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The January Issue

In this month’s issue, we highlight A2JC’s, MLA’s, and MLSC’s commentary on importance of Civil Legal Aid Funding at the start of the 2024 Legislative Session, A2JC and its Public Interest Committee’s inaugural legislative preview, and the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force’s 2024 Report. We also showcase Gov. Wes Moore’s and Housing Secretary Jake Day’s transformative Housing Package, the Maryland General Assembly leaders’ priorities for the 2024 legislative session, and issues access to justice leaders are watching in 2024 and explore Georgia legal kiosks, the inaccessibility of rural courts, and non-lawyer navigator programs in state courts. You can find all this and more in this month’s issue.

A2J Commission News

  • A2JC joins MLA and MLSC to Pen Commentary on the Importance of Civil Legal Aid Funding at the start of the 2024 Legislative Session A2JC’s top priority this legislative session will be additional civil legal aid funding. It has joined MLSC and Maryland Legal Aid to make its case for additional funding during the 2024 legislative session. The commentary highlights how civil legal aid funding is the fundamental way to ensure Maryland families remain housed, economically secure and safe; critical to ensuring fairness in our legal system and addressing long-standing social and racial inequity; and that investing in civil legal aid has a proven ROI. It also highlights how civil legal aid attorneys are our state’s lowest-paid public interest attorneys, and many cannot afford to do or stay in this important work. It encourages the Governor and General Assembly to fund additional civil legal aid.
  • A2JC and its Public Interest Committee (formerly Delivery of Legal Services Committee) hosts Inaugural Legislative Preview The Maryland Access to Justice Commission and its newly renamed Public Interest Law Committee (PILC) (formerly Delivery of Legal Services Committee) held a Legislative Preview on January 4, 2023 in advance of the start of the 2024 legislative session. This was the access to justice community’s first legislative preview and it brought together over 15 presenters who shared their legislative priorities and almost 60 participants who were eager to learn of the breadth and scope of impact of the A2J community.
  • Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force Delivers 2024 Report The Access to Counsel in Evictions (ACE) Task Force, a legislatively mandated body tasked with evaluating the implementation of the ACE law and make recommendations for reform, delivered its 2024 Report to the General Assembly and Governor, recommending an additional $6M in ACE funding for FY2025, changes to court rules and engaging the Public Housing Authorities and Sheriff’s offices in the implementation of the law.
  • A2JC Makes the Business Case for Access to Justice A2JC sees value in engaging the MD corporate community for access to justice issues, similar to how LSC has engaged them through their Leaders Council and through their corporate sign on letters in support of civil legal aid funding, which have garnered over 200 signatures from America’s top corporations.

Tips from Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department                         

We are pleased to offer recurring content from the Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department as part of the A2J Dispatch.

  • Court Help Video Library Updates The Maryland Judiciary provides over 120 videos housed in the Court Help video library available on the Maryland courts website. Videos in the library supply court users with brief overviews on substantive legal topics and other tips for navigating Maryland law and the court system. Most recent updates include a new three-part series on Judicial Declarations of Gender Identity and newly updated content for the Name Change series.

Local A2J News

  • Wes Moore and Housing Secretary, Jake Day, Introduce Transformative Housing Package Gov. Wes Moore and Housing Secretary, Jake Day, announced a transformative housing package. The package aims to “address [MD’s] housing crisis head-on and build a stable housing market that drives long-term economic growth.” The omnibus package has main aims, one of which is standing with renters. The legislation addresses MD’s high eviction filing rates, establishes a new Office of Tenant Rights, and creates new pathways to home ownership.
  • Maryland General Assembly Leaders Outline Priorities For 2024 Legislative Session Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) expressed cautious optimism for the Senate’s legislative priorities in the upcoming General Assembly session, even in a challenging state budget year, during an interview with Maryland Matters in his State House office Monday.
  • A2JC Commissioner, Sharon Goldsmith, ED of PBRC, Pens Commentary on Housing PBRC works on housing issues and supports Gov. Moore’s focus on housing and advocates for continued ACE funding, tax sale reform, easy access to Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit and other renter and homeowner protections.
  • Katie Curran O’Malley to lead Women’s Law Center O’Malley, a retired Baltimore City District Court judge, will lead the nonprofit organization’s work, which focuses on legal representation and legislative advocacy to support and protect women.
  • State, Local Officials Team on Digital Equity in Baltimore As Maryland works to fill gaps in Internet access, Gov. Wes Moore and local groups are focused on ensuring residents have digital literacy skills, technical support and broadband, especially in areas like Baltimore.
  • Maryland Tenant Advocates Push State Leaders for $15M in 2024 Housing Aid Two dozen tenant activists were stamping their feet in the cold at People’s Park in downtown Annapolis on Wednesday. The weather was an annoyance, but it also illustrated a point: That apartment dwellers are being put out on the street every day in Maryland, and that struggling tenants need help — especially in winter.
  • UMD Leads Projects Aimed at Career Support, Accessibility for People with Disabilities Over the past year, the University of Maryland (UMD) has been awarded six new contracts and has launched a new digital accessibility project to promote greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and opportunity for individuals with disabilities in higher education and the workforce.

National A2J News                           

  • The Issues Access To Justice Leaders Are Watching In 2024 A surge in evictions, domestic violence and child poverty last year has heightened the demand for legal services to help low- and middle-income families, and worsened a shortage of attorneys to assist in matters ranging from housing to healthcare to benefits and beyond in 2024.
  • White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Issues Report Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and White House Counsel Ed Siskel co-chaired a convening of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR) where they announced the issuance of the 2023 LAIR Report, entitled Access to Justice in Federal Administrative Proceedings: Nonlawyer Assistance and Other Strategies. The Justice Department’s Office for Access to Justice facilitated the convening, which also featured remarks from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, as well as the publication of the report, in accordance with the office’s directive to staff and direct the work of LAIR at the direction of the co-chairs.
  • Access to Justice Spotlight: Fines and Fees During her remarks in Columbus, Director Rossi announced the publication of an ATJ report on promising practices for reducing reliance on criminal and civil fines and fees. The report, Access to Justice Spotlight: Fines and Fees, is designed to serve as a resource for policymakers looking to decrease systemic reliance on fines and fees as a source of revenue and to redress the harms fines and fees can cause. It reviews practices from across the country, covering more than forty states and a wide range of municipalities. We hope that it will be useful to policymakers in your states as well.
  • NCSC Hosts Webinar on Non-Lawyer Navigator Programs in State Courts NCSC hosted a webinar on non-lawyer navigator programs in state courts, featuring Georgetown Justice Lab Senior Fellow, Mary McClymont, discussing key findings and takeaways of her report, “Nonlawyer Navigators in State Courts: Part II — An Update.” Non-lawyer navigator programs in state courts are initiatives that use individuals without formal legal credentials, who are not court staff, to provide direct person-to-person assistance to court users.
  • A2JC Commissioner Jeniece Jones, ED of Public Justice Center, Serves as Panelist on National Broadcast about State of Civil Legal Aid in America As ABA launched its new report, The Profile of the Legal Profession, it held a national webinar on the state of civil legal aid in America. Featured among other experts, was A2JC Commissioner, Jeniece Jones.
  • A Mountain To Climb: The Inaccessibility Of Rural Courts The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill in November, following the Senate’s lead, that would add two federal court locations in rural parts of Texas and Washington state.
  • Inadequate Access to Legal Aid Across America: ABA’s Alarming Findings A recent report from the American Bar Association (ABA) sheds light on a critical issue within the U.S. legal system — the scarcity of civil legal aid attorneys available to assist low-income Americans.
  • Response Team Will Assist Courts With AI Policy and Practice The Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators have created a rapid response team (RRT) of chief justices and state court administrators to examine some of the immediate issues related to the use of AI and generative AI in courts. While the RRT begins its work, courts can find a wealth of information by visiting ncsc.org/ai.
  • CLEAR to Study Reforms to Legal Education and Admissions The Committee on Legal Education and Admissions Reform (CLEAR) will make recommendations to state supreme courts for practical reforms that will enhance legal education and diversify bar admission processes where appropriate.
  • Georgia Legal Kiosks In collaboration with the Georgia Legal Services Program, we’re thrilled to announce that our Legal Kiosk Project is expanding to Georgia. Stay tuned for our upcoming launch!
  • How Trauma-Informed Lawyering Can Help Clients Heal During a panel on trauma-informed lawyering during the Federal Bar Association’s annual conference in September, Schwikert Moser and other participants stressed the need for lawyers in sexual abuse cases to invest time to communicate with their clients, to listen to them and to give them the space needed to process their experiences.
  • Fact Sheet: Access to Justice is Disability Access On December 3, to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, ATJ released a fact sheet emphasizing the importance of disability access as essential to achieving access to justice, and highlighted the steps the office has taken to break down the attitudinal, legal, communication, physical, and economic barriers.
  • Vanderbilt Law AI Lab Co-Founders Discuss Gen AI’s A2J Impact: ‘It’s Up to Us’ Below, Legaltech News caught up with Moon and Williams, now both founding co-directors of VAILL, to discuss the impetus behind the lab, their thoughts on generative AI’s impact on access to justice and how legal students could be the ones behind future legal tech solutions.