A PUBLICATION OF THE MARYLAND JUDICIARYSPRING-SUMMER 2009 vol. 12, no. 4
Working to Ensure Access for All Citizens
Maryland Access to Justice Commission
Each year, the Maryland Judiciary handles more than two million cases. For many of the individuals seeking justice in these cases, understanding how to navigate the court system is a daunting task. Before a court date is even scheduled, individuals may need assistance determining if they need legal representation in a child support or child custody case; or how to request an interpreter if they speak limited English; or obtain help reading or understanding courthouse signs and even forms due to literacy or disability barriers that may limit their ability to understand or access services.
These real-life scenarios can pose serious challenges in ensuring full access to justice for the thousands of people who interact with the courts each day. And with decreased funding for legal services, it is increasingly difficult to meet the growing needs of the poor, indigent and disabled.
As a result, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell has created the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to oversee and ensure that all Marylanders can access the state’s
"Each day, Maryland’s courts reflect, by their actions, their commitment to provide full and fair access to justice for all citizens. This is one of the Judiciary’s guiding principles,” Chief Judge Bell said. “Even as the Judiciary continues to take on new challenges, our guiding principles remain the same and direct all that we do.”
Led by retired Judge Irma S. Raker of the Court of Appeals and vice chair Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland, the Commission will launch a series of listening events to garner public input. The Commission will make recommendations for change, and will pilot innovations that enhance access to the courts and legal services. The Commission will examine all aspects of the present court system and its working relationship with all of its partners.
“From this intensive examination, we hope to craft a realistic vision of access to justice in Maryland today,” said Judge Raker. “This will help us enhance the quality of justice for all.”
Pamela Cardullo Ortiz, the Commission’s executive director, is working to ensure that the Commission serves as the focal point for a number of initiatives, including self-help centers, forms and resource development to aid court users, initiatives to support the state’s legal services delivery system, including pro bono activities, as well as innovations to help court users overcome language, literacy, and other barriers in accessing the civil justice system.
“By identifying and addressing critical barriers faced by those involved with the civil justice system, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission will strengthen public trust and confidence in the courts,” Ortiz said.