Access to Justice Commission to meet August 25

August 22, 2008

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will meet Monday, Aug. 25, at noon at the Mississippi Bar Center at 643 North State Street in Jackson.

Commission members and guests will gather at 11:30 a.m. for lunch. Commission Co-Chairs Chancery Judge Denise Owens and Joy Lambert Phillips will call the meeting to order at noon. The meeting is expected to conclude by 3 p.m.

The Commission is expected to discuss plans for a public hearing scheduled for Oct. 9 in Greenwood. U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson is expected to host the public hearing.

The Oct. 9 hearing will be the second of a series of regional public discussions about the need for improved civil legal services for the poor. 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.

Public hearings are expected to be conducted in each of the state’s Congressional districts. U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor hosted the first hearing on April 18 in Gulfport. Other hearing dates and locations have not yet been finalized.

Other presentations scheduled during the Monday meeting in Jackson include:

• a report from Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr. on the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono peer consulting team review of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project;
• a report from Court of Appeals Judge Donna Barnes on ethical issues in pro se assistance and “unbundled” legal services;
• a presentation from Mississippi Judicial College Executive Director Cynthia Davis about the recently created Commission for Study of Domestic Abuse Proceedings;
• a report from Mississippi Center for Justice President and CEO Martha Bergmark about foreclosure workshops conducted by her organization
• an update from North Mississippi Rural Legal Services Executive Director Ben Cole II about a statewide call center to refer eligible low-income people to providers of legal services.

The Access to Justice Commission was created by the Mississippi Supreme Court in June 2006 to develop a unified strategy to improve poor people’s access to the civil courts. The Commission is tasked 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 needs for civil legal services to the poor.

The Commission is made up of 23 voting members and eight ex-officio members. The Commission includes members of the judiciary, a representative of the Governor, legislators, business and community leaders, and members of the clergy. Representatives of entities which provide legal services to the poor are ex-officio members.

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