Access to Justice public hearing is October 20 in Greenwood

October 13, 2008

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will conduct a public hearing about the unmet civil legal needs of poor people on Oct. 20 in Greenwood. The public hearing is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. at the Leflore County Civic Center at 200 Hwy 7 North in Greenwood.

Second District U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson will host the public hearing. Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson will serve as moderator.

The hearing is the second of a series of regional public discussions about the need for civil legal services for the poor. U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor hosted the first hearing April 18 in Gulfport. Public hearings are expected to be conducted in each of the state’s Congressional districts. Other hearing dates and locations have not yet been finalized.

The purpose of these hearings is to create a record detailing the magnitude of the problems faced by low-income Mississippians as a result of their lack of access to legal assistance in a broad range of civil matters.

The hearing will seek testimony regarding the more than half a million low income Mississippians who do not have access to civil legal assistance in matters such as housing, domestic violence, child custody, child care, health care and disabilities assistance.

Justice Dickinson, who grew up in Tallahatchie County, said, “The needs of the poor and working poor in Mississippi are particularly acute when legal problems come along. The resources are so limited, and those without money for a lawyer really have nowhere to turn. Our job is to make sure that the lack of funds and the difficult circumstances don’t serve to deny anyone fair access to, and equal justice from, our judicial system.”

Justice Dickinson said, “I am particularly pleased to be working with Congressman Thompson on this effort, and I look forward to gaining valuable information that will help the court do a better job in meeting these needs.”

The Access to Justice Commission will issue invitations to speak to between 12 and 15 people from around the Mississippi Delta. They will include attorneys who provide legal services to the poor, people who have been assisted by legal services providers, bar leaders, representatives of non-profit organizations which serve the poor, a domestic violence shelter program representative, clergy, community leaders and judges.

Justice Dickinson will question the speakers. A listening panel of approximately 12 to 14 people, including judges, attorneys and community leaders from the Delta, will also ask questions and discuss the testimony.

At the end of the program there will be 30 minutes for public comment from the audience. A sign up sheet will be available at the start of the hearing. The Commission will listen to as many people as may be accommodated in the time set aside for public comment. Members of the audience are asked to limit their presentations to two minutes.

The hearings will be transcribed. The Access to Justice Commission will use the testimony as part of the basis for recommendations to the Supreme Court, the Mississippi Legislature and the Mississippi Bar to increase the availability of legal assistance in civil matters. The Supreme Court created the Access to Justice Commission in June 2006 to investigate the need for civil legal services to the poor in Mississippi, and to evaluate, develop and recommend policies, programs and initiatives which will assist the judiciary in meeting the need for civil legal services to the poor in Mississippi. The Supreme Court called for a series of regional public discussions about the need for civil legal services for the poor.

The hearing will not address legal assistance in criminal matters.