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.

 

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.