The Maryland Access to Justice Commission (A2JC) is honored to have been chosen to partner with the Maryland Attorney General to launch a COVID-19 Task Force focused on access to justice in the civil justice system. The work of the Task Force will keep Marylanders housed, fed, safe, secure and connected.
A2JC has been demonstrating strong leadership and value during these uncertain times. We quickly started convening the civil legal aid community; aggregating resources on our COVID-19 Resource Center; creating one-pagers on substantive topics; partnering with national organizations to support increased media coverage; and are on our way to creating a Story Map of pandemic-related legal vulnerabilities and are working to develop a Civil Justice Data Dashboard.
We are exceptionally thankful for MSBA’s support in our endeavors. Membership in the MSBA makes all this work possible! It is now exciting for A2JC to be poised to elevate issues of access to justice in the civil justice system even more.
The Task Force has been convened because the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges to access to justice on a scale and magnitude we have not encountered before. The economic hardship caused by the business closures and illness have created conflicts that only the civil justice system can resolve, like missed rent payments leading to eviction notices; disputes over medical or consumer debt; or people being wrongfully denied public benefits necessary to keep their families afloat.
Even before the pandemic, 71% of low-income American households faced at least one civil legal issue – like eviction, domestic violence or unemployment claim denial – every year. At the same time, only 14% of those people received adequate legal help. What that meant is that millions of Americans lost their fight to keep their homes, keep themselves safe, provide security for their family – not because they had done something wrong – but because they did not have the legal help they needed. These injustices disproportionately impacted Black, Hispanic and Native American families as those households make up an outsized number of low-income households.
Now, even more people will face civil legal problems and need civil legal help – at a time when funding for services will be dwindling; when court processes will be more complicated and challenging to navigate on one’s own; and most critically, when the consequences of not receiving civil legal help will be unspeakably inhumane and dire.
Here, again, communities of color – who are still enduring the trauma of the lethal consequences of racial inequities in the healthcare and criminal justice systems – are expected to bear the brunt.
The civil justice system presents the next frontier. An avalanche of evictions is predicted; unemployment filings have skyrocketed, yet many Marylanders still face barriers receiving their unemployment checks; and even as health officials recommend foregoing public transportation to avoid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, consumers are poised to have their vehicles repossessed.
In forming this Task Force, we have intentionally brought together high-level and diverse leaders with expertise in a myriad of sectors, including health, disaster recovery, business, government and many others. It will also have an advisory composed of legislators from Maryland’s federal delegation. All will come together to confront this challenge together – with creativity, innovation and resolve.
The Task Force is expected to meet three times between now and December 1, in addition to a press conference announcing the launch on June 11 at 11am. You can view the press conference live via youtube by clicking here.
The charge of the Task Force is to ensure that when Marylanders encounter the civil justice system, justice is accessible, fair and equitable. Striving for this in the civil justice system will protect public health, spur economic growth and reduce harms to the most vulnerable among us.