TEXAS SUPREME COURT advisory
Contact: Osler McCarthy, staff attorney/public information
512.463.1441 or click for email
Monday, November 23, 2015
COURT ESTABLISHES 'JUSTICE GAP' COMMISSION
TO FIND WAYS TO EXPAND CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES
Target of the effort: businesses and middle class that cannot afford lawyers
By an order Monday the Texas Supreme Court has created an 18-member Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services charged to explore means to bring more affordable legal services to small businesses and people who cannot qualify for legal aid.
The commission will seek a comprehensive answer to a growing number of potential clients with legal problems who believe they cannot afford lawyers to solve them.
Former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson will lead the commission.
"More than ever, people need lawyers, and lawyers need work," Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said, "but the cost of legal services keeps them apart. Justice for only those who can afford it is neither justice for all nor justice at all."
Jefferson said the familiar Pledge of Allegiance ideal – for liberty and justice for all – is not a reality. "The rule of law exists to afford a remedy even for the poor and the powerless," he said. "Yet, in the real world, many fundamental rights are illusory for too many people who forgo hiring lawyers because legal fees are not affordable for them."
The commission will be announced at an 11 a.m. press conference Monday at the Supreme Court. The press conference will be webcast live, courtesy of TexasBarCLE.com. Click to watch.
National surveys and those in other states calculate that as many as 80 percent or more low- and moderate-income Americans with civil legal problems cannot afford lawyers to solve them. Even for the poorest of Texans, legal-aid lawyers who help more than 100,000 families each year in Texas estimate that they turn away three of four qualified applicants because of limited legal-aid resources.
The commission, composed of lawyers, law school deans and professors and judges, will assess efforts and proposals in Texas and other states, as well as by the American Bar Association, to find what may work to broaden legal services available to low- and middle-income Texans. Commissioners will issue a first report to the Court on Nov. 1, 2016.
Other commission members are S. Jack Balagia Jr., ExxonMobil Corp. vice president and general counsel; First Court of Appeals Justice Jane Bland; Faye M. Bracey, St. Mary's University assistant law dean; Darby Dickerson, Texas Tech University law school dean; retired federal Judge W. Royal Furgeson Jr., University of North Texas-Dallas law dean; Eden Harrington, University of Texas assistant law dean; Houston attorney Angelica Maria Hernandez; Houston attorney Joseph C. Matta; Chief Justice Ann C. McClure of the El Paso Court of Appeals; former state district Judge F. Scott McCown, University of Texas law professor; Fort Worth attorney Chris Nickelson; Houston attorney Harry M. Reasoner; U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of Houston; Houston attorney Charles W. Schwartz; Dallas attorney Frank E. Stevenson II, president-elect of the Texas bar; Austin attorney William O. Whitehurst Jr.; and Austin attorney Kennon L. Wooten.