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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D—Ill.) is one of six federal lawmakers who will receive the American Bar Association’s Congressional Justice Award on April 17. The awards are intended to recognize members of Congress who have led on issues of importance to the legal profession. 

Durbin is being honored for his support of the John R. Justice Prosecutor and Public Defender Incentive Act of 2008. Under that program, local, state, and federal public defenders plus state prosecutors are eligible to receive as much as $10,000 a year in educational loan repayment assistance as long as they stay in their jobs at least three years, with a maximum total benefit of $60,000.

The program was launched in 2012 through a $10 million appropriation to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, to be disbursed by state agencies.

"The prosecutors and public defenders in courthouses across America are the pillars of our criminal justice system," Durbin said. "As the cost of 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."

ABA President Laurel Bellows also praised Durbin’s advocacy on behalf of Legal Services Corporation funding and the Violence Against Women Act.

The five other Congressional Justice Awards are going to senators Mike Crapo (R—Idaho), Tim Johnson (D—S.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (R—Ala.); and U.S. representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen (R—N.J.) and Nita Lowey (D—N.Y.).

The ABA is recognizing Crapo for his leading role in the successful reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Johnson’s award is the result of his work to restore Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation protection for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA). Under IOLTA, the interest earned by lawyer trust accounts pays for legal aid services and other court programs.

Murkowski got the nod for sponsoring the Fairness in Disclosure Act of 2012. That law requires federal prosecutors to disclose information favorable to defendants during criminal proceedings. The legislation is intended to provide guidance to prosecutors and help improve consistency and fairness.

Both Lowey and Frelinghuysen are being recognized for their efforts to preserve LSC funding within Hurricane Sandy relief legislation. One proposed amendment would have stripped the LSC of $1 million intended to provide legal services to families harmed by the storm, but the money ultimately was approved.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.

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