We may already be into February, but it’s never too late for a resolution—especially when it involves access to justice.

Here I share my editor’s column from the January 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine. You can read the entire (terrific!) issue here.

Kevin Ruegg (left) and Lillian Johnson were honored at a November 2014 Morris Institute for Justice event.

Kevin Ruegg (left) and Lillian Johnson were honored at a November 2014 Morris Institute for Justice event.

 

Are you a big advocate of New Year’s Resolutions?

Me either. But a recent event has me rethinking my position.

In late November, a parade of respected lawyers and judges gathered to laud some folks who have offered tremendous service to the legal profession, and to those who rely on it. Through their incredible contributions, the two individuals also have served the cause of increasing access to justice—even through the toughest of times.

Kevin Ruegg, of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education, and Lillian Johnson, of Community Legal Services, were the people recognized that night at the University Club in Phoenix. And the kind and accurate words offered in their praise highlight our good fortune in Arizona. But they also highlight the unmet need (and our shared 2015 resolution; more on that soon).

The assembled speakers were luminaries themselves, and they called themselves privileged to be asked to praise the two women.

Judge Joe Kreamer said that they care deeply about those who require legal services—and just as deeply about those sitting in front of them or working in their offices.

Judge Kreamer told listeners how Lillian is committed to the collaborative aspects of access to justice, and attorney Marc Kalish added, “Anyone who has ever served on the CLS board ends his or her service with one emotion: love.”

I think it can safely be said that is a rare characteristic indeed of board service.

Of Kevin Ruegg, Todd Lang said, “She’s a healer for our community and for her staff. She has made a difference in so many ways.”

It is accurate, I believe, to apply an element of Todd’s praise to Kevin, Lillian and Ellen Katz, Executive Director of the William E. Morris Institute for Justice: They are “among the special heroes for justice.” (Todd brought smiles when he described the passionate but mild-mannered Katz as “relentless and remorseless.”)

That night, we also heard remarks from Chief Justice Scott Bales, Judge Larry Winthrop, and Judge Roxanne Song Ong (who said she headed up the “Kevin Ruegg Fan Club”).

So what do we take away from the fact that two of the most humble but hardest-working people in Arizona were honored?

For that—our Resolution—I turn to Todd Lang.

He reminded everyone that those who gathered that night had already given much. The room was filled with folks committed to legal aid, and access to justice, and legal education. Badgering those people to do more is probably not the solution.

Perhaps you fall within one of those esteemed groups. If so, thank you. But if not, digging deep and giving what you can to a legal aid organization can make a tremendous difference. And for both groups, you may still have a Resolution to offer: As Todd said, “Get your friend to give.” That’s right, commit to becoming an unabashed advocate for access to justice issues. Decide today that you will become a royal pain to colleagues and friends in 2015, the one they can count on to beat that lonely drum.

You never know; you may start a band.

 

access to justice lady justice scales

An Arizona Access to Justice Statewide Forum was held in Phoenix, May 1, 2014.

Law Day may be celebrated numerous ways. Legal advice may be offered; educational seminars may be staged. Or the yawning gap between aspiration and reality may be highlighted.

The third approach was selected on Thursday, May 1, at a statewide forum hosted by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education and the Arizona Supreme Court. For a variety of reasons, it was an inspired choice. And given the realistic topic of discussion, it also turned out to be a surprisingly inspiring morning.

To begin at the end: Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales announced the formation of a new Access to Justice Commission, which will be headed by Court of appeals Judge Larry Winthrop.

Justice Bales said that there have been significant successes in Arizona’s goal of increased access. But this new commission will recognize current challenges, and “It will help to focus and achieve tailored plans for success.” As an example of a possible success, he pointed to a renewed focus on a tax credit to assist the working poor.

“If just half of all Arizona’s attorneys contributed to it,” Justice Bales said, “that would amount to $2 million.”

Arizona Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales, May 1, 2014.

Arizona Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales, May 1, 2014.

He said that the Arizona Supreme Court is renewing its commitment to access issues, and its soon-to-be-released strategic plan will move that goal to be the Court’s primary strategic aim.

He recalled the way students begin their day, and reminded a packed room at the Court, “It’s not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance that defines us as Americans; it’s the progress we’ve made to achieve its ideals.”

Those ideals can be difficult to reach, Chief Justice Rebecca Berch said.

Despite significant innovations in Arizona, “Access to justice is an area in which we are not living up to our potential. It is always painful to examine areas in which you’re not as good as you should be. But it’s helpful.”

The Chief Justice then described the substantial barriers to achieving fuller access to justice: poverty, limited-English proficiency, and huge numbers of self-represented litigants.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, May 1, 2014.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, May 1, 2014.

Statistics for all three challenges are sobering:

  • The child poverty rate in Arizona is 27 percent.
  • The senior poverty rate is 13 percent.
  • Despite Arizona lawyers giving hundreds of thousands of hours of pro bono legal help (ranked sixth in the nation), the unmet need is staggering.
  • The percentage of pro se litigants rose from 24 percent in 1980 to 88 percent in 1990. Justice Berch said the number could be in the 90 percent range now.

In response, Arizona has nurtured the growth of various solutions, including self-help centers, specialty courts, attorney volunteerism, and a transparent judicial merit-selection system.

The Law Day keynote was delivered by Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

She reminded attendees that legal aid can be “critical and life-changing.”

Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Quoting Robert F. Kennedy, she said, “Unasserted, unknown and unavailable rights are no rights at all.” A crucial development in shifting access to those rights, she said, is the formation of access to justice commissions across the country—from zero in 1993 to 33 of them today, “five in the last year.”

Reflecting on Justice Berch’s remarks, Lash said, “Arizona is doing what many states only wish they could pull off.” She admired “a State Bar that embeds access to justice in its core mission,” as well as the Court’s “appetite for new collaborations and a righteous anger” about enduring poverty.

The forum also included a panel discussion about sustainable and repeatable best practices that make justice more available. Moderated by Kelly McCullough, the panel was comprised of Gregg Maxon (veterans courts), Anthony Young (volunteer lawyer partnerships), Barbara Howe (state libraries), and Carol Mitchell (video remote interpretation project).

We will continue to track the launch of the new commission. If you have particular questions or suggestions about best practices that should be covered, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Project Always logo - fights human trafficking and youth homelessnessA unique opportunity presents itself to attorneys this Friday and Saturday—the free chance to learn about human trafficking and perhaps to get some credit doing it.

The April 25-26 event will be staged by Project Always, a nonprofit law firm. Here is how they describe themselves:

“Project ALWAYS is a nonprofit law firm committed to providing free legal services and system reform advocacy to empower homeless children and youth and survivors of sex trafficking. Working through referrals from our social service partners, we help clients lift the legal barriers that stand in the way of opportunity, security, and self-sufficiency.”

At the site, you can read more about the Arizona firm, including its founding by attorney January Contreras and its leadership by former Judge Barbara Mundell. The Project also receives support from the Hickey Family Foundation and the Project’s fiscal sponsor, the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education.

Barbara Mundell, founding board chair of Project Always

Barbara Mundell, founding board chair of Project Always

The training is titled Human Trafficking 101, and it covers immigration, criminal and civil remedies available to survivors of trafficking.

As the organizers say, the training includes “an in-depth overview of the legal issues facing victims of human trafficking, including criminal victim witness advocacy issues, immigration benefits, and civil remedies. Participants don’t have any registration fees, but must agree to take on one trafficking pro bono caseRegister online here under “News and Events,” or contact January Contreras at january@projectalways.org.

When:

Friday, April 25 & Saturday, April 26th 8:30 am – 5:00 pm

Where:

CopperPoint Tower

3030 N. 3rd St.

8th Floor Auditorium

Phoenix, AZ 85012

Register:

Online, by end of business Monday, April 21

Law for Veterans website screen shotLast Friday, as folks were clearing out of work and looking forward to a holiday weekend, staffers at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education were putting the final touches on a new website—one dedicated to aiding veterans and their families.

LawforVeterans.org is a creation of the Arizona Supreme Court, in cooperation with the AZFLS&E and the Military Legal Assistance Committee of the State Bar of Arizona.

The site aims to be a “one-stop clearinghouse for access to legal and other important veteran benefit information,” providing legal information, articles, resources and forms.

The Court explains that the site features 10 specialty subject areas “ranging from identity theft to employment law. There are sections with helpful Q&A topics as well as a place to ask legal questions, find a lawyer, or locate other resources veterans might need.”

The site “will be the public face of a broader support network.” The Court announced that more than 270 volunteer legal professionals will “respond to questions and help match veterans with the resources they need.”

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch says, “Veterans Day 2013 marks the initial public launch of the site, but we realize the site itself is a platform upon which we will build and add content, based on the needs and input of veterans and service providers that stand ready to assist them.”

Polsinelli attorney Kris Carlson is cheered by the website’s creation. He is a former Green Beret and co-chair of the Military/Veterans Group of the American Health Lawyers Association Behavioral Task Force. He views the site as a great resource.

“‘Law for Veterans’ is absolutely fantastic,” Carlson says. “This resource was badly needed.  Transitioning from the military into civilian life can be difficult. Behaviors that kept the service member alive during time of war are not easily forgotten, and some can leave veterans at a disadvantage when re-integrating into civilian life.”

Carlson continues, “The site’s comprehensive approach can provide assistance to Arizona’s men and women veterans in many critical areas as they struggle to leave the war behind them.”

Many veterans struggle with reintegration into civilian life, which can be difficult. As a result, some may become involved in the criminal justice system; claims denials; insurance problems; family law issues; or physical, mental or substance abuse challenges.

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

AZFLS&E CEO Kevin Ruegg says, “The Foundation is thrilled to have the Supreme Court entrust us with this project and very grateful for the partnership with the Bar’s Military Legal Assistance Committee. We hope to accomplish two things: furthering our mission of promoting access to justice for all Arizonans, and assuring our veterans know that we understand that our justice system would not be here without their fight for this country’s freedoms.”

Staffers at the Foundation who led the rollout effort included Public Legal Information Manager Kim Bernhart and CTO Al Flores, along with Lara Slifko and Dan Hall. Bernhart points to this effort as another in a successful line of sites launched by the Foundation, including Law for Seniors and Law for Kids.

Brigadier General Gregg Maxon (ret.) is a special adviser to the Administrative Office of the Courts, where he assists jurisdictions in their efforts to create veterans courts. The Supreme Court said he was “a key advocate in the planning and development” of the new website.

Among the data he gathered:

  • 2.4 million men and women served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • 1.44 million are now eligible for V.A. health care.
  • 774,000 have obtained V.A. health care.
  • Of those receiving treatment, 52 percent are diagnosed with mental disorders such as PTSD, depression and substance abuse.

“A unified treatment and rehabilitation approach brings better results,” says General Maxon. “Through partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs and local, state or national non-profits and community-based organizations, we can honor our veterans with the resources they deserve.”

Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales adds, “Courts and the legal community are recognizing that we can better serve certain populations by tailoring website content and court services to meet their needs. Our veterans deserve this help. We don’t want them hurting, alone or in trouble with nowhere to turn.”

The Court encourages businesses, government agencies, chambers of commerce, associations, and non-profits to add a link to www.LawForVeterans.org.

George H. Lyons, 1947-2013

George H. Lyons, 1947-2013

I was so sorry to learn recently that Phoenix trial attorney George H. Lyons had passed away suddenly, at age 66. You may not have received that news, but the state and the bar are far worse for his death.

His obituary is here. Like the man, the written testament to him is charming and humble. So I should add to the record by enumerating a few of his paths to legal service. Among other ways George stepped up, he was:

“President of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education (2010-2011); Member, Board of Directors of Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education (2006-2009); President of Community Legal Services (2002-2003); Member, Board of Directors of Community Legal Services (2004-2006); Member of the Civil Practice & Procedure Committee for the State Bar of Arizona (2010-2012); Member of the Hearing Committee of the Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Arizona (1982-1990); Member of the Committee on Rules of Professional Conduct for the State Bar of Arizona (1983-1989)”

That, of course, was just his legal contribution.

It was just recently that George wrote for the July/August issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine. Our cover story that month was the 35th birthday of the Arizona Bar Foundation. George joined other former Foundation Presidents in sharing his memories of his term. His contribution to that feature story begins here.

Rest in peace.

Arizona Bar Foundation logoOn Friday, I received the announcement below from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education—or the Bar Foundation, as we sometimes say for short.

I have participated in many of their fantastic programs, where their people are the best in the world. Anyone who signs on as an event planner with the Foundation is bound to have a marvelous time—and do quite a bit of good for Arizona and civic engagement.

The following job posting may describe you. Or it might describe someone you know well. Feel free to pass it on.

Here’s the job:

Great at planning events? Are organization and communication two of your strengths? If yes, we have an opportunity for you!

The Arizona Bar Foundation is looking for individuals with excellent event planning skills to plan, implement and host our We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution competitions and/or Project Citizen showcases. Eligible candidates must have effective communication, organization and logistical planning skills; however, it is not a requirement to be a We the People or Project Citizen teacher.

For more information and to complete a proposal, please visit the Competition Regional Coordinator Call for Proposals here.

For questions, please contact Jennifer.Castro@azflse.org. Thank you!

So what tastes good, confuses Accounting, and celebrates Access to Justice?

A cake, of course.

Here is just a slice of our delicious cake cover for the July/August Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Here is just a slice of our delicious cake cover for the July/August Arizona Attorney Magazine.

The upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney features a history-sharing cover story. We’re pleased to cover the 35th anniversary of the Bar Foundation—currently named the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. To do so, we are publishing the memories of many of their past Presidents.

At the magazine, we brainstormed what an anniversary needs, and of course we thought of a cake.

Search around in online stock art and you’ll see a lot of cakes. But a great sister like the Foundation only turns 35 once, so Art Director Karen Holub and I agreed a real, honest-to-goodness cake was best.

The craftsmanship was done by the talented Tammie Coe. You should see more of her work here.

cake maker Tammie Coe

Tammie Coe

The cake image above reveals a small part of the beautiful creation. I promised Karen I would not give away The Big Reveal. The whole thing will be visible on our July/August cover.

Oh, and the Accounting-confusion thing? Try sending a cake invoice to your Accounting Department coded for “Professional Services” rather than for “Food/Meals.” You’ll get a phone call.

Here was my emailed explanation to them:

“The cake was made as a prop for our photo shoot. Though it was edible (after quite awhile under hot lights), the bakery was hired first and foremost for its design skills and craftsmanship, not for eatin’!”

We try to keep it interesting.

Because I know you like to see how the cake (and sausage) is made, I share an early conceptual drawing for this cake project (below). The final result was quite a bit different, but we’re all about the process!

cake mockup AZFLSE v2

Cake concept drawing

Have a wonderful Independence Day. The blog and I may take a few days off (I consulted James Madison, who urged me to write more, a la The Federalist Papers. But my man Ben Franklin urged relaxation, which I will heed.)

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