SHOULD AT LEAST 50% OF CLASS ACTION RESIDUALS GO TO IOLTA COMMITTEE?  SJC RULES COMMITTEE SEEKS COMMENT ON RULE 23(e) PROPOSAL

The SJC Rules Committee has published a request for comment on the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee’s proposal that Mass.R.Civ.P. 23(e) be amended to provide that “at least fifty percent (50%) of residual funds shall be disbursed to the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee to support activities and programs that promote access to the civil justice system for low income residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”  See http://www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/notice-inviting-comment-rule-23e.html.

The balance of residual funds would be disbursed to any nonprofit entity for purposes that relate to the objectives of the underlying litigation or promote the interests of members of the class, which might include legal services programs or IOLTA.

In the supporting material submitted by IOLTA, the Committee notes that five other states have adopted rule changes mandating that between 25% and 100% of residuals be allocated to similar purposes.

In his letter submitting the proposal to Chief Justice Ireland, IOLTA Committee Chair Richard Soden noted that the proposal had already been reviewed and supported by the Access to Justice Commission, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association and the legal services project directors.

TRIAL COURT STRATEGIC PLAN APPROVED BY SJC

Prepared through a process led by Chief Justice Mulligan, Chief Justice Designate Carey and Court Administrator Spence, the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Strategic Plan has been reviewed and approved by the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court.  The full plan can be found at www.mass.gov/courts/strategicplanning.

The Plan articulates a Trial Court Mission that includes “equal access to justice for all in a safe and dignified environment.” One of nine Trial Court goals is:

Ensure fair access to the court system.

Providing justice under the law requires that all who seek justice have access to the Commonwealth’s courts.  The judicial branch must accommodate users who may otherwise experience barriers to full participation and train staff to respond effectively to the needs of all users.  Appropriate accommodations include, for example, courthouses that are accessible for the disabled, court forms that are available in multiple languages, and court staff able to respond courteously and effectively to diverse court users.

Self-represented litigants may experience barriers to access due to their unfamiliarity with court procedures.  Accommodating self-represented litigants requires new approaches and resources, such as expanded web presence, improved access to legal information and help-desks at courthouses.  Such accommodations, as well as access to limited assistance representation, will enhance the ability of self-represented litigants to submit accurate information and present effective advocacy, which in turn will promote sound judicial decision-making.

2013 is designated as the “launch” year while 2014-2015 are the “accelerate years.  The Plan touches on many access to justice concerns.  Although the highly summarized language leaves most details to be specified,  and explicit “milestones” are included in an appendix which is for internal use only, the Plan makes provisions for court service center pilots followed by installation at large courthouses, developing and implementing a Language Access Plan, a legislative agenda “to increase opportunities for access to justice (including jurisdiction and statutory changes)”, a new Trial Court Website with multi-language self-help materials, wi-fi in the largest courthouses, support for expanded Limited Assistance Representation, standard notices and forms online with central responsibility and translation, and separate and secure waiting areas.

The Plan sets forth 13 “success measures” by which the Trial Court will know it is making progress, including polls of court users and the general public, timeliness, trainings, cost per case and others.  In addition, measures are to be devised to ensure continued quality and communication of judicial decisions.

APPROPRIATIONS FOR LEGAL SERVICES PROGRAMS

In Massachusetts, the final appropriation for MLAC for FY 2014 (July 1) is $13.0 million, an increase of a million dollars over FY 2013.

In Washington, the LSC appropriation for FY 2014 (October 1) is far from determined.  The details of the partisan bickering on legal services are very similar to the pitched battles being waged on so many budget fronts.  The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted $430 million while the House Appropriation Committee approved only $300 million.  Last year the Congress split the difference but then applied both a rescission and sequestration, bring the final total down to $340.8.  It seems inevitable that the appropriations bills for FY 2014 are not going to be adopted in time for the start of the fiscal year.  Instead there will be a continuing resolution (another kind of appropriations bill), perhaps a series of them, while the long-running saga continues.

With so little likelihood of an orderly appropriations process this year it seems unreasonable to expect better for the FY 2015 budget, which will be developed during a mid-term election year.  Nevertheless, the formal processes move along that will lead to President Obama’s budget request early next year for FY 2015.  NLADA recommended $560 million, the ABA’s SCLAID Committee recommended $492.8 million and the LSC Board, after reviewing those proposals, decided to request $486 million from Congress.  That is exactly the same total as LSC sought last year.

MEETING DATES FOR COMMISSION

The Access to Justice Commission has scheduled five meetings for the coming year:

  • Thursday, September 26, 2013
  • Thursday, December 5, 2013
  • Thursday, January 30, 2014
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014
  • Thursday, May 22, 2014

 

All meetings will be at 3:00 pm in the Fifth Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library in the Adams Courthouse in Boston.