Access to Justice Commissions are blue-ribbon entities that bring together the courts, the bar, civil legal aid providers and other stakeholders in a coordinated effort to expand access to justice for low-income, moderate-income and vulnerable citizens. As of July 2014, Access to Justice Commissions have been created in 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Primary activities relate to planning, education, resource development, coordination, delivery system enhancement and oversight. The commissions meet on a regular basis and have ongoing responsibility for carrying out their work. For more information: NCSC July 2014 Access Brief
- What are access to Justice commissions and how are they operating in other states?
- What have the other state commissions accomplished?
Access to Justice Commissions have been successful in many of the following areas: increasing public awareness of the need for expanded access to justice; increasing attorney pro bono service; simplifying court processes and forms for self-represented litigants; increasing collaboration and coordination among legal aid providers; promoting changes in the delivery of legal services; identifying additional funding sources for civil legal assistance; and addressing related issues. For more information: NCSC July 2014 Access Brief
- Why does the administrative order set a two-year term for the commission?
Most commissions and committees appointed by the Florida Supreme Court are established for two-year terms and can be reappointed for additional terms, at the Court’s discretion. The administrative order sets forth specific tasks the commission is expected to accomplish within its initial two-year term, including a directive for the commission to make recommendations on the need for the establishment of a permanent commission in Florida.
- How were the members selected?
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga appointed the commission members after looking at the body of knowledge from existing access to justice commissions regarding the most effective size and composition, and after consulting with the leadership of The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Foundation, the courts, the executive and legislative branches, and others. Members were selected based upon their experience within the Florida justice system and their anticipated commitment. The members offer a diversity of perspectives and expertise that will enable the commission to fulfill its mission and objectives.
- Why is the business community engaged on this issue?
Members of the business community are excellent resources for forward-thinking problem-solving. Their expertise is in spotting consumer needs and trends and devising solutions, products, and systems to address those needs and trends. The business community also has a major stake in access to justice because of the impact on its workers. Civil justice issues, such as divorce, child custody and child support, foreclosure, landlord-tenant disputes, and access to health care and government benefits can adversely affect the productivity of employees, particularly when these issues go unresolved. While lower-earning employees who support a family may qualify for legal aid, legal aid has only ever been able to address about 20 percent of the legal needs of low- income populations. Meanwhile, many Floridians earn too much to qualify for legal aid but still do not make enough to afford a private attorney. They live in a legal services gap.
Addressing the legal services gap is a primary focus of this effort. The lack of access to legal help can lead to individual and family instability that ultimately affects the workplace. Take just one issue – domestic violence – as an example: Nearly a quarter of employed women report that domestic violence has affected their work performance at some point in their lives. Each year, an estimated 8 million days of paid work are lost in the U.S. because of domestic violence. Legal help is often a critical element in extricating a woman from a violent relationship, especially if she lives in the legal services gap.
- Why is it important for Florida to establish an Access to Justice Commission?
Access to Justice Commissions have been operating successfully since the first one was established in Washington State in 1994. The national Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution in 2010 citing the “remarkable results” achieved by Access to Justice Commissions, which the conferences said “have been recognized as one of the most important justice-related developments in the past decade.” The conferences also established the aspirational goal “that every state and United States territory have an active access to justice commission or comparable body.”
- How often will the commission meet and how will we be able to follow its work?
The commission is expected to meet quarterly, and its task-specific subcommittees will meet frequently via videoconferences, teleconferences and online communities. Initially, the commission will have a website at www.flaccesstojustice.org; will use social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; and will have a central email address for input, suggestions, questions and comments. Additional communications are likely to include news release updates to the media as well as news conferences at meetings, public television programming, and distribution of printed and electronic materials.
- What are the costs and source of funds to support the commission?
The estimated cost over two years for staffing, consulting, meetings and a legal needs study is $300,000. Members of the commission will serve without compensation. The Florida Bar will provide funding for outside costs and its staff support.