Montana’s Chief Justice Speaks, who Listens?

5

IN her biennial State of the Judiciary Address given to the 150 joint members of the State Legislature, Chief Justice Karla Gray called for the legislators’ help in “[meeting] our constituents’ needs for – and constitutional guarantees to – quality and reasonably timely justice.” (Newspaper Article, 1 page). Proposed items in the Judiciary’s 2007-2009 budget include:

$3.9 million to upgrade Information-Technology Systems across District Courts and Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

$1.6 million to address pay-equity issues amongst all court staff

~$400,000 for children’s advocacy programs

$300,000 to improve security in District Courts

$250,000 for additional staff to the Supreme Court

OF the $250,000 for additional staff, a portion would be used towards hiring a pro se law clerk who, along with an appelate mediator, would help “resolve a significant portion of [the Courts’] caseload.” House Bill 60 (HTML document, 2 pages) addresses the proposed Self-Help Law Program to be administered by the Supreme Court, enumerating a number of charges along with the bill’s purpose:

(1) providing all Montanans with user-friendly information about Montana’s civil law, courts, and legal system;

(2) providing state-level, self-help legal resources, tools, information, and training materials on a statewide basis in a cost-effective manner emphasizing technology and volunteer services; and

(3) facilitating the efficient use of judicial resources in civil court proceedings that involve self-represented litigants.

THE bill details a $1 million appropriations note to provide education and resources for 2 years. Passed with unanimous, bi-partisan support by the 2006 Law and Justice Interim Committee which created the bill by order of 2005 Senate Joint Resolution 6 (HTML document, 2 pages); HB60 is yet to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee of the 60th Legislative Session. SJR6 coincided with the Legal Needs Survey of 2005 (PDF Document, 4 pages) conducted by the State Bar which concluded that approximately 83% of the 207,501 unmet legal needs of low-income Montanan Households receive no attention from an attorney. Chief Justice Gray was singing a very similar tune in her original testimony to the Law and Justice Interim Committee in 2006:

“Right and justice shall be administered without denial or delay. For families and low income people in your district, your constituents, my constituents, the people of the state of Montana, the need is huge. The access to justice community has leveraged every hour, every nickel, about ten times farther than anyone else anywhere in the country trying to address these issues. [Myself] personally, and the courts of this state, have nudged, cajoled, encouraged, and semi-coerced lawyers into meeting their professional obligation of rendering pro bono service and the Legislature can take it to the bank that the court will keep doing that, but the fact is, there are never going to be enough pro bono lawyers to represent every low income person in our great state who has legal problems and needs to get into court.”

SHE has given the people of Montana, and their legislators, time and time again her expert opinion on what the legal needs are for low-income Montanans. Chief Justice Karla Gray’s message of dire need has been championed repeatedly, only time will tell how many people in positions of power have listened; they have until April 27th.

5 Comments

  1. david giacalone

    January 19, 2007 @ 11:35 pm

    1

    Thanks, Orijit, for giving us a close look at the hard task of bringing access to justice to all Montanans. Two questions: (1) has the governor indicated support for the self-help agenda? (2) are you going to be at the Monday, January 22, legislative hearing on HR60, and give us a report? (see Billings Gazette, Jan. 19, 2007)

  2. OGhoshal

    January 20, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

    2

    (1) The governor has not included the project in his budget but he has indicated that he would not veto the bill if it crosses his desk.

    (2) The legislative meeting for the 22nd has been canceled, as it was in front of the House Appropriations Committee. The sponsor of the bill has requested a change in schedule in order for the bill to go to subject committee (Judiciary) first. You can check the status of the bill here:

    http://laws.leg.mt.gov/pls/laws07/LAW0203W$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=HB&P_BILL_NO=0060&P_BILL_DFT_NO=&P_CHPT_NO=&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SBJ_DESCR=&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=&P_LST_NM1=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ=

  3. david giacalone

    January 20, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    3

    Thanks for the update, Orijit. I hope we get good news soon.

  4. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » an early Valentine to SelfHelpSupport.org

    February 11, 2007 @ 1:22 am

    4

    […] A link to Montana House Bill 60: “Access to Justice Civil Act, Self-Help Program”, which was introduced by J. Parker and would provide for “state-level, self-help legal resources, tools, information, and training materials on a statewide basis in a cost-effective manner emphasizing technology and volunteer services.”  If passed, the law would fulfill  the self-help goals of the State’s Chief Justice, discussed by Orijit Ghosal in this post last month.  A hearing on the Bill was held on Feb. 7, 2007. […]

  5. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Montana Legislative Update

    February 26, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

    5

    […] Well folks, it has been a bumpy ride but we’re still on track. House Bill 60, which would establish a statewide self-help/pro se program, was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on the 7th of February (more back-story on the bill in this previous post). The hearing went fairly well, with over 20 individuals from organizations ranging from the AARP to the Montana Trial Lawyer’s Association to God’s Love Homeless Shelter testifying as proponents for the bill. No opponents were present and after short deliberation the Committee passed the bill during executive action on a vote of 10-7 (3 Republicans and all 7 Democrats voted in favor). […]

Log in