Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Access to Justice public hearing is August 27 in Meridian

August 19, 2009

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will conduct a public hearing about the unmet civil legal needs of poor people on Aug. 27 in Meridian. The hearing is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Union Station, 1901 Front Street in downtown Meridian.

Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry will host the public hearing. Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson will serve as moderator.

The hearing is open to the public.

The hearing is the fourth in a series of regional public discussions about the need for civil legal services for the poor. Earlier public hearings have been held in Gulfport, Greenwood and Oxford.

Justice Dickinson said, “We are pleased to be holding our final congressional district hearing in Meridian. We are grateful that Mayor Barry has agreed to host the meeting. We expect to gather additional information concerning the need for improvement in access to justice for so many of our citizens, including children, who live in poverty. We expect to use the information we obtain to report to the Legislature, the Governor and the Supreme Court the scope of the problem so we can begin to do something about it. We hope to have our final report completed before the legislative session begins in January.”

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 not address legal assistance in criminal matters.

The Aug. 27 hearing will seek testimony regarding the difficulties faced by 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. The Access to Justice Commission will issue invitations to speak to about 16 people. Among those expected to speak are low income people who have sought help from legal aid entities, representatives of Legal Services offices and Choctaw Legal Defense, a domestic abuse shelter representative, representatives of non-profit organizations which serve the poor, clergy, community and civic leaders, attorneys and judges.

Justice Dickinson will question the speakers. A listening panel of about 15 people, including judges, legislators, bar leaders, business people and community leaders, may also ask questions.

At the end of the program there will be approximately 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 Access to Justice Commission is made up of 24 voting members and eight ex-officio members. Co-Chairs are Chancery Judge Denise Owens and former Mississippi Bar President Joy Lambert Phillips.

Members who have recently joined the Commission are: Rust College President Dr. David L. Beckley, Holly Springs; Humphreys County Circuit Clerk Timaka Jones, Belzoni; Lela Keys, Delta Community Partners in Care, Clarksdale; Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Chief Judge Hilda Nickey, Philadelphia; Rep. Thomas U. Reynolds, Charleston; Sixth District Circuit Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders, Natchez; Clarion-Ledger Publisher Larry Whitaker, Jackson; and Mississippi Bar Immediate Past President H. Rodger Wilder, Gulfport.

Other members of the Commission include: former Supreme Court Justice and former Mississippi Bar President Reuben Anderson, Jackson; Court of Appeals Judge Donna M. Barnes, Tupelo; Rev. Stan Buckley, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Jackson; Bill Bynum, President and Chief Operating Officer of Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, Jackson; Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson, Gulfport; Ralph Doxey, Counsel to Gov. Haley Barbour, Holly Springs; Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr., Jackson; Rev. Hosea Hines, president, 100 Concerned Clergy for a Better Jackson; Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson, Jackson; Amanda Jones, Counsel to Gov. Haley Barbour, Jackson; Carlton Reeves, Magnolia Bar Association, Jackson; Constance Slaughter-Harvey, civil rights attorney and former Assistant Secretary of State, Forest; Sen. Gray Tollison, Oxford; and Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson, Jackson.

Non-voting ex-officio commission members appointed by virtue of their offices include: Martha Bergmark, President and Chief Operating Officer, Mississippi Center for Justice; Sam Buchanan, Executive Director, Mississippi Center for Legal Services, Hattiesburg; Jayne Buttross, Chair, Mississippi Legal Services Foundation, Jackson; Ben Cole, Executive Director, North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, Oxford; Dean Samuel M. Davis, University of Mississippi School of Law, Oxford; Jaribu Hill, Executive Director, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, Greenville; Ben Piazza, Chair, Board of Directors, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, Jackson; and Dean Jim Rosenblatt, Mississippi College School of Law, Jackson.