Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rural ATJ (Part I): The aging of the rural bar

I write about rural access to justice quite a bit on this blog, so I've decided to start a new series on "Rural ATJ" because I have two posts in mind right now, and I expect more are surely in the pipeline.  In this post, I want to highlight a major "rural" feature that appeared in Law 360 this week.  Jack Karp writes of the rural lawyer shortage with a focus on the "greying" of the rural bar and the reluctance by the current generation of law graduates to embrace rural practice.  Karp leads with a profile of Phil Garland, who is perhaps the "grand-daddy" of rural lawyers who have for some time sought to draw attention to the phenomenon that is the rural lawyer shortage.  Garland has also been working for several years to solve the problem, starting in 2012 with a program of the Iowa Bar that made summer placements of law students (University of Iowa, Drake, and Creighton) with rural practitioners.  Turns out, Garland has finally secured a young lawyer, Carrie Rodriguez, to succeed him.  A key to doing so has been eliminating a requirement that his successor buy him out.  In other words, Garland is altruistically giving Rodriguez the training and introductions she needs in order to succeed in Garner, Iowa, population 3129.  She is not having to purchase his "book of business."

There's so much of interest in this long feature, not least many quotes from yours truly.  It also mentions the efforts afoot in many different states, including South Dakota, Maine, Nebraska and Wisconsin, to ameliorate the rural lawyer shortage.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Legalization of marijuana has increased crime in California

That trend or phenomenon is something folks in California have been talking about for a while, but since The Atlantic ran this story by Rene Chun in its most recent print edition (Jan/Feb 2019), I decided to include some of its content in this blog post:
Legalizing pot was supposed to reduce crime, or so advocates argued. The theory was simple: As cannabis buyers beat a path to the nearest dispensary, the black market would dry up, and with it the industry’s criminal element. Indeed, a study recently published in The Economic Journal found that after medical marijuana was legalized in California, violent crime fell 15 percent
Talk to authorities in California’s Emerald Triangle, though, and a different story emerges. This 10,000-square-mile area (which includes Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties) by some estimates grows 60 percent of the country’s marijuana. Ben Filippini, a deputy sheriff in Humboldt, told me that ever since California’s 1996 medical-marijuana initiative, violent crime in his jurisdiction has increased: “People are getting shot over this plant. All legalization did here was create a safe haven for criminals.” When I asked Trinity County’s undersheriff, Christopher Compton, what’s happened since a 2016 initiative legalized pot in the state, he said: “We haven’t seen any drop in crime whatsoever. In fact, we’ve seen a pretty steady increase.” Compton’s counterpart in Mendocino, Matthew Kendall, agreed: “We’re seeing more robberies and more gun violence.”

Sunday, January 27, 2019

On the government shutdown's impact on rural America

Many mainstream media (mostly I'm following the New York Times) stories have touched on rural aspects of the federal government shutdown that began before Christmas and ended in mid January.  I'm going to list here some of the ones I've read or bookmarked, in no particuolar order.

One headline is Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country, January 1, 2019, dateline Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, population 14,444:
For one tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the government shutdown comes with a price tag: about $100,000, every day, of federal money that does not arrive to keep health clinics staffed, food pantry shelves full and employees paid. 
The tribe is using its own funds to cover the shortfalls for now.
Much farther south, Patricia Mazzei reported  on January 9 from Marianna, Florida, population 6102, still reeling from Hurricane Michael.  Marianna is somewhat inland in the state's panhandle, but it suffered tremendous flooding during the fall, 2018 hurricane.  The headline is "‘It’s Just Too Much’: A Florida Town Grapples With a Shutdown After a Hurricane," and here's the lede, focusing on a federal prison in the area and the one-two punch dealt by the hurricane and then the government shutdown: 
A federal prison here in Florida’s rural Panhandle lost much of its roof and fence during Hurricane Michael in October, forcing hundreds of inmates to relocate to a facility in Yazoo City, Miss., more than 400 miles away. 
Since then, corrections officers have had to commute there to work, a seven-hour drive, for two-week stints. As of this week, thanks to the partial federal government shutdown, they will be doing it without pay — no paychecks and no reimbursement for gas, meals and laundry, expenses that can run hundreds of dollars per trip. 
“You add a hurricane, and it’s just too much,” said Mike Vinzant, a 32-year-old guard and the president of the local prison officers’ union.
The story quotes Marianna's city manager:
I worry about the government pulling out of rural America.  
This story, "Farm Country Stood by Trump. But the Shutdown Is Pushing It to Breaking Point," focuses on the impact of the shutdown on farmers and the agricultural sector more generally.   Here's an excerpt from Jack Healy and Tyler Pager's story:
Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.
The story includes agricultural anecdotes from Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and Mississippi.

Here's one focusing on the Coast Guard, which has a major presence in Alaska.  Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports from Kodiak, AK (population 6,130) under the headline, "A Small Alaska Town Reels as the Coast Guard Weathers On Without Pay."  About a quarter of Kodiak's population is "either an employee or dependent family member of the Coast Guard."
The morning after more than 40,000 Coast Guard members missed their first paycheck, and the federal government’s shutdown stretched into its fourth week, Eleanor King placed an empty jar next to her diner’s cash register. 
In scribbled black marker, a sign on the jar, written in all capital letters, read: Donation Coast Guard. By 9 a.m. on Wednesday, nearly an hour before a rainy winter sunrise, the jar held $120 — money with which patrons were effectively buying meals for members of the maritime force.
And here's a story out of Alabama, focusing on consequences of the fallout for Senator Doug Jones.  An excerpt from Lisa Lerer's story follows:
Mr. Jones is the only red-state Senate Democrat up for re-election in 2020. By taking on President Trump and the border wall, which are both popular in Alabama, and refusing to give ground on the shutdown, the senator may be the last “Doug Jones Democrat” to win here anytime soon. 
Alabama has one of the largest groups of federal workers in the country, and the economic pain of those who are out of work because of the shutdown is rippling through local businesses across the state.
About the shutdown more generally, here's a great story about the impact on government contractors, including the folks who clean office buildings.

On how "Trump country" is falling further behind under Trump (government shutdown aside), read this from November, 2018:
Looking at 13 months of data since the election, we can see that that hasn’t happened. The average Trump county added 1.13 percent more jobs, while the average Clinton county added 0.49 percent. These increases are quite small, especially considering that significantly fewer jobs existed in Trump counties to begin with. 
Housing prices tell a similar story, with even more data stretching into 2018. Regardless of how I compare the counties, Clinton supporters consistently come out on top. Even though their housing prices started significantly higher than their counterparts in Trump counties, their value increases even faster after November 2016. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Roundabouts as sources of community for France's rural, low-income "yellow vests"

The New York Times is back today with more coverage of the "yellow vest" movement in France and, in particular, the government's new strategy of denying them access to the common ground that is the roundabout or traffic circle.  The headline is "Denied Use of Roundabouts, Can Yellow Vests Stay United, Visible and Viable?"  The yellow vests have been congregating in the center of traffic circles around France for a few months, often setting up tents there.  This locale afforded them visibility and, according to Alissa J. Rubin's latest story, also community and, literally, a place to meet. 

Rubin focuses in this piece on the isolation that low-income people often feel, in part because the lack of money keeps them even from going to the local cafe or bar; they cannot afford to pay for what is on offer.  This problem is aggravated in rural communities where post offices and grocery stores have closed so that people also do not interact with each other in such institutions.   Here's a salient excerpt from Rubin's story:
Much like the shops and post offices of the past — where people traded stories about their miseries and the microeconomics of their daily lives, the roundabouts provided a physical meeting place.
Rubin quotes Bruno Laziou of Les Andelys, in Normandy, which is the focus of her story:
Just a couple of decades ago, in every village there were little stores, little services, like the post office, the little grocery store; today the villages are dormitories. ... Nothing is open anymore in my little village, other than the mayor’s office.
Rubin continues:  
The use of the traffic circles as public space speaks to the fragmentation and accompanying isolation that has come to define much of life in the hinterlands of France, where the Yellow Vest movement took hold.  
As with various other pieces I've read about the yellow vests, Rubin goes into considerable detail about what people earn, as well as what the French social safety net provides.  The latter is not as generous as most people think--the Euro equivalent of about $119 per child, for example. 

As in the United States, those who are hurting most are arguably the low-income workers--those who could be considered the working poor.  They earn too much to qualify for many government benefits but too little to afford a comfortable lifestyle.  Among those featured are a hair dresser and a teacher. 

A prior post about the yellow vests is here.  And this blog features many posts over the years on the impact of school, post office and grocery store closures on rural places.   

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Federal lawsuit filed against Wisconsin public defender system in northern counties

Peter Wasson of the Ashland Daily Press reports here, under the headline, "Ashland, Bayfield County residents file federal suit."  Here's the lede:
A group of defendants from Ashland and Bayfield counties say the state’s failure to provide adequate public defenders to represent them violates the constitutional rights of all indigent defendants. 
The five men and one woman are suing the state in federal court on behalf of all poor defendants in Wisconsin, claiming that their rights to competent defense attorneys and speedy trials have been violated because of systemic funding and staffing problems in the state Public Defender’s Office. 
Those violations harm not only the defendants but the entire region, the suit claims, through increased jail costs, lost work time and a sluggish court system that delays hearings for everyone.
The story quotes the lawsuit filings:
The system for indigent defense in Wisconsin has reached a state of crisis.  It is well-settled law that the state must promptly provide effective legal representation for indigent criminal defendants. However, in Wisconsin, these defendants are simply not being promptly appointed the effective legal counsel mandated by the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions.
The Wisconsin Public Defender's Office had this to say: 
The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office (SPD) is aware of the federal court filing related to the nation’s lowest rate of compensation paid to assigned counsel attorneys who accept SPD cases.  We are currently reviewing the filing in detail, and will withhold further comment until that process is complete.
The rate of compensation for criminal defense lawyers in these counties is apparently $40/hour.

My prior work on rural indigent defense and its funding is here.   Ashland and Bayfield counties, populations 16,157 and 15,008, respectively, are on Lake Superior, not far from Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Suspension rates higher in rural California schools than in urban ones

Lee Romney and Edward J. Willis report for EdSource.   Here's an excerpt that summarizes the findings:
School suspensions in grades K-12 have dropped across California by more than a quarter over the past five years, due largely to a growing consensus that excluding kids from the classroom fails to correct behavior and worsens student outcomes and attitudes toward school. But the decline in suspensions is driven by schools in cities and suburbs, which educate 90 percent of California’s more than 6 million students.  
Outside urban areas, suspensions are far more common. As in urban schools, African-American and Native American students were suspended most often, at rates far greater than their proportion of the student population, an EdSource analysis of 2017-18 data showed. Those rural rates far exceeded urban rates. Perhaps more strikingly, suspensions of white students across rural schools were also significantly higher than at urban schools, particularly in the largely white rural counties of Northern California, which posted some of the state’s highest overall suspension rates. 
EdSource analyzed data for each of the state’s nearly 10,000 schools by urban and rural designation.

In sparsely populated rural regions as well as in towns in largely rural areas — such as Butte County’s Oroville — schools reported eight suspensions for every 100 white students enrolled in 2017-18, one and a half times the rate of schools that are located in cities and suburbs. Rural schools logged 22 suspensions for every 100 black students enrolled, compared to just over 15 per 100 black students at urban schools. Rural schools reported 17 suspensions for every 100 Native American students and seven suspensions for every 100 Latino students. 
My own sense is that this disparity is probably linked to a lack of resources and a lack of awareness regarding race and ethnicity issues.   That said, I note that in rural areas, "the student groups excluded from the classroom the most have shifted, to include not just 'black and brown youth' but 'poor white youth, particularly in California’s northern rural counties.  That's according to Tia Martinez, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit consulting firm Forward Change, who has studied both rural and urban schools.  This finding is consistent with my musings here, and with Edward Morris's book, Unexpected Minority:  White Kids in an Urban School.  He found white teachers in those schools as judgmental of poor whites as they are of poor blacks, if not more so.  Black teachers, on the other hand, were more sympathetic of all impoverished students. 

Also, by the way, Oroville is not exactly rural.  Oroville has a population of 15,506, and it's the county seat of Butte County, population 220,000. 

Here's another paragraph about what's going on in Oroville, as well as in similar rural areas. 
According to interviews with educators and experts on both rural schools and student discipline, behind the high suspension rates in Oroville and many other rural areas are family struggles with poverty, mental illness, addiction and parental incarceration; a dearth of resources to address those needs; and underfunded schools with less access to training on alternate approaches to discipline. Per-capita child abuse and neglect reports for Butte County far exceed the statewide average. And the Butte County Sheriff’s Department estimates that 80 percent of crime and as many as 50 percent of foster care placements are linked to methamphetamine addiction.  

Friday, January 11, 2019

An interesting spin on rurality in relation to "the wall"

I've been accumulating stories about rural and working class folks who are bearing the brunt of (what  I see as )Trump's crazy policies, and I was planning to write a composite post about them at some point.  But all of that synthesizing will take time, and when I came across this today, I decided it deserved it's own post.  The headline for the Washington Post story is "The Wall is Trump's 'Read my Lips' Pledge." Contributing columnist Gary Abernathy of Hillsboro, Ohio rehashes the "literal v. serious" dichotomy regarding whether we should take what Trump says, a recurring theme among pundits.  The point of invoking that dichotomy here is to interrogate whether Trump's campaign promise of a wall was to be taken literally.  Here's Abernathy's rural-themed insight/argument:
In rural America, where property lines are regularly defined by fences and gates to keep livestock in, families and property secure, and trespassers out (“No Trespassing” signs are as common here as stoplights in the city), defining and defending our southern border with a wall is just common sense.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"Nationalism" across the rural-urban axis

E.J. Dionne proclaimed a few days in his syndicated column that "There is much to fear about nationalism.  But liberals need to address it the right way."  In it, he discusses the current political moment (including the nationalist grip on Trumpsters--think "America First") in relation to the rural-urban divide.  He begins:
In affluent neighborhoods around Washington, New York and Los Angeles — and, for that matter, Paris, London and Berlin — it’s common to denounce nationalism, to disdain supposedly mindless, angry populists, and to praise those with an open-minded, cosmopolitan outlook. Note that those involved are praising themselves.
And then he gets more specifically to the rural-urban divide, linking the current political divide that so often falls along the rural-urban axis, due to the economic woes of the former:
But those who would save liberal democracy (along with anyone who would advance a broadly progressive political outlook) need to be honest with themselves and less arrogant toward those who currently find nationalism attractive. 
Across the democratic world, an enormous divide has opened between affluent metropolitan areas and the smaller cities, towns and rural regions far removed from tech booms and knowledge industries. 
Globalization married to rapid technological change has been very good to the well-educated folks in metro areas and a disaster for many citizens outside of them. This is now a truism, but it took far too long for economic and policy elites to recognize what was happening (emphasis added).
I'll leave it at that for now, for readers to consider Dionne's critique of the chattering classes.