News Item
Minnesota earns national grant to enhance access to justice system

Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2016

Minnesota earns national grant to enhance access to justice system

Minnesota has been selected as one of seven states that will receive a grant from the Justice for All Project, a national initiative aimed at improving access to the civil justice system.
 
The grant program is through the National Center for State Courts with funding from the Public Welfare Foundation, and supports efforts to advance justice and opportunities for people in need. This grant will help each of the seven selected states to develop state assessments and strategic action plans in order to implement Resolution 5 on Meaningful Access to Justice for All, passed by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.
 
That resolution envisions state systems in which everyone has access to effective assistance for their essential civil legal needs through a comprehensive approach that provides a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services. It also calls on courts, civil legal aid organizations, the bar and other essential partners to work together in each state to develop strategic plans with “realistic and measurable outcomes” to reach the goal of 100 percent meaningful access.
 
In addition to Minnesota, grants were awarded to Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. Each state will receive initial strategic action planning grants of up to $100,000, and will be eligible to apply for funding in the next year to begin implementation of their plans. A total of 25 states applied for a grant through a competitive process.
 
The Minnesota Judicial Branch will administer the grant in Minnesota through a partnership between the courts, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition. The statewide project team plans to launch their effort in January 2017, and through a series of meetings with statewide stakeholders and the help of outside consultants, develop a strategic action plan by the end of the year. Project leaders believe that one outcome of this effort may be to better integrate the state’s existing civil legal aid systems, so that a customer would have easy access to one system that would guide him or her to the best self-help resources and/or legal assistance based on the client's income, location, legal need, and other factors.
 
In addition to a better referral structure, project leaders will also explore how to provide more resources to help meet the legal needs of low-income and moderate-income Minnesotans. In Minnesota, there is one attorney available for every 363 paying clients, but only one legal aid attorney available for every 3,437 low-income individuals. Legal aid organizations currently turn away two out of every three eligible clients due to a lack of resources. Adequately-resourced legal aid programs, expanded modest means panels, online dispute resolution, and more pro bono participation by the private bar are all strategies to help combat this disparity.
 
Minnesota is a national model for providing access to justice
 
Project leaders believe that Minnesota was selected for the grant based on the state’s long-standing commitment to ensuring access to justice, and the robust civil legal service infrastructure already in place in the state. This includes:
 
  • The Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Statewide Self Help Center and regional self help service centers.
  • The state’s civil legal aid organizations, which provided legal services to more than 48,000 families and individuals statewide in 2015.
  • Online court resources through the Minnesota Judicial Branch website, www.mncourts.gov, and additional legal resources through the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition website, www.LawHelpMN.org. This includes online document assembly tools through the Minnesota Judicial Branch and legal aid, which assist litigants filling out common court forms.
  • Access to justice initiatives through the Minnesota State Bar Association, including working to secure more stable funding sources for civil legal aid, and supporting both state legislative funding and Minnesota becoming the first mandatory Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts state in the country.
“Access to justice is one of the first promises of Minnesota’s Constitution, and that promise guides the work of our courts, the bar, and our entire justice community,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. “While Minnesota is a national leader in providing access to justice, we know there is still a significant amount of unmet need for legal assistance for low and moderate income Minnesotans. We are grateful to have been selected for this grant, and will spend the next year working with our justice partners to create an action plan that will ultimately lead to enhanced legal aid services for the people of Minnesota.”
 
About the Minnesota Judiciary
 
The Minnesota Judicial Branch is made up of 10 judicial districts with 290 district court judgeships, 19 Court of Appeals judges, and seven Supreme Court justices. The Judicial Branch is governed by the Judicial Council, which is chaired by Lorie S. Gildea, Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Minnesota Judicial Branch is mandated by the Minnesota Constitution to resolve disputes promptly and without delay. In 2015, there were nearly 1.3 million cases filed in district courts in Minnesota. For more information please visit www.mncourts.gov