ACCESS TO JUSTICE NEWS
9.26.13 – welcome news from the Hoosiers. "The Indiana Supreme Court has created a statewide commission aimed at improving the availability of civil legal services for low-income residents. The 17 members of the Indiana Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services will include judges, law professors, practicing attorneys, existing civil legal services providers, nonprofit groups and representatives from business, finance and labor, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote in an order dated Monday." (Here's the story from the venerable Post-Tribune. And here's the Order creating the Commission.)
9.24.13 - The Sidney Sun-Telegraph highlights the Nebraska State Bar's formal attempt to promote better access to justice off the beaten path: "In summer 2013, the NSBA started its rural practice initiative. This program educates second and third year law students about the benefits of practicing law in rural areas in the state…. This problem is not limited to Nebraska. According to the New York Times, South Dakota recently passed a law offering lawyers an annual subsidy to live and work in rural areas. The Iowa and Kansas state bars also have programs encouraging lawyers to look for jobs outside of urban areas." (Here is that NYT article on South Dakota's efforts to draw lawyers to rural locales: "No Lawyer for Miles, So One Rural State Offers to Pay.")
Sept/Oct 2013 - the Colorado ATJ Commission is scheduled to finish up the final two of seven public hearings it scheduled this fall in locales throughout the state. (Although I wonder if the terrible flooding out there caused any rescheduling.)
September, 2013 – the Arkansas ATJ Commission's most recent newsletter contains news of a forthcoming merger of the state's IOLTA and ATJ foundations, an update on Pro Bono Week activities, and more. As n aside I recently learned that Arkansas's official nickname is "The Natural State." The Natural State? What a snoozer. C'mon, Arkansas!
9.13.13 – the Supreme Court of Virginia has created the country's newest ATJ Commission! Here's a press release announcing the Commission's creation, and here's the Order formally establishing it. The Supreme Court Access to Justice Planning Committee, which recommended creation of a commission in a May 2013 report, was supported by a grant from the ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project, with funding from the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.
9.10.13 – a staunch ATJ advocate ascends in Texas. From a press release: "Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Justice Nathan L. Hecht of Austin as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. Justice Hecht's term will be effective Oct. 1, 2013, and is set to expire at the next general election. He will serve as the 27th chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas." Chief Justice Hecht is the Supreme Court's liaison to the Access to Justice Commission, and has been a strong advocate for maintaining state funding of civil legal aid.
8.29.13 – in Alaska, some courthouses are experimenting with Saturday and weekday-evening hours for civil matters, including some dissolutions, DV-related hearings, and name changes. Here's a press release with more detail.
9.4.13 - Big congrats to Tennessee ATJ Commission chairman Buck Lewis! "George T. 'Buck' Lewis, of the law firm Baker Donelson, has received a 2013 Presidential Citation from the American Bar Association (ABA).... During his term as president of the Tennessee Bar Association from June 2008 through June 2009, Lewis launched the "4ALL" campaign to bring much-needed legal services to Tennesseans of modest means. Proposals developed as part of the "4ALL" campaign resulted in eight Tennessee Supreme Court rules and legislative changes that have been instrumental in enhancing the delivery of pro bono services in Tennessee. Lewis currently serves as chairman of the Tennessee Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission." (Story from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.)
9.3.13 - From the Texas Lawyer: "Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced Tuesday that he'll retire from the bench on Oct. 1.... Jefferson will be missed, says Justice Nathan Hecht, the court's most senior justice. 'We've lost a great leader, and I wish him well. But we have his outstanding legacy to build on,' Hecht says 'His work for access to justice and transparency and just exceptional quality will keep going'."
September, 2013 - The Maine Justice Action Group, which functions as the ATJ commission in the Pine Tree State, has published an update on recent activities. Here at the ABA we're delighted that JAG's Chairman, Justice Jon D. Levy, is joining the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID), where we will introduce him to even crazier acronyms.
July, 2013 - From our friends at the National Center for State Courts: a "National Call to Action on Language Access for Limited English Proficient Litigants: Creating Solutions to Language Barriers in State Courts." From the document: "Limited English Proficiency individuals, throughout our nation, look to state court systems to resolve some of the most important issues and controversies in their lives. State court systems recognize the importance of having processes in place to prevent language barriers from intruding into the process of justice. In 2011, the NCSC, with SJI funding and support, launched an initiative to help jurisdictions achieve their goals of providing effective LEP services." The report includes information from a national summit that NCSC convened and recommended action steps for state court systems.
8.18.13 - "Access to justice in Canada is being described as 'abysmal' in a new report from the Canadian Bar Association, which also calls for much more than 'quick fix' solutions. The summary report, released Sunday at the association's conference in Saskatoon, says there is profoundly unequal access to justice in Canada." Here's the Global Post article. Here's the preliminary CBA report, "Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act".
8.15.13 - great news from here in Illinois. The "Access to Justice Act" just became law. This press release from Governor Pat Quinn's office focuses on the Act's pilot program to provide legal services for veterans. But the law, which was strongly supported by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, makes progress on a number of ATJ fronts: "[The law] 'provides funding for self-help centers in law libraries, creates a task force to review the statutory fees imposed on litigation and will establish a pilot project to test how best to provide legal representation in certain civil cases to those who can't afford an attorney,' Chief Justice Kilbride added."
Richard Zorza, while supportive of the new law, sounds a cautionary note: "[W]hile there is much talk about civil Gideon pilots, almost if not all of those going into place are actually representation expansion pilots, which is a very different thing altogether. None of them will tell us what will happen if we do create a right to counsel in certain situations, or what is the different in impact between allocating resources as a matter of right, or [through] a discretionary or triage system."
Here's the bill's text, and note that an "Access to Justice Fund", drawing revenue from court fees, will be the funding source for the pilot legal assistance programs.
August - two terrific ATJ developments stemming from the annual meetings of both the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the ABA. First, at its annual joint meeting with the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), CCJ/COSCA passed a resolution "Reaffirming Commitment to Access to Justice Leadership and Expressing Appreciation for Access to Justice Progress and Collaboration." Second, the ABA House of Delegates acted on an ATJ resolution. Read the resolution and the detailed report which accompanied it here. Here's the resolution language:
RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges establishment of and support of access to justice commissions or comparable bodies in all states and territories.
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges its members to support state or territorial supreme court initiatives to create and promote access to justice commissions or comparable bodies.
July, 2013 – the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission's July report includes news on a medical-legal partnership and a new IOLTA guidebook for attorneys and banks.
6.19.13 – here's a great look at the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission's newly launched Faith & Justice Alliance, via the Associated Press: "Tennessee's faith-based initiative…recognizes that many people who could use an attorney's help would never go to a legal aid clinic even if it were held at their house of worship. That's because they don't recognize their problem as a legal one. 'People show up every day at churches and synagogues and mosques, and they may not ask for legal help. They may need food assistance. But often there is an underlying legal problem,' said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, who helped the faith-based initiative get off the ground. 'We realized we can help more people by going to where they are already going for help'."
6.18.13 – [Illinois] Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride…announced Tuesday…new measures to improve equal access to justice for all of the people of Illinois, and especially for the poor and vulnerable… These measures were recommended to the Chief Justice and to the Court by its Commission on Access to Justice. Chief Justice Kilbride announced their approval as the Commission marked the first year of its existence and a noteworthy record of early achievement. The new measures include (a) an amendment to the Judicial Canons of Ethics permitting judges to make it easier for the increasing number of persons who come to court without an attorney; (b) creation of a model language access plan (LAP) for all courts across the state to enhance the integrity of judicial proceedings; (c) easing attorney licensing requirements for lawyer spouses and civil union partners of active military personnel serving in Illinois; and (d) an amended rule increasing the number of law students eligible to practice under the supervision of an attorney on behalf of needy clients. The package of rules also provides for a [pro hac vice fees fund, partial proceeds of which] may be used by the Supreme Court to fund specific activities and initiatives promoting access to justice. (Here's the full announcement.)
My buddy Jess Rosenbaum of the DC ATJ Commission shared with me remarks made by Hon. David S. Tatel, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, at a springtime event celebrating the Commission's successful "Raising the Bar” legal-aid fundraising program. Judge Tatel emphasized our profession's obligation to lead the way in narrowing the justice gap, and the importance of the private bar financial support for legal services providers. Good read.
6.13.13 – we are delighted to announce that new ABA Access to Justice Innovation Grants are being awarded to seven state ATJ Commissions to support new (and replicable) projects aimed at narrowing the justice gap. Grantee Commissions are in: Arkansas, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont, and Wyoming. Read about their projects in our press release. My thanks to our ATJ Expansion Project Advisory Group (and of course to Bob Echols) for bringing their diligence and expertise to the grant initiative, and to the Public Welfare Foundation and Kresge Foundation for their financial support.
Speaking of ABA ATJ grants, Virginia Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser's "State of the Judiciary" speech in May highlighted grant-based work: "In February of this year, utilizing a grant from the American Bar Association, Justice Goodwyn, at my request, agreed to Chair an Access to Justice Planning Committee. The Committee was tasked with 'determining whether an access to justice commission is needed in Virginia and, if so, what functions it should perform and what direction such a commission should take.' The committee…will soon be making recommendations to the Supreme Court."
6.13.13 – Happy 1st Birthday to the Illinois Supreme Court ATJ Commission! Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary since the Commission's inception, Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride and the Commission convened the last of five "listening conferences" to hear from ATJ stakeholders throughout the Land of Lincoln. I sat in for part of the conference, and was heartened to learn of the Commission's amazing list of first-year accomplishments. The conference was also a reminder that ATJ Commissions are uniquely situated to connect many different actors - judges, the private bar, public interest attorneys, bar associations, and clients - who bring new ideas and solutions.
June, 2013 - "The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission has unanimously adopted a proposal that a new topic called 'Access to Justice' be added to the list of topics tested on the Massachusetts Bar Examination." View the proposal via the ATJ Commission website, where you can also view the Commission's 2012 Report on Activities.
5.30.13 – Pro Bono Institute President Esther Lardent writes in the National Law Journal: "Taking a broad look at the interplay of ethics rules and the ever-worsening crisis in access to justice reveals that the current framework of ethics guidance for lawyers and judges often impinges upon important and innovative approaches to access to justice." Lardent cites the following as areas where greater rule flexibility would promote ATJ:
- multijurisdictional practice
- law student practice
- codes of judicial conduct
- limited-scope representation
- conflicts of interest
5.28.13 – here in the Land of Lincoln, Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride used his remarks at a bar association pro bono event to highlight Illinois's new Access to Justice Commission and to emphasize the importance of allowing low-income communities to have meaningful access to the justice system. (Coverage from the Northwest Herald.)
in some other great Illinois news, the Chicago Bar Foundation's "Investing in Justice" fundraising campaign "set new records across the board while raising much-needed funds for pro bono and legal aid services in the Chicago area. 137 law firms, corporate legal departments and other law-related organizations participated in this year's Campaign—a 15% increase from 2012—and more than 4,000 individual attorneys and legal professionals contributed more than $1.8 million, an almost 20% increase from last year."
5.23.13 – in Pennsylvania, state senate hearings on ATJ issues are generating much buzz. From WHYY: "Clients, attorneys and judges said Thursday that most low-income people don't get the legal help they desperately need in civil cases, where they can find themselves fighting to win custody of their children or keep their homes. State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf…held a committee hearing on the unmet need…. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille argued that it's a no-brainer: Pay for the services by carving out a dedicated line item in the state budget. 'We should be treating civil legal services for indigent individuals and families as an important government service,' he said. 'Like roads, like police services, like the courts'."
Here's additional coverage from the Legal Intelligencer (Headline: "Castille Testifies in Favor of 'Civil Gideon' Funding"), the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's an Inquirer editorial and a Daily News opinion piece, both of which support efforts to narrow the justice gap.
5.8.13 - Aloha. The Hawaii ATJ Commission has released its report on 2012 Commission activities. The annual report highlights the state's 2012 ATJ Conference, along with progress on self-help centers, community briefings, pro bono celebration events, and more.
5.14.13 - Effective June 1, a new provision in Maine's Code of Judicial Conduct "expressly permits but does not require a judge to take steps, consistent with the law, to enable persons to understand the applicable process and to inform unrepresented persons of free legal aid and similar assistance that is available in the courthouse or otherwise." (Here's the new language.)
5.8.13 – Pennsylvania's senate, under the leadership of Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, is focusing on the justice gap and other strains on the legal-aid community: "The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee held a Public Hearing entitled, Civil Legal Representation of the Indigent: Have We Achieved Equal Access to Justice? on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 8E-B in the East Wing of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg. Committee Chairman…Greenleaf (R-Montgomery, Bucks) chaired the hearing. The purpose of the public hearing was to explore and create awareness of the current state and scope of the unmet need for civil legal services by low-income Pennsylvanians confronting legal problems involving basic human needs. The committee heard from a variety of witnessed including low-income Pennsylvanians and the lawyers who help them. Others testifying included community and business leaders and judges." (Here's a recap from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network.)
5.8.13 – "The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice held a listening conference May 1 at the Northern Illinois University College of Law. The event featured distinguished guests Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride and Justice Robert R. Thomas of the Illinois Supreme Court. [T]he commission is actively engaged in conversations across the state of Illinois to hear about problems confronting the poor and vulnerable as well as possible solutions. Chief Justice Kilbride said the idea for the commission was brought to him at the initiative of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice to build significant steps throughout the state to improve access to the justice system, particularly for the poor and the vulnerable residents of Illinois. (Here are details from Northern Illinois University.)
5.5.13 – rural ATJ woes in Georgia. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "While the poor across Georgia struggle to get legal help, the challenges are amplified in rural areas with greater poverty and higher unemployment rates. And, unlike in metro Atlanta, rural Georgians may have to travel upwards of 50 miles to find an attorney. State, federal and bar association officials talk periodically about ways to boost rural legal representation. They eye subsidies and loan-forgiveness programs that have increased the number of doctors practicing in rural areas. Money, though, particularly with post-recession austerity, is hard to come by. A half-dozen Georgia counties have no private-practice lawyers, according to the State Bar of Georgia. Another five counties tally only one. Meanwhile, 81 percent of the state's 15,000 lawyers work in metro Atlanta…where slightly more than half of the state's population resides."
5.1.13 – "The turnout for the state’s first Lawyers in Libraries program at the Bangor Public Library on Wednesday demonstrates the need for legal services in the community, said Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead…. The program is the culmination of years of work by the Maine Justice Action Group, which includes judges, lawyers, librarians, social service providers and representatives from advocacy groups. JAG’s goal is to improve access to justice in Maine. Wednesday’s program was organized by the Collaboration on Innovation, Technology and Equal Access to Justice, an offshoot of JAG. Mead said that the goal of the program is to have local lawyers in libraries at least once a month around the state. Over the past six months, libraries have held sessions using the statewide teleconferencing system based at the Maine State Library in Augusta." (Story from the Bangor Daily News.)
5.1.13 – "Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit made an impassioned plea yesterday for law firms to take more responsibility for the welfare of civil legal services groups…. Tatel spoke at an event honoring 36 law firms that contributed $3.6 million last year to local civil legal services through the D.C. Access to Justice Commission's second annual Raising the Bar in D.C. Campaign. Firms were honored based on the percentage of annual D.C. office revenues donated to legal services; the number of participating firms in 2012 was up from the 23 that participated in 2011…. If the 12 Washington-based firms featured as top earners in this year's Am Law 100 contributed one-quarter of a percent of their annual revenue – they earned $7.5 billion last year – Tatel said it would double the capacity of local legal services organizations." (Story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
4.29.13 - video of various speeches and panel discussions at the April 16 White House/LSC Forum on Increasing Access to Justice is now available.
Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers participated in the forum. And home-state paper The Day looked at several initiatives underway to promote ATJ in the Nutmeg State. They include corporate sponsorship of a new legal fellowship program, and exploring a loosening of scope-of-representation rules.
4.26.13 - the Chicago Tribune highlights, before the fact, a Law Day "Listening Conference" hosted by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice. In addition to Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, several other officials from the judiciary, legal aid community, and the private bar participated in the conference, the purpose of which was "to hear from people engaged in the judicial system about problems confronting the poor and vulnerable in our communities and to hear about possible solutions."
3.18.13 - the Louisiana Supreme Court amended Canon 3(a)(4) of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct to provide guidance to judges in their engagement with self–represented litigants. Here is the revised canon along with relevant commentary language.
4.15.13 – "Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has asked lawmakers to delay taking action on House Bill 2878, which targets the controversial pro se divorce forms promulgated by the high court. But supporters said that the bill would address issues with the forms…. The chief justice told committee members he had 'trepidation about the bill' because it requires a court to reject a form if a litigant fills it out incorrectly…. Trish McAllister, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, said that she thinks the bill would remove a judge's discretion to instruct pro se litigants to correct their forms immediately, and the bill could affect judicial efficiency. " (Full story from The Texas Lawyer, but it is password–protected.)
4.11.13 – A bill advancing in the Connecticut legislature is designed to help Spanish speakers avoid confusion over who is qualified to perform legal services. State authorities have received complaints about notaries…advertising themselves in Spanish as "notario publicos," which can be understood to refer to people authorized to perform services reserved in the United States only for…attorneys. The legislation that cleared the House…would prohibit notaries public from using that title in Spanish unless they are [attorneys] or indicate they are not state–licensed. It goes next to the state Senate." (Full AP story from WTNH.)
4.9.13 – in Maryland, a bill to create a statewide task force to explore civil right–to–counsel issues was signed into law. From a legislative summary: "This bill establishes the Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland. The Maryland Access to Justice Commission must provide staff support for the task force. The task force must report its findings and recommendations to the Governor, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Presiding Officers, and specified committees of the General Assembly by October 1, 2014."
4.5.13 – an ATJ Commission appointment in California: "Attorney General Kamala D. Harris this week appointed Venus D. Johnson to a three–year term on the State Bar's California Commission on Access to Justice. Johnson, 33, a deputy district attorney in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office." (Full announcement from The Post Newspaper Group.)
3.18.13 - the Louisiana Supreme Court amended Canon 3(a)(4) of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct to provide guidance to judges in their engagement with self–represented litigants. Here is the revised canon along with relevant commentary language.
4.1.13 — from Maine, the Justice Action Group's April newsletter includes info on their annual Access to Justice Day, which took place in March, and the "Lawyers in Libraries" program, which will roll out in May and utilize volunteer lawyers to deliver presentations to community members in local libraries.
3.22.13 — from the Blog of the Legal Times: In the year since the [ABA] adopted new guidelines for language access in the courts, proponents said today that although there's been progress, court systems nationwide can do much more to ensure all litigants understand what's happening when they step inside a courthouse. Leading a panel on language access at the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts' annual conference, District of Columbia Court of Appeals Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz said that the cost of services is always the 'big elephant in the room.' But Ruiz and other panelists urged court administrators to not only consider the cost of expanding services, but also the costs of not doing so — staff resources needed to handle case delays or appeals, for instance."
3.19.13 — who knows if we'll reach it, but immigration reform is now discernible on the federal legislative horizon. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Katzman has a proposal about how to provide legal assistance to those many individuals who would be navigating a changed system. From the New York Times City Room blog: "[Katzman] wants to create what he describes as an immigrant justice corps that will recruit and train young lawyers, and then will send them around the country to work at community organizations eager for legal help. The program would echo existing public service programs like AmeriCorps VISTA and the Peace Corps, he said. Judge Katzman said he would welcome government financing, though he acknowledged that it was far more likely that the project would begin with private money.
3.21.13 - the previous edition of ATJ Headlines mentioned that our Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project awarded five grants to promote ATJC development in AZ, OH, OK, PA, and RI. In Rhode Island, the Providence Journal picked up on the news: "The American Bar Association awarded the Rhode Island Judiciary an $18,000 grant toward creating a commission to improve legal access for the poor and disadvantaged."
3.15.13 — the ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is pleased to announce a new round of grant awards to promote the development of ATJ Commissions in Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Read our announcement for details. Also, a reminder that the deadline for grant 2013 Innovation Grants is approaching. These grants enable existing Access to Justice Commissions to develop and test innovative new projects and expand the scope of their activities. Here are the particulars:
Application date: May 1, 2013. Grants will be made on or around June 1, 2013.
Innovation Grant application process Eligibility, examples, decision-making process and additional information.
Innovation Grant template Use this template to submit your application.
From a 3.18.13 press release: "The Maryland Access to Justice Commission wants attorneys to take a novel approach to help poor and low-income Marylanders who need civil legal services. The commission is asking litigators to consider directing undistributed class action lawsuit funds to legal services organizations that serve low-income individuals. The proposal is outlined in a new publication, 'Class Action Residual Funds — Enhancing Access to Justice: A Toolkit for Maryland Attorneys'."
March 7 was Access to Justice Day in Maine. With sponsorship by the Justice Action Group (which serves as Maine's access to justice body), ATJ enthusiasts were encouraged to visit with state legislators. Both the Honorable Jon D. Levy, chair of the Justice Action Group, and the Honorable John H. Rich, the group's vice-chair, delivered remarks to the state's Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.
The Mississippi Law Journal's 2013 Symposium edition is entitled, "Poverty and Access to Justice", and the edition's 10 articles deal with those topics.
From a 2.21.13 New Hampshire Public Radio story: "A new report titled 'The Justice Gap' finds that low income New Hampshire residents lack access to even basic legal services. The report estimates that more than 60% of civil cases in the state involve people representing themselves. And they do so because they don't have access to lawyers and paralegals."
Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson's "State of the Judiciary" speech included discussion of ATJ shortcomings. Richard Zorza offers a summary on his blog.