Howenstine and Kenny Spearhead Armstrong Teasdale's Participation in Pro Bono Pool

November 3, 2013 Firm News

A federal judge found it tough to get a lawyer to represent inmate Fredrick Davis pro bono.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2010 that Davis’ claims over a jail’s denial of vegetarian meals deserved a trial. But three successive attorneys appointed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas C. Mummert III begged off, citing conflicts. The fourth, Thomas Berry Jr. of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard, agreed to represent Davis.

The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Missouri hopes to avoid those kinds of case assignment hassles with a new method of appointing pro bono attorneys.

Under a program set to launch in January, the court is asking for volunteers for a panel of 50 to 75 lawyers and firms that would take on most pro bono assignments to represent indigent clients in civil cases. That would give the court a “manageable pool of lawyers genuinely interested in pro bono services,” said Clerk of Court Jim Woodward.

Currently, judges try to find an attorney from the pool of about 5,700 who must agree to take on pro bono appointments as part of their admission to practice in the court. Beyond conflicts, it can be difficult 
to find someone with enough time and the right expertise.

"It’s a nightmare, to be perfectly honest with you,” Woodward said.

Since 2008, judges have appointed counsel on average in about 15 civil cases per year. Judges might be inclined to grant more requests for attorney appointments with the roster of pro bono attorneys available, he said.

Panel volunteers are asked to provide types of cases and practices in which they have a particular interest or expertise. They will get email notices about cases where judges are seeking pro bono attorneys including case summaries, numbers and parties. If no attorney volunteers to take on the case within three business days, the judge will appoint someone from the panel. Each lawyer or firm would commit to taking on one pro bono appointment per year, or as needed depending on the volume of eligible cases.

Since Woodward announced the new program Oct. 1, about 16 individual lawyers and two large law firms — Armstrong Teasdale and Bryan Cave — have agreed to be on the panel. Husch Blackwell and Brown & James attorneys volunteered individually.

Read more...Missouri Lawyers Weekly (PDF)
Reprinted with Permission 11.3.13