ABA to honor Sens. Durbin and Johnson

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) will receive the American Bar Association’s Congressional Justice Award April 17 for his support of the American justice system, including his championing of the John R. Justice Prosecutor and Public Defender Incentive Act of 2008 and ensuring its successful implementation. The act provides loan repayment assistance for state and local prosecutors and federal, state and local public defenders who make a commitment to three years of service.

Although the roles of prosecutors and defenders are fundamental to the justice system, educational debt prevents many qualified lawyers from pursuing careers in public interest law. Recruiting and retention issues lead to overwhelming workloads that can slow the administration of justice and affect crime victims and defendants. Since its enactment in 2008, the John R. Justice Program has helped keep thousands of prosecutors and defenders on the job.

“Sen. Durbin’s leadership on issues ranging from the Violence Against Women Act to Legal Services Corporation funding has benefited communities in Illinois and across our nation.  We are especially proud to recognize his commitment to public defenders and prosecutors with this award,” said ABA President Laurel Bellows.

“The prosecutors and public defenders in courthouses across America are the pillars of our criminal justice system,” Durbin said. “As the cost of a legal education continues to rise, a little help with student loans goes a long way, and the John R. Justice program gives many talented lawyers that are carrying mortgage-sized student loan debts a path into public service. I am honored to receive this award from the American Bar Association, and I thank the ABA for all of their work to support our nation’s legal community.”

Sen. Durbin will receive one of six ABA Congressional Justice Awards that will be given as part of the association’s annual effort to connect policymakers with constituents in the legal profession. ABA Day 2013  brings distinguished lawyers from 50 states to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues such as funding for the Legal Services Corporation and federal judicial vacancies.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) will receive the American Bar Association’s Congressional Justice Award April 17 for legislation that provided for two years full Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation protection for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts and for expediting the passage of legislation protecting the attorney-client privileged status of information submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Sen. Johnson’s dedication to our system of justice is a paradigm for members of Congress,” said ABA President Laurel Bellows.

IOLTA programs pool interest from lawyer trust accounts to provide funding for legal aid to the poor and judicial system improvements. Although IOLTA funds were previously covered by the FDIC, language in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act excluded IOLTA programs from full coverage. From 2011 to 2012, IOLTA funds were again fully insured by the FDIC, thanks to the Johnson-sponsored legislation.

In addition, Johnson worked through the lame duck session of the 112th Congress to win passage of a bill clarifying that the CFPB, like the other federal banking regulators, can receive attorney-client privileged information from banks and other supervised entities and then share that information with other federal agencies without waiving the privilege with respect to third parties.  The new law protects the privilege in the bank examination process and creates a single standard for the treatment of privileged information submitted to all federal banking agencies, including the CFPB.

“I thank the ABA for this recognition and for all the hard work they do advocating for improvements to the legal system,” Johnson said. “I’m glad we were able to protect the IOLTA funds that help provide legal aid for the poor, and clear up uncertainty to ensure the CFPB can get the information it needs to supervise the financial marketplace and protect consumers. These were simple commonsense measures, so I am glad we were able to find a way to finally pass them with bipartisan support.”

Other recipients of the 2013 ABA Congressional Justice Award include Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).