Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Access to Justice' Category

Judicial Term Limits Proposal Draws More Fire

Pundits are continuing to fault a proposed constitutional amendment for judicial term limits in Florida (see Gavel Grab). At the Vero Beach Press Journal, attorney Mark Miller says the proposal does not promote highly qualified senior judges, has not been well thought out and does not make sense.

It is not at all clear why sponsors of the proposal believe it is needed, writes Miller, vice president of the Martin County Bar Association, given that Florida voters have an opportunity every six years to remove a judge from the intermediate appellate or state Supreme Court bench.

“Those who have proposed to amend the Florida Constitution do not appear to have given this change the kind of thought and consideration that the people of Florida deserve,” he concludes. Read more

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Texas Commission to Address ‘Justice Gap’

A recent article bytexas court the Texas Tribune reports that a large number of mostly middle class Texans fall into a “justice gap” where they aren’t poor enough to receive free legal aid provided to indigents but can’t afford basic legal services on their own.

The article reports that the state’s highest civil court launched a new commission to identify and assist Texans who have fallen into the “justice gap.” “The 18-member Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services, led by former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, will spend the next year gathering data and coming up with recommendations to be presented in November 2016.”

In interview with the Tribune, Jefferson said, “one of the most famous phrases in American law is liberty and justice for all — it is part of our culture, it is part of our custom, it is part of the fabric of our democracy…one of the biggest challenges today is to make that phrase a promise and to make that promise a reality.”

“Today, even most lawyers cannot afford to retain another lawyer to represent them in civil legal disputes,” Jefferson said. “This is a crisis for the legal profession and for our state.”

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Gov. Cuomo to Pick New Chief Judge for New York’s Top Court

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will face a far-reaching decision when he chooses the next chief judge of the state’s highest court, from  seven candidates recommended by a vetting commission, a New York Times editorial says.

In discussing the appointment, the editorial lauds retiring Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the state Court of Appeals for his accomplishments.

“[H]is most lasting legacy could be his effort to provide lawyers for the thousands of low-income New Yorkers who face serious civil proceedings — from eviction and foreclosure to the loss of child custody — with no legal support at all,” the editorial says. It also mentions his efforts to make the court system more fair and transparent, to reform the state’s bail system and to cut wrongful convictions. 

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Essay: On Marriage, Elected Judges Showing ‘Fear of Politics’?

Is there a difference between how state judges who are elected, and those who are appointed, address bans against marriage for same-sex couples? A Los Angeles Times op-ed by Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress and Eric Lesh of Lambda Legal says there is a difference.

State high courts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and New Jersey have issued decisions in favor of marriage equality, as have judges in Hawaii and California, although ballot measures later overruled those judges’ rulings, the authors said. All of these judges were appointed, and, the authors added, “Like federal judges with life tenure, they felt at liberty to side with equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, even if in so doing they were siding against the majority.”

Elected judges in such states as Arkansas and Texas “have lagged behind for years, perhaps because they feel pressure to rule based on popular sentiment,” the authors said, and the justices in those states “seem to be avoiding a political controversy by delaying their rulings.” And elected justices in Alabama voted to defy a federal court order telling probate judges that same-sex couples have a right to marry. The authors concluded, with an eye on an ultimate ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court: Read more

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Short on Judges, New Jersey County Will Suspend Some Trials

When politics collides with selecting judges, the outcome can directly affect people who use our courts. The latest evidence of this concern comes from a article reporting the following:

“Scores of divorce and civil trials in Bergen County have been suspended indefinitely due to judicial retirements and an ongoing political battle between the governor and Democratic state senators.”

New Jersey requires Senate confirmation of the governor’s judicial nominees, similar to the federal method for picking judges, but its judges do not get lifetime appointments as federal judges do. Gov. Chris Christie is a Republican, and the Senate is controlled by Democrats. Read more

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Commentary: Has Corporate America Slashed Access to Justice?

Thousands of Americans no longer have access to justice when it comes to suing corporations, after a conservative legal movement has pushed hard for judicial restraint and a corporate lobby has pressed for “tort reform,” Lina Kahn of the New America Foundation writes at Washington Monthly. Kahn says:

“Two recent US Supreme Court rulings — AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant have deeply undercut … centuries-old public rights, by empowering businesses to avoid any threat of private lawsuits or class actions. The decisions culminate a thirty-year trend during which the judiciary, including initially some prominent liberal jurists, has moved to eliminate courts as a means for ordinary Americans to uphold their rights against companies. The result is a world where corporations can evade accountability and effectively skirt swaths of law, pushing their growing power over their consumers and employees past a tipping point.” Read more

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'Open Season' on Defense Lawyers at Election Time?

When some U.S. Senate critics of the nominee for a top Justice Department post recently criticized his having represented a defendant convicted of killing a police officer, Justice at Stake spoke out about the resulting dangerous implications for citizens’ access to justice (see Gavel Grab).

Now a similar controversy is generating news headlines and debate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come under attack from some critics for her representation in 1975 of an indigent defendant accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Regarding this criticism, attorney Jonathan Adler writes in the Washington Post, “It seems that election season is open season on defense attorneys.” Adler elaborates: Read more

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Some States Grapple With Rising Need, and Cost, for Interpreters

interpretersStates with diverse populations are facing a rising need to provide language interpreters in court, and the cost is causing challenges for states with money constraints, the New York Times says.

In its article from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Times reports, “As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well.” At home, about one of three New Mexico residents speaks a language other than English. Since 2004, a fund that pays the wages of court interpreters has increased by 76 percent, while demand for court interpreters has grown faster.

When Arthur W. Pepin, director of New Mexico’s Administrative Office of the Courts, appeared before a state finance board to ask for additional funds, he warned that he might have to start issuing IOUs to jurors, because their Read more

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Law Profs: Don't Find Lawyers 'Guilty by Association' With Clients

CapitolflagMore than 1,000 law professors have written to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee voicing their “deep concern” about the debate that surrounded the Senate’s vote on attorney Debo Adegbile’s nomination for a top Justice Department post.

During the debate, some critics voiced opposition to the nomination based in part on Adegbile’s having represented the convicted killer of a police officer.  The Senate went on to block Adegbile’s confirmation at least temporarily (see Gavel Grab). According to the Legal Ethics Forum blog, the law professors wrote:

“While we do not take a position on this or any other nominee, we are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.” Read more

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Retraction Asked for Political Ad About Lawyer's Defense Work

James R. Silkenat, the American Bar Association president, has written the Republican Governors Association and asked it to take down a political ad that disparages a candidate for his legal defense work.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, is opposed for reelection by Vincent Shaheen, a Democrat, attorney and state senator. A screen shot from the ad states: “Vincent Shaheen. Protects criminals. Not South Carolina.”

“The Republican Governors Association ad sends a disturbing message to lawyers — that their clients’ past actions or beliefs will stain their own careers, especially if they want to serve their country in public office,” Silkenat wrote to the governors group and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, its chairman, according to The State newspaper. Read more

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