The Colorado Access to Justice (ATJ) Commission was formed in 2003 with the support of the Colorado Supreme Court, the CBA, and the Statewide Legal Services Group. The mission of the ATJ Commission is to "develop, coordinate, and implement policy initiatives to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for persons who encounter barriers in gaining access to Colorado’s civil justice system."1 This report highlights efforts undertaken in 2006 by the Commission, working through its committees, to carry out that mission.2
The Courts Committee is charged with proposing improvements to state court rules and policies that will assist pro se litigants and lawyers who provide pro bono services for indigent clients. To advance these ends, the Courts Committee collaborated with the Colorado Supreme Court on development and dissemination of a recommended model pro bono policy for Colorado lawyers and law firms, and on a program to recognize law firms that have made a commitment to pro bono work. The Courts Committee also continues to work with the State Court Administrator’s Office on projects such as negotiating waivers of e-filing fees for lawyers who provide representation to indigent clients; improving signage to make courthouses more accessible to persons who cannot read English; and ensuring the availability of interpreters for hearing-impaired or non-English-speaking litigants in civil cases.
Resource Development Committee
The Resource Development Committee has embarked on an ambitious, multiyear program to increase private and public funding for civil legal services for low-income Coloradans. Colorado’s current level of funding for such services is approximately half of the national average and ranks thirty-sixth among the fifty states. This committee has compiled information regarding successful efforts in other states to increase the funding available for civil legal services for low-income persons. These include legislative appropriations; fundraising by the Legal Aid Foundation and various bar associations (an area in which Colorado has excelled, presently ranking tenth among all the states); and the creative use of other potential funding sources, such as interest paid on IOLTA or lawyer trust accounts, court filing fees and surcharges, and cy pres awards. The Resource Development Committee will work with the Public Information Committee to make legislators and other public officials aware of unmet needs in this state and of potential ways to address those needs. This committee also continues to work with the CBA and, especially regarding proposals that might require rule changes, with the Colorado Supreme Court.
Public Information Committee
Formerly known as the Education Committee, the Public Information Committee focuses on creating programming to educate the public, the Bar, client groups, and corporate and political leaders regarding the importance of access to justice and the availability of legal services and pro bono programs. It works closely with the University of Denver and University of Colorado law schools—both of which have representatives on the committee—to increase student awareness of public service opportunities and commitment to public interest legal work. To help ensure that the commitment is not forgotten upon graduation from law school, the Public Information Committee provides materials about opportunities for pro bono and public interest work to new admittees to the Colorado Bar.
To further its goal of educating the general public about access to justice issues, the Public Information Committee is soliciting input from individuals with expertise in developing a communications strategy. The committee also is developing local legal services directories for use in areas outside the Denver metropolitan area, and is working with CBA staffers to make the ATJ Commission website a more useful resource for persons interested in providing pro bono legal services.
Local ATJ Support Committee
The Local ATJ Support Committee is responsible for establishing and supporting local ATJ committees around the state. There are presently eleven active local committees, and efforts are under way to establish local committees in five additional judicial districts. The committee’s focus this year has been on supporting and encouraging local committee projects—which range from production of DVDs and pamphlets for pro se litigants to efforts to place pro bono cases with local bar members—and on facilitating communication among the local committees. To that end, the Local ATJ Support Committee hosted a conference in Denver in May 2006 for representatives of the local committees. The conference featured speeches by ABA President Karen Mathis and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson; presentation of five CBA pro bono awards; and opportunities for participants to share their experiences and learn of projects they might implement in their own communities.
ATJ Commission in 2007
The Commission looks forward to 2007 under the leadership of its new officers—Chair, Connie Talmage; Vice-Chair, Fred Baumann; and Secretary, Dave Butler—and with the participation of new commissioners Inga Causey, Simon Mole, and Janet Price, all appointed by the CBA. Among the anticipated highlights during 2007 will be the National Equal Justice Conference. Hosted by the CBA, the conference will be held in Denver from March 22 to 24, 2007.
As in the past, the ATJ Commission is proud of what has been accomplished, but recognizes the significant work that lies ahead. The Commission thanks the CBA and the other entities and individuals who have supported it during the past year, and welcomes anyone who would like to support its efforts by signing up for one of its committees. Information about the ATJ Commission and its committees can be found online at http://www.cobar.org/group/index.cfm?EntityID=dpwaj.
2. See the sidebars beginning on this page for the following: (1) the 2006 ATJ officers and commissioners, and their appointing entities; (2) ATJ pro bono coordinators; (3) how to obtain information about local bar programs; and (4) local ATJ Committees.