Vol. 31, No. 12
Access to Justice
Access to Justice 2002: Discussions at the Conference
by JoAnn Viola Salazar
Readers interested in contributing an article on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice topics should contact Kathleen Gebhardt at email@example.com.
Jo Ann Viola Salazar is the CBA Director of Public and Legal Services, (303) 824-5310 or (800) 332-6736; jvsalazare@ cobar.org.
In the October 2002 issue, David Butler described the structure of the Access to Justice ("ATJ") Statewide Commission ("Commission") and Local Committees.1 Many of the issues the Commission and Local Committees may wish to address had not as yet been determined. On October 25, 2002, members of the Colorado Bar Association and other interested parties came together at a special ATJ conference at the University of Denver College of Law to discuss the issues that are important to ATJ initiatives. This article presents highlights of the conference and discusses some of the suggestions of the conference participants that will be used to help make access to justice a reality for more Colorado citizens.
Role of the Statewide Commission
The Commission’s goal is "to plan and coordinate the development of an efficient, adequately funded, comprehensive statewide system of delivery of high quality civil legal services to low-income and other persons who encounter barriers to access to justice."2 At the ATJ conference, participants listed many ideas and issues that the Commission may examine, discussed further below.
Role of the Local Committees
The conference participants determined that local committees should tailor their discussion to the needs of their specific communities. Local committees will be comprised of members from the judiciary, local bars, local legal services/pro bono providers, and members of the community. Issues to be addressed will not be limited to pro bono, but will include any issue that affects access to justice.
On December 9, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether a state program that uses interest on funds held in lawyers’ trust accounts to fund legal assistance for the poor violates the Fifth Amendment ban on taking property without "just compensation."3 There is concern as to how legal services and pro bono programs will be funded if the interest from lawyer trust fund accounts cannot be used. As it is, Colorado is currently ranked only thirty-eighth out of the fifty states in legal services funding.4 Conference participants were urged to aspire to bring Colorado up to a higher level of funding. Conference participants’ suggestions included establishing a voluntary trust account foundation, tapping legislative resources, investigating increases in filing fees, and using cy-pres funds (funds left over after a class action award has been dispensed) to fund legal services programs.
Partcipants relax at the end of the conference.
In recent years, many websites have been developed to assist pro se litigants. For example, the Colorado state court website5 provides forms for use by the layperson. Colorado Legal Services ("CLS") has a new website as well. The first section of the site, designed for use by the public, is available at www.
coloradolegalservices.org. Future plans for the CLS website include making information on the site available in Spanish and adding a second section to assist attorneys who are doing pro bono work with research, information, and special list serves. Search engines can be accessed to find other websites.
One suggestion offered by conference participants was that Internet formats dealing with legal issues should be standardized in some way. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time an entity creates a website, there should be a standard method of designing the site and linking it to other sites. This should make it easier for the public to access needed information.
Judge JoAnn Vogt (left) and CWBA President Doris Truhlar participated in the conference.
Student InvolvementLaw schools are encouraging students to do more public service work. Conference participants thought that more effort could be made to assist students by investigating loan repayment assistance for students who go on to work in public service. Also students who take externships in public service work should receive some type of tuition waiver so they are not paying tuition to work for free on public service projects. It was noted that most pro bono work is in the area of family law, so a suggestion was made that family law be required as a course of study for all Colorado law students. The conference participants also agreed that the law schools can encourage students to do public service work by developing and publicizing faculty activities in a way that signals to students the importance of community involvement.
Volunteer Attorney Recruitment
The care and feeding of volunteers also is an important issue. The conference participants expressed concern that the number of attorneys doing pro bono work seems to be declining as the number of cases increases. Although many attorneys work for bar-affiliated pro bono offices, such as Metro Volunteer Lawyers, it was noted that some work for such other providers as safehouses and small non-profit organizations. One participant suggested that attorneys who take cases outside of bar-affiliated programs also should receive support. For example, it would help these pro bono attorneys to have a place, perhaps in the courthouse, where they could make photocopies or meet with a client. Moreover, participants encouraged the use of paralegals and legal support staff in volunteer efforts. If support staff were managing cases, attorneys could spend less time sifting through information and more time doing the legal work itself.
Pro Se Litigants
Case filings in which litigants represent themselves are increasing in number. Some people choose self-representation, but many file pro se because they cannot pay for representation and either do not qualify for legal assistance or the area of law involved is outside the scope of legal services representation. Conference participants suggested that the courts examine the type of information and level of assistance given these litigants. One example of a successful program is the Pro Se Day held regularly by the Thirteenth Judicial District, in cooperation with the Northeastern Colorado Legal Services and Thirteenth Judicial District Bar Association. On this day, attorney and non-attorney volunteers work together to prepare clients for their hearings. Participants also suggested that this might be another area where law students could volunteer their time.
The Denver Law Club performed at the conference reception.
This article has provided but a few highlights of the discussion by the conference participants. During the conference, many ideas flowed, providing the Commission and Local Committees issues to consider in the future. The current crisis in judicial funding can only fuel the need for creative thinking and problem-solving to ensure that access to the justice system is available to all. Attorneys who have ideas, questions, or issues to pass on to the Commission or the Local Committees should contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. See Butler, "Improving Access to Justice Through Local Committees and a Statewide Commission," 31 The Colorado Lawyer 77 (Oct. 2002).
3. Washington Legal Foundation v. Legal Foundation of Washington, U.S. S.Ct. Docket No. 01-1325.
4. Noted by Meredith McBurney, a representative of the American Bar Association Project to Expand Resources for Legal Services.
5. See http://www.courts.state.co.us.
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