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TCL > July 2004 Issue > Activities of the Colorado Access to Justice Commission: An Update

July 2004       Vol. 33, No. 7       Page  49
Departments
Access to Justice

Activities of the Colorado Access to Justice Commission: An Update
by David Butler

Readers interested in contributing an article on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice topics should contact Jo Ann Viola Salazar at jvsalazar@cobar.org.

This article was written by David Butler, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission—(303) 295-8172; dbutler@hollandhart.com.

In the October 2002 issue of The Colorado Lawyer, I reported the pending creation of an Access to Justice Commission ("ATJ Commission" or "Commission") and of local committees ("ATJ Committees" or "Committees") in Colorado’s twenty-two Judicial Districts.1 As Chair of the Commission, I present this summary of the Commission’s activities during 2003 and the first half of 2004, to keep the Bar apprised of its progress.

The purpose of both the ATJ Commission and local ATJ Committees is to pull together and push forward the efforts already being made to help people encountering barriers in gaining access to our judicial system. The fundamental principle of equal justice under the law cannot be achieved when there are major barriers to access for many people in our society. These barriers are primarily economic for people with low and moderate incomes, but they also include ethnicity, language, literacy, remote location, immigrant status, and physical or mental impairments. The Commission serves as a planner, coordinator, and source of ideas and encouragement—it is not a direct provider of services.

The AJT Commission grew out of the less formal Colorado Statewide Legal Services Planning Group, which began work in 1995. The idea of creating local committees arose from a separate initiative in 1998 to organize local pro bono efforts, involving lawyers, judges, court personnel, pro bono coordinators, Colorado Legal Services, and other entities and individuals dedicated to advancing access to justice.

During the fall of 2002, the ATJ Commission was organized and nearly all of its members were appointed. These included ten members appointed by the Colorado Bar Association ("CBA"), four members appointed by the Colorado Supreme Court, and one member appointed by each of the following: the Legal Aid Foundation, Colorado Lawyers Trust Account Foundation ("COLTAF"), and Colorado Legal Services.2 Room also was left for the appointment of members by the Governor, President of the Colorado Senate, and Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives. The President of the Senate, John Andrews, did make an appointment early in 2003; no appointment has yet been made by the Governor or the Speaker.

Commission Structure and Meetings

The Commission is independent of the CBA and the Supreme Court, but through their appointments and support, both have greatly contributed to the Commission’s activities. The CBA has hosted the Commission’s meetings and made the services of Jo Ann Viola Salazar, CBA Director of Public and Legal Services, available to help the Commission. The CBA also has been helpful in paying specific expenses, including, for example, travel expenses to annual national meetings attended in 2003 by the Commission’s Vice-Chair, Judge JoAnn L. Vogt, and in 2004, by the Chair, this author. Attendance at such meetings has provided a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas with similar groups from other states throughout the United States.

The Commission operates primarily through its ATJ Committees, which include both members of the Commission and volunteers from outside the Commission who contribute time and effort to the work of these Committees. This article briefly describes some of the accomplishments of the ATJ Committees during 2003 and the first part of 2004.

Pro Bono Committee

The initial assignment of the Pro Bono Committee, which is chaired by Aaron Clay of the Delta County Bar, has been to work with local bar associations to organize local ATJ Committees. The underlying premise is that most pro bono services are not performed on a statewide basis, and thus should be organized within local areas. The local ATJ Committees coordinate and promote pro bono work by lawyers, paralegals, and lay volunteers, but, as time passes, will also share knowledge and ideas with the Commission and with similar committees throughout Colorado.

Getting the local ATJ Committees off the ground has been a challenging task, but the Pro Bono Committee has worked hard and has made some progress since the beginning of 2003. It also has received welcome support from Bob Truhlar, the 2003–2004 CBA President, who has consistently taken a special interest in this effort.

The model for local committees is flexible because there are many differences between locations. For example, differences may exist in urban and rural or small town populations, local frameworks for pro bono services, groups to be served, and legal issues needed to be addressed. However, a common thread is the desirability of broad representation, which may comprise judges, other court personnel, pro bono coordinators, officers of local bar associations, paralegals, lay volunteers, Colorado Legal Services lawyers, and representatives of client service and advocacy groups in each area.

The original concept of the local ATJ Committees was that there would be one Committee in each Judicial District, because this would facilitate the active participation of one or more district court judges on each of the ATJ Committees. However, as the Pro Bono Committee’s work continued, it became apparent that local ATJ Committees do not fit neatly into Judicial Districts, some of which have few lawyers, and would need to join others to create a large enough group to be effective. In other cases, there are two or more local bar associations within the same Judicial District, and each of them has been accustomed to promoting pro bono services on its own.

The Pro Bono Committee’s response to each situation has been to adapt to it, and not to try to push people into the same structure in each location. Because some Judicial Districts have small populations and need to be combined to achieve a critical mass, it is likely that when the organizations are complete, there will be about half as many ATJ Committees as there are Judicial Districts.

It is the hope and expectation of the Commission that, starting in the latter part of 2004, all or most of the ATJ Committees will be organized and meeting. It also is hoped that each Committee will provide annual reports to the Commission, get ideas from the Commission and other Committees, and share in websites and other sources of information. This will help each Committee provide quality legal services to those who most need them.3

Education Committee

The Commission asked the Education Committee to encourage education of many groups, including the public, prospective clients, the Bar, law students, and individual lawyers taking on pro bono projects. Judge JoAnn Vogt of the Colorado Court of Appeals has co-chaired this Committee with Ilene Bloom. Before coming to Colorado, Bloom served as the Director of Public Interest Law in a major Chicago firm and as a member of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. There is space here to list only some of the many initiatives undertaken by the Education Committee. Some are specific projects; others are initiatives that simply establish a means to become liaisons with others in developing and evaluating ideas—these initiatives will not necessarily be endorsed by the Committee and Commission.

A fruitful focus for the Education Committee has been the development of incentives and programs for law students, including, as examples, increased emphasis on academic training in common pro bono areas, the expansion of student intern opportunities, and promoting faculty pro bono activity. The Committee also has studied ideas relating to the relationship between Colorado Bar Association CLE and provision of pro bono services. Some topics being considered are a possible requirement that a certain number of qualifying continuing legal education ("CLE") hours be in substantive areas where pro bono work is especially needed, possible broadening of reductions or waivers of CLE fees in those areas, and expanding course offerings relevant to those areas.

In 2003, the Commission began to consider ways to obtain CLE credit for (subject to limits) hours spent on pro bono cases toward meeting minimum CLE requirements. It decided in March 2004 to join with the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations and Metro Volunteer Lawyers in Denver in making a proposal to that effect to the Colorado Supreme Court. Another idea under development is creation of a "master calendar" on the Colorado Legal Services website, and perhaps others, which would list programs and opportunities for persons interested in pro bono work.

Following up on work on the Education Committee, at its May 2004 meeting, the Commission gave its support to a request by Colorado Legal Services to the Legal Services Corporation for funding of a Statewide Technology Advocate. This Advocate would help people with legal problems to access legal information and resources through the use of technology.

One more example of work by this Committee has been the development of a model in-house legal department policy. This effort recognizes the fact that, historically, most in-house counsel have not been effectively keyed into pro bono services and programs.4

Courthouse Committee

This Committee, chaired by Pamela Gagel, has worked with the Colorado Supreme Court and State Court Administrator to try to improve public access to the court system.5 At the same time, the Committee works toward finding ways to ease the burdens on court administrative staff caused by substantially reduced funding of Colorado’s court system.

The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have been diligent in making procedural rule changes intended to reduce burdens on both litigants and court staffs. The Commission and the CBA have discussed ways to educate lawyers about how to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on courthouse staff. Courthouse staff have been reduced in Colorado’s present budgetary squeeze, thus making it more difficult for them to help those trying to represent themselves. An effort also is being made to improve the availability and use of e-filing in those courts that agree to accept such filings.

Other areas in which this Committee or its Chair have been involved include training for Family Court Facilitators, development of judicial websites with forms and instructions, and coordination of a "Pro Se Summit." This Summit, held December 9, 2003, brought together people assisting the many individuals in the Denver metro area who choose to represent themselves in court proceedings. The meeting was held to inform those attending about sources of information and the work of other individuals and groups. Participants also discussed how unmet needs could be addressed. The Commission hopes this project can be expanded to other areas in Colorado.

Resources Committee

This Committee is chaired by Meredith McBurney, who was for many years the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Foundation and COLTAF. Meredith now works with the American Bar Association in collecting and distributing information about fundraising activities and other issues relating to civil legal services for low-income people throughout the United States.

The Commission, through this Committee, seeks to safeguard, and hopefully expand, the primary sources of funding for access to justice in Colorado. In order of current size regarding amount of funding provided, these sources are as follows: (1) the federal Legal Services Corporation; (2) Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado, which raises most of its funding through voluntary contributions by lawyers and law firms; (3) COLTAF; and (4) state legislative funding for assistance to victims of domestic violence. All of these sources, combined with voluntary pro bono services, provide only about 20 percent of the civil legal services estimated to be reasonably required by low-income persons and others encountering barriers to access to justice in Colorado.

An important task in maintaining funding is orientation and maintenance of contact with legislators and others who can make contributions or influence levels of public funding. It is not well understood by those not directly involved in these matters that over and above the importance of meeting our responsibilities to less fortunate members of our society, there is a practical benefit to business and government. Competent legal advice and representation of individuals reduce business and governmental costs in dealing with poorly informed pro se litigants (including persons inappropriately seeking legal redress for problems that do not belong in court) and in helping persons physically and emotionally harmed by domestic abuse.6

Conclusion

The Access to Justice Commission is off to a good start in bringing groups together, developing priorities, and beginning to work on those priorities. However, the Commission is still just scratching the surface of what can and should be done to make equal justice under law a practical reality. With support from lawyers and volunteers outside the legal community, the ATJ Commission and ATJ Committees can accomplish more as time passes.

NOTES

1. See Butler, "Improving Access to Justice Through Local Committees and a Statewide Commission," 31 The Colorado Lawyer 77 (Oct. 2002).

2. The members of the Commission and their appointing bodies are: Colorado Bar Association—Hon. William D. Alexander, Darla Benford, Aaron R. Clay, Yolanda Fennick, Pamela A. Gagel, David R. Juarez, Sue Parenteau, Lynne M. Sholler, Constance C. Talmage, Hon. Daniel M. Taubman; Colorado Supreme Court—Hon. Angela R. Arkin, Hon. Gregory J. Hobbs, Hon. Barney Iuppa, Hon. JoAnn L. Vogt; President of the Colorado Senate—John S. Zakhem; Colorado Legal Services—Jonathan D. Asher; COLTAF—David Butler; and Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado—Meredith McBurney.

3. The Commission members working on the Pro Bono Committee are Aaron R. Clay (Chair), Hon. William D. Alexander, Sue Parenteau, Lynne M. Sholler, and Hon. Daniel M. Taubman. The other Committee members are Hon. Barbara L. Hughes, Hon. M. Jon Kolomitz, H. Barton Mendenhall, Hon. Devon A. McFarland, Jo Ann Viola Salazar, and Gina B. Weitzenkorn.

4. The Commission members working on the Education Committee are Hon. JoAnn Vogt (Chair), Darla Benford, Yolanda M. Fennick, David R. Juarez and Constance C. Talmage. The other Committee members are Norm Aaronson, Ilene Bloom (co-chair), James R. Hoy, Norma-May Isakow, Professor Lucy Marsh, Richard E. Mishkin, Manuel A. Ramos, and Dean Daniel A. Vigil.

5. The Commission members working on the Courthouse Committee are Pamela A. Gagel (Chair), Hon. Angela R. Arkin, Hon. Gregory J. Hobbs, Hon. Barney Iuppa, and John S. Zakhem.

6. The Commission members working on the Resources Committee are Meredith McBurney (Chair) and Jonathan D. Asher. The other Committee members include James Rooney, Dale Harris, and Elizabeth Steele.

© 2004 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2004.


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