State agencies: Cuts coming to services without more funds
By Sebastian Kitchen, The Montgomery Advertiser
December 16, 2009
Alabama could have fewer troopers and people could sit in longer lines to get their driver's license if the Alabama Department of Public Safety receives level funding from the state, Col. Chris Murphy said. Murphy, the director of public safety, was among the agency heads who presented their budgets to lawmakers Tuesday.
Almost every agency requested more money, totaling more than $660 million in new requests from the 11 agencies and departments that appealed to lawmakers Monday and Tuesday.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb requested about $4.9 million in additional funds for the state's court system, the law library and the state's appeals courts. She said most of that funding is for personnel costs. In anticipation of the effects of the economic fallout, Cobb said the court system was the first to implement a hiring freeze.
The chief justice also has asked the governor to delay appointing judgeships in the state. She said she would use retired judges or judges in neighboring areas to help with the workload. "That is a sizable savings for us," Cobb said. She said the cost of a district judge and staff is $313,000 while the same cost for a circuit judge is $424,000.
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With 'deferred' jobs, more new lawyers working for free - New rules let public agencies use their services
By Andria Simmons, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
December 14, 2009
New rules published Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court will make it easier for public agencies to take advantage of free legal aid in the midst of an economic downturn that has trimmed their budgets to the bone.
The rules relax restrictions for out-of-state attorneys who want to volunteer for the Attorney General, a district attorney, a solicitor of a state or municipal court, public defender's office or non-profit organization.
The rules allow a newcomer to appear in court as long as they are accompanied by an attorney for that agency. Out-of-state attorneys also can enter documents into the record as long as an attorney for the agency signs off.
Taryn Marks, an attorney licensed in Massachusetts, has been volunteering for the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office since September. In Georgia, recent law school graduates working for public agencies or certain nonprofit organizations can participate in court proceedings under the supervision of another licensed attorney.
But after Marks learned in October that she passed the Massachusetts Bar, she could work only behind-the-scenes according to the old rules. She was limited to preparing documents and interviewing witnesses.
Marks said the rule change that went into effect Monday allows her to once again work in the courtroom.
"It's part of the whole process, so you get to do all the things behind the scenes and as well as appearing in court," Marks said. "To be able to experience all of it is very exciting."
The opportunities for volunteerism are increasingly plentiful, as are the attorneys seeking them. Many recent law school graduates who were lucky enough to receive offers of employment from private firms have seen their starting dates deferred for a year or longer.
The law firms give the "deferred associates," as they are often called, a stipend to tide them over and encourage them to gain real-world experience by providing legal aid in a public service program.
Marks is one of 14 attorneys in the DeKalb County District Attorney's apprenticeship program, which was the first of its kind in Georgia when it was created last year. She is also a deferred associate with the silk-stocking firm of Ropes & Gray in Boston.
"It's a huge boon to us in free help, and it's a lot of litigation experience to the firms when they get their folks back," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary, who coordinates the apprenticeship program.
Seven judicial circuits in Georgia have recently brought in deferred associates to help prosecute cases in the face of staffing shortages and budget cuts, according to Rick Malone, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia.
The Cobb County District Attorney's Office is one of the newest to take advantage of the volunteers, whom they refer to as "special assistant district attorneys." Their two lawyers began volunteering this fall while waiting to start work in January 2010 at Bryan Cave Powell Goldstein, a law firm with about 135 attorneys in Atlanta and 1,100 worldwide.
Jacquelyn Schell, a 25-year-old deferred associate, graduated in May from Vanderbilt University. She said this experience of working in the Cobb County District Attorney's Office has allowed her to be involved in "a little bit of everything" when it comes to the practice of criminal law.
"I've gotten very comfortable in a courtroom, which was really intimidating for me," Schell said.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Timmons coordinates the efforts of the special assistant district attorneys in Cobb. He said their assistance has been extremely valuable for prosecutors who are currently loaded with between 100 to 150 active cases.
"We'd love to keep her, but I don't think they'd let us," Timmons said.
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Alabama state officials' pay often too high – [Editorial]
The Montgomery Advertiser
December 10, 2009
Alabama's attorney general, who has for many years been among the best paid state attorneys general in the nation, now has the distinction of being at the top.
There's something wrong when a state that ranks 46th in the nation in median household income has any public official who is the best paid at his or her position in the nation.
Alabama's attorney general had been the second highest paid in the nation for the past few years. But when top state officials in California took an 18 percent pay cut Monday because of tight budgets, Alabama moved to the top spot.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King is currently paid $168,002 per year, which is more than four times the state's median household income of $40,554.
In one sense, this is not King's fault. A principal reason the salary is so high is that in 1969 the Legislature tied the salary for the office to those of associate justices of the state Supreme Court.
However, when King's spokesman, Chris Bence, said Wednesday that the salary was out of King's hands, he wasn't completely right. While the Legislature did put the salary level for the office on automatic pilot, it is still within King's power not to accept it. In fact, King did reject a 1.25 percent automatic increase in March, according to Bence. His past increase came when he accepted a cost-of-living raise that went to all state employees in October.
But the salary for the attorney general is merely a symptom of a bigger problem. There are other state offices in Alabama for which the pay is among the best in the nation, and there are even a few where the pay is at least arguably too low.
For instance, Alabama has some of the highest paid appellate judges in the nation.
According to the National Center for State Courts, Alabama's Supreme Court associate justices were the eighth highest paid in the nation in 2008, with an average salary of $180,000 per year. But since the salaries for associate justices in Alabama vary based on experience, that can be misleading. The highest paid Alabama associate justice at $200,000 per year, according to the NCSC's 2008 rankings, made more than his counterparts in every state except California.
We are not suggesting that all of Alabama's top officials should be near the bottom in pay when compared to their peers in other states just because the state's median and per capita incomes rank there. The state needs to pay enough to attract good people to these offices.
But anytime an Alabama official's pay gets into the Top 10 among the states in a ranking for that particular office, alarm bells should go off.
In this case, the Legislature should change the law that links the attorney general's pay with those of associate justices of the state Supreme Court.
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O'Connor Helps Launch New Initiative Against Judicial Elections
Jordan Weissmann, National Law Journal
Since retiring from the high bench, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has repeatedly advocated against the use of elections to pick state judges. Now she is teaming with a center at the University of Denver to try to add some political teeth to her efforts.
On Thursday, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System announced the creation of the O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative, a project that will assist state level efforts to move away from judicial elections.
The institute, founded in 2006 by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, will devote a full-time director to the project, backed by the institute's 10-person staff. The judicial selection initiative will also be aided by an 11-member advisory commission, which O'Connor will chair.
O'Connor said the initiative would provide "information and useful support" to states considering a move away from judicial elections.
"No other nation in the world elects their judges in popular elections," O'Connor said. "We are alone in that regard."
Calling the initiative a "think-do tank," Kourlis said the initiative was about moving beyond public education efforts. "This is all about, OK, in this particular state, what do we need to do to build a majority," said Kourlis, who is executive director of the institute.
She said its first major test would be in Nevada, where a proposed constitutional amendment would replace judicial elections with merit-based selection. It would also provide for judicial performance evaluations and retention votes.
The advisory committee includes:
• Chairwoman: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (retired)
• Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis of the Colorado Supreme Court (retired)
• Chief Justice Ruth McGregor of the Arizona Supreme Court (retired)
• Meryl Chertoff, director of the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown Law
• Diane Gates Wallach of Cody Resources, liaison to the institute's board
• Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters
• Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court
• Chief Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court
• Ramona Romero, corporate counsel, logistics and energy, at DuPont
• Larry Thompson of PepsiCo
• H. Thomas Wells, past president of the American Bar Association
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Time to Unfriend for Fla. Judges – Ethics committee recommends judges not be cyber friends with lawyers
By BRIAN HAMACHER, NBC (Miami, Fla.)
Dec 11, 2009
Sunshine State judges are about to get a lot more lonely online after an ethics committee recommended they unfriend from Facebook lawyers who might appear before them.
Worried that being cyber buddies with the advocates might give the appearance of a conflict of interest, Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has advised the judges to ditch their friends, according to the New York Times.
The decision, issued last month, isn't binding, just a recommendation.
In the majority opinion, it was argued that judges and lawyers being online friends “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.”
“In my view, they are being hypersensitive,” Gillers told the Times. “[Judges don't] drop out of society when they become judges. The people who were their friends before they went on the bench remained their friends, and many of them were lawyers.”
Anyways, as Gillers pointed out, if there appears to be any sort of impropriety, a lawyer can try to get a judge disqualified from a case.
Earlier this year, a judge in North Carolina was reprimanded for friending a defendant's attorney in a child custody dispute.
And just last week, a Facebook scuttlebutt arose at the arraignment of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, this time between judge and defendant.
Spence-Jones, accused of misusing $50,000 worth of county funds, had apparently friended Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny. Judge Colodny said she dropped Spence-Jones after her arrest.
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Clinics Help People Represent Themselves in Court
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
December 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Zina Butler didn't know where to turn when county housing officers, sheriff's deputies and her landlord allegedly barged into her subsidized apartment without notice two years ago.
Butler, 46, wanted to file a lawsuit that claimed her Fourth Amendment rights, which guard her from illegal searches and seizures, were violated.
Unable to afford an attorney and terrified of navigating the legal system on her own, Butler found a clinic at a federal courthouse in Los Angeles offering guidance to people who want to represent themselves in court.
The need for legal help across the nation has soared over the past year, mostly due to foreclosures, bankruptcies and other recession-related ordeals. Court workers say more people are doing their own legal work -- a term known as pro se -- instead of hiring lawyers, who can charge hundreds of dollars an hour.
While the prospects of representing oneself -- much less winning a case -- seem daunting, many legal novices are willing to take that chance.
''Pro se parties are now a permanent feature to our legal system and their numbers are growing,'' said Jim Hilbert, executive director for the William Mitchell College of Law's Center for Negotiation and Justice in St. Paul, Minn. The school opened its own pro se clinic in September. ''While it would be great to give them all lawyers, we know it's not possible.''
In Butler's case, she has sued the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, the property management group that owns the apartment complex and several others. Citing emotional distress, Butler is seeking $250,000 and claims she still does not know why her apartment was searched.
In Los Angeles County, home to one of the largest caseloads in the United States, resources are stretched thin. There are more than a dozen self-help centers throughout the county, and there are about 1,000 people seeking help daily, said Kathleen Dixon, a managing resource attorney for the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The clinics focus on civil cases, with the biggest demand coming in divorce and child custody disputes where Dixon estimates more than 80 percent have at least one party representing themselves. More recently, Dixon said, she's seen more middle class filing legal papers.
''The litigants and the cases have shifted up the economic ladder,'' Dixon said. ''We are even seeing people hiring a high-end attorney but they run out of money before the case concludes.''
Al Schwartz, who runs a legal aid service in Chicago, said there has been an explosion of pro se litigants in that area over the past year. His group, Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services, has helped more than 350,000 people since its inception in 1993 via a hotline and advice desks in courthouses.
''We target the cases that are a good match for pro se,'' Schwartz said. ''Most clients have routine problems. But we also show them the pitfalls of doing this.''
The learning curve for pro se litigants can be time-consuming and burdensome for judges and attorneys who square off against them. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sheri Bluebond said she'll often give those representing themselves a break before sanctioning them. She also will spend time explaining her ruling so people don't feel they have been short-changed by the legal system.
''I try to make sure when people leave the courtroom they know what just happened to them,'' Bluebond said. ''I certainly want them to feel it was a fair system. I don't want them to feel chewed up and spit out.''
Not every civil case screened will go to a courtroom. At the clinic Butler attends in downtown Los Angeles, attorneys working pro bono first determine whether the case belongs in federal court, weed out frivolous claims and then give litigants tips on how to file paperwork.
The clinic opened in February and averages more than 120 people every month.
''The purpose of the clinic is to level the playing field and show that the justice system is open to everyone,'' said Lisa Jaskol, an attorney with Public Counsel, a firm that delivers free legal services and sponsors the clinic.
Nauen Rim, a civil justice fellow who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, said many of the people who she has helped at the clinic have gotten their legal cues from TV shows.
''A lot of people think it's like 'Judge Judy,''' Rim said. ''They come here and find that's not how it works.''
Comprehending the legal terminology and the process proved difficult at first for Butler.
''I didn't know where to start at,'' said Butler, who receives Section 8 housing assistance and is taking college courses to become a registered nurse. ''It was rough.''
The effort saved her at least several hundred dollars. Rather than paying an attorney, Butler's main legal costs have gone toward printing court documents.
In her lawsuit, she claims in April 2007 that housing authority officers searched her residence -- one had his gun drawn -- while she was taken away in handcuffs and detained for about 20 minutes. They left, not explaining their reasons for the intrusion, and she wasn't cited for any housing violation, she said.
The county's housing authority, named as one of the defendants in Butler's lawsuit, declined comment but noted that landlords must give tenants notice before entry.
For Butler, traveling 65 miles from her home in Palmdale to the courthouse is worthwhile. She said she's become more educated about the legal system and believes she has a good chance of winning her case, which is pending.
''That clinic is a blessing from God,'' Butler said. ''What would happen to people like me if there wasn't this resource available? People would just run over you.''
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Ala. gets third accredited law school
The Associated Press
(AP) — MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama now has a third accredited law school.
The American Bar Association has put its seal of approval on Faulkner University's Jones School of Law in Montgomery. Previously, only the University of Alabama and Samford University law schools had ABA accreditation in Alabama.
Jones Law dean Charles Nelson says accreditation will make it easier to recruit both qualified faculty and out-of-state students.
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Legislators, judges push for new county judge
By Lionel Green, The Sand Mountain Reporter
December 8, 2009
The four judges of the 27th Judicial Circuit have asked the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to support legislative efforts to obtain a new judgeship in time for the 2012 election cycle to handle the ever-increasing caseload in Marshall County.
Circuit Judges Howard Hawk and Tim Jolley and District Judges Tim Riley and Liles Burke signed a letter requesting Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb do all she can to assist them in gaining the judgeship, which would be elected in 2012 and funded by the state in 2013 or 2014.
“We firmly believe that Marshall County is now actually No. 1 when it comes to need for a new circuit judgeship,” the judges wrote. “Marshall County’s 27th Judicial Circuit desperately needs another circuit judge and simply cannot afford to limp along under temporary fixes much longer.”
The judges cited the county’s population growth and methamphetamine problem as two chief reasons for the high number of Circuit Court filings. The judges believe the county’s population is 15 percent below actual census figures chiefly due to the undocumented and undercounted Hispanic population, and they indicated as many as 600 new drug cases will be presented to the grand jury in the near future.
The county’s Legislative Delegation of Sen. Hinton Mitchem, Rep. Frank McDaniel and Rep. Jeff McLaughlin support the judges.
“Now, we simply must take the next step,” McLaughlin said. “Therefore, in the upcoming legislative session, I will be introducing at least three bills aimed at giving Marshall County an additional circuit judge. Two of the bills call for the election of a new judge in 2012 and beginning of state funding of that position and its staff in 2013. One of the bills elects the judge in 2012 but postpones state funding until 2014.”
The bill postponing state funding until 2014 gives the county the option to fund the first year of the judgeship. Hawk explained the bill to the Marshall County Commission in a work session over the summer.
Hawk noted the bill is similar to legislation passed by Madison County in the last session with one significant difference. Hawk said the Madison County Commission used its own funds to pay for the first year of the judgeship, but thanks to the Law Library/Judicial Administration Fund bill passed last year and the frugality of the Marshall County court system, the local fund should be able to cover most, if not all, of the new judgeship’s first year costs by 2013.
Mitchem plans to introduce identical legislation in the state Senate.
“Madison County properly received another Circuit Judgeship last session,” he said. “Marshall County now desperately needs another judge, and I will do all I can to get the legislation through the Senate as early in the session as possible.”
Mitchem called for the support of Chief Justice Cobb.
“As pro tem of the Senate, I always tried to help the chief justice with legislative matters including the court system’s budget,” he said. “I hope Justice Cobb will now help us. We need this judgeship and our case numbers and our diverse population growth more than justify this effort.”
“Marshall County’s case filings per judge have long been some of the highest in the state,” he said. “An overtaxed court system means that businesses cannot enforce their agreements, criminals cannot be prosecuted and children cannot be protected.”
2008’s temporary fix
Hawk said the passage of local legislation in 2008 repealed old laws dividing Marshall County into two court divisions.
“The people of Marshall County have needed and deserved another judge for over a decade,” Hawk said. “However, the truth of the matter is that we could not have efficiently made use of another judge until we ended the two divisions.
“Before the consolidation, an available judge in Guntersville could not try a case in the Albertville division and vice versa. Put simply, even if we were fortunate enough to get another judge, we would have wasted at least a third of that judge’s time and a large amount of the taxpayers’ money.”
Hawk said McLaughlin authored two bills concerning the court system last year. One eliminated the division of Marshall County courts, and the other increased the local court’s access to funds by expanding use of law library monies and adding a small increase to court costs. The additional money has been used to help the county with the costs of courtroom repairs and to pay part-time staff needed to make better use of the existing judges.
“We desperately needed to reduce the numbers of pending civil and criminal jury trials,” Jolley said. “District Judges Tim Riley and Liles Burke were capable and willing to help; however, in addition to needing to be able to use a courtroom in the other division, we needed a part-time court reporter.
“Court reporters are essential for jury trials, but district judges do not have court reporters provided by the state. The legislative efforts resulted in a temporary solution to both problems, and therefore, have allowed us to limp along until we get a much needed additional judge.”
Riley and Burke praised the Legislative Delegation’s efforts to provide temporary relief.
“The horrific meth problem has greatly magnified our case numbers in the criminal arena,” Riley said. “I wanted to help with the circuit court criminal caseload, and this legislation made it possible. The time from arrest until trial has already been reduced.”
Burke added: “Thanks to the efforts of our local legislative delegation, all the judges have been able to pool time and resources in order to get by until we get another judge. I don’t know how we would have continued to get by without their help.”
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State Courts at the Tipping Point – [Editorial]
The New York Times
November 25, 2009
State courts are not just another government agency. They are at the center of the nation’s legal system and enforcement of the rule of law, handling more than 95 percent of all civil and criminal litigation. This vital institution — constitutionally, an independent, co-equal branch of government — has been spiraling into crisis as cash-starved states struggle with huge deficits.
In a sobering speech earlier this month at a gathering of the New York City Bar Association, Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, warned that because of budget cuts in tough economic times, state courts across the country stand at “the tipping point of dysfunction.”
Chief Justice Marshall’s sense of alarm is well founded. Reductions in financing have led to some overdue efficiencies that states might not have made if the recession had not forced their hands. But in too many cases, the cuts are already impeding core court functions, forcing court closures, shortened court hours and a tangible narrowing of access to justice.
New Hampshire, for example, suspended civil and criminal jury trials in 8 of 10 county courts for one month each between last December and June. In California, state courthouses are closed for business on the third Wednesday of every month. Iowa is planning to close all state courts for several days before the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.
More than two dozen states have imposed court hiring freezes, and 11 states have put staff on unpaid furloughs of varying length, according to the National Center for State Courts. Court staff, including clerks, court interpreters and security personnel, have been eliminated or reduced. In a financially driven loosening of security in Maine, for instance, magnetic security machines at local courthouses are no longer regularly manned. In Alabama, says the immediate past president of the Alabama Bar Association, Mark White, fiscally driven “compromises in service and security are creating a situation ripe for disaster.”
In Georgia, it can take 60 days to hold a hearing in a temporary custody case that used to take just a few weeks. In other states as well, spending cuts have led to fewer court dates available for hearing and trials, creating a growing backlog of cases. With priority given to serious criminal matters, there is a looming threat to the civil justice system, and its ability to vindicate people’s rights, and to foster economic growth and stability by enforcing business contracts in a timely manner.
The brunt of the budget cuts has fallen on the high-volume courts hearing family and juvenile matters, misdemeanors and small-claims disputes, notes the American Bar Association. Some of society’s most vulnerable people, including battered women, abused and neglected children and victims of vandalism and petty theft, turn to these courts for protection and justice.
There are factors apart from budget problems undermining the vitality of state courts, not least the advent of expensive judicial election and retention campaigns fueled by special interest money. And no one, including Chief Justice Marshall, suggests that state courts should be spared from having to share the burden at a time when cuts to health care and public education are under consideration in nearly every jurisdiction.
But, at some point, slashing state court financing jeopardizes something beyond basic fairness, public safety and even the rule of law. It weakens democracy itself.
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Report Reveals Slow Decision Making
By Rob Holbert, Lagniappe
November 17, 2009
A report released by the Alabama Supreme Court in October appears to show that some justices are taking a long time rendering decisions, a situation some court officials say is slowing things unnecessarily at the state’s highest court.
The report, commissioned and released by the justices themselves, examined the assignment and handling of cases from Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009. What appears evident from the report is that Justice Tom Parker has fallen way behind in his case load. Justices Michael Bolin and Glen Murdock also appear to be disposing of cases at a far slower rate than their fellow judges, although court officials say they are working to correct that.
A report issued by the State Supreme Court in October of this year shows three justices taking a longer time than their peers in rendering decisions.
“About all I can say is the numbers speak for themselves,” said Justice Tom Woodall. “We released the numbers so people could see them and judge for themselves.”
Woodall declined further comment on the situation because he felt it would be improper.
Court Clerk Robert Esdale said the length of time in disposing of cases has become an issue for the court and for Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. He said he believes she has spoken with the other justices about their pace in rendering decisions.
“Of course (it’s a problem),” Esdale explained. “When you have an aspirational target of 290 days and one justice has an average of over 400 days, it slows things down.”
According to the report, Parker takes an average of 217 days on decisions involving certiorari petitions — review of a lower court’s cases — and an average of 534 days to render original decisions after being assigned a case. By way of comparison, Justices Cobb, Champ Lyons, Woodall, Lyn Stuart, Patricia Smith and Greg Shaw together average 56 days on certiorari petitions and 129 days on original decisions. In other words, Parker’s certiorari time is 161 days longer and 405 days longer for original decisions. That is 388 percent and 414 percent longer respectively.
Murdock averages 141 days for certiorari decisions and 362 for original decisions, according to the study, meaning his decisions come 85 and 233 days later on average in the two categories.
Bolin’s numbers show him with 96 days for certiorari and 259 for original decisions, leaving him lagging behind his other justices by 40 days and 130 days respectively. However, Esdale did defend Bolin and Murdock, saying they both have worked hard to improve their backlogs. He also noted that Murdock has released more opinions and dissents than other judges during the past year.
At the time the study was released, Parker had by far the most cases pending decision of any justice. Depite the fact that they are assigned an equal amount of cases, and that they are handed out by random computer selection, Parker’s backlog of 64 certiorari petitions and 73 cases awaiting original decisions far outstripped those of his colleagues on the bench. Shaw had the second most certiorari decisions pending, with 48, although her number of original decisions pending was only 33.
Murdock had 35 certiorari decisions pending and 41 original cases awaiting his decisions, while Bolin followed with 26 and 25 respectively.
Parker was also extremely low in the number of decisions released during this time, filing just 25 certiorari decisions and 28 original decisions, a number far lower than any of his colleagues, other than Shaw, who was in his first year on the court and was also recused from many cases because he was a former judge on the criminal court of appeals. Here, Bolin’s number was in line with the other justices, as was Murdock’s.
According to the report, Parker’s backlog became so severe in 2008, that several of his oldest cases were assigned to Cobb and two other justices in order to help the court get things in order. To do this, Parker had to agree to reduce his staff in order to help pay for it.
Esdale said the current financial crunch at the Supreme Court hasn’t helped matters, as they’ve been unable to hire other attorneys who might be able to aid in clearing the backlog.
“I guess the chief justice could get other people to help, but it’s pretty tough with the money shortage,” he said.
Esdale said there has been no real explanation as to why some particular justices take so much longer to dispose of their cases. He said none are assigned any harder cases than the others, as they are handed out completely randomly. The chief justice is assigned one out of every 17 cases instead of one out of nine, in order to allow for more time for administrative duties.
Esdale said he knows of no real way Cobb can compel the slower justices to pick up their pace, other than eventually reporting them to the Judicial Inquiries Commission, a measure he says isn’t even in consideration right now.
“I don’t know of any authority the chief justice has to make a justice work faster or slower,” he said. “I suppose if it really delayed the court, there is always the Judicial Inquiries Commission, but I don’t think anything has come close to that.”
Justices serve a six-year term, and Parker was elected in 2005. Murdock has held his seat since 2007 and Bolin was also elected in 2005. All are Republicans. Neither Parker nor Murdock returned calls about this article.
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Law schools pick up loan tab for graduates pursuing public interest
Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal
November 30, 2009
It doesn't get much better than free.
Public interest graduates from several high-profile law schools won't be have to pay anything toward their student loans under recently revamped loan repayment assistance programs.
The University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center have announced improved forgiveness programs that will cover all law school loan debt for many of their graduates who go on to work in public interest law for at least 10 years, making their legal education essentially free.
"The students are delighted with this," said Georgetown law professor Philip Schrag.
The loan forgiveness programs at Georgetown and Berkeley are designed to complement the College Cost Reduction & Access Act — a federal program intended to help borrowers manage their student debt that went into effect in July. The federal program is especially helpful for public interest workers, because the government will forgive the loan balance after the borrower has made payments for 10 years. Loan forgiveness applies to lawyers working at nonprofit organizations, government agencies and legal aid organizations.
Under the income-based repayment portion of the new federal program, monthly loan payments are capped at about 10% of the borrower's income, which is important because public interest lawyers generally make far less than their counterparts at law firms. A survey last year by the National Association for Law Placement found that public interest attorneys can expect starting salaries of about $41,000.
Both Berkeley and Georgetown will pay the entirety of those capped monthly payments for 10 years, until the federal government forgives the debt.
"We've been working on this for about a year," said Schrag, who directs the Center for Applied Legal Studies, where students represent refugees from persecution who are seeking asylum in the United States. "It really was the new federal program that prompted us to change our program."
Some public interest lawyers who graduate from Berkeley and Georgetown and make relatively high salaries won't be eligible for full loan coverage, however. Berkeley's revamped program will pay all loan costs for graduates making up to $65,000 a year.
Graduates earning between $65,000 and $100,000 will receive loan assistance on a sliding scale. At Georgetown, the new program covers all loan payments for those making $75,000 or less. Graduates making more than $75,000 will receive loan assistance on a sliding scale. The long-term plan is to eliminate the $75,000 income cap, but there isn't money to support that at present, Schrag said. The funding for Georgetown's program comes from alumni donations, while Berkeley's is funded through a combination of donations and tuition — called fees in the University of California system.
While Berkeley and Georgetown appear to be the first two law schools to dovetail their forgiveness policies with the new federal program, Schrag suspects more schools will make similar moves in the coming months.
"We hope this will attract more applicants who are interested in public service," he said.
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Harvard Law stops free-tuition public law program
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
December 2, 2009
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard University's law school will stop offering a year of free tuition to students who go into public service law after graduation, Law School Dean Martha Minow announced this week.
Minow said in an e-mail Monday to staff, students and faculty that the school will suspend its Public Service Initiative for future incoming classes.
The university suffered investment losses while also seeing more students than expected look for public service jobs, school officials said.
"We remain committed to this program for current students despite the economic downturn, but we are not likely to extend it to future incoming classes," Minow wrote.
Currently enrolled students remain eligible for the program, she said.
Launched in 2008, the program waived tuition for third-year law students who agreed to work in public interest law for five years after graduation. Official said the program forgave part of students' tuition during the program's first two years, and is scheduled to forgive the full $40,000 in tuition during its final two years.
It served about 80 third-year students each year, official said.
Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp., which funds legal aid programs for low-income Massachusetts residents, called the suspension "another blow" for organizations that provide legal assistance.
"It's unfortunate. This decision, however understanding it might be, will affect legal aid groups," said Powers. "It was a way to get students interested in public interest law."
Powers said some Harvard Law students also might have considered public interest law because big law firms have cut back on hiring students or postponed their start dates.
According to a recent American Lawyer survey of the nation's top 200 law firms, 40 percent had reduced starting pay for their associates, and 44 percent are considering cuts next year.
Minow also announced that the school will cut per-student funding for summer public interest work but will expand loan repayment assistance for students and alumni. She said she has appointed a task force to investigate other ways the school could promote public interest law to future incoming classes.
The school's funding adjustments come after the dean of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced last month that he would reduce the number of professors to help balance a $110 million deficit.
Harvard has slashed about 275 jobs and made other cost-cutting moves this year.
Harvard's largest-in-the-nation endowment shrunk nearly $11 billion in fiscal 2009 from a high of $36.9 billion.
Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust has said that 38 percent of the Harvard budget is drawn from endowment income, so its $11 billion loss this past fiscal year had broad impact on the school's finances.