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Bar News - September 17, 2010

New ABA President Appoints Access to Justice Task Force

Stephen N. Zack
Stephen N. Zack, who took office as president of the American Bar Association in August, said Ted Olson and David Boies will co-chair a new ABA task force on the preservation of the justice system.

Olson, former US Solicitor General in the George W. Bush administration, is well-known as a commentator on legal issues from a conservative perspective, and Boies, a trial lawyer, is perhaps best-known as chief legal counsel for Vice President Al Gore in the vote-counting dispute in the 2000 election.

Zack, a Miami lawyer who preside as ABA president for the 2010 to 2011 Association year, says it is important to include lawyers from all political persuasions and areas of the legal profession in examining access to justice issues.

"Our system of government was created with the basic belief that the doors to our courts would always be open to all citizens. Equal justice under law is the birthright of Americans. It is a promise enshrined in our Constitution and written over the entrance of our Supreme Court. We need to make good on this promise," said Zack.

Addressing the ABA Delegates last month, Zack added:

"We are fighting for rule of law around the world, but we are in danger of losing it here" he said. "The financial crisis in America has been devastating to our judicial system, with 80 percent of this nation’s poor people not being able to afford a lawyer, he said. But beyond that, Zack continued, "We are talking about closing the doors to our courtrooms for all Americans." Access to justice begins with access to our courts."

Earlier this summer, the ABA released a survey of 1,000 state judges that identified several factors that are negatively affecting the courts, including the growing phenomenon of self-representation. The burgeoning numbers of self-represented litigants, survey respondents said, are slowing court operations at the same time as judicial budget cost-cutting is making it increasingly difficult for parties to get into court before a judge.

Zack announced that he intends to focus on four core presidential initiatives during his tenure:
  • access to justice and the underfunding of the judiciary;
  • the need for increased civic education in our schools and society;
  • Hispanic legal rights; and
  • the ABA’s work in the area of disaster response and preparedness.
Zack is a partner in the national law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner and is the ABA’s first president of Hispanic descent.

In a survey released by the ABA earlier this summer, state judges indicated that a lack of representation in civil matters is hurting individuals’ cases, and is impeding the judicial process in courtrooms.

Approximately 1,000 state trial judges responded to the survey, which posed questions about their dockets, self-representation and the impact on the courts. More than half of the judges stated that their dockets increased in 2009, with the most common areas of increase involving foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer issues such as debt, and non-foreclosure housing issues such as rental disputes.

Sixty percent of judges said that fewer parties are being represented by lawyers, with 62 percent saying that parties are negatively impacted by not being represented. The impact is exemplified, through a failure to present necessary evidence (94 percent), procedural errors (89 percent), ineffective witness examination (85 percent), failure to properly object to evidence (81 percent) and ineffective argument (77 percent).

During a time when state budgets are being cut, government agencies as well as courts are being asked to become more efficient. However, the increase in non-represented parties makes this more difficult for courts. The lack of representation has a negative impact on the court, said 78 percent of the judges, and 90 percent of the judges said court procedures are slowed when parties are not represented.

Nearly half of the judges responding believe that there is a middle-class gap with respect to access to justice, as the number of people who are not represented and who do not qualify for aid is increasing.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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