To ensure all Marylanders have access to the state’s justice system, Maryland’s Judiciary has created the new Maryland Access to Justice Commission (MAJ). Chief Judge Robert M. Bell has charged this body with enhancing the quality of justice for all with respect to civil rights matters and overseeing the protection and rights the law provides to Marylanders. The Commission is comprised of Maryland judicial leaders, elected officials, state government representatives, MSBA leaders and others in the legal services community.
The Honorable Irma S. Raker, who recently retired from the Court of Appeals of Maryland, will lead an all-star cast that includes the Honorable Ben Clyburn, Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland, as Vice Chair and Congressman Benjamin Cardin, Governor Martin O’Malley and Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler as members. MSBA will be represented by President Katherine Kelly Howard and MSBA Past President Herbert S. Garten.
MAJ has been directed by the Chief Judge to review the overall effectiveness of the state’s delivery of legal services. It is expected to examine all aspects of the present court system and its working relationship with all of its partners. Ultimately, MAJ would like to craft a realistic vision of access to civil justice in Maryland today.
The mandate of this body is to “develop, consolidate, coordinate and [implement] policy initiatives and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for persons who encounter barriers in gaining access to Maryland’s civil justice system.” It is likely to probe everything from safety, accessibility and the convenience of Maryland courts to issues affecting self-represented litigants and such barriers as language, literacy and culture. Moreover, MAJ will examine information about the civil justice system that is currently disseminated to the public.
“I am very honored to be a member of this Commission,” declares MSBA President Katherine Kelly Howard. “I see my participation on MAJ as an outgrowth of the work of the MSBA Planning Committee’s subcommittee devoted to Access to Justice. Under the leadership of the Planning Committee Chair, the Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia, and subcommittee Chair Henry Dugan, we are identifying a number of access-to-justice issues facing the profession today.”
“Our group will work with MAJ as it reviews the many areas which need to be addressed with respect to access to justice,” adds Howard. “MSBA looks forward to its future interaction with the Commission as it examines the multifaceted issue of equal access to justice for all Maryland residents.”
At its initial meeting in Annapolis last month, MAJ welcomed Chief Justice John Broderick of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the director of the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, Bob Echols, to garner a national perspective of the issues surrounding access to justice. At this gathering, MAJ members gained insight into the initiatives launched by other state Access to Justice Commissions. This insight will help MAJ develop its direction for Maryland.
The impetus for this entity actually hails from the Maryland Judiciary’s “Work Group on Self-Representation in the Maryland Courts,” which called for its formation to move beyond self-representation issues and address a much broader perspective. According to this report, MAJ will function as “the vehicle through which the Judiciary and its justice system partners can collaborate to create a more thorough and effective implementation strategy for undertaking key justice initiatives.”
“By identifying and addressing critical barriers faced by those involved with the civil justice system, MAJ will strengthen public trust and confidence in the courts,” states Pamela Cardullo Ortiz, Executive Director of the Family Administration of the Administrative Office of the Courts, “and will ensure they are at a place where all voices can effectively be heard.”