AZ Supreme Court logoAccess to justice saw another positive step in Arizona this month, as Chef Justice Bales named the membership of the newly formed commission charged with examining the issue.

The creation of the Commission and the Chief Justice’s views on it were covered by me here. You also should read the Court’s new strategic agenda here. (And the August 20 Administrative Order is here.)

Here is the Court’s announcement of the new members. As mentioned before, the group will be led by its chair appellate court Judge Larry Winthrop.

“Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales announces the formation of the 18-member Commission on Access to Justice. The Commission will be chaired by Lawrence F. Winthrop, Judge on Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals and former president of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education.”

“‘Promoting Access to Justice’ is the first of five goals outlined in Advancing Justice Together: Courts and Communities, the new five-year strategic agenda for Arizona’s judiciary. In the Pledge of Allegiance, Chief Justice Bales noted, we commit ourselves to the goal of justice for all. The new Commission will be charged with identifying specific strategies to help us better realize this goal as our State’s population and technology change.”

“‘This is not a study commission; it’s a commission that will actively develop innovative ideas that remove barriers to justice,’ Chief Justice Scott Bales said.”

An Administrative Order issued on August 20 outlines initial priorities for the Commission:

  • Assisting self-represented litigants and revising court rules and practices to facilitate access and the fair processing of family court and eviction cases.
  • Encouraging lawyers and law firms to provide pro bono services or financial support for civil legal aid for those who cannot afford counsel.
  • Informing lawyers and other citizens about the availability of a state income tax credit for contributions to agencies that serve the working poor, including legal services agencies in Arizona.

In many family and justice court cases, one or more of the parties does not have a lawyer.  Self-representation presents a tremendous challenge not only to those litigants, but also to judges and other court personnel.

“Our courts and judges are doing the best they can under the circumstances, but the question is whether we can do a better job of helping people who choose to represent themselves in court, or for those who cannot afford the services of a lawyer,” Judge Winthrop said. “Our state has made great strides in this area over the last several years, but there remain some critical needs, such as helping people understand the process and navigate the court system. We also should do what we can to boost financial resources for legal service organizations who assist those most in need.”

Access to justice can be golden: Arizona Attorney Magazine opening image for a story on the topic by former State Bar of Arizona President Amelia Craig Cramer, Oct. 2012.Judge Winthrop also hopes that the Commission can further engage the business community concerning these issues.

“We want business and government leaders to understand that meaningful access to justice is a workplace and productivity issue. Most of the self-represented litigants in family court and housing cases are, in fact, part of some company’s work force. The whole enterprise suffers if your employee or co-worker is out of the office because they’re in family court or are dealing with housing issues,” Judge Winthrop explained. “If we can help people effectively resolve their court matters and in less time, that’s a ‘win-win’ for both the employee and the employer.”

Judge Winthrop said that people with legal issues are sometimes overwhelmed, and often don’t know where to go for legal help. Raising awareness of civil legal service options and encouraging greater community involvement will be a goal of the Commission. Taking advantage of advances in technology, retooling existing court-based legal self-help centers and the idea of expanding such services into a public library or community college setting will be possible approaches considered by the Commission.

Members of the Commission on Access to Justice include:

Chair

Lawrence F. Winthrop, Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I

Michael Jeanes, Superior Court Clerk

Mike Baumstark, Administrative Director of the Courts or designee

Kip Anderson, Court Administrator

Kevin Ruegg, Executive Director, Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education          

Maria Elena Cruz, Superior Court Judge

John Phelps, Executive Director, State Bar of Arizona or designee

Janet Barton, Superior Court Judge

Ellen Katz, Legal Aid Services, Maricopa

James Marner, Superior Court Judge

Anthony Young, Legal Aid Services, Southern Arizona

Thomas Berning, Limited Jurisdiction Court Judge

Steve Seleznow, Public Member

Rachel Torres Carrillo, Limited Jurisdiction Court Judge

Lisa Urias, Public Member

Barb Dawson, Attorney

Millie Cisneros, Attorney

Janet Regner, Arizona Judicial Council Liaison