Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Access to Justice Delivers Report
A group tasked with identifying barriers to Ohio’s civil justice system has finalized its report to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Task Force on Access to Justice has worked since Aug. 1, 2014, after it was established by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. As stated in the executive summary, the task force, chaired by former Justice Yvette McGee Brown, found that “gaps in and obstacles to accessing the civil justice system can be classified as funding, structural, and cultural.” Specifically, the decrease in legal-aid funding at a time of increased demand; a need for standardized forms; and a lack of understanding among Ohioans about the role of attorneys, the judiciary, and organizations that may be available to provide assistance.
Among the 11 recommendations outlined in the report are:
- Allocate general revenue funds for civil legal aid
- Increase fees charged to out-of-state attorneys who handle cases in Ohio on a pro hac vice basis and allocate a portion of those funds to civil legal aid organizations
- Create an Access to Justice Director position in the Supreme Court to coordinate programs and consider policy and rule changes
“In addressing the directive laid out by Chief Justice O’Connor, the task force focused on measurable results that can be sustained over time. Our recommendations include education, enhanced technology, and partnership, in addition to funding,” McGee Brown said. “While funding is necessary if we are going to increase access, funding alone will not resolve the problem. The task force understands that a multi-tiered approach, with leadership from the court and others, is the best way to move Ohio forward and ensure, as Justice Scalia recently said, ‘The American ideal is not for some justice, it is, as the pledge of allegiance says, liberty and justice for all.’”
Task force members consisted of judges, representatives of legal aid organizations, the state public defender, and attorneys in private practice.
“I commend the task force’s effort to provide a comprehensive review of the current landscape of Ohio’s civil legal system. Based on this report, we clearly have gaps and obstacles that must be addressed.” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “I will consult with my colleagues on the court to determine the best course of action on how to proceed.”
The report recommends promoting self-help centers in courts for pro se litigants with assistance to complete forms and prepare for hearings. There are also recommended rule changes to encourage limited-scope representation, also known as unbundled services, to low- or moderate-income clients, and an emeritus rule to allow retired attorneys to provide pro bono legal services.
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