Chief Justice Minton announces creation of new Kentucky Access to Justice Commission

Chief Justice Minton announces creation of Kentucky Access to Justice Commission

 FRANKFORT, Ky., Oct. 14, 2010 – Today Kentucky joined nearly two dozen states where supreme courts have formed Access to Justice Commissions to engage the judiciary in delivering civil legal aid to low-income citizens.

 Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. announced the creation of the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission at a news conference in the Supreme Court Courtroom in the Capitol. Chief Justice Minton was joined by Justice Bill Cunningham, the Supreme Court of Kentucky liaison on the commission, and Judge Roger L. Crittenden (ret.), interim chair of the commission.

 “The need for legal aid in Kentucky is great and it is growing,” said Chief Justice Minton. “Kentucky Legal Aid receives 4,000 calls a month requesting legal help and closes about  24,000 cases each year, which provides critical assistance to 68,000 low-income families and children who have nowhere else to turn for help. Those numbers may seem high, but in fact about 55 percent of the people who apply and are eligible for legal aid services are turned away because of lack of resources.”

 The Kentucky Access to Justice Commission has been formed by an order of the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Chief Justice Minton is in the process of appointing members to the commission in preparation for the KAJC’s first meeting on Jan. 28, 2011. There will be 25 appointed members and five ex-officio members. The names of the members will be announced in the coming weeks.

 The KAJC will be charged with several key goals, according to Judge Crittenden, a retired Franklin County circuit judge who is interim chair of the commission. “Our primary responsibilities are to identify the needs of the legal services community in providing legal services to the poor, create a statewide plan to deliver the legal services, and develop strategies to increase resources and funding for the legal services,” he said.

 “What sets these commissions apart from other legal aid efforts, such as blue-ribbon task forces, is the involvement of the judiciary at all levels,” said Justice Cunningham, who represents the 1st Supreme Court District in Western Kentucky. “The importance of judicial leadership cannot be overstated. There must be an ongoing partnership between the judiciary and the state and local bar associations, legal aid providers, law schools, elected officials and other community leaders.”

 “We’d like to see a jump in pro bono work by Kentucky’s attorneys,” said Justice Cunningham. “In 2009, volunteers with legal aid pro bono programs helped 5,368 people. The Kentucky Bar Association is reporting that its members increased their pro bono hours by 18 percent for a total of 14,687 hours. We’re moving in the right direction, but we must accelerate these efforts if we want to reduce the gap between those who can access legal services and those left without.”

 “Kentucky’s four civil legal aid programs are committed to the principle that justice should be available to all persons without regard to economic status,” said Jeffrey A. Been, executive director of the Legal Aid Society in Louisville. “Each day our four programs reach and help thousands of Kentuckians who face economic barriers to accessing our justice system. Yet, despite our strong partnerships with local bar associations in pro bono efforts and despite the generous charitable support our programs receive, we are only able to help a portion of those who seek our assistance. We believe an Access to Justice Commission offers great promise and we look forward to working with and supporting the commission in this important endeavor.”

 Bckground on AJCs

Access to Justice commissions nationwide are supported by the American Bar Association and the national Conference of Chief Justices. Chief Justice Minton said the Conference on Chief Justices passed a resolution in 2006 that acknowledged the importance of judicial leadership in establishing partnerships with a state’s legal community to ensure equal access to justice. The resolution called for states to seek results in three areas:

 1)    To remove impediments to access to the justice system, including physical, economical, psychological and language barriers;

2)    To develop effective plans for funding for civil legal services for those who have no meaningful access to the justice system; and

3)    To expand assistance available for self-represented litigants.

 While the roots of the Access to Justice movement date back to the 1990s, the Texas Access to Justice Commission created in 2001 is credited as being the first formal model. Leaders of less formal AJC groups from other states soon followed Texas and moved to solidify their efforts with various modifications to their respective commissions. As of spring 2008, the American Bar Association Resources Center reported that 19 states had created commissions with similar goals. They included Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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