October 29, 2015

Access to Civil Justice

Categories: Court System, Legislation

Work with qualified Tampa civil justice lawyers!

When someone is accused of a crime but cannot afford an attorney, the State is required to provide them with an attorney. This attorney then represents that person though all stages of their criminal case, while filing motions and negotiating on their behalf to ensure a just result.

Criminal justice representation is acknowledged as a basic American right – but what about civil justice representation? While contingency fees allow most to have access to an experienced attorney for personal injury cases, other types of civil justice are neglected. Low- and moderate-income Americans get divorced just like high-income Americans do – and they would benefit just as much from the assistance of an experienced attorney to help them obtain a fair distribution of their assets. They need skilled advice to decide matters such as child custody and child support, to seek guardianships and protection orders. They need wills and contract assistance. They often need to understand tenant rights, eviction protections, and debt-relief options.

In Florida as in much of America, however, access to civil justice is mostly available only to those who can afford an attorney. Though there are legal aid options in some cases, they are necessarily limited to those with the most acute needs and the lowest of incomes.

To address these unmet needs, Florida has formed the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, by administrative order of Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.  The Commission’s Interim Report, released on October 1, 2015, indicates that the members have identified some “concrete steps” to assist poor and middle-class Floridians in accessing legal help for life-changing problems. The initial recommendations call for such actions as a dedicated site to connect Floridians with existing legal-aid resources, enlisting law professors and retired judges to advise clients as pro-bono “emeritus attorneys,” and designating left- over class- action funds to help legal- aid expenses.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we support and are excited by this movement toward the goal of providing quality legal representation for all Floridians. We applaud the Commission’s initial efforts and hope to see even more progress in the months and years to come.

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