The District Court Self-Help Center in Glen Burnie (operated by Maryland Legal Aid) was honored by the Access to Justice Commission at last week’s Judicial Conference in Annapolis.
The Program of the Year Award was presented to DCSHC supervising attorney Sarah Frush (center) by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma Raker, chair of the commission. “We have an incredibly hard-working staff that earned this award over the 29 months since the center opened,” Frush said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The center lets people who don’t have lawyers meet with attorneys about small claims, and landlord-tenant, protective order and debt-collection cases. People who can’t get to the center can call an attorney or chat with one online. The center opened in December 2009 and launched phone and online services last fall. By the end of 2011, the center had helped more than 12,000 people and is now serving nearly 2,000 every month.
The District Court Self-Help Center in Glen Burnie (operated by Maryland Legal Aid) will receive the Maryland Access to Justice Commission’s Outstanding Program of the Year Award for 2012. “Congratulations to you and your colleagues at [the center] and Maryland Legal Aid for this well deserved recognition,” wrote Irma S. Raker, the commission’s chair, in a letter to Self-Help Center supervising attorney Sarah Frush.” The center will be honored at an event on May 11 in Annapolis.
In addition to helping walk-in customers in Glen Burnie, the center assists pro se (self-help) litigants by utilizing the Internet and a call-in service. People with civil legal needs throughout Maryland can now access basic legal information by “chatting” online with one of four Legal Aid lawyers. The lawyers also can provide web links with useful information.
The Maryland Judiciary announces in a press release: “A ‘civil right to counsel,’ also referred to as Civil Gideon, extends the right to be represented by a lawyer in civil cases that deal with the most basic of human needs, such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.
In a new report, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission notes that only about 22 percent of the civil legal needs of poor and low-income Maryland residents are being met. The Commission estimates that each year in Maryland, nearly 350,000 people appear in court proceedings involving basic human needs cases. These Marylanders, mostly individuals and families with low incomes, come to court without the benefit of counsel and usually without help from the existing voluntary legal services system. . . . The estimated cost for a program that assures lawyers for critical civil cases is $106.6 million, the Commission notes in the report.
The Commission also urges that the creation of a right to counsel initiative should not divert existing funding away from the current civil legal services delivery system, which includes approximately 35 organizations in Maryland providing some legal services in civil matters. The report tries to envision the amount of additional funding required to fulfill the mandate of a civil right to counsel in these critical types of cases. ‘Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland,’ is part of the Commission’s latest annual report, which was published this month. It’s available online through the Commission’s website.
The Annapolis Capital reported Monday on the financial crisis facing legal services, “Report: Insufficient funding for legal aid.” “A report released last month by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission found the Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts program, which historically provided about half of the state’s funding for legal aid, is generating about 70 percent less revenue than it did two years ago,” the article said.
The report also noted that Marylanders don’t have a right to legal help in civil cases and recommended that the state should embrace a right to counsel. “”It is a right in a lot of other developed countries, but not in the U.S.,” communications director Joe Surkiewicz said.
To read the article, click here.
A judicial advisory commission has called for higher attorney dues and increased court filing fees to fund civil legal services, The Daily Record reported yesterday.
“The year-old Maryland Access to Justice Commission, [chaired by retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker], did not state in its interim report by how much annual state bar fees should be increased,” the article said. “But the panel noted that, at $140 per year, the current dues Maryland lawyers pay is lower than the national average of $231.”
Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph, who serves on the commission, said, “access to justice on the civil side should be a community obligation. However, as we move to that point in time when it occurs, and hopefully it will, we have to address this justice gap in America. We have to go to every single conceivable source.”
To read the article, click here.