Access to Justice Update November 21, 2016

1. THE NEXT ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION MEETING WILL CONVENE ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, AT 3:00, in the Social Law Library on the fourth floor of the Adams courthouse located at One Pemberton Plaza, Boston MA. The meeting is open to the public.

The major item on the agenda is an exploration of cases involving criminal    offenses that contain civil law “crossover” issues. Around the country, access to justice commissions have been primarily concerned with purely civil justice questions. An example of such a crossover issue is whether the Commission should advocate for a right to counsel in a proceeding for contempt based on nonpayment of fines and costs arising in a criminal matter. A recent Massachusetts Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee reported that in more than half of “fine cases” defendants did not have the help of a lawyer. See “Fine Time  Massachusetts: Judges, Poor People and Debtors Prison in the 21st Century.”

The meeting will also provide updated information on the Justice for All grant described below.

2. The Commission’s schedule of meetings for the spring has been set. The Commission will meet on:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All meetings begin at 3:00 in the Social Law Library

3. $100,000 GRANT AWARDED TO MASSACHUSETTS FOR COLLABORATIVE PLANNING TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO JUSTICE. The SJC, in partnership with the Access to Justice Commission, has been awarded a $100,000 planning grant from the Justice for All Project. The Project, which is supported by the Public Welfare Foundation and housed at the National Conference for State Courts, seeks to support state action planning pursing an aspirational goal of 100% access to effective assistance with essential legal problems encountered by self-representing litigants.. The SJC announcement of the award can be found at

The Justice for All Project was created to implement Resolution 5 of last year’s Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators.

Twenty-five states applied for the grants, but only seven succeeded. The Request for Proposals emphasized the need for collaboration among the stakeholders in planning improvements that make the courts and the legal system more user-friendly. The Commission’s  responsibilities include bringing litigants without lawyers together with representatives of the courts, the organized bar, legal aid programs, public interest law firms, social service and administrative agencies


4. Climate Change? Whatever one believes about the existence or degree of climate change caused by human agency, the election of Donald Trump has the legal aid community preparing for a renewal of the hard times of 1995-96 and 1981-82. The President-elect will undoubtedly have a small transition team  of people familiar with LSC and the other federal programs supporting legal aid preparing a report with recommendations  Mr. Trump himself has apparently not  spoken about it. 

In Indianapolis last week, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association held its annual conference.   A letter of firm resolve  and careful shaping followed from Don Saunders, Vice President, Civil Legal Services. It offers professional conversation across the divide on the value of legal aid work. Saunders points out that there have been years of discussion with Republican  leaders, some of whom have been convinced to support legal aid. Support in the states has also grown, particularly through access to justice commissions and the leadership of state supreme court justices. Saunders also finds time to remind employees of legal services programs that are funded in part with LSC funds that they are not allowed to lobby or advocate on behalf of funding by Congress or the President.

Mass Law Reform’s staff want to assure everyone that they are ready for whatever comes, standing “in solidarity with our local, state and national partners in the fight for justice for all people . . . and to ensure that the voices of low income people are heard.”

Jerry Mogul, writing for the Board and Staff of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), says “For MAC, it always starts with the child. For 47 years, . . . we have advocated . . . with a singular purpose: to open the doors of opportunity and bring  hope to those children and their families . . . .”

From Washington, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) declares: “We will fight back against efforts to undo the policy accomplishments that have enabled important progress in reducing poverty — such as President-elect Trump’s vows to repeal Executive Orders and regulations that help low-income workers and his pledge to tear down the Affordable Care Act.”

How fast will the temperature rise? The Continuing Resolution (appropriation bill) for the 2017 federal fiscal year that began October 1 expires on December 9. No one knows whether the new Congress will rush the rest of the year through so they can get on with FY 2018. The new President’s first budget (FY 18)is due on Congressional desks at the end of January.


5. Snippets

The Volunteer Lawyer’s Project has begun providing telephone, online and in-person intake, advice and referral services to the East Region.   The service, called ERLI, is succeeding LARC which had been responsible for similar services for many years. The ERLI Helpline number is 617-603-1700 and it will be open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.

The Trial Court celebrated the growing success of the Court Service Centers, a major innovation in making the courts more user friendly.  The affair was held in Worcester where the Center has handled  more than 7,000 visitors speaking 22 different languages in its first year. The six Centers have welcomed nearly 60,000 visitors .


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