Vol. 30, No. 7
Legal Services News
Building Colorado’s State Justice Community
by JoAnn Viola Salazar
In March 2001, the Legal Services Corporation ("LSC") released a report entitled "Building State Justice Communities: A State Planning Report ("Report").1 The Report examines state planning systems for legal services in eighteen states. Colorado is one of the states highlighted in the Report.
Beginning in 1995, LSC called for state planning between legal services offices and the communities they serve. LSC program letters called for communities to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of LSC-funded programs and the resources available to them.2 LSC asked that the needs of the community be assessed and that programs anticipate changes and trends (such as those in technology) that will affect systems already in place. A statewide action plan was called for to address the currently identified civil justice needs of low-income persons while planning to meet future needs as well. LSC noted that each state has individual challenges and should tailor planning groups to address those issues.
Colorado’s response to the LSC challenge was to form the Statewide Legal Services Planning Group ("Planning Group"), chaired by David Butler of Holland and Hart. The group comprised the three LSC-funded programs in place at that time, the Colorado Bar Association, local bar associations, the judiciary, both Colorado law schools, the Colorado Lawyers Trust Account Foundation, the Legal Aid Foundation, eligible clients, providers of specialized legal services groups, and others dedicated to access to the civil justice system for low-income Colorado residents.
The Planning Group focused on ensuring effective delivery of legal services by the LSC-funded programs. This called for a complete examination of the system and a consolidation plan for the three programs. On October 1, 1999, Colorado Rural Legal Services, Pikes Peak Legal Services, and the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Denver were consolidated into the program now known as Colorado Legal Services ("CLS"). The Planning Group then began to examine internal operating issues, such as increased use of technology, staff training, statewide advocacy support, the establishment of a uniform intake system, and provision of short advice and brief service. It also attempted to address the issues of vulnerable populations such as non-English-speaking people, the disabled, and institutionalized persons.
LSC technical assistance grants were used by CLS to assist with the design and development of a statewide administrative system and to examine the possibilities for a planned centralized statewide telephone-based intake system. CLS has established statewide priorities that address the needs of rural areas and is working with other providers to improve service in those areas. Efforts are also being made by CLS to expand current resources to deliver civil legal assistance to the poor by encouraging increased pro bono representation, and by identifying providers for services that are not available from LSC-funded programs due to restrictions.
While the Planning Group was focusing on these issues, the Colorado Supreme Court Judicial Advisory Council ("JAC"), which includes some members of the Planning Group, worked to encourage the Colorado Supreme Court to adopt the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 6.1 as part of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The JAC was supported by the CBA Pro Bono Taskforce ("Taskforce"), chaired by Aaron Clay of the Delta County Bar Association. In September 1999, the Taskforce proposed that the CBA Board of Governors support the adoption of the Rule, which has an aspirational goal of fifty hours of pro bono service by attorneys per year. While the Board of Governors did not support Rule 6.1 for adoption by the Court, it did adopt the Rule as an aspirational goal for the CBA membership.3 On November 2, 1999, the Colorado Supreme Court adopted the ABA Model Rule as Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1, making it effective January 1, 2000.
At that September meeting, the Board of Governors also voted to "endorse and provide resources to establish local judicial district pro bono committees," as proposed by the JAC.4 In April 2001, members of the CBA Access to Justice Conference Planning Committee, at a luncheon with Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, joined their voices to those who support the establishment of the judicial district pro bono committee plan. In May 2001, then-CBA President Dale Harris and Taskforce Chair Aaron Clay requested in a letter to Justice Mullarkey that the Colorado Supreme Court consider a rule to establish such committees. Lists of judges and local bar members who are willing to participate in the committees were provided to the Court. That proposal is under consideration at this time.
The Report states that there is no single model for building a state justice community, but emphasizes that strong leadership, commitment, and open communication are required to sustain the ongoing process that is called a state justice community. By continuing to work together, the CBA, judiciary, Planning Group, CLS, and others can continue to increase access and expand services for low-income people, realizing the goal of access to justice for all.
The Report also clearly states, "If a state is going to successfully create a state justice community, someone has to be responsible for it." Colorado is fortunate to have so many groups and individuals who feel that responsibility and act to support and encourage one another in the establishment and continuation of that community.
1. "Building State Justice Communities: A State Planning Report from the Legal Services Corporation," March 2001. Washington, D.C. (report available online at www.lsc.gov).
2. Legal Services Corporation Program Letters 98-1, 98-6, and 2000-7.
3. Salazar, "CBA and Supreme Court Action Regarding Aspirational Pro Bono Goal," 28 The Colorado Lawyer 19 (Dec. 1999).
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