Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : July 2006

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Legal Services Community Gathers for Maryland Partners for Justice Conference

Over 270 attorneys and judges gathered at the Baltimore Convention Center on May 10, 2006, for the 8th Annual Maryland Partners for Justice Conference, presented by the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC). These representatives from the state's legal services community came together to collectively pursue access to justice for all Marylanders. Maryland's Legal Aid Bureau, the Office of the Public Defender and pro bono provider organizations were all well-represented at this annual event.

"This conference comes at a time when there is growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and Hurricane Katrina drove this point home last fall," declared the Honorable Cathy H. Serrette, PBRC President, as she opened the conference and offered greetings. "Today, legal services advocates across the state are gathering together to learn from each other and to seek and bring about justice."

The Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of Maryland, served as the conference's keynote speaker. "We have a job to do – provide access to justice to the people who really need it," he noted. Bell traced the history of PBRC, created by the Maryland State Bar Association in 1990 with the support of then Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, and praised the Center and its Executive Director, Sharon E. Goldsmith, for their outstanding work.

"The Judiciary depends on the trust and confidence of the people," stressed Bell. "The people's trust provides the Judiciary with the only power it has. Maryland's Judiciary has a long history of providing access [to justice], and we continue along these lines, but we need the partners in this room to perform well. You are actively engaged in providing access and empowering people. You make the justice system work. Collaborating with each other and working together, you make a real difference."

A series of workshops focusing on everything from legislation, child advocacy, criminal clients and housing and community planning to the impact of Katrina on the immigrant community, veterans' issues, government pro bono and race and poverty in this country were then presented. Race and poverty was addressed by luncheon speaker Judge Patricia Ward, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 1986-1991 and has written several books on the subject.

"The poor are always with us," asserted Ward. "There are 37 million in this country…and federal-funded programs are declining. Increasingly, states are providing more and more legal aid." Ward praised Maryland's comprehensive legal services network, including the Legal Aid Bureau, the Public Justice Center, the 20 Maryland Legal Service Corporation-funded providers and PBRC, for increasing private bar activities. Still, she pointed out, with all of these programs, the need cannot be met.

"Only with a change in public policy can you help the poor," suggests Ward. "We need a national strategy to address poverty; then legal services advocates can choose the best solutions to aid the poor." In the afternoon, this topic was again visited with poor people facing barriers to adequate health care workshop. Other sessions addressed school problems for kids, technology, judicial tips, landlord tenant laws and identity theft.

"The goal of the Pro Bono Resource Center is to promote the culture of pro bono, enhance the capabilities of the legal services providers, and expand the vision of equal access," states Sharon E. Goldsmith, PBRC Executive Director. "We can only do this through the collaboration of our partners in the legal services field, on the bench, in the private and public legal sectors, and in the community at large."

"Our Maryland Partners for Justice Conference is a prime example of true collaboration with a shared vision of obtaining a fair and just legal system," she adds. "It provides the one and only opportunity for those dedicated to access to justice issues in the state to convene for the purpose of learning from one another and strategizing for the future.

"The 2006 Conference exceeded our expectations in terms of the numbers of participants and the array of important issues discussed," Goldsmith continues. "We were extremely pleased to have the support and participation of the Office of the Public Defender, which added a new dimension and will allow us to better address the needs of low-income people in our state."

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: July 2006

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