Vol. 28, No. 8
CBA, Courts, Say No to Mandatory Pro Bono
by Diane Hartman
In May 1999, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to accept the Judicial Advisory Council's recommendation to institute a program of mandatory pro bono reporting, saying it was a step toward the imposition of mandatory pro bono requirements. "Since we are unwilling to arrive at that destination, we are also unwilling to take the first step."
The Legal Services/Pro Bono Subcommittee of the Judicial Advisory Council was assigned the task of exploring ways to fulfill the need for legal services for the poor. When it first began exploring a recommendation for mandatory pro bono and mandatory pro bono reporting, local bars let the bar association know they were unhappy with the concept. President Ben Aisenberg (1998-1999) heard about these concerns during his local bar visits and through resolutions passed by local bars.
Anticipating the concern, the bar asked the Judicial Advisory Council, which was initially in favor of mandatory pro bono by a 2 to 1 vote, to delay its recommendation in order to get more feedback from bar association members. President Aisenberg said he wanted to be sure the issues were aired, all sides were considered, and that members' voices were heard. Some local bar associations held meetings on the topic; others did surveys. The CBA sponsored seminars at various locations throughout the state where this issue was debated. The end result was a full discussion at the Board of Governor's meeting in January 1999. The CBA Board voted overwhelmingly to ask the Judicial Advisory Council not to recommend mandatory pro bono or mandatory pro bono reporting to the Colorado Supreme Court. Subsequently, the Judicial Advisory Council did vote to reject mandatory pro bono, but voted unanimously to recommend mandatory reporting.
When the Colorado Supreme Court made its decision, it rejected both concepts.
The Present and Future
As emphasized by Aisenberg, the fact that the bar is not going to be regulated in this fashion is no reason to sit back and relax. Instead, it is a time to renew efforts to ensure that the legal needs of the poor in our state are met. The CBA is committed to addressing this problem.
At the request of the Board of Governors, Aisenberg appointed a task force headed by Aaron Clay of Delta to revisit this issue and look at what can be done. Although the CBA believes the Legal Services/Pro Bono Subcommittee has done exhaustive and thoughtful research into the problem, it is hoping some creative options are left.
All during the debates on this topic, it was emphasized by CBA leadership that bar members embrace the concept of pro bono. As Aisenberg wrote bar leaders, " . . . we should never reject the cause of the defenseless or oppressed and . . . we should use our knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and for the improvement of the legal system."
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