Chief judge reaches out to lawyers over legal services crisis

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Robert M. Bell has sent a letter to all Maryland lawyers about the funding crisis facing legal services for low-income people, the Daily Record reported yesterday. The crisis stems for a 70-percent drop in interest on lawyer trust accounts, which are a major source of funding for legal services organizations around the state, including Maryland Legal Aid.

“The latest missive from [Bell] to the more than 30,000 lawyers in Maryland highlights a decrease in legal services funding at a time when the need for such services is increasing and points out that lawyers can respond with contributions of time or ‘financial resources,’” the article said.

‘“Whether you choose one means or both, your contribution will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Maryland residents and will help preserve our justice system,’ Bell wrote in the letter, dated July 20 but still in the mail to many lawyers,” the report said.

Quoted in the article was Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph, who praised praised Bell’s longstanding commitment to access to justice.

Joseph also corrected the letter’s characterization that a continuing funding shortage would “likely require” Legal Aid to close some offices was inaccurate.

“Any diminution of services is not an option, and we don’t plan on closing any offices,” said Joseph, whose organization is the  largest individual grantee of funding generated by interest on lawyer trust accounts. “We feel quite secure about our position for 2009, and with a little bit of luck we can make it through 2010.”

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