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Remarks of LSC Board Chairman John Levi at the LSC Forum on the Importance of Access to Justice (Denver, 7/22/2013)

Prepared Remarks by
Legal Services Corporation Board Chairman John G. Levi

LSC Forum on the Importance of Access to Justice

July 22, 2013
Denver Colorado

Good morning and welcome.  I am John Levi, the 10th Chairman of the Board of the Legal Services Corporation. 

Thank you for joining us today for these significant panel discussions on the importance of access to justice to the judiciary and the current conditions regarding civil legal assistance in the Mountain West region.

This program is a continuation of a national dialogue on civil legal assistance that LSC formally kicked off at a forum we co-hosted at the White House in April of 2012  in conjunction with the spring board meeting.

We have held similar forums at our board meetings in Ann Arbor, Durham and New Orleans and returned to the White House this spring for further discussion of how to expand access to justice through increased pro bono, technological innovation, and other means.

It has been a longstanding tradition of the LSC Board to hold three of its quarterly meetings each year in the various states.

And coming to Colorado holds special meaning for me since I have visited this magnificent state nearly every year since I was 7.

I lived in Boulder for the summer in 1958—just off Baseline Road — when my father taught at the University of Colorado Law School.

Coming to Colorado also reunites me with someone who grew up right around the corner from me in Chicago—Jon Asher, the executive director of  LSC’s grantee in the state, Colorado Legal Services.

Jon was the big kid on the block to me in those days just as he is a big man in the legal services community to me today.

We are so grateful to the Colorado Supreme Court and Chief Justice Michael Bender for hosting us in this splendid courtroom, and to our distinguished guests, many of whom have traveled from around the country to be here.

We are especially privileged and honored to be joined by state supreme court Chief Justices Michael Heavican (HEV-ah-can)  of  Nebraska and Petra Jimenez Maes (MY-ez) of New Mexico, state Supreme Court Justices E. James Burke of Wyoming and Christine Durham of Utah as well as Judge William Martinez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

We are gathered here today as LSC approaches an important milestone—our 40th anniversary.

Established by Congress in 1974 as one of the last acts of the Nixon Administration, LSC has weathered political turmoil and financial challenges to remain the single largest funder of civil legal aid in America.

But as it is poised to enter its fifth decade, LSC is faced with formidable challenges.

As a result of the recent recession, nearly 1 in 5 Americans—almost 62 million people—now qualify for LSC-funded civil legal assistance because they live at or below 125% of the federal poverty guideline.  That is the highest ever.

As demand has been rising, the combined funding for LSC programs from federal, IOLTA, state, local and all other sources has dropped from $960 million in 2010 to $878 million in 2012.

The major factor to the significant funding drop has been the reduction in LSC’s federal appropriation from $420 million in Fiscal 2010 to $348 million in Fiscal 2012.  In inflation adjusted dollars, that was the lowest appropriation ever.

In fiscal year 2013, funding was set at $365 million, but that was reduced by rescissions and sequestration to $341 million, below the historically low rate of 2012.

Not surprisingly, the combination of increased demand and diminished funding has reduced LSC’s ability to meet the civil legal assistance needs of low-income Americans. 

Recent studies have shown that we are forced to turn away at least 50 percent of those seeking help—and in some places many more—because of inadequate resources. 

As a result of the funding drops, our programs throughout the country have been forced in the past 2 years to cut 1003 full-time positions — 406 attorneys, 204 paralegals and 393 support staff. That represents more than an 11 percent loss of staff in just two years.

The work of legal service lawyers (and I don’t think heroic is too strong a word to describe it) keeps faith with one of America’s core values—equal access to justice—and changes the lives of low-income Americans every day.

As a recent White Paper by the Conference of Chief Justices noted, civil legal assistance also supports the orderly functioning of the civil justice system as a whole. Large numbers of unrepresented parties in courts slow dockets and reduce efficiency in the administration of justice for everyone who needs to use the court system.

The distinguished jurists gathered here today will discuss some of these issues in our first panel focused on the importance of access of justice to the judiciary.

It will be moderated by the remarkable Robert Grey, a Hunton & Williams partner, LSC Board member and former ABA president.

A second panel made up of executive directors of  LSC grantees from six area states will discuss the state of legal services in the Mountain West region.

It will be moderated by LSC’s extraordinary president Jim Sandman, a former managing partner of Arnold & Porter. 

At lunch, our keynote speaker will be prolific and talented Justice Gregory Hobbs of the Colorado Supreme Court, who has published articles and books on a variety of topics ranging from legal matters to history and poetry.

Later this evening at a reception, the LSC Board will honor four exemplary Colorado lawyers and a distinguished law firm for their pro bono work.

Let me begin by introducing our host, the 44th Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, Michael Bender.

Justice Bender was appointed to the court in 1997 by Gov. Roy Romer and became Chief Justice in 2010.

He was in private practice from 1979 to 1997.

He also served in public defender offices in Denver, Jefferson County and for the State of Colorado and also worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College in 1964 and his JD from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1967.

Earlier this year, CU Law School named Justice Bender the 2013 recipient of the William Lee Knous Award, the  school’s highest honor for outstanding achievement and sustained service to the law school.

Among his many other awards are:

  • Outstanding Judicial Officer of the Year, 2000
  • Robert C. Heeney Memorial Award, National
    Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 1990
  • Denver Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer of the Year, 1988

It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to introduce Chief Justice Michael Bender.

Thank you very much.