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.

Advertisements

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.

This week I heard great news about some of my favorite people: Arizona Attorney Magazine authors.

Besides that admirable distinction, these two men are pretty remarkable in their own right. Paul Julien and Mark Meltzer both serve the Arizona justice system via their substantial positions at the Supreme Court.

Jeff Schrade (left) and Justice Scott Bales (right) present framed Arizona Attorney articles to lawyer-authors Paul Julien (center-left) and Mark Maltzer, April 2013.

Jeff Schrade (left) and Justice Scott Bales (right) present framed Arizona Attorney articles to lawyer-authors Paul Julien (center-left) and Mark Meltzer, April 2013.

As their humble and succinct bios say: “Paul Julien is the Judicial Education Officer for the Arizona Supreme Court, and was chair of the committee mentioned charged with reviewing and proposing changes to the Justice Court rules. Mark Meltzer is a specialist with the Administrative Office of the Courts, and served as committee staff.”

The news came my way from Jeff Schrade, once a colleague at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education, and now the Director of the Education Services Division at the Arizona Supreme Court AOC.

Jeff sent the accompanying photo and news about an event at which Court staff recognized the two men for their publication in Arizona Attorney. (I think that should be a tradition at every workplace!) The article they wrote for us provided valuable and timely information about changed rules applying to the much-misunderstood Justice Courts.

You can read the complete article here.

Justice Court Rules Julien Meltzer cropped

The opening to Paul and Mark’s Justice Court rules story, Jan. 2013.

Here is a bit about the award, in Jeff’s own words:

“Today I gave Paul Julien and Mark Meltzer framed copies of their Jan 2013 Arizona Attorney article about the Justice Court Civil Rules of Procedure. Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales made a special presentation to Paul and Mark at the conclusion of our Limited Jurisdiction New Judge Orientation, which took place this week at the Arizona Supreme Court Judicial Education Center in downtown.”

“The 20 new Limited Jurisdiction judges attending this three-week program gave Paul and Mark a standing ovation, recognizing not only their excellence on this particular project, but their daily efforts to train and provide assistance to limited jurisdiction judges across the state.”

“As you know, Mark and Paul not only wrote about the new rules in the Arizona Attorney, but they lead a committee with a wide representation of justice stakeholders through lengthy process to rewrite the rules. It was an extraordinary effort that produced more accessible and understandable rules, especially for the many pro se litigants appearing before justice courts.”

Jeff Schrade, that handsome devil, graced the April 2001 cover of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Jeff Schrade, that handsome devil, graced the April 2001 cover of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

The Court’s recognition is well deserved, but that January article is just the tip of the service iceberg for Paul and Mark. They have helped the state and the Court in countless ways. And here at the magazine, their involvement has gone beyond writing (as Mark also did in our March 2013 issue). They are both go-to people whom I count on for advice and insight on so many topics. Every editor I know has a kitchen cabinet, and I’m pleased to say these two men are reliable and wise members of mine.

A side note: Jeff Schrade, too, has been a part of the Arizona Attorney family, in a very personal way. Way back in our April 2001 issue, when I had helmed the magazine for just three months, we wanted to provide a great visual to front our deep coverage of lawyer marketing and advertising.

Always a great sport, Jeff donned a sandwich board and stood on First Avenue in downtown Phoenix for at least an hour while the photographer, art director and I all helped shepherd passersby around the generous photo-model.

(There were other heroes that day: Two Bar colleagues—Bonnie Lebeck and Natalie Burns— also assisted, by striding past quickly, over and over—backwards!to provide the necessary blur.)

Adding to the surreality experienced by commuters that morning was the fact that the sandwich board was blank; we would add the desired words to the image of the board at a later design stage. What a mensch!

Jeff recently told me, “For the record, I still proudly display the special cover you made for me welcoming the birth of my son Nathan (who is 12 now) back in 2001!”

We like the cover quite a bit ourselves!

Congratulations again to Mark Meltzer and Paul Julien. Here’s looking to years more collaboration!

Justice Scott Bales

Gazing at the packed-to-the-gills Grand Ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore, it occurs to a lawyer that there may be no better way to kick off a Bar Convention committed to education for the future than to look back at legal pioneers.

That must have been the thinking of Convention organizers driven by the motto “100 Years of Lawyers Serving Arizona.”

That concept gave us Wednesday’s lunch, which included a witty and insightful panel led by Justice Scott Bales (and introduced by Bar President Joe Kanefield). Accompanying him in a triumvirate of value-laden remarks were Roxie Bacon and Grant Woods. Bravo to all.

The event was comprised of fascinating video clips—eight minutes in all—featuring Justice Bales interviewing retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Her memories were crisp, direct, funny and—given her experience as a woman lawyer pioneer—occasionally startling.

Those clips were pure gold. But they were complemented by being punctuated by the panel’s own remarks.

Roxie Bacon and Grant Woods

In those remarks, Roxie and Grant shared names of others, in addition to Justice O’Connor, whom they count as their own pioneers and mentors.

Grant reminded the audience that Justice O’Connor was the most powerful and influential woman in the country for a long time. But he added his own debt to retired Justice Stanley Feldman, who brought many others to his side “by the force of his argument and the power of his intellect.”

Justice Scott Bales

Roxie spoke warmly about retired Arizona Chief Justice Charles “Bud” Jones. Politically and in other ways, she said, they could not have been more different. “He was the most unlikely mentor you ever could have imagined for me.”

And yet, she said, he was caring and compassionate toward her as a younger lawyer. “With dignity and humor he brought me into the big leagues of employment and labor law.”

The audience clearly enjoyed a lunch committed to Arizona’s legal history. And the biggest laugh of the day may have come on the heels of a story Grant Woods told about a judge who was well known for always following her own tune.

In a high-profile case, an older man—Grant suggested he was 68 years old—was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Clearly upset, the man sputtered to the judge, “Your honor, I’m 68 years old. I don’t think I can do 40 years!”

Ever polite and charming, the judge leaned over her bench and gazed down at the convicted man.

Joe Kanefield

“That’s all right. You just do as many as you can.”

Well done.

Have a great conference.

The September issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine includes a short article titled “Civics Lesson.” Written by Supreme Court Justice Scott Bales and Court of Appeals Judge Larry Winthrop, it describes some initiatives that have been launched to honor the state’s centennial, and it urges lawyers to get involved and to donate their experience to the effort.

The article ended with a quiz. Social creatures that we are, I opted to have readers come online to this blog to see the answers.

No cheating—take the quiz before looking at the answers! (The questions and answers are below.) 

Testing Arizona

Think you know your Arizona history? Pretty sure you understand how our state’s legal past stacks up against the national past? Take our 5-minute quiz to discover if you’re a Grand Canyon Guru.

Q1: When was school segregation abolished in Arizona?

A1: In 1953, when the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County ruled that segregation in elementary and high schools was unconstitutional.

Q2: When was school segregation determined nationally to be unconstitutional?

A2: In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation is inherently unequal, and therefore illegal.

Q3: When did women in Arizona win the right to vote?

A3: In 1912, by initiative measure.

Q4: When did women nationally obtain the right to vote?

A4: In 1920, by constitutional amendment.

Q5: When did Native Americans win the right to vote?

A5: In 1948, the Arizona Supreme Court held in Harrison v. Laveen that Native Americans were eligible to vote in Arizona elections.

Q6: Who was the first woman to hold public office in Arizona?

A6: Sharlot Hall, appointed territorial historian in 1909.

Q7: Who was Arizona’s first Congresswoman?

A7: Isabella Greenway, a Representative from 1933-1937.

Q8: Which Arizonan served in the U.S. Congress for 57 years?

A8: Carl Hayden, a Representative from 1912-1927 and a Senator from 1927-1969.

Q9: How many times has the United States Constitution been amended?

A9: 27 times.

Q10: How many times has the Arizona Constitution been amended?

A10: More than 100 times.