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Fostering cooperation between Indiana legal service providers

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The Indiana Supreme Court has formed a new commission to address the problem of Indiana residents who cannot afford legal services. But rather than giving attention to the clients, this group will focus on the nonprofit agencies that provide the assistance.

A group of 20 legal professionals from across the state worked on the proposal for the creation of the Indiana Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services during the summer of 2012 and submitted a recommendation to Chief Justice Brent Dickson, who signed the order in September 2013.

access factboxMembers of the workgroup were quick to emphasize the purpose of the commission is not to mandate directives or meddle in agency operations. The broad goal is to enhance and expand cooperation between the many legal aid organizations in the state.

Yet, the introduction of another group does bring concerns of having too many state-level groups addressing the problem of access to justice. There’s already the Pro Bono Commission that focuses on getting private attorneys to volunteer to help indigent clients, as well as the Indiana Supreme Court Committee on Unrepresented Litigants which tackles the increasing number of people who go to court without attorneys.

Chuck Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation and member of the access workgroup, said the question was raised of whether another commission was needed.

Looking at legal services across the state, the workgroup did see a distinct role for the new state body. At present, each organization and committee is working in its own geographical area providing services, but no group is taking a broad view to find ways for the agencies to collaborate, share ideas and improve efficiencies, Dunlap said.

Clark Circuit Judge Dan Moore said the existing organizations wanted to help with coordinating the agencies, but it was too much work to do in addition to fulfilling their own responsibilities. The new commission is needed because right now, “everybody is rowing their own boat,” Moore said, and they should be at the same table talking.

Moore, who also served on the workgroup, believes the commission can not only get the different legal services to collaborate but will also be able to make appeals to foundations and the Legislature for additional funding.

“This is a brilliant move by the Indiana Supreme Court to create this commission,” Moore said.

Vanderburgh County

As an example of cooperation within the legal aid community, Dunlap pointed to Evansville.

In Vanderburgh County, the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, the locally funded Legal Aid Society of Evansville, and Indiana Legal Services Inc. have been collaborating and coordinating their efforts for many years.

A key part of the cooperation is having the Legal Aid Society and ILS handle all client intake. This prevents the different providers from burning valuable time getting the same information and keeps the clients from getting frustrated by having to explain their problem over and over.

Scott Wylie, president of the Evansville Bar Association, estimated he could spend five hours each week doing as few as 10 initial client interviews to determine needs and assist with placement.

Once the intakes have been completed, the three service providers choose the cases they have the resources to handle.

He acknowledged the organizations do not always agree and can get passionate, but they continue to work as a team because they respect each other.

Wylie hopes the new commission will be able to help replicate this model of cooperation among legal service providers in other counties. By viewing the system as a whole rather than in single pieces that the service agencies see, the commission will be positioned to foster coordination and new ideas for better ways to integrate the different providers.

“In a system that must be rationed, we must be as efficient as possible so we can meet the needs of each and every client,” Wylie said.

Getting the different providers to work together has always been a goal, said Norman Metzger, executive director of Indiana Legal Services Inc. However, with no structured means of enabling that cooperation, the goal has never been accomplished.

Turf wars can break out between the agencies if they feel resources are being taken from them and given to someone else. Metzger recalled a legal needs report issued in 2008 was immediately interpreted as an attempt to undercut the Pro Bono Commission.

To avoid interagency battles, Metzger said the access commission will have to address the concerns by making everyone feel secure and offering assurances that nobody will be put out of business. Then the commission will be able to focus on finding ways to improve the system and prevent having to turn away so many people who need a lawyer.

Perfect time

The Supreme Court must appoint the 17 individuals to the commission. Members are slated to include practicing attorneys, judges, and academics as well as representatives from nonprofits outside of the legal community and from the fields of business, finance and labor.

Also on the commission will be representatives from four different legal service providers in the state along with the chair of the Pro Bono Commission.

Once the members are appointed, they will go through a strategic planning process to develop a more detailed agenda for how the commission will work and what it will do, according to Dunlap. The specifics of formulating a structure and putting together a plan were left to the appointees.

To help facilitate the creation of the Indiana access commission, the American Bar Association appropriated a $7,500 grant. But the money could be lost if members have not been appointed and the strategic planning process has not started by the end of the year, Dunlap said.

Despite the many months that passed before the Supreme Court issued the order, Dunlap is confident the Supreme Court will not let this commission languish. Chief Justice Dickson has made access to justice his highest priority and this commission fits with that goal, Dunlap said.

To Wylie, this is the “absolutely perfect” time for the commission to be formed. The economic recession has depleted resources from the service providers, making them as small as they can be and still exist.

And as the economy recovers and the number of people needing free legal help declines, the commission can rebuild the provider system to be smarter and more effective.

In 2007, the Volunteer Lawyer Program had more funds and staff available to serve fewer clients, Wylie said. As the recovery continues, the commission can lead the improvements so the agencies will eventually be able to serve more clients on the same budget they had in years prior to the recession.•

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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