Legal Aid Headlines

August News Roundup

By Kristin Parker

Over the past few weeks, civil legal aid has been featured in the news nationally and locally. Below are a few of our favorite headlines, and if you’re interested in more stories about legal aid and our grantees, check out the In the News page of our website.

Advocates propose sweeping reforms to homeless sweeps Seattle Weekly, 8/24/16
In an open letter to the mayor and city council, LFW Grantees, Seattle Community Law Center, Columbia Legal Services, American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates, called on the City to radically change its policy to ‘clean up’ homeless encampments in favor of a ‘housing first’ approach. The proposal calls on the City to focus on reducing barriers to shelter entry rather than removing the encampments by force, and in cases where camps are in hazardous locations, offer adequate notice and shelter alternatives to residents before the removal. Also, a recent report of two children living in Federal Way sewers highlights our state’s growing youth homelessness crisis. Washington state ranks 40th nationwide with 60,000 homeless youth.

Judges across the country are shaking down poor people,, 8/24/16
Nationwide, more and more people in distressed financial circumstances end up in even worse circumstances when they turn to the legal system and are on the hook for court fees. Despite the fact that all states have laws exempting poor people from paying court fees, application of this law varies widely. Some states only deem ‘poor’ those persons represented by a legal aid attorney or on public benefits. With a nationwide shortage of such attorneys, this leaves many struggling to pay these fees and facing dire consequences when they are unable to pay. A similar NY Times article explores about how non-white juvenile offenders become ‘entrapped’ in the court system.

This robot lawyer helps the newly evicted file for housing aid, Washington Post, 8/9/16
An online robot created to help drivers in London challenge traffic tickets is now being used there to avoid evictions. In the wake of welfare cuts and rising rents, an increasing number of Londoners were facing homelessness, so the creator of the DoNotPay bot was re-programmed to assist with filing for housing assistance. Now, the creator of the bot is hoping to bring it to New York City, and is fielding requests from bankruptcy firms interested in automating the bankruptcy filing process.

Ninth Circuit gives green light to Yakima farmworker class action, CLS Press Release 8/31/16
The Ninth Circuit court affirmed that a case brought by 600 farm workers against one of the largest fruit and vegetable growers on the west coast can go forward. The case alleges that Mercer Canyons failed to disclose information about available jobs and pay rates for workers with H-2A visas. The case was brought in 2014 by Schroeter, Goldmark and Bender and LFW Grantee, Columbia Legal Services.

$5 million state allocates to bar’s legal aid ‘terrific step in right direction’ Northern California Record, 8/9/16
After 17 years of static state funding for legal aid, California announced a $5 million increase to the Equal Access Fund. Advocates say this 50 percent increase is long overdue and will help alleviate the funding shortfall many states experienced when IOLTA funding was slashed 80 percent after 2008. It’s good to see other states increasing their legal aid appropriations as the Equal Justice Coalition and our community prepare to ask our legislators for a substantial increase in funding in the 2017 session.

ABA’s Veterans Legal Services Initiative aims to create online resource, mobilize lawyers, ABA Journal, 8/10/16
When ABA President Linda Klein learned that over half the needs of homeless veterans are legal, she established the Veterans Legal Services Initiative. The 20-member volunteer commission plans to create a website that directs veterans to resources, promotes medical-legal partnerships for veterans and extends the National Pro Bono Week in late October to include Veteran’s Day.

ABA Future Panel Calls for Broad Changes in Legal Services, Above the, 8/8/16
The ABA’s report on the Future of Legal Services paints a bleak but familiar picture. It found some 80 percent of low-income people lacks access to a lawyer for ‘matters involving basic life needs’. The report stirred online discussion, some calling the recommendations too weak, while others chastised the commission for not inviting legal tech leaders onto the Commission, prompting this response from the Commission.