Hail to the Chief
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The recent “State of the Judiciary” delivered by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson to members of the Texas Legislature offers some sobering views on the public’s lack of access to legal services in the state.
Chief Justice Jefferson rightly noted the 2.5 million hours of free legal services donated by Texas lawyers to the poor each year, ongoing legislative funding for legal aid services, and the Court’s own success in placing pro se litigants with volunteer appellate attorneys. However, he also noted that while 6 million Texans qualify for legal aid, the financial and pro bono support offered by these and other programs meet only 20 percent of the need for qualified legal representation.
In calling for ongoing support of the indigent, Chief Justice Jefferson devoted much of his address to comments on a “dark secret that plagues our justice system as a whole.”
“The sad fact is that the middle class and small businesses find our system unworkable and unaffordable,” he said. “They believe there are too many unnecessary lawsuits, coupled with incessant legal wrangling that drags out cases. And they feel that even if they are entitled to a remedy for a legal wrong, they cannot afford the fees a lawyer quotes for vindication. It is time for us to do our part to answer these concerns, because if the remedy is unaffordable, justice is denied.”
In calling for broad-based and creative solutions to these issues, the Chief Justice offered several developments that are pending or in place:
- Court-approved family law forms that streamline procedural rules for uncontested divorces involving no children and no real property
- Recently adopted rules that limit discovery in cases involving claims of less than $100,000
- Stronger standards that allow courts to evaluate and dismiss frivolous lawsuits
- Ongoing efforts to simplify and consolidate small claims cases
- Mandated electronic filing of civil cases as part of a uniform, statewide e-filing system
Most Texans – as well as most lawyers – are unaware that our state Supreme Court does not just decide cases and write opinions. The Justices are collectively the head of the judicial branch of government in Texas, and with that comes a myriad of administrative responsibilities that keep them quite busy. None more so than the Chief Justice, where the judicial buck ultimately stops. His thoughtful and timely State of the Judiciary speech demonstrates that he takes that responsibility very seriously.
Posted: 5/1/2013 12:00:00 AM by
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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.
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