ATJ at ABA and in California


     Thanks to a reminder from the good folks at Self Help Support, I just took another look at the ABA Resource Center on Access to Justice Initiatives, which describes itself as bringing together in one place all of the American Bar Association’s “services to assist bench, bar and legal services leaders in creating effective civil legal services systems – help with structuring systems, analyzing needs, and finding resources.” says it is “a content rich website that provides guidance to state Access to Justice commissions, as well as a links to key materials, links to ATJ programs and headlines.”

ProfPointer Browsing the Center’s Headlines collection, I learned more about the Civil Access to Justice Pilot Project proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in California two weeks ago. (see our prior post, Jan. 20, 2007).  It appears to be based on a proposal made by California’s Chief Justice, Ronald George, to the Governor late last year.  The article “Chief justice seeks lawyers for poor in civil cases” (San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 20, 2006) states that the Chief Justice “wants the state to provide lawyers for the poor in civil cases such as child custody disputes and evictions in which people often have to represent themselves,” and explains:

“Chief Justice Ronald George said he will ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to test the idea by funding a pilot project in three counties — one small, one medium-size and one large — to provide attorneys for low-income litigants in a limited category of cases, including family law and housing, in which important individual rights are at stake. He didn’t identify the counties.”

The Chronicle article notes that “Congress has limited the federal funding and restricted the types of cases that federally funded lawyers can accept.”  It adds that CJ George “may advocate another three-county pilot project to pay for court interpreters in civil cases that involve basic rights.”   Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, “is working on both issues with George, said the pilot programs would be a first step in addressing ‘a huge justice gap’.”   According to Jones,  California has one lawyer for every 240 people but only one Legal Aid attorney for every 8,737 poor people.  In addition, 7 million Californians could require interpreters if they appeared in court.

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