Legislature declares June Access to Justice Month; Courts schedule free family law clinics across the state
March 29, 2018
The Mississippi Legislature has declared June as Access to Justice Month.
Free family law clinics are expected to be conducted in every county in the state this year to assist poor people in resolving civil legal issues in Chancery Courts. Twenty-one free family law clinics that will offer services to people in more than 40 counties are scheduled in June. More family law clinics are expected to be held later this year.
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. has called upon chancellors and bar associations statewide to organize free family law clinics to assist poor people. Chief Justice Waller and the Access to Justice Commission began work last year to schedule the free clinics statewide.
Chief Justice Waller said, “It is vitally important for all citizens to have access to the courthouse. Mississippi has one of the highest rates of poverty in the United States and these legal clinics allow meaningful access with the assistance of volunteer lawyers.”
The free clinics are intended to help those who can’t afford to hire lawyers to resolve matters such as divorce, custody, visitation, child support, emancipation, name change, adoption, guardianship and domestic abuse protective orders.
Nicole H. McLaughlin, executive director of the Access to Justice Commission, said, “Pro se legal clinics provide the participants with free legal advice, information on how to prepare and file legal pleadings and how to present their case in court. The Commission is excited about the willingness of all the districts and volunteer attorneys to organize and assist at the clinics.” McLaughlin also is director of the Access to Justice Initiative of the Mississippi Bar.
On March 27, the Mississippi House and Senate adopted House Concurrent Resolution 105 commending the Access to Justice Commission on its 12th anniversary and declaring June as Access to Justice Month. HCR 105, introduced by Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden of Meridian and Rep. Percy Watson of Hattiesburg, noted that approximately 695,000 people in Mississippi, a fifth of the state’s population, live at or below poverty level, and about 1.3 million of the impoverished and the working poor – almost 45 percent of the state’s population – qualify for civil legal aid. There is one Legal Services lawyer for every 21,000 eligible people. Almost half of the people who seek help from Legal Services in Mississippi are turned away. Many of those people struggle to represent themselves pro se in court without the assistance of an attorney. Others are unable to get their matters heard in court at all.
The Concurrent Resolution recognized the collaborative efforts of the Access to Justice Commission, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, chancellors, local bar associations, law students and community organizations that have worked together to provide free family law clinics to help meet the civil legal needs of low income people.
The resolution reads, in part, “Whereas, periodic legal clinics staffed by volunteer lawyers have been developed as an effective means of providing assistance to low-income people, as well as Pro Se Days, which have been conducted in the 1st Chancery District, the 3rd Chancery District, the 5th Chancery District, the 9th Chancery District, the 10th Chancery District, the 11th Chancery District and in the 20th Chancery District; and Whereas, in an effort to increase the availability of civil legal assistance, the Access to Justice Commission of the Mississippi Supreme Court is working to organize Pro Se clinics in every county in the state, with numerous civil legal clinics scheduled in June 2018 and afterwards across the state that will address family law matters and guardianships....”
HCR 105 is at this link: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2018/pdf/history/HC/HC0105.xml.
Chancellor Jacqueline Mask of Tupelo, co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission, said, “I am extremely appreciative to the Legislature for the resolution recognizing the Access to Justice Commission. We thank them for realizing the need, recognizing the month and taking action. The needs of our state in this field are significant, and Chancery Court judges across the state are to be commended for working to ensure that low-income litigants have access to their courtrooms. We have many attorneys who are volunteering their time to help meet the needs, and the entire Mississippi Bar is to be commended for its work.”
Chancery Courts in Lafayette, Lincoln and Union counties got an early start, scheduling family law clinics in April. The April clinics are:
While details of some of the clinics are still being worked out, here is the Access to Justice clinic schedule for June:
Access to Justice legal clinics currently scheduled for the remainder of the year include:
An updated schedule of Access to Justice family law clinics is at this link: https://courts.ms.gov/Legal/CivilLegal.php.