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Proposal would create umbrella commission for legal aid providers

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A proposal before the Indiana Supreme Court could change the landscape for those who provide civil legal aid and pro bono service.

“In my opinion, what is needed in the state when you’re dealing with access to justice issues is a forum where all these different entities have an understanding of what the other entities are doing, what their purpose is, and what steps they’re taking to address certain problems,” Allen Superior Judge David Avery said.

Norm Metzger mug Metzger

Along with being vice chair of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, Avery serves on a task force that developed a final recommendation for an Access to Justice Commission that the Indiana Supreme Court has been considering since July.

The proposal sprang from a workshop this year that brought together representatives of pro bono organizations, self-represented litigants, interpreters and other stakeholders. It built upon work done beginning in 2008 that examined the statewide need for civil legal services for the poor and disadvantaged – a need that has only grown as the economy worsened and resources dwindled.

By design, the commission proposed to the Supreme Court would not pre-empt organizations that currently provide services, Avery and others said. There was sensitivity to that because an unsuccessful proposal a couple of years ago would have shifted some of the Pro Bono Commission’s duties to the Access to Justice Commission that had been considered at that time.

This time, the approach is different.

“The establishment of the commission is not intended to replace the entities currently offering services promoting access to the civil legal system to the residents of Indiana,” the proposal says. “The commission shall cooperate with entities such as the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, Indiana Judicial Conference, Indiana Bar Foundation, Indiana State Bar Association, local bar associations, state and local civil legal aid organizations, legal self-help centers, pro bono legal service organizations and non-legal organizations.”

Click here to read the proposal.

Avery Avery

Norman Metzger, executive director of Indiana Legal Services Inc., said the commission would help cash-strapped agencies better coordinate resources and allocate services.

“There are going to be all kinds of gaps, and the question is, what do you do about the gaps?” Metzger said. “There’s an obvious need to figure out a way to administer those resources and bring those stakeholders together. We all have an obligation to manage our resources efficiently so we can be productive.”

The commission proposal aims to take a holistic picture of the state’s legal aid providers and those that work to ensure access to justice, but the panel would stop short of having a funding mechanism. Avery said removing funding decisions from the proposed commission would allow it to focus on policy and decision-making. He said the proposed makeup of the commission would raise awareness of legal aid needs and rally wider support.

access-facts.jpgIndiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson told Indiana Lawyer that the proposal was still under consideration and he could not say when the court might act.

Amy Roth is the plan administrator for Southern Indiana Pro Bono Referrals Inc., whose service district is Clark, Crawford, Floyd, Harrison, Orange, Scott and Washington counties.

She said she and her colleagues are hopeful that a new commission might address statewide needs, but they’re also cautious. “We are waiting to work through who’s going to be in charge and who gets what,” Roth said. “It’s very much an evolving situation.”

One of the first orders of business outlined for the proposed commission would be to develop a strategic plan for access to and delivery of legal services within a year of the commission’s initial meeting.

Roth said there are needs that will take statewide solutions, but the jury is out on whether the proposed commission might be the vehicle. Access to justice is unequal in rural counties. Clients in need in Crawford and Orange counties are an example.

“We had to make a very unpleasant decision that we simply could not serve them,” she said. There are few available attorneys in those counties, and the cost of gas means fewer lawyers are willing to volunteer to commute to English or Paoli from New Albany or Jeffersonville, for instance. Plus, those more populous areas already had more demand than the agency could meet, she explained.

Chuck Dunlap Dunlap

Funding to Roth’s pro bono district is down as much as 35 percent since 2008. “I understand funding will remain stable for 2013,” she said. “We are so beaten down that we say, ‘that’s wonderful.’”

Indiana Bar Foundation Executive Director Charles Dunlap said creating a commission would bring together policymakers as well as those not directly involved in legal services. Doing so, he believes, would raise awareness of the needs beyond those who already practice in the fields. A commission with a broad range of membership also would be able to rally for another level of resources, he said, whether legislatively or through private foundations and funders.

The bar foundation is taking a wait-and-see approach before filling a key vacant position, that of executive director of the Pro Bono Commission, which allocates funds from interest on lawyer trust accounts to the state’s 12 pro bono districts, according to Dunlap. Former director Monica Fennell in September took a position as pro bono director at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.

Dunlap said that position likely won’t be filled before the Supreme Court gives direction on the proposal. The position and its responsibilities could change based on what the court does.

Roth said she hopes a statewide retreat later this month will give providers more direction.

But tough times might be a unifying force.

“This is a really bad time for all funders,” Metzger said, noting his agency’s funding has declined from about $9 million to about $7.1 million in two years, forcing a retrenchment. “There are a whole variety of reasons why (the proposed commission) makes sense.”

Dunlap is encouraged by the broad consensus in favor of the proposal that emerged from the legal aid community. “Hopefully it’s sort of a preview of coming attractions, these folks working together.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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