Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2007

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Fresh-faced Cal Ripken, Jr., began his Rookie-of-the-Year campaign for the Orioles on Opening Day at Memorial Stadium against the Kansas City Royals, April 5, 1982. With his cleats dug into the dirt of the batters box, Ripken swung and made great contact on the first pitch that crossed the plate. The ball was hit high into the Baltimore sky and landed as the first homerun of his eventual 431 (career). That same year, the newly-formed Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) scored on its first at-bat with the creation of Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), which allowed MLSC to conduct its legal services to the indigent Maryland residents.

Over the next quarter-century, both Ripken and MLSC would doggedly work to become stalwarts in their respective fields, for which both were recognized in 2007; Ripken was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, while MLSC celebrated its 25th year of promoting access to civil justice on December 10, at the Tremont Grand in downtown Baltimore. And like the famous Oriole shortstop, MLSC has compiled many accomplishments and milestones over its still-youthful existence.

“Access to civil justice largely has depended on every man’s ability to pay for legal representation,” said Baltimore City Circuit Court Administrative Judge Pamela J. White during the MLSC symposium held on October 11, 2007, at the University of Maryland-Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library. “In this new century, the success of IOLTA and MLSC grants to legal service providers is worth celebrating and renewing.”

Though the creation of IOLTA was MLSC’s first success, it was not until 1988, when Congressman Benjamin Cardin – then chair of the legal organization and now U.S. Senator for Maryland – released “The Cardin Report”, that the achievements began to snowball.

Upon realization that over 80 percent of Maryland’s poor were not receiving legal assistance, the Report suggested 41 measures be taken, including mandatory IOLTA participation by lawyers, civil filing fee surcharges, and encouraging the creation of pro bono and reduced-fee programs to serve the poor.

“The intent of [The Cardin Report] is to ‘allocate the responsibility fairly among all involved groups, to help secure equal access to justice for all citizens,’” wrote Janet Stidman Eveleth in the February 1988 edition of the Bar Bulletin.

The following year saw the enactment of the IOLTA requirement for lawyers, the funds of which contributed to adding legal service programs. Furthermore, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland was created through a grant from MLSC in hopes of linking volunteer attorneys with impoverished Maryland residents. In 1998, required legal surcharges for case filings began.

Two more milestones came during MLSC’s twenty-aught years. In 2001, an “Honor Roll” of banks was created to improve IOLTA interest rates. Then, in 2005, after a Model Child Custody Representation Project in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties showed excellent results, a statewide reduced-fee representation in child-custody cases took affect.

These milestones are implicitly tied to the five men who have helmed MLSC during its existence. Former Attorney General for the U.S. Benjamin Civiletti was chair from 1982-86; Past MSBA President Herbert Belgrad served from 1986-88; the aforementioned Senator Cardin guided MLSC till 1995, whereupon Herbert Garten (another Past MSBA President) took over until 2003. Former State Senator Vernon Boozer currently chairs MLSC.

According to a letter from Cardin, read to the audience at this past October’s symposium, he plans to introduce legislation based on providing legal assistance to low-income Americans across the nation.

“The creation of MLSC and innovation of IOLTA [has opened] the courthouse doors to those historically without access to justice or to a consistent quality of justice,” said Judge White.

The Ironman of Major League Baseball recently returned from a 10-day trip to China as a part of a State Department-envoy aimed at spreading the game that he cherishes to 1.3 billion people. Baseball is not extremely popular in the Far East and, in an effort of diplomacy, Ripken – accompanied by a small entourage – traversed the countryside hosting clinics and teaching the fundamentals to the Chinese youth who lack the proper instructors. Back in the Old Line State, MLSC has been aiding those without proper assistance in the legal arena for the last 25 years. To date, 1.4 million legal matters have been served in the state with over $100 million in grants.

“MLSC has exceeded our hopes and expectations,” said Judge White, brainchild of the Ripken/MLSC coupling. “It is, indeed, a hall of fame year for both MLSC and Cal, [though] MLSC is still on the playing field.”

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December  2007