Maryland’s legal community celebrated the 10th Annual Maryland Partners for Justice Conference, presented by the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), on June 4 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Over 300 attorneys, judges, legislators and other representatives of the state’s legal services community came together at PBRC’s “signature event” seeking ways to increase access to justice for all Marylanders. At the conference, key legal services issues facing this country’s justice system were addressed, with particular emphasis on the current foreclosure crisis.
“You are the foundation of our justice system” announced PRBC Executive Director Sharon E. Goldsmith. “The number of people needing help is truly daunting, but we are light-years ahead of where we were 10 years ago.” Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, the conference’s keynote speaker, concurred. “This is truly a milestone to be proud of …you have done much in 10 years to enhance the public’s trust and confidence in the system,” he echoed. “This is critical for an effective justice system.”
“Maryland’s legal services community is a shining example of a collective effort to expand access to justice to those in need of legal services,” declared MSBA President Kathy Kelly Howard. “You all are the reason that our state is one of the national leaders in expanding legal services for those in need.” Howard congratulated PBRC, MSBA’s pro bono arm, on its 10th MD Partners for Justice Conference, praised the Center’s thousands of volunteer lawyers for “advancing pro bono service across the state” and applauded the 1.5+ million hours of pro bono service volunteer lawyers donated in 2006.
The luncheon speaker, Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations and a civil rights lawyer, proclaimed, “Legal rights is the unfinished business in America’s quest for equal justice to all! The mission of civil rights is to enforce the Constitution, which applies to everyone.”
Perez went on to address the state’s foreclosure crisis. “The numbers are overwhelming,” he reported. “In 2006, there were 3,500 foreclosure events in this state, which increased to 23,000 in 2007. Already this year we have had 11,000 in the first quarter alone. This presents global implications, endangers communities and increases crime. We hope to soon present a package of reforms on the foreclosure process,” he concluded, to help people in this state.
The conference also offered a series of workshops focusing on everything from legislation, education, homelessness, pro bono community clinics, homeownership and foreclosure to serving the needs of soldiers, immigration, family law, children’s teeth and mental health issues.
“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.”