Monthly Archives: November 2010

U.S. lags in Rule of Law Index

Preliminary versions of the Rule of Law Index already had signaled that its final report would not be encouraging for the U.S. justice system. But the results in the official version of the index released Oct. 14 still paint a surprisingly stark picture of this country’s standing compared with other advanced nations when it comes to incorporating principles of the rule of law, the ABA Journal reported today.

The report, produced by the World Justice Project—a 3-year-old initiative sponsored by the ABA and a number of other organizations representing various disciplines—indicates that the U.S. lags behind other highly developed nations on all but one of nine key measures of adherence to the rule of law.

Every major region of the world is represented in the index. Peer groups of nations are categorized in the study on the basis of income level and region, but not form of government. The U. S. is part of the 11-nation high-income group and seven-nation Western Europe and North America regional group.

The good news for the U.S. is that it ranks no lower than 11th among the 35 countries covered by the index on any of nine key principles. However, when compared with its high-income and regional peers, the U.S. ranks at or near the bottom in nearly all of those categories. The other nations that make up the high-income group are Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Sweden. The Western European nations and Canada are included in the regional group with the U.S.

Seven of the 11 nations in the high-income group rank in the top three on at least one of the rule of law factors identified by the World Justice Project. At the top is Sweden, which received eight top-three rankings, followed by the Netherlands (seven), Austria (five), Japan (three), Singapore (two), and Australia and the U.S. (one each).

Significantly, the U.S.  ranks last within both its income and regional groups on providing access to civil justice, which the index measures primarily on the basis of whether citizens believe they can bring their cases to court and whether representation by lawyers and other legal professionals is available and affordable.

To read the entire article, click here.

New York’s judiciary seeking big expansion of civil legal aid

New York’s chief judge will propose a $100 million increase in state financing for lawyers who represent the poor in civil cases that deal with “the essentials of life” like eviction and child support, the New York Times reported.

“The proposal by the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is to be released on Wednesday,” the report said. “If approved by the Legislature, it would provide a major source of financing for lawyers for the poor and be a striking acknowledgment that the state’s court system is being overwhelmed by some 2.3 million people a year who cannot afford representation. While criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, people fighting civil cases are not.”

“This would be by several measures the most significant commitment to civil justice any state legislature has made in the country,” said Don Saunders, a vice president of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the largest national group of lawyers for the poor. “There is nothing even close to that.”

To read the entire article, click here.

Foster child’s best interest is “transcedent,” top court rules

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the rights of a child are “transcendent” in termination of parental rights cases, ending confusion among judges about whether the rights of the child or the parent are paramount, the Daily Record reported.

The state’s highest court ruled that a lower court erroneously focused on the mother’s parental rights rather than those of her daughter, “who was flourishing in the care of foster parents who want to adopt her,” the article said.

“This case really restated in a resounding way that the standard is the best interest of the child and the court should not be looking through the lens of the parents,” said Joan Little, chief attorney of Legal Aid Bureau Inc.’s child advocacy unit in Baltimore. Little argued the case, In re: Ta’Niya C., before the Court of Appeals.

To read the article, click here.

Demand for volunteer lawyers on the rise

The need for pro bono attorneys to help low-income Marylanders with their civil legal problems is on the rise, the Baltimore Sun reported earlier this week (“Need for pro bono legal services rises as economy sags,” Nov. 17).

The article cited a recent pro bono event at Maryland Legal Aid, where private lawyers provided free legal consultations to more than 150 people.

“The event highlighted the tremendous need for access to justice,” said Legal Aid’s Yoanna Moisides. “People began lining up at 8 a.m.”

To read the article, click here.

Nearly 200 get free legal advice on Pro Bono Day

On Saturday, October 30,  the Pro Bono and Access to Legal Services Committee of the Bar Association of Baltimore City, in conjunction with Maryland Legal Aid, the Pro Bono Resource Center, the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, and Legal Services for the Elderly hosted “Pro Bono Day–Fall 2010” at Legal Aid’s Baltimore City office. Consultations were offered in a wide range of civil practice areas, including housing, consumer, benefits, military benefits, expungement, employment, family law, wills and advance directives, and general practice.

“The event highlighted the tremendous need for access to justice–people began lining up at 8 a.m. and by the end of the day over 166 people received legal consultations on approximately 187 different legal issues,” said Legal Aid’s Yoanna Moisides. “To help in the effort, approximately 60 volunteer attorneys, paralegals, law graduates, law and graduate students, and community members showed up to share their time and expertise. Feedback from the event is still being compiled, but initial response from those individuals served is overwhelmingly positive.”