New panel will study access to justice gap

A new 21-member panel of attorneys and academic, business and community representatives from throughout California will be appointed by year's end to oversee ways to improve access to justice.

The State Bar will appoint 10 lawyers and the chair of the Commission on Access to Justice. Other members will be named by the Judi-cial Council, California Judges Association, the governor, the state Chamber of Commerce and other entities.

The broad-based commission was established to implement recommendations of a working group which found a growing gap between the legal needs of low- and moderate-income Californians and their ability to afford legal help.

"Lawyers, individually, professionally and as leaders in our society, have a worthy but audacious goal ahead of us," said Joseph Bell, a Grass Valley attorney and chair of the bar's committee on legal services.

As proposed by the working group, the commission will provide leadership in increasing access to justice and will oversee efforts to increase funding and improve the delivery of legal services to those who need them. The working group made 13 recommendations and presented 15 options for additional funding for legal services.

Commission members will be appointed for a minimum of 18 months initially; later members' terms will increase to three years. It is to report back to the bar within 18 months concerning its progress on short- and long-term goals.

Among the recommendations are the possibility of a statewide prepaid legal insurance plan, expanded use of supervised paralegals, improved pro per assistance and increased filing fees to support access to justice.

Applications are due Nov. 15 and may be obtained by calling 415/561-8800.