Bernette J. Johnson, chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson recently signed an order establishing the Louisiana Access to Justice (ATJ) Commission in order to ensure that all citizens are treated equally under the law.
“The newly formed Louisiana Access to Justice Commission will primarily affect individuals who are otherwise unable to afford an attorney in civil matters," Monte Mollere, director of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s (LSBA) Access to Justice Department, recently told the Louisiana Record. "The commission will bring an increased level of involvement by judges, clerks of court, the business community and others to the work of the LSBA’s long-standing Access to Justice Committee, providing even greater impact to the initiatives that support access to the courts. This work focuses on the need for assistance in civil legal matters, where unlike many criminal cases, individuals do not have access or the right to an attorney."
In partnership with the LSBA, the commission’s goals include educating Louisiana’s citizens about their equal rights to justices and the challenges in accessing the civil justice system, strengthening civil legal services, maximizing funding to increase statewide access to justice, identifying and lessening systematic failures barring citizens from accessing justice, and encouraging pro bono legal service.
Mollere said the ATJ will measure its success by looking at the number of individuals with legal representation in courts, the number of individuals accessing legal forms in libraries and the amount of funding to organizations that provide legal services to low-income residents.
“Even a greater awareness of these issues can demonstrate success,” Mollere said. “As further goals are established by the Louisiana ATJ Commission, so too will outcome assessments."
The commission will consist of 21 voting members representing diverse ethnicities, genders and communities who have demonstrated a “commitment to and familiarity with access to justice in Louisiana,” and who provide diverse types of civil legal aid. These members will be appointed by the president of the LSBA with the aid of the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The order establishes that the membership must include a justice of the Supreme Court. The ATJ will be co-chaired by a member of the judiciary and a member of the bar association, as appointed by the LSBA president. It will be divided into committees and staffed by the LSBA.
Mollere said the ATJ will periodically report to the LSBA and the Supreme Court on its efforts to measure its efficacy in addressing issues such as “self-represented litigation, pro bono, criminal justice, funding of the civil justice system, legal needs assessments and various other matters.”