People & Places
October 25, 2012
Baldwin County Attorney Sam Crosby received the Judge Harold Albritton Pro Bono Leadership Award during the Alabama State Bar Swearing-In Ceremony for newly admitted Alabama attorneys held in Montgomery on Oct. 24. The ceremony was presided over by the Alabama Supreme Court. The Albritton Award honors lawyers whose outstanding leadership has significantly impacted pro bono legal services to the poor in Alabama.
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Balch & Bingham founder selected for Alabama Lawyers' Hall of Fame
Dawn Kent, The Birmingham News
October 31, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- William Logan Martin Jr., the founding partner of Balch & Bingham LLP, has been selected for induction into the Alabama Lawyers' Hall of Fame.
The Birmingham-based law firm, which marks it 90th anniversary this month, has offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Washington D.C., with clients in 42 U.S. states and nine countries.
Martin began the law practice to which Balch & Bingham traces its roots. His accomplishments include serving in World War I, as well as a term as Alabama's Attorney General and time as a circuit court judge.
When he began the practice, he primarily focused on the legal affairs of Alabama Power Co. where his brother, Thomas Martin, served as president and general counsel. The firm's work ranged from assisting Alabama Power with its development of massive hydropower projects to arguing constitutional questions of the New Deal era before Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Martin died in 1959.
"This is a high honor for Judge Martin, the firm and our clients, especially Alabama Power Company, who make our firm what it is today," Managing Partner Alan T. Rogers said in a prepared statement. "Judge Martin set the standard for how law should be practiced and clients served. We strive to meet that standard."
Martin's selection for the Alabama Lawyers' Hall of Fame was announced this week at the Grand Convocation of the 2012 Alabama State Bar Annual Meeting.
An inductee must have been deceased for a minimum of two years. Others inductees include: John A. Caddell, Decatur; Edwin Cary Page, Evergreen; David J. Vann, Birmingham; and William James Samford, Opelika.
The induction ceremony will be held in May at the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery.
'Justice Bus' gives out free legal advice
Alvin Benn, The Montgomery Advertiser
October 25, 2012
HAYNEVILLE — The Justice Bus rolled into Lowndes County on Wednesday morning to help residents in need of legal advice — no strings attached, no cost involved.
Only four residents showed up for assistance, but that didn’t upset more than two dozen law school students and attorneys who set aside part of their day to explain details about drawing up a will and other legal matters.
District Judge Adrian Johnson noted that his county is often “underserved from a legal standpoint” and expressed his appreciation for assistance from the Alabama Bar Association, Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law and the Volunteer Lawyers program.
“I wish we had done a better job publicizing this event and getting more people to come, but again that’s what often happens in rural communities,” said Johnson, who chatted with law school students and attorneys who pitched in to help.
Allen Howell, director of Career Services at Faulkner, said it was unclear how many people might show up for legal assistance and that’s why so many law school students arrived to lend a hand if needed.
“We’d like to have had more here today, but we were happy to do what we could to help those who came here with legal questions,” said Howell.
Sherman Fuqua was one of the four who took advantage of the program and expressed his appreciation when he left about an hour later.
Fuqua, a computer technician, prepared a will from his home computer but wanted to make sure it was correct and that was why he took advantage of the Justice Bus event held in the old Hayneville Town Hall next to the Lowndes County Courthouse.
“My parents had a will, and I have been thinking of doing one myself for a long time,” said Fuqua, a single father. “The lawyer who helped me said it was a good document, but there were some loopholes in it and that’s why I’m going to see him again next week.”
Attorney Flynn Mozingo, who assisted Fuqua, said he has been part of the Volunteer Lawyers program, “and I’m focused and dedicated to helping people who need it.”
“I’m going to assist (Fuqua) going forward,” said Mozingo, who indicated that basic wills can cost a few hundred dollars while others can cost in the thousands of dollars.
“We wish there were more here today but glad to help those who did come,” he said. “I was particularly happy to help Sherman.”
Mozingo said those without law degrees can represent themselves,“but at the end of the day you need a lawyer to say ‘Yes or No,’ or ‘You can do it better and let me help you.’”
The free legal clinic in Lowndes County was one of several held across Alabama.
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The Justice Bus: Lawyers with free legal advice travel to Pleasant Grove
By Kent Faulk, Birmingham News
October 24, 2012
PLEASANT GROVE - A bus with more than a half-dozen lawyers will stop Thursday at the Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Pleasant Grove to offer free legal advice to anyone who otherwise can't afford it.
No appointment necessary for the Justice Bus.
The Justice Bus, a new initiative of the Alabama State Bar's Volunteer Lawyers Program is part of a series of clinics set up at sites around the state between Oct. 19 and Oct. 25. The bus will be at the Pleasant Grove church site from and 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday. More than a half dozen lawyers will be at the site.
"The Justice Bus is a chance for attorneys to join together and do something to help people," said Jeanne Dowdle Rasco, a Talladega County attorney who is chairman of the state bar's Pro Bono Task Force.
The Justice Bus initiative has been well received by those who have taken advantage of it already in the past week at three other sites around the state, Rasco said.
During each stop lawyers answer questions about a wide variety of subjects, including child custody and domestic abuse, home foreclosures, and questions about employment or government benefit issues, Rasco said. Lawyers will be expecting to focus civil issues but will be prepared to answer questions and give legal guidance for all types of problems, she said.
The Justice Bus is being held in conjunction with the Pro Bono Celebration Week being held this week, Rasco said. In addition to the bus stops, volunteer lawyers along with law students will be holding clinics at senior centers and other places around the state, she said.
For example, other Jefferson County clinics will be held in Gardendale and Homewood and Bessemer during the week.
More than 4,500 lawyers are enrolled in the Volunteer Lawyers programs operated by the Birmingham Bar Association, Madison County Bar Association, South Alabama Bar Association and the State Bar, according to the state bar.
"The number of people living below the poverty level is large and continuing to grow - more than 800,000 persons in Alabama," State Bar President Phillip W. McCallum, of Birmingham, stated in prepared comments. "These include military veterans and their families, those with a disability, the unemployed, children, senior citizens and survivors of natural disasters. ... For the promise of the rule of law to be real to our most vulnerable citizens, lawyers render service through pro bono."
A schedule of clinics is available at the state bar's website. Or you can call the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program at 1-888-857-8571.
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Lawyers observe Pro Bono Week
October 24, 2012
To the editor:
We grew up thinking of America as the wealthiest country on earth, but the truth is that one of every eight Alabama citizens lives in poverty, unable to pay for the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, clothing. Approximately one in four of Alabama’s children are currently living in poverty.
In every aspect of their lives, 80 percent of the legal needs of this state’s poor are unmet. While we have created programs to provide those basic needs for our poorer neighbors, too often, those of limited means lose the advantage because they don’t have lawyers to unlock those benefits.
The pro bono assistance of Alabama’s lawyers is often the only thing standing between our state’s poor and hunger, homelessness, violence, and abuse. During National Pro Bono Week, October 21-27, members of the Alabama State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program will provide free civil legal advice, counsel and, if necessary, representation to the poor and homeless veterans.
Providing access to justice for those who cannot afford it levels the playing field. When we improve access to the state’s courts we are actually helping Alabama families help themselves.
We are proud of the fact that Alabama “Lawyers Render Service” in their communities.
Phillip W. McCallum, President
Alabama State Bar
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Lawyers to offer free legal help in Hayneville on Wednesday
By Scott Johnson, Montgomery Advertiser
October 18, 2012
A group of volunteer lawyers will be in Hayneville on Wednesday offering pro bono legal services to needy residents.
The Alabama State Bar Association’s “Justice Bus” will be at the Annex Building behind the Lowndes County Courthouse at 133 Lafayette St. from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Lawyers from the Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program and law students from Thomas Goode Jones School of Law will provide advice, counsel and, if necessary, representation to people who cannot afford a lawyer.
Lawyers from across the state will take part in the Justice Bus initiative, which will offer free legal services to disadvantaged people around the state. For a schedule of upcoming free legal advice clinics, go here.
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Local seminars to offer free legal advice - Topics include child support, elder care law
By Stephanie Taylor, Tuscaloosa News
October 19, 2012
The Tuscaloosa County Bar Association will hold two free seminars in celebration of National Pro Bono week.
Child support seminar will be held from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday at Branscomb Apartments Community Center, 570 60th St.
Estate planning and elder care seminar is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Tuscaloosa County Extension Office, 2513 7th St.
Topics include child support, estate planning and elder care law. Similar events held across the country are intended to highlight free legal services available for people who need help with civil matters.
“We want people to be aware that they can call the state bar association for help,” said Tuscaloosa County Bar Association President Nettie Blume. “There are a lot of attorneys in the state who volunteer to take at least one pro bono case a year. The bar can match up the need with the expertise of a lawyer.”
The state appoints attorneys to represent indigent people in criminal matters. It’s more difficult for people to get help with civil matters, most commonly child support, divorce, landlord/tenant or debtor problems.
“There’s no real safety net on the civil side,” Blume said. “That’s where the emphasis of pro bono work comes in. We want to get the word out.”
The first seminar will be about child support and will be held from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday at Branscomb Apartments Community Center, 570 60th St., just south of the Alabama Highway 69 South and Skyland Boulevard intersection.
The second seminar is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Tuscaloosa County Extension Office, 2513 7th St., west of the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse. Topics will include estate planning and elder care.
Anyone who is indigent and needs an attorney to assist with a civil matter can call the Alabama State Bar at 205-269-1515 or 800-354-6154.
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A troubling effort to politicize courts
Ruth V. McGregor* and Randall T. Shepard* The National Law Journal
For more than a decade, special interests have engaged in increasingly partisan efforts to tilt the scales of justice, spending tens of millions of dollars to elect judges whom they believe fit their political beliefs. Now these assaults on America's courts are expanding in troubling new ways and in dimensions we have never witnessed.
In states as dissimilar as Florida and Iowa, interest groups are seeking to oust judges because they disagree with a few rulings in controversial cases. By focusing on retention elections — a historically low-key vote focusing on judges' professional qualifications — these groups have threatened to puncture a protective shield that keeps politics outside the courthouse.
In recent months, political party leaders have joined the assault in these states, breaking with local tradition and calling for removal of state supreme court justices. These party leaders, with their partisan declarations in a nonpartisan realm, threaten to utterly destroy the protective shield.
As lifetime jurists and former chief justices of the supreme courts of Arizona and Indiana, we believe citizens should be concerned. If judges cannot make hard calls based on the law, without looking over their shoulder for threats of retaliation, it will become harder for our justice system to fulfill its traditional responsibility to uphold the Constitution and protect Americans' rights.
In retention elections, only the incumbent judge appears on the ballot, and voters choose "yes" or "no" to decide whether to grant the judge another term. This model, used at least some of the time for 20 state supreme courts, is based upon the principle that we should give voters a check on professional wrongdoing, while keeping politics and campaign spending to a minimum.
Unfortunately, that ideal is gravely at risk. When national political stars barnstorm Iowa to pillory a judge, and when political leaders in two presidential swing states publicly endorse the removal of qualified justices for partisan ends, they have crossed the line.
The threat is growing. Two years ago, five states saw retention-election challenges of a scope rarely seen before and in Iowa, three supreme court justices were denied retention over a single ruling. This year, political partisans have escalated the attacks by publicly joining the fight, with out-of-state funders at their side.
To ensure that strategies to politicize our courts don't become the wave of the future, we must stand up to halt them now.
In Iowa, the state GOP is urging voters to deny retention to Justice David Wiggins, who joined the unanimous 2009 decision on marriage rights for same-sex couples. Iowa's Republican Party chairman says it's time to "help end the bullying of activist judges once and for all." Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal appeared with the ouster campaign.
In Florida, three justices are up for retention. They have drawn the wrath of partisan leaders and special interests over rulings in a few controversial cases, one involving federal health care law. Now the state GOP finds them "too extreme not just for Florida, but for America too."
Voters in Iowa and Florida adopted retention elections to give citizens a way to consider removing a judge in the rare instance he or she is unfit for office, whether for ethical lapses, for exhibiting general incompetence, or lacking the temperament to hear and decide cases fairly and impartially.
But the new tactics in retention elections undermine those goals. The tactics of the special-interest groups and partisan leaders are aimed at intimidating judges over decisions made on the bench. If they succeed, this country's proud history of a fair and independent judiciary is placed at risk.
We were initially appointed by Republican governors to our respective supreme courts. Voters granted us retention multiple times. We have no political agenda in speaking out. Rather, we fear that our courts are under fire for doing their job — and that political attacks today threaten to interfere with judges fairly and impartially following the rule of law tomorrow.
Transforming judicial elections into referenda on a few rulings in controversial cases threatens this impartiality. It creates a profound risk that Americans seeking a fair day in court will instead get caught up in the nation's political wars.
Ruth V. McGregor is a retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court; Randall T. Shepard is a retired chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. They are members of the board of directors of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan coalition to keep courts fair and impartial.
‘Pro bono week’ comes to Lowndes County
By Fred Guarino, The Lowndes Signal
October 10, 2012
On Wednesday, Oct. 24, as part of the National Pro Bono Celebration, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. the State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program will hold a walk-in legal clinic to give free advice and counsel to persons who have a legal problem but can’t afford to hire a lawyer at the Lowndes County Courthouse Annex in Hayneville.
“Pro Bono Week is an opportunity for local lawyers to provide legal services to clients free of charge, particularly clients in Lowndes County,” Lowndes County District Court Judge Adrian D. Johnson said.
“For our area it’s a group of young lawyers from Montgomery who are going to come down,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be set up over here at the annex (the old Hayneville Town Hall), Johnson said the clinic will provide a wide array of legal consultations so Lowndes County residents can consult with people regarding criminal charges, domestic relations, juvenile issues, wills and estate planning type issues.
“So, any legal issue that they may have that they would need to consult with an attorney on, they will be able to and come talk with one of the lawyers,” Johnson said.
“We’re going to have some our local lawyers assisting as well,” he said.
Johnson said the clinic is designed for low-income individuals He said if there is a large turnout the event would be coordinated with the senior center and the law library.
“Hopefully we will have a pretty good crowd and will need the overflow space,” he said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for lawyers to give back to the community and to provide no cost legal consultation to citizens in the county.”
Johnson called the clinic a great benefit to Lowndes County. “Unfortunately Lowndes County tends to be under served in a lot of area and access to free legal advice is often one of those areas. So this will be an opportunity for citizens to come and avail themselves of free legal advice.”
The Montgomery Justice Bus (a rebranded Faulkner Athletics bus) will be launched from the law school on Oct. 24th at 9:45 with an expected return time of 1 p.m., Christopher Kratzer, communications coordinator for the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University Faulkner said.
“Our law students understand that they are entering a profession that values service to others,” G. Allen Howell, director of Career Services and Public Interest at the school of law, said.
Howell said his law students are particularly concerned about providing access to justice and legal services to those in Lowndes County and other rural areas.” These areas have a need for service and are often further removed from legal clinics or services offered in larger cities. As the only law school in the Montgomery area, we look forward to providing critically needed service to our region.”
Johnson said local lawyers, lawyers from Montgomery and third year law students will provide the advice and most will be licensed practicing attorneys.
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Birmingham area attorneys to participate in Pro Bono Week Oct. 21-27
The Birmingham News
October 14, 2012
Letters from our readers
During the week of October 21-27, Alabama lawyers will join lawyers across the country in observing Pro Bono Week, a period of celebration and service.
Simply put, "pro bono" is the provision of free legal services to those in need.
There are few places in our country where the need is greater than right here in Alabama.
Nineteen percent of Alabamians live at or beneath the federal poverty level, and one in four of Alabama's children are currently living in poverty. Given that the poverty threshold is very low (currently just over $17,000 for a family of three), we know that many more Alabamians are struggling to get by and cannot afford to pay for the services of an attorney when a legal crisis occurs.
Unfortunately, as poverty has increased, funding for civil legal services for the poor has been dramatically decreased, leaving most with nowhere to turn. While nearly half of low income households will experience a legal need, more than 80% of those needs are likely to go unmet by underfunded and understaffed programs.
That's where the generosity of lawyers must rise to fill the void through pro bono.
The victim of domestic violence who needs to divorce her abuser and gain legal custody of her children; the tenant threatened with eviction whose landlord has refused to repair unsafe conditions; the disabled person who has been denied benefits; the mother who works hard at two minimum wage jobs and is struggling under a mounting pile of impossible fines and fees for a traffic ticket and is at risk of going to jail over it - these people and many others cannot be left to face a complicated legal system, and a savvy opposing lawyer, alone.
Each year, hundreds of lawyers generously donate their time and resources to help low income Alabamians who would otherwise face the daunting and nearly impossible prospect of facing the court system alone, a circumstance which can hardly be called "justice."
During Pro Bono Week, we seek not only to highlight the wonderful work that has been done by these attorneys, but also to highlight the growing need and to encourage other attorneys to join the fight for access to justice. We invite the entire community to join us in this fight as well, by raising awareness of the need for legal help, the availability of help for those who need it, and the desperate need for funding for the organizations that work incredibly hard every day to meet these needs.
During Pro Bono Week, Birmingham area attorneys will offer free legal clinics, and we will honor our pro bono leaders for their service. But the service of attorneys to the community is not an annual event - it is a daily commitment. The Alabama State Bar and Birmingham Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Programs, and their attorney members, stand ready to offer assistance to low income Alabamians in need of legal representation.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a legal burden and can't afford to pay a lawyer, you need not struggle alone.
Lisa W. Borden
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Faulkner University law team wins mock trial competition
Oct. 15, 2012
The Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law placed first over the weekend in the Lone Star Classic Mock Trial Competition.
Sixteen schools from across the nation competed in the tournament that was hosted by St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, Texas.
Faulkner’s team included Sherri Mazur, Morgan Sanders, Johana Bucci and Joshua Cochran. Sanders also won best advocate in the final round.
This is the second national advocacy title in six months for Faulkner Law, which won the 2012 Rendigs Moot Court in April.
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Daphne Attorney receives distinguished statewide honor as tireless advocate of the poor
October 16, 2012
Montgomery, Alabama, October 16, 2012 – Samuel N. Crosby, of Daphne (Stone Granade & Crosby PC), will receive the 2012 Harold Albritton Pro Bono Leadership Award presented by the state Bar. The award recognizes an individual for leadership in making free civil legal services available to the poor and disadvantaged.
State Bar President Phillip W. McCallum, Birmingham (McCallum Methvin & Terrell PC) said, “Lawyers are making a positive difference every day all across our state. The difference between good and great lawyers is that great ones make a difference in society and that’s why we are recognizing Sam. He exemplifies excellence and dedication to providing legal services to the many people who are in need but are lacking access. His creativity, energy and innovative approaches set an example for Alabama’s legal profession.”
Crosby is a past president of the state Bar (2007-2008) whose term was noted for its theme: "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God." He implemented the Wills for Heroes program in Alabama which provides free wills to first responders and was instrumental in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars by petitioning the Alabama Supreme Court to amend a rule to mandate that all lawyers must pool eligible client funds in an interest-bearing account with the interest used to provide pro bono representation.
He received his undergraduate degree with academic distinction from the University of Virginia (1973) and earned his law degree from the University of Alabama (1978) where he was a member of the Bench and Bar Honor Society, Honor Court, and the Moot Court Board. He currently serves as a trustee of the University of Alabama Law School Foundation and serves on the Law School Executive Committee.
An active member of Alabama's legal profession, he has served on the state Bar's executive council, long range planning task force and as a member of the editorial board of the Alabama Lawyer magazine.
He is a past president of the Baldwin County Bar Association. In 2005, he was one of five practicing attorneys in the state appointed to serve as a member-at-large of the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism. In 2006 he became the first recipient of the Chief Justice’s Professionalism Award. He is a Life Fellow of the Alabama Law Foundation, a charitable, tax-exempt organization affiliated with the state bar that provides ways for lawyers to better the world around them. Membership in the fellows is limited to one percent of all state Bar members.
In the community, Crosby has served as a local municipal judge and has taught business law as an adjunct professor at the University of South Alabama. He has been active in various civic organizations including Ecumenical Ministries, Inc., an organization that aids the poor in Baldwin County, Boy Scouts of America, Waterfront Rescue Ministry and the American Red Cross. Crosby also served as an arbitrator and mediator and maintains membership in the Alabama Academy of Attorney Mediators. He is one of 20 Alabama mediators selected as a charter member of the Alabama chapter of the National Association of Distinguished Neutrals.
Award nominations are reviewed by the Pro Bono and Public Service Committee which recommends a recipient to the Bar’s governing and decision-making body, the Board of Bar Commissioners. Although nominations are accepted annually, it is not expected the award will be presented each year. The first recipient of the award was its namesake, federal Judge W. Harold Albritton, III.
The 17,000-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.
Ala. State Bar ready to host Pro Bono Week
By Katie Wood, Selma Times-Journal
October 6, 2012
How many employees say they’ll do work for free? In Alabama the 17,000 members of the State Bar have the opportunity to not only promote the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improve the administration of justice and increase public understanding and respect for the law, but they also have the opportunity to do pro bono work, meaning they’ll work with no compensation.
“Most people don’t realize that lawyers do a lot of pro bono – you know, work for free –and that’s part of what we’re supposed to do, and we’re glad to do it,” Allen Reeves, Dallas County Bar president, said. “Certainly in this area you’ve got a lot of folks that need help, that don’t have money and a lot of need. It helps remind us that we need to do those kinds of things.”
The pro bono work that lawyers do is something to celebrate. The Alabama State Bar agrees and is the reason why they are hosting Pro Bono Week Oct. 21 through Oct. 27.
“Pro Bono Week was designed to celebrate the work of attorneys in providing access to the legal system for the poor,” Linda Lund, director of the Alabama State Bar’s volunteer lawyers program said. “It’s a wonderful way for us to reach out to the public and the Bar in a real focused effort to let everybody know about the good work that attorneys and the Bar Association does throughout the year,” she said.
Jana Garner, Alabama state bar commissioner for the 4th Judicial Circuit said, Dallas County, which is part of the 4th Judicial Circuit, is celebrating Pro Bono Week with a Continuing Legal Education program for the Bar Association and a reception for attorneys.
Garner helped organize the Black Belt CLE event for attorneys practicing within the 4th and 17th circuits, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 at the St. James Hotel.
Speakers will include Alabama State Bar President Phillip W. McCallum, Tony McLain, general counsel for the Alabama State Bar, and Ricky McKinney, director of the Indigent Defense Services of Alabama.
“We’re putting this event together to get these people here, so that we can open communication and talk about the things the Bar is doing that other attorneys might want to participate in if they don’t know about it, and things that can be done in this area,” Garner said.
The event in Selma, “is dealing directly with the lawyers,” Reeves said. “One of the things that the president of the State Bar is trying to do is, for the past fairly recent time, the larger cities have had more involvement with the State Bar and the smaller towns have not been as involved. He’s trying to reach out to get the more rural areas more involved with the Bar.”
While the president is seeking to invigorate and energize the smaller cities, cities all throughout the state will be hosting Pro Bono Week events.
Lund explained that Alabama has developed a celebration that is organized at the state level with activities locally throughout the state, which are sponsored by local Bar Associations, law schools and other groups that want to get involved.
Pro Bono Week will include, “everything from just celebrating the work that people do though receptions and honoring people who have done a lot of work throughout the year, to free legal clinics for low income individuals to CLE programs to educate lawyers on specific topics that promote pro bono or where there’s a need for pro bono services,” Lund said.
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'Justice Bus' to provide free legal help to low-income residents throughout Alabama
By Brendan Kirby, Mobile Press-Register
October 08, 2012
Alabama residents who cannot afford a lawyer can get free legal advice at one of four locations as part of the National Pro Bono Celebration.
Low-income Alabamians across the state this month can get free legal help when the “Justice Bus” rolls into town.
In conjunction with the National Pro Bono Celebration, volunteer lawyers will fan out to four spots in the Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile regions. They literally will arrive in buses.
Jeanne Dowdle Rasco, a lawyer with a general practice in Talladega, said she borrowed the idea from lawyers in California.
“We thought, how great would it be to get a big bus, load it up with lawyers and drive to the areas where people might even have transportation issues?” she said.
Brad Carr, a spokesman for the Alabama State Bar, said this is the fourth year Alabama lawyers have participated in the national program but the first time they have used the bus motif.
“It’s something we’ve never done before in all the years we’ve participated in National Pro Bono week,” he said.
The lawyers will help people with uncomplicated civil matters like wills and trusts, uncontested divorces, housing disputes and debt collection issues. Rasco said the attorneys also will refer folks with more involved civil law issues or criminal problems to other sources of help.
Different buses will make stops at the following locations:
- Oct. 19 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Jaycees Building near the old airport in Hunstville, where attorney volunteers will help homeless military veterans as part of Operation Stand Down.
- Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to noon at Baldwin EMC Training Center at 19600 Alabama 59 in Summerdale.
- Oct. 24 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Hayneville behind the Lowndes County Courthouse at 133 Lafayette St..
- Oct. 25 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church at 452 9th Ave. in Pleasant Grove near Birmingham, an area that was hard-hit by last year’s massive tornadoes.
According to the Alabama State Bar, lawyers provided free assistance on some 2,000 cases last year. Rasco, who serves as a commissioner for the Alabama State Bar, said it is a way for lawyers to give back.
“We wanted to focus more this year on the celebration of it,” she said. “I think a lot times, people don’t realize all the good things that lawyers are doing throughout the state.”
Shannon Shelley-Tremblay, executive director of the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program, said she expects 10 to 12 lawyers from different backgrounds to board the Mobile-area Justice Bus at The Home Depot in Daphne and ride to Summerdale.
“We’re excited about that, and we’ll have attorneys with a variety of different areas of expertise,” she said.
Shelley-Tremblay said the Justice Bus is an extenuation of what the nonprofit organization does regularly. She said volunteer lawyers put on clinics once a month, serving folks in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Clarke counties.
Last year, she said, 887 lawyers donated $875,000 worth of free legal assistance. “We have a very, very serious need in our state,” she said.
Local lawyers planning for Oct. 19 event to give free legal assistance to homeless veterans
By Brian Lawson, Huntsville Times
October 09, 2012
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program will again be providing free legal assistance to homeless veterans as part of Operation Stand Down Huntsville, Oct. 19 at the Jaycees Building at Airport Road and Leeman Ferry Road.
Along with the free legal advice, the three-day Operation Stand Down event will provide medical help, clothing, haircuts, food, showers and more for homeless veterans. Operation Stand Down Huntsville will be held Friday morning, Oct. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 21.
Operation Stand Down officials are hoping to serve 100-120 local homeless veterans or more. Last year's event drew about 125 veterans.
The Madison County Volunteer Lawyers will be joined by attorneys from Decatur Oct. 19 to provide veterans will legal advice and assistance beginning around 12:30 p.m., said Angela Rawls, executive director of the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Group. Rawls said she expects up to 12 attorneys will be on hand to offer assistance.
Rawls said that many of the veterans have Veterans Administration issues to resolve, but often need assistance in other areas, including family, law, collections and garnishments.
The Oct. 19 session may just be the first, information-gathering step in a legal process that will take more time, Rawls said. One of the lawyers participating in the program may take up a given case, or it will be referred back to the Volunteer Lawyers' office, which has 320 local participating attorneys, including two who are experts on veterans benefits, Rawls said.
Through the course of its regular operations, the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program handles basic civil legal needs, for those who will trouble paying for an attorney. Rawls said the clients have to be at or below 125 percent of the poverty line to qualify for services. For a family of four, that would mean an annual income around $22,000.
The attorneys don't handle criminal cases, but do assist with collections problems, housing issues including evictions and foreclosures and family law problems -- divorces, custody disputes, name changes, paternity and protection from abuse.
The group handled some 300 cases last year and more than that already in 2012.
On Oct. 25, the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program will host its annual fundraiser at Lowe Mill. The $50 per ticket event will include live music, food, beer provided by local vendors and more.
For more information about assistance from the program or to take part in the fundraiser, call 256-539-2275, or visit the lawyers program website.
National Pro Bono Week will be held Oct. 21-27 and lawyers across Alabama will participate, the Alabama Bar Association said.
Lawyers in each of the state's 42 judicial circuits will take part, conducting free legal clinics in areas like elder and family law, discussing their view that the Legislature needs to fund legal services and recruiting additional lawyers to provide pro bono service.
For a schedule on the upcoming free legal clinics, visit www.alabar.org/clinics. Those interested can also call the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program at 888- 857-8571.
Lawyers hop on board the JUSTICE Bus: Baldwin County poor can get free civil legal help on October 22
October 03, 2012
Mobile, Alabama, October 3, 2012 - The song says, “the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round,” and the sound of those wheels will be heard across Alabama as the JUSTICE Bus rolls into Baldwin County.
The JUSTICE Bus is the Alabama State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyers Program travelling pro bono legal services vehicle that will make a scheduled stop on Oct. 22 from 10 am to Noon at the Baldwin EMC Training Center located just behind their main building in Summerdale (19600 State Highway 59). Lawyers from Baldwin and Mobile County (members of the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program) will provide free civil advice and counsel to disadvantaged citizens living in the area who can’t afford to pay for the services of a lawyer.
State Bar President Phillip W. McCallum of Birmingham (McCallum Methvin & Terrell PC) said, “The number of people living below the poverty level is large and continuing to grow - more than 800,000 persons in Alabama. These include military veterans and their families, those with a disability, the unemployed, children, senior citizens and survivors of natural disasters.” The South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program can lend assistance in areas relating to family law, housing, will and estate issues, credit access, contracts and warranties among others. “For the promise of the rule of law to be real to our most vulnerable citizens, lawyers render service through pro bono” continued McCallum.
McCallum said the Bar was indebted to the Rev. Bill Stephens of the Baldwin County Baptist Association for providing a bus that could be used to transport the volunteer lawyers. Baldwin EMC also graciously afforded the clinic location for the event.
Lawyers in each of the state’s 42 judicial circuits will participate in such activities as: conducting free legal clinics offering advice and counsel in such areas as elder and family law; discussing with community and civic groups the critical need for the Legislature to provide a continuous stream of funding for legal services, and recruiting additional lawyers to volunteer to provide pro bono service.
Currently, more than 4,500 lawyers are enrolled in the Volunteer Lawyers programs operated by the Birmingham Bar Association, Madison County Bar Association, South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program and the State Bar.
A schedule is available online for other upcoming free legal advice clinics planned statewide, go to: www.alabar.org/clinic or in this area at www.savlp.org. For more information on these events and other services that the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program provides, call (888) 857-8571 or the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program at (251) 438-1102.
The 17,000-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.
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Pa. lawyers launch child abuse reporting ed effort
October 1, 2012
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawyers are teaming up to educate the public about reporting suspected child abuse. The state bar association and 36 county bar associations announced a campaign Monday that focuses on the Child Protective Services Law and how people can alert authorities to suspected abuse.They're spreading the word about the state-run ChildLine for abuse reports, which is available at all hours at 800-932-0313. State law makes some people mandatory reporters of suspected abuse, including certain workers in education and health care. Figures from last year indicate more than 24,000 cases of suspected abuse were reported last year, and about 3,400 were substantiated. Thirty-four children died from abuse in the state in 2011, with parents responsible in about three out of four of those cases.
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G.O.P. Aims to Remake Florida Supreme Court
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ, The New York Times
October 1, 2012
MIAMI — In a bid to remake Florida’s judiciary, Republicans are asking voters to oust three state Supreme Court justices and give the Legislature greater power over Supreme Court appointments and judicial rules of procedure.
The campaign against the justices by Republican state party officials, a conservative group founded by the Koch brothers and a grass-roots group is similar to the successful push by conservative activists in Iowa during the 2010 election. Voters there defeated three Iowa Supreme Court justices over a ruling that allowed same-sex marriage in the state. A fourth Iowa justice who also ruled in the case is being targeted for ouster this year.
In Florida, the issue is not same-sex marriage but another politically divisive matter: President Obama’s health care law. In a 2010 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court removed from the ballot a nonbinding amendment allowing Floridians to refuse to buy mandatory health insurance. The justices ruled that the required ballot summary contained “misleading and ambiguous language” and asked the Legislature to fix it. Lawmakers did, and it is back on the ballot this year.
The initial ruling was one of several, including decisions on redistricting and property taxes and, going back to 2000, the ballot recount in Bush v. Gore, that have displeased conservatives in the state and in the Republican-dominated Legislature, which has tried since then to exert greater control over the court.
“I am very, very stressed at the entire circumstance,” said Justice R. Fred Lewis, one of the three judges targeted in the campaign. “What is going on now is much larger than any one individual. This is a full-frontal attack — that had been in the weeds before — on a fair and impartial judicial system, which is the cornerstone and bedrock of our democracy.”
The other two justices being targeted are Peggy A. Quince and Barbara J. Pariente. Justice Lewis and Justice Pariente were named by Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. Justice Quince was chosen by both Mr. Chiles and Jeb Bush during the 1998 transition. No justice has ever lost a retention battle. All three of these justices were returned to the bench in 2000 and again in 2006.
Florida Supreme Court justices appear on the ballot every six years as part of a system of merit retention. Floridians are asked to vote yes or no on whether the justices should remain on the bench. The system of selecting and retaining justices and appellate judges based on competence, and not politics, was put into place in the 1970s after a series of scandals involving popularly elected partisan judges. Until recently, the process was widely praised and largely free of politicking. But in 2010 that began to change.
This year, the campaign in Florida is considerably more intense and organized. For the first time, the Florida Republican Party’s executive board announced last week it would oppose the retention of the three justices because of their extensive “judicial activism.”
It singled out a 2003 case in which the court reversed the murder conviction of a man who tied a woman to a tree and set her on fire, and ordered a retrial on technical grounds. The United States Supreme Court reversed the decision, saying the justices had applied the wrong standard, and remanded the case to the Florida court. Ultimately, the conviction was affirmed, and the man remains on death row. By announcing its opposition to the three justices, the Republican Party avoids clashing with a law that prevents political parties from endorsing judicial candidates. In its statement, the party said the justices were “too extreme not just for Florida, but for America, too.”
Typically, decisions to remove a justice are based on misconduct or incompetence, not disagreements over particular decisions. The party’s decision to take sides surprised even some Republicans, who said it set a bad precedent.
“I think it’s a mistake for a party, as a party, to state a position that a certain judge should be thrown out, because then you are introducing partisanship into a system that is supposed to be nonpartisan,” said Bob Martinez, a prominent Republican lawyer who was once the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “And when you have elected officials, on the right or left, criticizing judges publicly it can become very dangerous and it can undermine the public’s faith in the judiciary.”
Democrats say the campaign is really about giving Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, the chance to appoint three new justices. The Florida Legislature also wants greater control of the judiciary — an effort that began last year with House Speaker Dean Cannon and is continuing with a proposed amendment on the ballot this year.
“All of this is an attempt to hijack the court,” said Dick Batchelor, a Democrat and former State House member who is working with Defend Justice From Politics, one of several counteroffensives. “This is all about raw politics. It has nothing to do with jurisprudence.”
Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded by the Koch brothers, recently joined in the battle and began broadcasting television advertisements in several cities highlighting the health care amendment ruling. The group also plans to highlight other cases.
“The Florida Supreme Court removed the amendment from the ballot, denying us a voice and a vote on a historically important issue,” the ad states. “Shouldn’t our courts be above politics and protect our rights to choose? You be the judge.”
Slade O’Brien, the Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, said the television spots, which do not explicitly take sides in the retention battle, focus attention on cases in which the court has acted as “judicial activists.”
Spearheading the battle over the justices is Restore Justice 2012, a grass-roots campaign that began its initial shoestring effort in 2010 and is taking its message to Tea Party activists around the state. The group released a video on the murder ruling this week.
The three justices said in interviews that the decisions in question, including the nine-year-old murder conviction reversal, have been misconstrued to score political points. Critics disagree.
But the justices, while novices on the stump and restricted by judicial rules on campaigning, are amassing their own supporters. Sandra Day O’Connor, the retired United States Supreme Court justice, made a video for the Florida Bar Association’s Web site about the retention battle’s significance in Florida. “Judicial independence is very hard to create and establish, and easier than most people imagine to damage and destroy,” she said.
Other supporters include the fire and police unions, which spoke out this week; the 23 past presidents of the Florida Bar Association; and a number of prominent Democrats in the state.
To counter the campaign, judges are being forced to raise money, which could lead to the perception they are beholden to donors. The justices’ three separate political committees have raised a total of about $1 million so far. They also could be accused of ruling on politically sensitive cases for the wrong reasons. Judicial rules also restrict what they can say in a campaign.
“It’s like getting into a fight with two hands behind your back tied and one leg,” Justice Pariente said. “We are trying to keep the high road.”
The Legislature is also involved in efforts to influence the judiciary. A ballot initiative, Amendment 5, would give the Senate, not the governor, final approval over the choice of State Supreme Court justices — similar to the federal system. It also would allow the Legislature to repeal court rules with a majority vote, not the two-thirds now required. And it would grant the House speaker access to confidential judicial misconduct investigation files before charges actually being filed.
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Bar Association's website to counter State Chamber's judicial rating scorecard
Tulsa World (Okla.)
October 04, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Bar Association has announced a website to provide voters with information about judges who are on the Nov. 6 retention ballot.
The action comes after the State Chamber-backed Oklahoma Civil Justice Council announced a rating system for Supreme Court judges on the retention ballot. The group rates judges based on court cases involving civil liability. The Oklahoma Bar Association created CourtFacts.org to provide more information.
"Oklahomans are being bombarded with information related to the election, and some interest groups may use the retention ballot to promote their own agendas," said Cathy Christensen, Oklahoma Bar Association president. "Launching this website is our opportunity to educate voters that fair and impartial judges are critical to the success of a strong legal system."
The site has biographies and pictures of the four state Supreme Court justices and seven appellate judges on the retention ballot. Visitors can access court cases and legal opinions written by the judges and justices.
"Our intent in creating Court Facts is to provide voters accurate, nonbiased information - just the facts," Christensen said.
"I trust our voters to make up their own minds. Oklahomans understand that their independence depends on judicial independence."
The website explains the process for selecting appellate justices and judges.
"Judges must be free to decide cases based on the laws and the Constitution," Christensen said. "This is why selection of Oklahoma justices and judges is designed to be nonpartisan. They must be able to rule independently without fear of retaliation for making a decision.
"Our legal system is only as strong as the quality of judges who uphold it, and this website makes it clear that judges shouldn't be told how to vote, and neither should voters."