Special Committee on Access to Legal Services

Andrea L. Bridgeman, chair


Membership, officers, committees
In 2010-11, the Special Committee on Access to Legal Services had sixteen members, including one who services ex officio. The co-vice chairs were Raymond A. Hartz, executive director of Eastern Virginia Legal Aid Society, and Crystal Y. Twitty, counsel to the Virginia Community College System.  Subcommittee chairs included: Arlene K. Beckerman (special projects and strategic planning); Crystal Y. Twitty and Eva N. Juncker (continuing legal education planning and minority and disability access); and Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan Jr. (awards and speakers). 

Budget
Committee expenses totaled about $7,800 in fiscal 2011; expenses for the Access to Legal Services Program departmental budget were $101,000.  Combined costs for these dovetailing efforts were within projections.  The committee sponsors numerous events at the Virginia State Bar Annual Meeting and, as many of our members are solo or small-firm practitioners or employees of law-related public interest groups, such as licensed legal aid societies, we would like to explore with the Special Committee to Study the Annual Meeting potential bar underwriting of the modest travel-related expenses of access committee members who volunteer at committee-sponsored annual meeting events.  

Meetings and activities
The committee met in Richmond on September 22, 2010, November 3, 2010, February 9, 2011, and June 6, 2011, and in Ashland on April 12, 2011; it also met through two telephone conferences in early October to discuss events later in the year; no formal action was taken at these meetings.  

CLE Programs
Following an excellent costumed reenactment of Patrick Henry’s argument of the Parson’s Cause by the Virginia Patriots Inc., the access committee produced a CLE program, “Representing Unpopular Persons and Causes: From the Parson’s Cause to the Twenty-first Century,” on April 12, in the historic Hanover County Courthouse. The program was held in conjunction with the committee’s meeting and an awards program.  Presented by Nina J. Ginsburg of DiMuro Ginsburg PC, committee member Janet James of the Virginia Department for the Aging, VSB Ethics Counsel James M. McCauley, and Abigail Turner of the Legal Aid Justice Center and moderated by Andrea L. Bridgeman, the program addressed, in both the civil and criminal contexts, the legal profession’s obligation to provide for representation of unpopular persons and causes and the ethical obligations of attorneys when called upon to represent persons or positions they find repugnant; how to handle personal threats; the impact of this type of representation on one’s practice; standby counsel; and how unpopular persons and causes evolve over time. The program was well received and qualified for an hour of ethics credit.  It also spurred legal aid to feature a public radio program on the topic:  http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/51745 .

The Committee cosponsored CLE at the annual meeting with the Health Law Section that, as in 2010, focused on federal legislative changes.  Abigail Turner of the Legal Aid Justice Center addressed aspects of health law reform that affected the poverty population.

Annual meeting activities
The Legal Aid Award luncheon at the Cavalier beachfront hotel honored Larry T. Harley, long-tenured executive director of the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society in Abingdon. The program was successful, due in part to buffet service and less-formal seating.  We were pleased by the turnout and honored by the number of judges attending (seated throughout the tables, thanks to encouragement from retired judge James W. Benton), with Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser and Justice William C. Mims at the head table.  The chair met with the legal aid project directors prior to the award luncheon.

At the annual meeting Expo, the committee maintained a booth marked by the new Access to Justice banner, and the committee sponsored an Access to Justice Book and Technology Fair.  On Thursday, Christine E. Marra of the Virginia Poverty Law Center demonstrated interactive domestic relations software.  Friday featured an all-day display by Fountain Books of Richmond, with a book-signing by Richmond attorney Ellen Firsching Brown, co-author of a critically acclaimed trade book with a pro se twist: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood.   

Notable Activities

  • The chair appeared in September and October before the VSB Council’s executive committee to promote the concept of a dues checkoff to benefit Legal Services Corporation of Virginia. The chair, with VSB staff and ex officio access committee member Mark D. Braley, executive director of LSCV, prepared materials to respond to questions posed by committee members. The executive committee declined to endorse the proposal, and the proposal was not presented to the council.  The access committee appreciates the inclusion in the 2011-12 bar dues mailing of a letter soliciting donations on behalf of LSCV grantees.  Given the financial strains and increasing caseloads these programs are coping with due to fallout from the economic downturn, access committee members anticipate a need for further discussions.
  • A joint VSB-Virginia Bar Association Task Force met once, in July 2010. and successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to revise its Rule 1A:5 to loosen the restrictions placed on Corporate Counsel certificate holders who perform pro bono publico work within the commonwealth.  Since the April 2011 effective date of the rule change, committee members have sought to work with the VSB Corporate Counsel Section Board of Governors and the Washington Area Metropolitan Corporate Counsel Association to encourage in-house counsel to take advantage of the new opportunities. 
  • Activities in Ashland on April 12, 2011, were tantamount to a pro bono conference.  The day began with Speakers & Awards subcommittee and full committee meetings, the latter with participation from invited guests:
  • Clarence M. Dunnaville Jr., 2009 recipient of the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Pro Bono Award;
  • Madelynn Herman, senior program analyst and statewide domestic violence programs coordinator for the Department of Judicial Planning in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia;
  • S. Starling Marshall, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney and daughter of 2011 Powell Award recipient Gail Starling Marshall;
  • George A. McAndrews, pro bono initiative representative for the Local Government Attorneys Association;
  • Colleen Miller, executive director of the Virginia Office of Protection and Advocacy; and
  • Scott C. Oostdyk of McGuireWoods LLP, a VBA representative to the Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Summit.

At conclusion of the meetings, the group relocated to Hanover Courthouse for the Parson’s Cause drama, the CLE program, and a dinner for committee members and invited guests. Those events were followed by an excellent ceremony at which VSB President Irving M. Blank graciously honored two awardees, who were unable to attend.  The ceremony included acceptance remarks read by Clinical Law Professor Mary Z. Natkin of Washington and Lee University on behalf of Daniel H. Goldman, recipient of the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award. Also, access committee member Crystal Y. Twitty, who had served law clerk to the late Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr., movingly presented her memories of him.

  • Based in part on vibrant discussion at the April 12 committee meeting and in part on information and materials gleaned from the American Bar Association-National Legal Aid & Defender Association (ABA-NLADA) Equal Justice Conference, the access committee convened a special meeting on June 6, 2011, to discuss the concept of state access to justice (A2J) commissions and whether Virginia might benefit from such a group.  These exploratory discussions tie into the committee’s preliminary five-year plan previously shared with former VSB president Manuel A. Capsalis.  A2J commissions in some form support administration of access to legal services and fund-raising for indigent representation in more than two dozen states (including our neighbors Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia).  While administrative support and state funding activities for the commonwealth’s licensed civil legal aid societies is managed through Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, there is little coordination among the law schools and other not-for-profit and volunteer programs and fund-raising initiatives.  Given that, and the benefits that might derive from closer relationships with the judiciary (a common feature of A2J commissions), it seemed that there might be value in such an approach.  Several who attended the meeting shared the opinion that state judges in Virginia are not likely to be helpful in increasing legal aid funding or access to justice generally because their appointments are controlled by the General Assembly; caution and the status quo were therefore preferred over change.  LSCV, which has long cultivated relationships with General Assembly leaders to increase and preserve legal aid monies, will protect those relationships, and is not now amenable to another entity that might operate in its space.  (Sister states report instances of similar resistance.) As a result, consideration of convening a more robust vehicle to support access to justice in Virginia is not, for the time being, a priority for the committee.
  • The committee is grateful to the bar for publishing in the December 2010 edition of Virginia Lawyer magazine the article titled “Access to Justice in the United States: Findings from the Newly Released Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project.”  Co-authored by Roderick B. Matthews and Juan Carlos Botero, it appears, with other equal justice entries, at http://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/vl1210-access.pdf
  • Committee members Andrea Bridgeman, Ray Hartz, Arlene Beckerman and Margaret A. Nelson, with VSB access to justice director Maureen K. Petrini, attended the ABA-NLADA Equal Justice Conference in Nevada May 19-21, 2011.

Support for (and from) entities with overlapping interests

  • Committee member Arlene Beckerman attended a September 10, 2010, luncheon in Richmond arranged by the Virginia Law Foundation to explore suggestions for implementation of the VLF Board’s adoption of a three-year focus (2011-14) on access to justice for the underserved via a specific grant program.
  • A October 14, 2010, George Mason University School of Law panel for law students on careers and opportunities in public service included 2010 Powell awardee Bill Reichhardt as a panelist, and received committee organizational support.
  • Committee members Andrea Bridgeman and Crystal Twitty and VSB staff liaison Maureen Petrini attended Legal Services of Northern Virginia’s fundraising event at Tysons Corner on October 23, 2010. 
  • Committee members Andrea Bridgeman and Margaret Nelson and VSB staff liaison Maureen Petrini attended portions of the Legal Aid Statewide Conference in Richmond on November 3, 2010.
  • A committee member sponsored the Northern Virginia Pro Bono Center’s Domestic Relations Summit on November 9, 2010.  Committee member Arlene Beckerman organized the summit.
  • The annual Alexandria-Arlington-Fairfax pro bono volunteer recognition event at GMU on June 7, 2011, was attended by committee members Arlene Beckerman, Andrea Bridgeman, James A. Ferguson, Julie M. Strandlie, and Rip Sullivan, as well incoming committee member Susan Stoney.  The same committee members had supported either as volunteers or participants the Fairfax Bar Foundation’s 5K Run for Justice at Tysons Corner in May.  (The FBF supports the Northern Virginia Pro Bono Center.)
  • Freddie Mac’s Legal Division produced a free hour of ethics CLE for in-house attorneys on October 13, 2010,with Andrea Bridgeman and Jim McCauley as presenters. 
  • Two committee members are liaisons to VSB sister entities engaged in important related bar work: Margaret Nelson is a voting member of the VSB Indigent Defense Task Force, which has reconvened with prosecutor representation to explore amending the Supreme Court rule that governs discovery in criminal cases.  Task Force Chair Alexander N. Levay Jr. updated the VSB Council on the group’s activities in June.   Eva Juncker is the committee’s observer liaison to the board of governors of the VSB Diversity Conference (website: www.dcvsb.org/). 

We are grateful for the mission-directed service of all access committee members: Raymond A. Hartz, Crystal Y. Twitty, Arlene K. Beckerman, H. Patrick Cline Jr., James A. Ferguson, Janet James, Eva N. Juncker, Steven L. Myers, Margaret A. Nelson, Grady A. Palmer, Susan C. Proctor, Julie M. Strandlie, Richard C. Sullivan, Joanna L. Suyes, and Mark D. Braley (ex officio).  Special thanks to Rip Sullivan and Arlene Beckerman as they rotate off the committee and as we welcome their replacements, Nancy M. Reed and Susan Stoney.

Updated: Aug 31, 2011