Wonderful Video on Self-Help Services Is a Tool to Ensure 100% Availability of this Key Service, and Introduces the Triage Concept

The Justice of All Strategic Planning Guidance, issued last August, identifies a number of basic services which should be available to all if 100% access is to be provided.  Obviously one of the most critical is universally available self-help services.

For those seeking to make that idea real, a nine minute video just released by the Public Welfare Foundation is a perfect tool.  The California courts explain the need for the services, how they are integrated with triage, and how they look day to day.  This includes the obvious need for help with forms, no matter now simple.

Above all, the totally commonsense non-ideological presentation (narration by Bonnie Hough) conveys the simplicity of the overall idea, and its utterly non-controversial essence.

I would urge everyone to watch it, and to present it to any group involved in any kind of access to justice planning.  It is particularly critical that those who are thinking of “For All” strategic planning make use of the video to get commitment from their group to include this in their core strategy and planning.  In making this argument, never forget to highlight the two for one match for child support self-help services available from the uncapped HHS Child Support Enforcement grant stream.  That can be used to fund an initial statewide infrastructure, that can then be expanded to other issues when the value of the approach is demonstrated.

Note: The video and others about access to justice, are also available at the PWF website, here.


Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Forms, Funding, Self-Help Services, Triage | 1 Comment

CCJ/COSCA Letter to OMB on LSC Funding Highlights Bipartisan Support for Access to Justice

In response to recent stories that the Administration had LSC on a target list, perhaps the most powerfully bipartisan bodies in the US legal system chimed in in support for LSC funding.

The Presidents of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference Of State Court Administrators wrote on February 24 to the head of OMB, that:

[T}he Conferences urge OMB to promote stable and adequate funding of the LSC rather than a defunding.  .  .  .

Since the great recession in 2008, the Conferences have unanimously adopted several resolutions documenting the shortfall in civil legal aid and reaffirming the importance Census Bureau data show that nearly one in five Americans – 61.8 million people – are eligible for legal aid, a 21% increase since 2007.   In 2012, we 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.”  We have reason to believe these efforts have contributed to a stabilization and occasional modest increase in Congressional appropriations to LSC in recent fiscal years.  .  .  .

Our research makes clear that the large number of unrepresented citizens overwhelming the nation’s courts has negative consequences not only for them but also for the effectiveness and efficiency of courts striving to serve these and other segments of the community who need their disputes resolved.  More staff time is required to assist unrepresented parties.  In the absence of a fair presentation of relevant facts, court procedures are slowed, backlogs of other court cases occur, and judges confront the challenge of maintaining their impartiality while preventing injustice.  Clearly frontline judges are telling us that the adversarial foundation of our justice system is all too often losing its effectiveness when citizens are deprived of legal counsel.

Given these facts on the ground, we hope you will support our struggle to increase the availability of legal assistance to the most-needy members of our communities lest we further compromise our nation’s promise of “equal justice under law.”

The sustained work by LSC’s President Jim Sandman to build the bipartisan case, and indeed the extensive multi-organizational collaborations in support on access to justice generally that are now embedded into the justice system, help support much greater optimism about LSC’s future than might once have been the case.

There is a moral here for much of our work.  The credibility that the Chiefs bring to access to justice is one of our greatest assets, and we must make full use of that credibility, and must also remember the reciprocal obligations of respect that that support imposes on us.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Budget Issues, Census Bureau, Funding, Legal Aid, LSC, Political Support, White House | Leave a comment

Do Not Call Us Immigrants, Call us “Americans By Choice”

That’s what I am, that’s what millions of us are.

So, why are we supposedly lesser Americans, or rather why do so many others think we are lesser.

If anything, the argument that “we Americans by Choice have shown more committement to America” would be stronger than the one that “Americans by Birth have shown more committement.”

And, pray, how come Americans by Ancestor Capture are so often the most truly patriotic of all?

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Immigration | 2 Comments

Relationship of Global to US Access to Justice

The upcoming Tuesday March 21 gathering, at Fordham Law School, on Unifying Global and U.S. Access to Justice Movements: The Judicial Perspective should help get us thinking about that huge and challenging topic.

The speakers will be: Matthew Diller, Dean and Paul Fuller Professor of Law, Fordham Law School; Jonathan Lippman, Of Counsel, Latham & Watkin, Chief Judge, New York Court of Appeals (2009-2015); Willy Mutunga, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School, Chief Justice and President, Supreme Court of Kenya (2011-2016); Rebecca L. Sandefur, Faculty Fellow and Founder, Access to Justice Research Initiative, American Bar Foundation, Associate Professor of Sociology and Law, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, David Udell, moderator
Executive Director, National Center for Access to Justice.

The first point is that the national political context in which an access to justice innovation issue arises can make all the difference.  Thus, in the US, the question of adding forms of nonlawyer assistance or self-help services has to be assessed in a context in which the alternative status quo would be no assistance.  In much of the developed world, however, the context of these proposals is proposals or plans to reduce  provision of assistance of counsel — an entirely different matter.  It is really important, I would suggest, that in international discussions we should be very careful to clarify the context in which a proposal, evaluation, research, etc., comes up.  The Third World context is like that of the US, only more so.

The second point is that in many countries the phrase “access to justice” focuses more on “justice,” and less on”access.”  By this I mean that the phrase focuses more on substance rather than process.  In many countries the political and legal structures are so weak in their protection of rights that the focus is on establishing the effective recognition of rights, rather than ensuring that the processes of legal structure are fully accessible.  While the two areas obviously overlap greatly, there can be confusion on this point.

Finally, nothing said here should in any way under the conclusion that these kind of gatherings are very very helpful in illuminating the issues in all contexts, in providing opportunities to learn about new ideas and new approaches. I would hope that the proceedings and lessons are well shared, something that has perhaps tended not to happen enough with International Legal Aid Group meetings, which are always attended by a number of Americans.




Posted in Access to Justice Generally, International Cooperation, International Models | 1 Comment

Clint Bamberger’s Death Kicks In the Gut

We heard today of Clint Bamberger’s death, at age 90.  The New York Times obituary focuses mainly on his landmark Supreme Court case of Betts v. Brady, establishing the obligation on prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence.

But for generations of lawyers committed to access to justice, that case, while critical, is far from the most important piece of his massive legacy.  As one of the tiny group of visionaries who envisioned the original legal services program, as its first director, as a founder of clinical legal education, as one of the founders of Harvard’s Legal Services Center, as one of the originators of the Reginald Huber Smith fellowship program, and as an endless advocate for innovation and access, Clint really was the trailblazer who build the foundations on which all of us try to build.  Much more of Clint’s story is told in the Baltimore Sun obituary.  The LSC statement is here.

I got to meet Clint during my second year of law school, when he, Garry Bellow, Jeanne Charn, Bill Simon, Isaac Borenstein, and Michael Lipsky were setting up the Harvard program.  My wife Joan was one of the first students in the only year that the program actually functioned as a full year 100% clinically focused program, and then she was hired to work for the program.

So, for some reason Clint’s death, foreshadowed on December 6th by that of his beloved and equally contributing wife Katharine, hits particularly hard in the gut.

I think it’s because Clint and Katharine managed to make me feel like they thought I was an equal.  They were always full of respect and interest in even my crazier ideas, and always just as humanly interested in every aspect of our lives.  We always parted from them, most recently a couple of years ago, I think, reinvigorated and with greater self-acceptance.

Clint and Katharine were born healers, both of individuals and society as a whole.

I hope to be able to put together a more detailed appreciation, but will not be at peace till at least this has been said.

My wife Joan adds:  Clint and Katharine were wonderful friends, mentors, and models of mine.

P.S.  Alan Houseman’s obituary, prepared for the Equal Justice Library, is here.


Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Law Schools, Legal Aid, LSC, Obituaries and Appreciations | 1 Comment

A New Era of Jury Nullification?

Trump threat tweeted today that “the spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”

That leaves a big loophole, since the vast majority are probably not”low-life” at all, but patriots.  They should be safe.

But then, grammar was never a strong point for the Donald.

Seriously, time to dust off our jury nullification research.  And, surely the necessity defense would be strengthened by Trumps prior expressions of support for hacking.

Do you really think that today you could get a conviction out of a DC area jury on these leaks?  Good luck on that one.

Posted in Criminal Law, Policing, White House

The Totally Unbalanced Amici List in the Ninth Circuit Tells the Whole Story

As a general matter, the line up of amici in a significant case provides some indication of how institutions are lining up on the issue.  If this were an issue on which the country were split, one might expect that those in support of the administration and those challenging Trump’s Executive order would be in rough balance.

So, I engaged in a quick research project and looked at the Ninth Circuit docket entries, which are here.

There are approximately twenty briefs, and only two were in support of the Executive Order.  One is from from Freedom Watch., and the other does round up a number of the usual suspects, with the list reading as follows:

Amici Curiae U.S. Justice Foundation, Citizens United, Citizens United Foundation, English First Foundation, English First, Public Advocate of the United States, Gun Owners Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, U.S. Border Control Foundation, and Policy Analysis Center

In contrast to the outpouring of states, technology businesses, law professors, advocacy organizations, etc supporting the challenge to the Order, this is a remarkably weak display.

No states, no Republican officeholders, no businesses.  Only a few frequent litigators and a few far-right frequent fliers, heavy on guns, English language monopoly, and border control.  Not a cross section of even just conservative America, let alone America as a whole.

That suggests to me the deep ambivalence of the institutional structures of our society, not only about the Order, but about the administration from which it came.

This adds to the increasing evidence that the policies of the last three weeks are built on shifting sand in terms of support.  At a minimum, this gives the courts far more freedom to follow the law, knowing that if that triggers a formal constitutional crisis (rather than just the de facto one we already have), the courts will have almost all the system on their side.

Posted in Constitution, Judicial Supremacy