No Access to Justice Is Justice Denied

"Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

This edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal focuses on Access to Justice in our state, an issue that has reached a crisis level for Tennesseans. We are all following the work of the Tennessee Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission established this year as it develops a strategic plan to be submitted to the court in 2010. The ATJ Commission is led by Chair Margaret Behm with my predecessor Buck Lewis as vice chair. Many lawyers are serving on committees assisting in this massive endeavor.

The Tennessee Bar Association Access to Justice Committee, chaired by Deb House, continues its long history of great work year-round. The TBA is one of a handful of state bar associations in the country with a staff member dedicated solely to access to justice, and we are fortunate to have Anjanette Eash in this important position at the TBA. Some of the TBA ATJ Committee's recent accomplishments and activities include the Justice 4-ALL Campaign; the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative, which incorporates grants, awards and events, including the highly successful Annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Gala; creation and adoption of Model Firm Pro Bono Policies (available on the TBA Web site at www.tba.org/resource/model-firm-pro-bono-policies-0); and, most recently the coordination of and participation in Celebrate Pro Bono month in October 2009. The latest initiative served 1,095 clients and involved 554 attorneys across the state.

The TBA ATJ Committee also coordinates initiatives and works with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), legal aid societies, pro bono programs, Tennessee law schools, governmental agencies, nonprofits, public interest law firms, the private bar, the Tennessee Supreme Court, advocacy groups, and anyone else it can identify as partners in its quest to increase Access to Justice in Tennessee. I want to personally recognize and thank each and every member of the TBA ATJ Committee for their dedication and hard work. The following lawyers are currently members of this critical TBA Committee: Ursula Bailey, Ann Barker, Jim Barry, Sam Blaiss, John Blankenship, Doug Blaze, Andy Branham, David Canas, Erik Cole, Jackie Dixon, David Esquivel, Carla Forney, Russell Fowler, David Gall, Cindy Gardner, John Garrett, Seth Holliday, Deb House, Gary Housepian, Alex Hurder, Meg Jones, Alex Mackay, Eric Miller, Spring Miller, Alistair Newbern, Nancy Pagano, Carla Peacher-Ryan, LaFran Plunk, Jane Powers, Becky Rhodes, Connie Ross, Yvette Sebelist, Carl Seely, Kevin Sharp, Lucinda Smith, Jonathan Steen, Jill Talbert, David Taylor, Kendra Tidwell, Kathryn Tucker, Linda Warren Seely, Kimberlee Waterhouse, Terry Woods and David Yoder. These remarkable lawyers are some of the hardest working TBA members, and they are located all across the state in every practice setting. We appreciate each and every one of you.

As a reminder of just some of the many reasons why Access to Justice is at a crisis level in Tennessee, here are a few current real-world examples of why we continue to press forward :

  • Legal Aid offices do not handle domestic matters unless there is abuse or violence involved. Many cases involving child custody and other basic important family law issues need volunteer or low-cost lawyers to represent families in these life-changing proceedings.
  • Clients cannot get lawyers to take their case because the amount in dispute is considered to be too little for the attorney to take the case, yet the impact on the client who needs and is entitled to the amount in dispute is great.
  • Clients who qualify for services and who have a case that Legal Aid attorneys can handle do not get an attorney because the Legal Aid office does not have enough attorneys to handle the number of qualified clients.
  • TennCare health care benefits continue to shrink or disappear and volunteer lawyers are needed to handle appeals that can lead to life-saving results for clients.

As we enter the New Year full of hope and resolution, lawyers like Michael Abelow and Doug Stevick, and law students like Diana Comes — who are profiled in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal — for their outstanding work for pro bono, inspire us to do even more to ensure that everyone has access to justice so that justice is not denied.