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Section Review

Access to Justice Section comments

Van Buren
James T. Van Buren is an attorney in Fitchburg.
Traditionally, the Access to Justice Section's initial task is the solicitation of nominees for the annual Access to Justice Awards. In fact, council members performed their due diligence so that our recommendations were confirmed by the House of Delegates in time for presentation at the Annual Conference in January.

This September, however, the council has been jumpstarted in a number of directions.

We have been asked to address the impact of the balkanized system of trial transcription on the access of the citizens of the commonwealth to judicial relief. The council also has formed a subcommittee - with the Civil Litigation Section Council - to address the impact of the "anniversary fee" on civil matters in the district and superior courts. We expect to work toward repeal either by judicial or legislative action.

Two members of the council - Nancy King and I - serve on the Executive Committee of the State Planning Board for legal services (SPB). Initially charged with recommending a reconfiguration of the number of Legal Service Corporation satellites in the commonwealth, the SPB is now addressing delivery of civil legal services to the poor on a more global scope. Composed of providers, users and supporters, the SPB has already developed a common vision and, over the next few months, expects to recommend better mechanisms for delivering quality and coordinated legal services across Massachusetts.

Ideally, the SPB will evolve into an ongoing group, with members appointed by its constituent groups and supporters, to provide ongoing support and oversight for federal, state and privately funded providers of civil legal services to the poor. As it does, I have no doubt that our council will encourage MBA support of this process.

The council also may revisit the issue of services to the commonwealth's criminally indigent population. Clearly, the present compensation model, both as to methods and rates, doesn't work. No advocate charged with defending a client zealously should feel financially pressured to submit frivolous pleadings to buttress their billing to CPCS. If not the model proposed by the Governor's Counsel, Access to Justice Section Council could be the fulcrum to encourage bar advocate programs to propose a different method of compensation that would be both practically and economically sound.

The past few years have seen our council's energies sapped by the overwriting issues of civil liberties and the budgetary crisis. While neither has gone away, this year we hope to get back to one of Access to Justice's more traditional roles - providing seminars on issues of importance to those who provide services to those in need. We expect notice of the seminars will be published in the near future through the various media outlets of the association.

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