Author: Betty Torres

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Community Leadership in the Wake of Turner

Legal Aid programs, courts, commissions and other access to justice partners should strive to develop effective approaches to effectuate changes prompted by Turner. The various stakeholders can use this as an opportunity to fully discuss Civil Gideon issues and the implications to low-income people who cannot obtain civil legal services. The numbers of those unable to afford services are staggering and continue to increase further stretching the resources of the courts and of legal aid programs.

A national forum to discuss Civil Gideon issues would help provide guidance to communities struggling with these issues. Ultimately, the solutions must be determined locally. Each state has its own dynamics vis a vis the access to justice community and the courts. In some states, the ATJ Commission may be able to take the lead and work on a potential framework for ways to ensure right to counsel, while in other states the leadership may need to come from the courts. Regardless of who takes the reins, there will need to be leadership by an entity/community if there will be any changes to the status quo.

Turner puts the spotlight on Civil Gideon issues both in context of “safeguards” and representation. This spotlight should remind state access to justice communities about the critical need for access to the courts by those who cannot represent themselves. Turner should remind us that the funding of legal aid in this country is completely inadequate and that very often there are important rights that are lost due to the lack of representation.

A complicated problem has no easy solutions. Clearly, the courts and legal aid programs need to be better funded to ensure people have access to the courts. Assuming that there will continue to be a lack of adequate funding, any solutions will have to be a part of a determined and strategic work by the stakeholders and, in some instances, may come from continued litigation on the issue.