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 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
"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."