New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr., in a keynote address for the Sept. 22 annual conference of the Colorado judiciary, urges judges to speak out on access to justice issues in their states, especially the growing population of self-represented litigants and the need for increased support for low-cost or free legal services.
"Despite the efforts of many good people over many decades, equal justice under law remains unrealized and often seems more an aspiration than a promise; more a distant goal than an impending reality. But one thing is certain: the gap between those who can afford to navigate the American justice system and those who can’t is widening," Broderick says in a speech to be delivered to about 375 Colorado state judges and magistrates in Breckenridge. Broderick, in his remarks, says nothing prevents judges from "giving voice and support to a national effort and a national dialogue to truly open up our civil justice system to all who need it."
"If the judges in this country, who know best the struggles of the self-represented in our courthouses and the impact of those struggles on the fair administration of justice, remain silent who, then, should speak? Who, then, will speak?" Broderick asks.
During his tenure as Chief Justice, Broderick has focused on raising awareness in the New Hampshire legal community about both the need for accessible and affordable legal services and the professional responsibility lawyers have to help meet that need. His keynote address in Colorado is part of an ongoing effort by the Chief Justice to talk about New Hampshire’s efforts and generate further discussion with judges and court administrators from other states about access to justice for all citizens. In May, Broderick was the keynote speaker at a session of the American Bar Association’s 2008 Equal Justice Conference in Minneapolis attended by leaders of groups around the country that work to improve legal services to poor and low-income individuals. (Also at that meeting, NHBA Legal Services Director Ginny Martin was recognized with the Pro Bono Manager of the Year award.)
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has established an Access to Justice Commission, joining 25 other states that have launched organized efforts to both coordinate existing legal service delivery programs and develop new initiatives. Broderick, who was a member of the national Legal Services Corporation for nine years, has also visited 17 of the state’s major law firms around the state, urging practitioners to contribute more time to work. He also met at the Supreme Court with managing partners of the state’s leading law firms, leaders of trial lawyer organizations, former bar presidents and retired lawyers in an effort to find innovative ways to provide low cost and volunteer legal assistance.
Next month, Broderick is scheduled to address the Conference of Midwest Chief Justices in Nebraska City, focusing on the future of state court systems, including the impact of the rising number of self-represented litigants. Broderick, who has been a member of the board of directors of the national Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), earlier this month also participated in a conference in Baltimore on court leadership and self-represented litigants sponsored by the National Center for State Courts. Later this year, Broderick will address the members of the newly created Maryland Access to Justice Commission.