Members of Congress and State Supreme Court Justices Join LSC for Forum on COVID-19’s Impact on Access to Justice

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress and state supreme court justices from around the country will join other leaders of the legal community on Feb. 4, from 1-4:00 p.m. ET, for Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) virtual forum on COVID-19’s impact on the courts and access to justice for low-income Americans. 

The new co-chairs of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus, Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5), and Caucus vice chair, Tom Emmer (MN-6), will speak.

COVID-19 has increased the need for civil legal aid, particularly for low-income families facing job losses, domestic violence and other problems stemming from the pandemic. Housing is a particular concern. LSC estimated in August that more than 5.13 million households who qualify for LSC-funded services are at risk of eviction. Nearly all (95%) of LSC’s grantees reported a surge in eviction cases. In addition to this increasing demand for their services, legal aid organizations are facing significant funding cuts and the technological and practical challenges of remote work.

 The country’s court systems are also having to navigate issues posed by the pandemic. Courts across the country are restricting physical access to courthouses to prevent the spread of the virus while struggling to maintain essential court services. 

State supreme court justices from four states will discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the courts and the innovations courts have introduced to meet the pandemic’s challenges. The speakers include Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Supreme Court of California; Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, Supreme Court of Texas and president of the Conference of Chief Justices; Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, Supreme Court of Michigan; and Justice Kristina Pickering, Supreme Court of Nevada. Ronald S. Flagg, president of the Legal Services Corporation, will moderate the discussion. 

A second panel will look at COVID-19’s impact on legal aid organizations and their clients and focus on legal aid service innovations. The speakers include Jim Cook, executive director of Idaho Legal Aid; Colleen Cotter, executive director of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services; and Maria Thomas Jones, chief executive officer of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. Lynn Jennings, LSC’s vice president for grants management, will serve as moderator.  

Another session will examine technology’s role in addressing COVID-19 challenges, specifically court innovations brought about by the pandemic. LSC Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk will moderate a discussion between Rita H. Blandino, director of the D.C. Court’s Domestic Violence Division and Paul Tuttle, assistant clerk for the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Other speakers include LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and President Flagg, as well as Brad Lewis, director of the Nevada Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, and Daniel W. Hamilton, dean and Richard J. Morgan Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law.

The event will be livestreamed on LSC’s Facebook page.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.