunteer lawyer uptick;
  • maybe a new funding stream for Legal Services of New Jersey;
  • the impact of LSC cuts on Central PA legal services programs;
  • push for public defender pay boost in Philly;
  • Michigan commission says, “Change the public defense system.”
  • Montana’s public defense program needs more state funding;
  • Super Musical Bonus

The summaries:

  • 6.29.12 – the public defender in Guam is advocating for a budget boost to ensure his office effectively serves clients.  Money quote from Public Defender Services executive director Eric Miller as he made his case to local appropriators: “We want to be careful shepherds of your resources, but we also need to be careful shepherds of the constitutional rights of our clients,” Miller said. “Every law office needs training for their staff, and that is why we put it in the budget.”  (Story from the Pacific Daily News.)
  • 6.28.12 – AmLaw data suggests Biglaw pro bono is flagging: “Large law firms’ pro bono work continued to drop last year, both in terms of hours per lawyer and number of lawyers contributing 20 hours or more. Behind the decline are structural changes which suggest that a turnaround may not come anytime soon, according to the new report on the Am Law 200 in the July/August issue of ALM’s The American Lawyer and online at  Average pro bono hours per lawyer fell to 54.3 last year, down almost 12 percent from a 2009 peak, while the percentage of lawyers contributing 20 hours or more dropped to 43.5. Of the 169 firms responding to the survey, nearly two-thirds had a lower pro bono score than the year before.” (Here’s the article from Marketwatch.) 
  • 6.28.12 – Stockton’s bankruptcy notwithstanding, the county it sits in, San Jaoquin, may see leveling funding for prosecutors and defenders after years of cuts: “For five years, budget cuts have nipped away at the number of people working in San Joaquin County’s criminal-justice system.  County government has cut more than 30 percent of the positions in the District Attorney’s and the Public Defender’s offices.”  Indeed, the public defender looks to be hiring.  “The Public Defender’s Office was expected to add two positions before the board agreed to add about $646,000 to raise that number by four.”
  • 6.28.12 – this piece looks at the rising cost of indigent defense in Iowa, and the question of whether there are ways to better manage those costs.  There is a quite a bit of focus on whether some defendants who are assigned public defenders are actually incapable of paying for their defense.    (Story from the Gazette.) 
  • 6.27.12 – LSC’s recent technology summit: “LSC convened the 2012 Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice on June 21-22 in Silver Spring, Md.  Nearly 50 participants – including technology experts, academics, private practitioners, representatives of legal services programs, courts, and governmental and business entities – were invited to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing service of some form to all with a legal need.   This gathering, the first of two planned in 2012, focused on development of ideas.  A follow-up, tentatively planned for the fall, will focus on implementation.  Fourteen white papers were produced in advance of the summit and were used to focus the discussion.  They will be published, some in print and the rest online, by the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.”  (Here’s more on LSC’s website.)
  • 6.26.12 – in Indiana, an op-ed looks at some of the factors influencing the fiscal push-and-pull as county and state governments endeavor to fund indigent defense programs.  (Op-ed in the Star Press.)
  • 6.26.12 – some funding comes to the rescue for the NOLA defender’s office: “The Orleans Parish public defender’s office will soon restore services slashed during a budget fiasco in February, partly thanks to recent increases in fees that criminal defendants, traffic violators and seat belt scofflaws pay along with their fines…. The moves signal some stability — though at a far lower budget — for an office that has faced criticism for spending well beyond its means and waiting too long to cut costs.  The bloodletting in February, which created what Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter labeled a “constitutional emergency,” eliminated more than 20 lawyers, including many of the most experienced attorneys in the office, and a half-dozen investigators and staffers.”  The office will actually be hiring some lawyers now that funding circumstances ahve changed. (Article from the Times-Picayune.) 
  • 6.25.12 – “Officials in cities across Washington state say that even as they’re trying to find ways to cut budgets, new guidelines from the state Supreme Court will force them to cough up more money for people who are accused of crimes but can’t afford their own attorneys.  By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.”  (Read reactions from city officials and attorneys in the full AP article.)
  • 6.25.12 – A piece entitled “Pro Bono Partnerships Between In-House and Outside Counsel – Why Everyone Wins” looks at the legal industry’s and corporate America’s general views of pro bono; how law firms and corporations can work together to grow their pro bono programs; and why individuals, businesses and the general public benefit from pro bono partnerships….  Lawyers must continue to view pro bono as an integral part of their professional responsibility. Moreover, serving others who may be less fortunate “makes for a better company and better life,” as noted in AmLaw Daily’s recent piece entitled “The Purpose-Driven Firm.” What that means is that law firms will benefit by ensuring that pro bono is a vital part of their business plans and practices, but equally important, its lawyers will take great satisfaction in doing the right thing while enhancing their legal skills.  (Full article in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.)
  • 6.25.12 – pro bono’s on the rise in, appropriately, the Volunteer State: “The Board of Professional Responsibility released data showing that more than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing free (“pro bono”) legal work for deserving Tennesseans, an increase of six percent from last year. This is the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report pro bono in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year. The figure released does not include attorneys who that have yet to renew their licenses and report hours.”  (Full story in the Chattanoogan.)
  • 6.25.12 – Legal Services of New Jersey has been hard hit in the recession.  So this potential good news must be welcomed: “People would pay more in fees to cover upgrades to the state’s court system and legal services for the poor under a bill that won final passage approved in the Senate today.  The bill (A763) would raise $27.1 million through the fees. The state Supreme Court would decide which fees would increase and by how much, though no single fee hike could exceed $50. Legal Services of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that represents indigent clients in civil cases, would get $10.1 million from the fee hikes.”  (Full story at   
  • 6.25.12 – this piece in the Altoona Mirror looks at the impact of LSC funding cuts on Central Pennsylvania legal services providers, includine Laurel Legal Services and MidPenn Legal Services.
  • 6.24.12 – pay parity!  “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.  To close these sorts of gaps and to fill two dozen vacancies, the Defender Association is playing hardball with the Nutter administration, which funds the office.  Unless the city gives the association more money, it says, as of July, it will no longer staff three of Philadelphia’s 67 criminal courtrooms and cut back staffing in a fourth courtroom.”  (Story from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)
  • 6.23.12 – “The state should establish uniform standards for court-appointed attorneys because counties have failed to provide adequate defense, according to a governor’s commission report released Friday.  The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission, established by Gov. Rick Snyder in October, determined Michigan’s county-based system has resulted in an “uncoordinated, 83-county patchwork quilt” of public defense systems that has failed to provide adequate legal defense for people who can’t afford a lawyer. According to the report sent to Snyder and legislative leaders, a 13-member state commission should be formed to establish standards for indigent defense and to oversee the quality of the county-based system.  The commission also recommended the Legislature supplement county-based funding where necessary.” (Here’s the Detroit News article, and here’s the report of the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee.)
  • 6.21.12 – in Montana, “The State Public Defender’s Office continues to tell state lawmakers it needs more money. “A legislative committee heard a report today outlining how the office is short on resources. The public defenders will have to compete with many other requests for a piece of the state’s projected budget surplus…. Several Republicans on the committee also called for the Public Defender’s Office to start charging a small fee to those using the service as a way to raise funds—say $10 or $20.”  (Story from Montana Public Radio.) 

Super Musical Bonus: outrageously hot weather of the type DC is currently experiencing makes me want an ocean. Here’s Sun Kil Moon covering Modest Mouse’s “Ocean Breathes Salty.”

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Public Interest News Bulletin – June 22, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday Summer, dear readers.


The summer solstice occurred on Wednesday evening.  As if on cue, a week in DC that began at 70 degrees and rainy is ending at 95 degrees and infuriatingly humid.  Hurrah, or whatever.

Seeking comfort in northern climes, I’m about to leave for some business in Ottawa City.  My hosts have asked for a briefing about the public interest legal job market here in the U.S.  That’ll be a lot of fun news to deliver: legal services layoffs, layoffs on the state and local levels.  Etc.

But some good news emerged during my research.  Intrepid PSLawNet intern Maria Hibbard looked at the change in the number of federal attorney jobs from 2007-11.  Lo and behold, the number has increased.  In September, 2007, there were 29,845 positions classified as “General Attorney” in the executive branch agencies.  The figure has grown steadily, and in September 2011 there were 35,614.  If you need proof, here’s a table.  And we all know that tables on the Internet are always unassailable proof of the proposition asserted.  (The data is available on the Fedscope database.)   

Completely unrelated: it’s been a good week for history buffs.  A lot of old came back to be new(s).

  • Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in which led to the downfall of the Nixon presidency and the rise of Woodstein-style investigative journalism.  (Imagine: without Watergate, there may be no Anderson Cooper 360.  And where would we be then, people?)
  • June 18 marked the 62nd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s – he the savior of Britain and cigar-chomping curmudgeon – famous Finest Hour Speech.  (Yeah I know a 62nd anniversary is not a huge deal but I heard about it on BBC so let’s just pretend it’s a round number.)
  • And even further back – I’ll let you do the math – the War of 1812 broke out on June 18.  This war was confusing and draws little attention in popular history circles.  But it did provide us with very hard-to-sing national anthem.  Ever tried?  If you have you’d cut Carl Lewis a break.   

The week in short:

  • A little pushback on the state AG’s decision to give $1m to Legal Aid of West Virginia
  • In Illinois, neither the state AG nor the Cook County (Chicago) state’s attorney will enforce the state’s gay marriage ban;
  • $32 million in grants to California DAs’ offices to fight insurance fraud;
  • The DC Bar Foundation awards $685K in grants, down from last year b/c they didn’t draw from reserve funding;
  • Court fee boost will fund public defense in Louisiana;
  • Back to Illinois: maybe some salary boosts for prosecutors & defenders in suburban Chicago;
  • Good legal services funding news in the Old Line State;
  • Cleaning up a public defense program in PA;
  • There’s such a place as Sarpy County, Nebraska, and its public defenders are getting a raise;
  • (Kudos x 4) to the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School;
  • Legal Aid of NW Texas is using technology to cover a geographically huge service area;
  • In short supply: Louisiana lawyers certified to defend capital cases;
  • Legal Services of New Jersey’s attention-grabbing report about the Garden State’s justice gap;
  • Washington State’s high court lays out caseload limits for defenders;
  • Filing fee increases in Connecticut will benefit legal services providers;
  • A PA county judge rules that the defender’s office must be better funded (partly b/c of an ACLU lawsuit);
  • NPR looks at the funding shortages facing civil legal services programs (quote from LSC prez Jim Sandman);
  • An op-ed calls for more state funding for legal services in Massachusetts;
  • A pro bono record in the Treasure State (and my memory of driving along the Gallatin River);
  • Washington State loosens rules to allow non-lawyers to do some legal work;
  • LSC’s draft strategic plan is open for public comment (tip of cap to Richard Zorza for this).
  • Groovin’ musical bonus.

The summaries:

  • 6.21.12 – In West Virginia, there’s been a little bit of pushback on state attorney general Darrell McGraw’s decision to divert $1m of the state’s national foreclosure settlement share to Legal Aid of West Virginia.  Some have argued that the decision about how to use the funds is the province of the legislature.  The A.G.’s office says that the federal court which apportioned the settlement funds provided some direction as to their use.  (Story in the West Virginia Record.)
  • 6.21.12 – “Twenty-five Illinois couples were prepared for a long legal fight when they joined lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage. Turns out they won’t get one — at least not from the attorneys who would normally be responsible for defending the state’s laws.  Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have refused to defend the 16-year-old ban, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, saying it violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.  The decision has raised eyebrows among some legal experts who believe prosecutors are legally bound to defend Illinois law, and sets up a scenario where a judge could quickly strike down the marriage statute.” (Here’s the full AP story, which fleshes out the arguments on both sides.)
  • 6.21.12 – “The California Department of Insurance announced $5.9 million in grant money today to help the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation insurance fraud.  The Orange County District Attorney will receive $3.6 million as part of $32 million in grants awarded statewide by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.”  (Full story in the Long Beach Press-Telegram.)
  • 6.20.12 – good news: the DC Bar Foundation awarded $685,000 in grants to legal services providers.  Bad news: this was off by about 30% from last year, and the Foundation had to stop dipping into reserve funds to bolster its annual disbursement.  Katia Garrett and her colleagues at the DCBF are great people, and like folks at a lot of bar foundations they’ve done the best they can with miserable IOLTA revenue figures.  Tough times.  (Story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 6.20.12 – we covered the Louisiana indigent defense funding boost last week, but this article in The Town Talk adds more detail: “Lawmakers are funneling more money into public defenders’ offices, keeping some from shuttering the programs that provide lawyers to those who can’t afford their own.  A bill by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, will increase criminal court fees by $10 in most district courts to help shoulder the costs of defense attorneys who are required by law.  Louisiana Public Defender Board chairman Frank Neuner estimates the increase could bring in as much as $7 million a year.”
  • 6.20.12 – a push for higher defender and prosecutor salaries in suburban Chicago.  “Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress said this week she plans to ask the county board next month for raises for her staff.  Last week, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said he wants raises for his prosecutors, who have been in a salary freeze since 2008.  Childress and McMahon are tired of seeing their young talent leave to work in surrounding counties that pay more…. Childress said assistant public defenders in her office have a starting yearly salary of $39,399, and 2007 was the last time her entire staff received a raise.  McMahon wants the county board to boost starting pay for prosecutors from $40,000 a year to $53,000 a year, a move he says will make Kane competitive with starting salaries in other counties.  Childress also plans to ask the county to increase assistant public defender pay to around $53,000, but she wants the raises to be implemented in phases…”  (Story from the Daily Herald.)
  • 6.19.12 – some good legal services funding news from the Old Line State. Courtesy of the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation the “…[Maryland] Legal Aid Bureau got $850,000 over two years, for free legal services and educational material for low-income adults.” (Story from Bmore Media.)
  • 6.18.12 – in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Washington State, ACLU lawsuits targeting allegedly weak indigent defense programs have caused change, as states have considered providing more indigent defense funding and/or establishing caseload limits to avoid overburdening defenders.  Allegheny County, PA, of which Pittsburgh is the county seat, is one of two PA counties where ACLU action prompted change.  This Tribune piece profiles new county public defender Elliot Howsie, who seems quite comfortable with the idea of shaking things up to improve the office.  
  • 6.18.12 – some healthy competition is leading to bumps in public defender pay in a few Nebraska counties: “County governments are facing tight budgets and revenue shortages, but they still want to show their lawyers some love.  Back in April, the Douglas County Board approved $455,000 in pay raises for assistant public defenders and deputy county attorneys. Board members said the increases were needed to keep pace with salary levels in Sarpy and Lancaster Counties and to retain good lawyers.  Now Sarpy County is answering with pay hikes of its own.  And officials in Douglas County, with larger staffs of attorneys on both the prosecution and defense side, are watching.  Salaries for Sarpy public defenders will jump by 7 percent in the new budget year.”  (Story from the Omaha World-Herald.)
  • 6.18.12 – since 2008, the Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law School has aided in the release of four wrongfully convicted inmates.  “[A]bout a dozen students each quarter participate in the…Exoneration Project, a clinic that gives students hands-on experience representing prisoners seeking post-conviction relief. Students do it all — from voting on which cases the clinic should accept to writing briefs to standing before a judge — under the supervision of experienced, licensed attorneys.”  (Story from the University of Chicago News Service.  Well, tooting our own horns a bit, eh, University of Chicago? JKLOL!)
  • 6.18.12 – using technology to serve a huge swath of Texas.  “Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has been approved for a grant of $22,550 by the Texas Bar Foundation. The grant is for a project designed to improve the delivery of legal services to low-income Texans. The Pro Bono Mobility Project will allow pro bono staff to offer “virtual” legal assistance at legal clinics throughout the agency’s 114-county service area. ‘This project will allow our clinic staff and private attorney volunteers the ability to create, scan and print documents from even the remotest of locations,’ said Jane Fritz, director of Pro Bono and Bar Relations.” (Story from the Amarillo Globe-News.)
  • 6.17.12 – there’s a dearth of Lousiana lawyers who are certified to handle capital cases.  “The shortage of death penalty-certified attorneys and the lack of adequate defense funding means even more delays for death-penalty cases, which already take years to come to trial, says Mike Mitchell, chief public defender with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defenders.”  But the head of the state’s district attorneys’ association thinks that the fuss about a representation crisis is really a tactic toward ending capital punishment.  Story from The Advocate.
  • 6.17.12 – Legal Services of New Jersey has released its 2012 report on access to justice in the Garden State.  (Here’s a link to the report, New Jersey’s Civil Legal Assistance Gap…)  As noted in The Record, the gap exists not only because of increased client need, but decreased resources for LSNJ: “Essentially, as the extent of poverty in New Jersey has reached its highest level in at least 30 years, the opportunity for the poor to get free legal help from funding-squeezed Legal Services and other organizations has narrowed. Overall funding for New Jersey’s Legal Services programs has dropped from $72 million in 2008 to $44.7 million today. That includes the state budget appropriation being reduced from $29.6 million in the 2008 fiscal year to $14.9 million currently.  The funding reductions have led to Legal Services’ total staffing going from 720 in 2007 down to 415 at the beginning of this year. That includes a crucial loss of 130 attorneys.”
    • A Philly Inquirer editorial laments the situation, endorses a court filing-fee increase to generate funding for LSNJ, an calls upon the private bar to do more.  
    • A Record editorial supports in increased state appropriation and more private bar support. “An entire stratum of American society is left to muddle through [legal processes] that very literally could mean the difference between life and death, as Legal Services notes in its report. This is not justice. 
    • And here’s a column from The Record explaining that charitable donations from the private sector haven’t been of much aid to LSNJ as its state appropriation and IOLTA funding have dwindled.
  • 6.16.12 – Big news from Washington State: “For the first time, the state Supreme Court is setting limits on the number of cases public defenders can handle — an effort to improve the quality of legal representation for some of the 200,000 poor people prosecuted in the state every year, but one that could increase costs to local governments at a time of tight budgets.  By a vote of 7-2, the justices said lawyers who represent indigent defendants generally should handle no more than 150 felony cases per year, or 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases, and even fewer when the cases are complex. The caseload standards will take effect in September 2013.”  (Here’s Seattle Times coverage, and here’s Peninsula Daily News coverage.)  
  • 6.16.12 – “Connecticut is increasing court filing fees in certain civil and family cases, a change intended to raise extra money to help the state’s [legal services programs].  Legal aid to the poor has taken huge hits across the country because a main source of revenue, interest from lawyers’ trust accounts, dried up amid the recession and low interest rates…. In Connecticut, trust account interest revenue for legal aid for the poor plummeted from $20 million in 2008 to only $1 million this year, according to the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which administers funding for the state’s legal aid programs. The result has been reductions to staff and services at the three legal aid providers in the state.” (Here’s Stamford Advocate coverage, and here’s AP coverage.) 
  • 6.16.12 – in Pennsylvania, “[a] senior county judge ruled Friday that Luzerne County must provide adequate funding to the public defender’s office. Five full-time vacancies will be filled, more office space will be set aside, and more employees are expected to be hired.”  This comes in the wake of lawsuit which filed by the ACLU and county public defender to compel the county for more support.  (Story from the Pocono Record.)
  • 6.15.12 – NPR looks at impact of funding shortages plaguing civil legal services programs: ” ‘The legal services system in the United States today is in a state of crisis,’ says Jim Sandman, president of the national Legal Services Corp., which gives money to 135 aid programs all over the country.  The traditional funding streams, from Congress and state governments, are under attack. Aside from government dollars, there’s another important source of financing for legal aid: interest that collects on trust accounts that lawyers set up for their clients. But because of record low interest rates, that money has hit record lows, too.  Over the past couple of years, Sandman estimates, more than 1,200 people who work for legal aid programs — 1 in 7 — have lost their jobs. Offices in rural Arkansas and North Carolina have closed outright. But Sandman says more than 60 million people now qualify for civil legal aid.  (Here’s the NPR story.)
  • 6.15.12 – in the Bay State, an op-ed from former legal aid lawyer and current law professor Justine Dunlap argues for more state funding for legal services: “The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering how much to allocate to Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which helps fund organizations like South Coastal Counties Legal Services. The House budget recommended $12 million while the Senate recommended $11.5 million; those differences are now being worked out in the Legislative Conference Committee. It is important that the commonwealth adopt the higher of these two numbers and pass a budget of $12 million for MLAC for fiscal year 2013.”  (Here’s the piece 0n South Coast Today’s website.)
  • 6.15.12 –  “[a] report by the Montana Supreme Court and the State Bar of Montana said more than 2,000 Montana attorneys contributed more than 150,000 hours of free legal services to low-income Montanans last year. The value of that work is nearly $20 million.  That’s an increase of nearly 9,000 hours from 2010 and 38,000 hours from 2009.”  The 2011 tally is an all-time record in the Treasure State.  (Story from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.)
    • personal aside: one of my life’s most peaceful experiences occurred while driving out of Yellowstone Park and north into Montana.  Just after dawn, and after being caught in the equivalent of a Yellowstone rush hour – dozens of bison crossing the road – I left through the park’s west exit and paralleled the Gallatin River on a state highway, winding through gorgeous pine forests.  I didn’t see another car for miles.  Just myself, a newly risen sun, the occasional deer, and Son Volt’s Trace in my tape deck.  Three months later I started law school and became the cynical, curmudgeon-in-training that I am today. Heh.
  • 6.15.12 – “With a goal of making legal help more accessible to the public, the Washington Supreme Court has adopted APR 28, entitled “Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Technicians”. The rule will allow non-lawyers with certain levels of training to provide technical help on simple legal matters effective September 1, 2012…. Under the new rule, persons who are trained and authorized by a newly-established Limited License Legal Technician Board will be able to provide technical help to the public on civil cases.”  The announcement from the Washington Courtsincludes some detail on what kinds of work non-lawyers will be doing.

And now some seasonally appropriate music from my hometown.

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