Archives for June 2014

Frozen Juror Case Revived in Washington State

This is sure to become used as an example of how much the justice system loves its jurors: A state appeals court in Washington state has “revived negligence claims” by the family of an 84-year-old juror who froze to death outside the courthouse in 2007, The Courthouse News is reporting. The website says Kay Mita reported for jury duty and left the courthouse for a lunch break, never to return. Courthouse workers spotted the man outside, and at one point allowed him inside the facility under the assumption he was homeless.

Later, the courthouse closed and he had to leave. Authorities think he could not locate his car under a blanket of snow. Read the story here: Courthouse News Service

The Case For Immigration Case Representation

In a Boston Globe op-ed piece, Rachel E. Rosenbloom, of the Northeastern School of Law, makes a strong case for taxpayer-provided representation for civil immigration cases. She writes that “… it is difficult to imagine a more compelling case for appointed counsel than a 5-year-old appearing on her own in immigration court, facing off against an attorney from the Department of Homeland Security.”

She cites increased help for the children, but then she notes that “… yet even as we applaud the president for this groundbreaking program, we might ask ourselves, and our government, why a person of any age should be expected to go up against a highly trained government attorney in such a high-stakes proceeding without the benefit of legal counsel.” It’s another reason to examine how we handle civil cases, and you can read it here: – The Boston Globe

‘One-Day’ Divorce Is National Trend

Of course it’s not really “one day,” but faster, do-it-yourself, lawyer-free divorces are becoming a national trend, according to the New York Times. A driving issue is cost, reports the NYT,  which reports that “… costs vary by location, but Randall M. Kessler, a family law specialist in Atlanta, said a typical divorce with no major disagreements over assets and custody issues might cost a few thousand dollars, while cases with significant disputes can easily cost $25,000 or more

In California, says the report, roughly three-fourths of family law litigants lack lawyers, according to  Maureen F. Hallahan, supervising judge in the family law division at San Diego Superior Court. Typically, people file initial divorce paperwork on their own, but they don’t know what to do next, so their file languishes for months. Budget cuts in the state courts reduced available personnel and made the problem worse.

Like most “one-day” programs, the term doesn’t mean a divorce is truly started and completed in a single day — residency and notification requirements have to be met first. You must, for example, already have filed a divorce petition and served your spouse with divorce papers to participate. But the program does allow you to wrap things up in a single day, or even a matter of hours, once you meet the initial criteria. “This is designed to help people get through the system,” said Judge Hallahan.

Pennsylvania Report Documents Civil Justice Need

A statewide coalition in Pennsylvania has documented what it termed a “staggering” number of unrepresented low-income litigants involved in civil lawsuits, adding that the lack of representation impacts the quality of life for many.

The Pennsylvania Civil Legal Justice Coalition released its report at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee and recommends the creation of a first-ever Access to Justice Commission to serve as a vehicle for studying and implementing measures to expand access to justice in the state.

In Toward Equal Justice for All: Report of the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, the 30-member coalition documents evidence presented at three statewide hearings held in 2013 by the Senate Judiciary Committee to explore the state of access to justice in Pennsylvania. According to the Philadelphia Bar Association, the report cites one recent study that found that for every dollar spent on legal aid in Pennsylvania, there is an $11 return to the state and its residents.

Access the report via a Philadelphia Bar Association press update here:

California Chief Justice: Budget Doesn’t Even ‘Tread Water’

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has said that justice system budget cuts have created a new civil rights issue by limiting court access, is taking a softer tone in the wake of this year’s state budget, judging by published reports. For example, over the weekend the L.A. Times reported she “…  said Friday the new state budget will mean “more disappointment, service reduction and delay for those who need our courts.”

But she also thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts. The Times noted that the budget “… contains less than half the money Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed for trial courts “just to tread water” after years of courthouse closures, layoffs and other cutbacks… court employees are still being furloughed, and services to the public have been slashed. Court users have reported waits of as many as eight hours at clerk windows, and closures have forced some residents to drive several hours to get to the nearest open courthouse.”

The chief justice also said, according to the Times, that “.. she was grateful that Brown and the Legislature had added funds for specific court programs and were helping to solve the long term effect of employee benefit costs.” Read the story here: New California budget fails to ease court woes, chief justice says