Legislative Funding Best Practices For Legal Aid Endorsed by CCJ and COSCA Apply to Broad Definition of Legal Aid

As I recently blogged, the Conference of Chiefs and the Conference of State Court Administrators passed three important and inter-related Resolutions recently.  The first was about 100% access to justice, and the second about Best Practices for Supreme Court support for legislative funding for legal aid.  The text of the second Resolution is here.  (There was a third Resolution affirming support for LSC funding.)

As you will see from the texts below, the endorsement of the Best Practices in the legislative funding Resolution should go a long way to encouraging the already powerful and effective leadership from state Supreme Courts in moving the access agenda forward.  This resolution helps remove any lingering anxiety that such leadership might be inappropriate for a court.

What is fascinating is that the ideas endorsed in the document itself apply with equal force to a broad definition of legal aid — in fact to any service that contributes to meeting the 100% access aspirational goal in the first of the Resolutions.  This makes all the sense in the world because the polling and focus group branding recommendations (especially slides 7, 17 and 18) tell us of the great value of such a broad definition of legal aid.

So, these best practices can be used by, and urged upon Supreme Courts, and those who work with them, in the full context of support for 100% access innovation, not just what some of us call “community based” or “advocacy” legal aid — unbelievably valuable and critical though those are.  (And, indeed, many community based legal aid programs provide a broad range of services)

Here are the Best Practices prepared by the ABA Resource Center for ATJ Initiatives. (Link here.)

Provide leadership. In many states, the active and visible support of the state’s highest court and its individual members has determined the success or failure of initiating and increasing this very important funding source.

Build the leadership and support into the court’s culture. Success at the state legislature requires long‐ term, consistent support. In the most successful states, supportive justices have worked to ensure that the court as a whole sees access to justice and state funding for legal aid as a priority.

Create a high‐powered ATJ commission. Access to justice commissions are blue‐ribbon entities comprised of leaders representing, at minimum, the state courts, the organized bar, and legal aid providers, but often including legislators and representatives of corporations, foundations, the medical community, and human services organizations. ATJ commissions have been instrumental in obtaining or increasing state funding.

Speak and write publicly on behalf of the funding. Justices have testified on behalf of state funding for legal aid and chief justices have included a message of support in their annual state of the judiciary speeches to their legislatures. Justices have authored op‐ed pieces on the importance of state funding for legal aid.

Call for and/or host hearings or other public meetings and gatherings around the state to give representatives of the courts; the legal, business and faith based communities; human services organizations; and low income people the opportunity to share information about the value of legal aid and problems created by the lack of services.

Visit with legislators. A personal visit is almost always a good strategy for educating a legislator about how important an issue is. When a supreme court justice makes the effort to do this, it can have a powerful impact.

Find funding sources. Helping campaign leadership and legislators identify the most appropriate sources of state funding for legal aid.

Resolve conflicts. When concerns are raised about a funding mechanism or other issues, initiate discussions that might resolve conflicts and/or negotiate solutions.

Administer the funds. Where appropriate, agreeing that the administrative office of the court or other court entity will serve as administrator of the funds and/or include them in the courts’ budget.

Full text of the Resolution is here.

Conference of Chief Justices Conference of State Court Administrators

In Support of the Statement of Best Practices for State Funding of Civil Legal Aid

Prepared by the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives

WHEREAS, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators have consistently advocated for adequate resources to fund civil legal aid programs; and

 WHEREAS, Census Bureau data show that nearly one in five Americans—61.8 million people—are eligible for legal aid services, a 21% increase since 2007; and

 WHEREAS, the civil legal problems of low-income people involve essential human needs, such as protection from domestic abuse, safe and habitable housing, access to necessary health care, and parental rights; and

WHEREAS, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators in 2012 published a comprehensive policy paper[1] making clear that millions of people in America face legal crises without the benefit of legal counsel, thereby either giving up their legal rights or seeking judicial relief without assistance of counsel; and

WHEREAS, in 2002, 2009, 2011, and 2012, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, by resolution, reaffirmed the importance of the federal Legal Services Corporation and, as recently as 2012, called upon all members of Congress “to fulfill our nation’s promise of ‘Equal Justice Under Law’, by restoring funding for the federal Legal Services Corporation to the level necessary to provide critically needed services to low-income and vulnerable Americans”; and

WHEREAS, federal funding of the Legal Services Corporation has declined from $420 million in FY 2010 to $375 million for the current fiscal year—a reduction of more than 10 percent; and

WHEREAS, it is advisable to pursue strategies to improve state and federal government funding of civil legal aid; and

WHEREAS, the American Bar Association’s Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, a project of the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, has carefully studied successful legal aid funding efforts in the states; and

WHEREAS, the ABA Resource Center has gathered a series of best practices to guide bench and bar leaders in their pursuit of increased funding of civil legal aid;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators encourage their members to consider the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives’ “Supreme Court Leadership on State Legislative Funding for Civil Legal Aid” (Updated July 15, 2015) as a worthy guide for their own endeavors to obtain increased funding for civil legal services to disadvantaged populations.

 Adopted as proposed by the CCJ/COSCA Government Affairs Committee and the CCJ/COSCA Access, Fairness, and Public Trust Committee at the 2015 Annual Meeting.

[1] “The Importance of Funding for the Legal Services Corporation from the Perspective of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.”

Together the Resolutions are a great step.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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