Access to Justice Commission will meet on Nov. 15

November 8, 2006

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will meet on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Mississippi Bar Center at 643 North State Street in Jackson.

Commission members and guests will gather at 9:30 a.m. for informal discussions over coffee. The meeting will convene at 10 a.m., break for lunch at 12:30 p.m., and conclude at 2:30 p.m. Members of the media are invited.

The Access to Justice Commission was created by the Mississippi Supreme Court to develop a unified strategy to improve access to the civil courts for the poor. The Commission includes members of the judiciary, a representative of the Governor, legislators, business and community leaders, and members of the clergy.

The principal focus of the meeting will be a presentation about the current system for delivery of civil legal services to the poor, according to Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens and Gulfport attorney Joy Lambert Phillips, co-chairs of the Commission.

Major providers of legal services to the poor will make a joint presentation to the Commission at 10:15 a.m. The presentation is intended to be a starting point for discussions of ways to improve access to justice for the poor.

Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson, the Court’s liaison to the legal services community, said, “My hope for this meeting is that we get very specific in setting an agenda and projects for the coming year so that we can get busy and get things done.”

The Commission meeting will take a look at what other states have done with regard to access to justice for the poor. Margarette Meeks, project manager for the Administrative Office of Courts, will present a report on other states’ efforts at 12:45 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m. Justice Dickinson, Phillips and Mississippi Bar Executive Director Larry Houchins will review Mississippi’s previous initiatives with regard to civil legal assistance.

The Supreme Court, in an effort to increase attorney participation in providing free legal services for the poor, in 2005 made reporting of pro bono services mandatory for lawyers who are licensed in Mississippi. This year, the Legislature authorized a $5 fee for each civil case filed in circuit and chancery courts, effective July 1, with the fees going to the Civil Legal Assistance Fund. The Court in an order signed in May and effective Jan. 1, 2007, makes lawyer participation mandatory in the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. A majority of the trust account interest goes to civil legal representation of the poor.

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will address civil legal representation of the poor. It will not deal with indigent criminal defense.