New Access to Justice Commission sets ambitious agenda

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University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich and the Access to Justice Commission’s executive director, Reena K. Shah, at the launch of the commission on Feb. 1. (Photo by Eric Stocklin)

Maryland’s new Access to Justice Commission held a kickoff event Monday, Feb. 1, with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh as the keynote speakers.

The commission seeks to expand access to the courts for people who can’t afford legal representation in civil cases, as well as to better inform Marylanders of their legal rights and to bolster the ranks of attorneys who take on pro-bono cases.

The Access to Justice Commission is chaired by Ward B. Coe III, a partner with Gallagher, Evelius & Jones in Baltimore. Reena K. Shah, the commission’s executive director, works from an office in UB’s Angelos Law Center.

The commission, which succeeds a panel created by the state judiciary, is independent and includes Maryland law school deans Ronald Weich and Donald Tobin, UB School of Law Associate Dean Vicki Schultz and members of the Maryland bar, as well as Frosh and the leaders of several legal services organizations.

One of the commission’s first tasks will be advocating for legislation that supports a right to counsel in civil matters, Coe and Shah said.

“A lack of representation can lead directly to triggering the cycle of poverty and reinforcing it,” Coe said at the Monday launch, which was covered by The Daily Record and The Sun, among other news outlets. “These are very critical times and now is the time to take action.”

Cummings, who was quoted by The Daily Record, said: “If you do not have justice, you will have the absence of peace. Our society is moving more and more toward two societies – it’s already there, really. I’m not just talking about those who have financial resources, but also those who have legal resources and those who do not.”

Frosh emphasized that without legal representation, many people might not know they could have convictions for minor crimes expunged from their records.

“It’s like trying to swim with an anchor around your neck,” Frosh said, according to The Daily Record. “These people are saddled with a burden that is very hard for them to carry.”

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The Access to Justice Commission launch makes the news ticker in Baltimore on Feb. 1.

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