PLAN, Inc. applauds Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice, Ronald Castille, for his pubic plea today to Pennsylvania’s lawyers, encouraging them to support civil legal aid programs by handling pro bono cases for those unable to afford legal representation and by making financial contributions to the legal aid programs that represent low income clients. We also applaud PBA President Forrest Myers for joining with the Chief Justice in making this plea.
The Chief Justice points out that today, only about one in ten low income individuals in need of civil legal aid are able to be represented through legal aid programs and through the pro bono efforts of Pennsylvania attorneys. Both the Chief Justice and the PBA President testified in last year’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that explored the question of whether equal access to justice had been achieved for low income Pennsylvanians and both expressed concern then that it had not. Funding for legal aid is low due to low interest rates on attorney escrow accounts, which help to support civil legal aid, and due to reductions in state and federal funding for legal aid.
Pointing out that “The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) is the state’s coordinated system of organizations providing civil legal aid for those with nowhere else to turn,” the Chief Justice mentioned ways in which the Supreme Court has helped PLAN strive to achieve the goal of equal access to justice. This is through a $35 portion of attorney registration fees, which are directed to PLAN programs, the IOLTA program, which is funded through interest generated on attorney escrow accounts, and a fee on out-of-state lawyers who enter appearances in individual cases. That fee is used to fund a loan repayment assistance program to allow public interest lawyers to be able to work for legal aid programs, through assistance with their law school debt.
These actions by the Supreme Court, in support of PLAN and in support of access to justice, and the action today in making this public plea, represent real steps by the Chief Justice and by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in support of access to justice.