Briefing Room


Access to Justice faces obstacles amid economic downturn

June 3, 2013 | Events

On Feb. 22, the Ohio State Law Journal, working collaboratively with the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF), The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), and the Moritz Pro Bono Research Group (PBRG), will present “Opening Courtroom Doors: Access to Justice in Ohio,” featuring keynote speaker Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

In 1951, when addressing the New York Legal Aid Society, Justice Billings Learned Hand admonished that, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.” Ohio, like her sister states, may now be facing a crisis in access to justice as her courts, her Public Defender, and her legal aid societies struggle with dramatically reduced funding. Yet, courtroom doors must remain open and accessible to every Ohioan regardless of their economic status.

The Great Recession brought about fundamental changes to Ohio’s civil justice system. Flat and reduced funding at the federal, state, and local levels led to curtailed hours and reduced services at many courthouses. These funding challenges also reduced the availability of legal aid services for Ohio’s neediest citizens. At the same time, an increased number of Ohioans found themselves burdened by the economic downturn and in need of civil legal aid. Nearly 1.5 million Ohioans are living in poverty — individuals and families who lack the resources to pay for a lawyer. Legal aid is often the only place they can turn for help.

Long-term fundamental improvements are needed in our civil justice system so that it is truly accessible for all — regardless of income, geography, or language ability. O’Connor has called attention to these problems and embarked on a mission to ensure that open and accessible courts are not a luxury in Ohio. The goal of this conference is simple: to engage key stakeholders in a thoughtful and challenging discussion on the future of Access to Justice in the state of Ohio. More specifically, this conference will feature panel discussions addressing approaches other states are taking to improve Access to Justice issues, the unique Access to Justice issues in Ohio, and the ethical obligations attorneys face in ensuring Access to Justice in Ohio.

Other speakers involved in the conference include: William D. Dowling, Ohio State Bar Association Access to Justice Committee chair; Meredith McBurney, American Bar Association, resource development consultant, ABA Resource Center for ATJ Initiatives; Justice Nathan L. Hecht, Texas Supreme Court, representative on the Texas Access to Justice Commission; Professor Peter Edelman, Georgetown Law, co-director, Joint Degree in Law and Public Policy, and faculty director, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy; Judge Gene A. Zmuda, Lucas County Common Pleas Court; Rep. Kathleen Clyde ’08, 75th House District, Ohio House of Representatives; Colleen Cotter, director of Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Tim Young, director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender; David W. Alexander ’78, partner, Squire Sanders, and Columbus Bar Foundation Board of Trustees; and Alvin E. Mathews Jr., partner, James E. Arnold & Associates, LPA.

Pending approval, the conference will offer 3 hours of CLE credits to attorneys who attend, including 1 hour of instruction related to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics education). Lunch will be provided for a limited number of participants at the Ohio Union across the street from the conference. All the conference speakers will be attending this lunch. Registration will be available on the Ohio State Law Journal’s website. The deadline to register is Feb. 14.