It has long been a goal of the more visionary access to justice commissions, now joined by Voices for Civil Justice, to spread the ATJ message beyond courts to other government actors. So it is particularly good news that there is a great article about NY Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s ATJ efforts in the current issue of Governing Magazine, which claims a “circulation of approximately 85,000 [with t]he core of GOVERNING’s readership consist[ing] of elected, appointed and career officials in state and local government, including governors, mayors, county executives, city and county council members, state legislators, executives of state and local agencies, and those holding professional government positions such as attorneys, public accountants, engineers and educators.”
The article may well be the first exposure that many of the magazine’s readers have had to ideas such as the cost savings from state legal aid investments, the possibility of rules changes to make foreclosure and other processes fairer and simpler, law student pro bono requirements, and court navigators:
Borrowing from other courts is also a Lippman tactic. This year, in a further effort to deal with the problem of legal representation for the poor, New York City launched a pilot program for indigent litigants modeled after the United Kingdom’s Citizens Advice Bureau. So-called “court navigators,” trained non-lawyer volunteers, are helping unrepresented residents in Brooklyn Housing Court and in certain consumer debt courts with filling out paperwork and accessing services they need. They may not address the court for the litigant but they can answer questions if asked by a judge.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the article should promote the idea that Chief Judges should be aggressive and engaged in promoting an access agenda.
Lippman has not reached the end of his list of reforms, but he is acutely aware of the fact that he will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age next year. He says the deadline is merely a reason to work harder. “My job is not to sit around and talk about things, my job is to take an idea and make it a reality,” he says. “You’ve got to be a leader — you have to grab the pulpit and use it.”
Let’s hope the CJ’s greatest legacy is lots more Chiefs like him. And, after his retirement, lets hop that he finds a platform from which he can be a mentor and a standard bearer for those who follow him in all the states. From that legacy will also follow more Commissions, more involvement from other sectors of government, and hopefully a national commitment to access to justice.
As a final thought in this direction, what about a joint meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices/COSCA with the National Governors Association, or with the National Conference of State Legislators?