ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION MEETING THURSDAY JANUARY 30 AT 3:00
The next Commission meeting takes place at 3:00 on Thursday, January 30, in the Fifth Floor Conference Room of the Social Law Library in the Adams Courthouse. Among possible agenda items: Adding Access to Justice to the Bar Exam, Expanding Housing Court Jurisdiction Statewide, a Proposed Executive Order on Administrative Agency Due Process, new technology for finding the best legal resource for a prospective client and for placing pro bono cases using a statewide website, and a report by the Advocacy Coordination Committee on increasing systemic advocacy in Massachusetts.
Make it an “access to justice” day! Take part in the Walk to the Hill at the Statehouse from 11:00 to 1:00, talk with your legislators and then drop by the Courthouse for the Commission meeting at 3:00.
TRIAL COURT SEEKING ACCESS TO JUSTICE COORDINATOR
The Trial Court is seeking to hire an “Access to Justice Coordinator.” Don’t delay if this job interests you; the posting closes January 30. The Special Advisor for Access to Justice, Hon. Dina Fein, says “We’re looking for someone great.”
The job description puts the successful candidate at the heart of access to justice initiatives in the exciting environment of Massachusetts courts today. ” Working within the Department of Support Services in the Office of Court Management, the Access to Justice Coordinator is responsible for supporting the work of the Special Advisor for Access to Justice and coordinating access to justice activities throughout the Trial Court. Working with the Special Advisor, under the supervision of the Director of Support Services, the Access to Justice Coordinator identifies unmet access to justice needs within the Trial Court, and develops projects, programs, and procedures to meet those needs. The Access to Justice Coordinator works collaboratively with the Office of Court Interpreter Services, the Trial Court Law Libraries, and various Trial Court committees including the Language Access Advisory Committee, the Court Services Center Committee, and the Website Committee.”
The full posting can be found at https://careers-trialcourtsofmass.icims.com/jobs/1697/access-to-justice-manager/job.
APPROPRIATIONS NEWS: LSC/S $25 MILLION FOR 2014
In the final analysis, LSC came out better than many feared in the appropriation decisions for 2014. Congress and the President did away with the sequester and passed an omnibus appropriations bill for the rest of the year (through September 30) granting an increase of $25 million to LSC, for a total of $365 million. Keeping that figure in perspective, the LSC appropriation in 1981 was $321.3 million and in 1995 was $415 million, and there are more than 47 million people living below the poverty line today compared to about 30 million in 1981.
In 2013, Congress cut LSC by about the same amount, and all of that cut came out of services by local (“basic field”) programs. This year’s increase, however, did not give that cut back. Instead, the Inspector General got an increase of $448,000, LSC management took $2,208,000 more and discretionary grants for technology improvements (+ $292,000) and a new Pro Bono Innovation grant program (+$2,500,000) were carved out of the increase. As a result, LSC grants in Massachusetts will increase by a net of $280,000 rather than the $373,600 that might have been expected.
APPROPRIATIONS NEWS: GOVERNOR PROPOSES $14 MILLION FOR FY 2015
The Governor’s Budget for FY2015 was released on January 22 and included $14 million for MLAC. This is an increase of $1 million over FY2014. While a clear step in the right direction, the Equal Justice Coalition is seeking a $17 million appropriation to make a bigger dent in the under-funding of the civil legal aid delivery system.
WALK TO THE HILL JANUARY 30
The Fifteenth Annual Walk to the Hill, sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, takes place a week from today at 11:00 at the Statehouse. Hundreds of lawyers will join together in the Great Hall to listen to speakers explain the need for increased funding for MLAC and then visit their legislators to urge support for increased funding.
REPORT RECOMMENDS PHILANTHROPIC CAMPAIGN FOR LEGAL AID
Working with a grant from the Public Welfare Foundation and the American Bar Association, the Commission’s Revenue Enhancement Committee has conducted a study of the feasibility of raising significant funds for civil legal aid from philanthropic donors. Until now, most fundraising efforts by legal services supporters have focused primarily on attorneys and law firms. But the Feasibility Report, prepared by Community Philanthropy Consultants, concludes that a well-organized campaign could result in millions of new dollars of support for legal aid.
At the Commission meeting December 5, the Committee reported that it would organize a new corporation (since then named the Massachusetts Equal Justice Fund) to mount the recommended campaign. The Preliminary Report of the Committee is available at the Commission’s website, www.massaccesstojustice.org.
PLANNING COMMITTEE PROGRESS REPORT
The Commission’s Special Planning Committee presented its “Progress Report” at the December 5 Commission meeting and received approval to distribute the report for comment and discussion. The Report is available for review at the Commission’s website, www.massaccesstojustice.org.
The Progress Report builds on the Committee’s Second Interim Report issued two years ago. It describes positive steps taken as well as work remaining to be done to improve the delivery of legal services in Massachusetts. It suggests that the delivery “system” could do a better job of making decisions and implementing important change and proposes that the system take on five “projects” and two “dialogues” through which to develop more effective decision-making and change implementing procedures. The five projects concern increasing systemic advocacy, improved use of technology, better planning of resource use and development of volunteer resources (a focus on private attorney involvement), adoption of best practices for statewide screening and intake, and more meaningful evaluation of the results of grant efforts. The two dialogues involve the possibility that a unified, statewide governance structure would be more effective at planning for and implementing needed changes and an exploration of the complex issues of equity in the distribution of resources and services within the state.
RIGHT TO COUNSEL IN CONTESTED CHILD CUSTODY CASES
The Commission has approved creation of a Committee to pursue a Right to Counsel Pilot Project in the area of Contested Child Custody Proceedings in Probate and Family Court. The pilot projects (in as many counties as proves feasible) will arrange for pro bono counsel to represent selected parents in contested child custody cases. The parents selected would be ones whose opposing party had counsel or whose cases involved domestic violence. The Committee will include Commissioners, members of the Task Force on Expanding the Civil Right to Counsel and other interested individuals. Interested individuals should contact Commission Consultant Gerry Singsen at email@example.com.
NORTHEASTERN CIVIL RIGHT TO COUNSEL PANEL JANUARY 29
“Overcoming the Notion that a Civil Right to Counsel is Unrealistic” is the topic of a Roundtable discussion at Northeastern Law School from 12:00 to 1:30 on January 29. The lead speaker is Debra Gardner, Legal Director for the Public Justice Center. Panelists include John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, Jacqui Bowman from GBLS, Jayne Tyrrell, IOLTA Executive Director and co-chair of the Task Force on Expanding the Civil Right to Counsel, and Mike Greco of KL Gates and the ABA
UPDATED HISTORIES OF LEGAL AID: HOUSEMAN/PERLE AND JOHNSON
Two histories of civil legal services have come out this winter. They cover much the same territory but couldn’t be much more different.
Alan Houseman and Linda Perle have published a CLASP report entitled “Civil Legal Aid in the United States: An Update for 2013.” It tells the story of legal aid, with a focus on the basic facts and controversies, in a brisk 64 pages. An essential overview for any access to justice library, it’s available for downloading at http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/CIVIL-LEGAL-AID-IN-THE-UNITED-STATES-3.pdf
Earl Johnson, Jr., a retired California judge, was the second Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity Legal Services Program in the late 1960s. He wrote the definitive social and political history of the federal program’s early years, concluding with the passage of the Legal Services Corporation Act in 1974 (“Justice and Reform: The Formative Years of the O.E.O. Legal Services Program,” Russell Sage 1974). Now he has produced “To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States” (Praeger 2013). This comprehensive, three volume set is rich in personality and perspective. It begins with the German Legal Aid Society in 1876 in New York and concludes in modern times. It is available through amazon.com for the modest price of $184.30 ( $144.99 for the Kindle Edition). Perhaps a library near you will buy it.