Good afternoon and welcome. I am John Levi, chairman of the board of the Legal Services Corporation. Thank you for joining us today for this important forum on the crisis confronting civil legal assistance programs that threatens our country’s commitment to equal justice for all.
We are so grateful to the University of Michigan Law School for hosting us in this great facility today, 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 Mark Cady of Iowa, Cornelia Clark of Tennessee, Thomas Kilbride of Illinois, and Richard Teitelman of Missouri.
This program is an outgrowth of a forum we co-hosted at the White House in conjunction with spring board meeting, and we intend to hold similar programs with state supreme court chief justices at upcoming board meetings as well.
These forums are calling attention to the twin challenges now facing legal services programs across the country: significantly reduced resources and historically high demand. As a result, many LSC-funded programs have cut staff, and some had to close offices.
Legal service programs are turning away more and more people who seek help -- 50 percent or more according to recent studies. These legal service cutbacks affect more than the low-income people who may not be able to secure quality representation or may not pursue valid legal claims. Civil legal assistance 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.
With these forums we are not only highlighting such problems — we are also bringing together leaders of the legal community to seek innovative and broad solutions, and to educate our fellow lawyers and countrymen about what is at stake.
Our program today features three panels. As I mentioned earlier, four state supreme court chief justices are here today. They will be joined by the Hon. Denise Page Hood of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on our first panel to discuss the state of civil legal assistance in America.
In the next panel, experts in domestic violence law will discuss innovative work being done by LSC-funded legal services programs in California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
After that, a panel of Michigan equal justice community leaders will discuss how the state’s collaborative approach affects both quality and efficiency of legal services, and how legal aid offices are coping with the dual challenges of the growing demand and reduced funding.
Following the panels this evening, the LSC Board will honor six Michigan lawyers at a reception for their volunteer work with LSC-funded legal aid programs.
Let me begin by introducing our host, Evan H. Caminker, Dean of the University of Michigan Law School and the Branch Rickey Collegiate Professor of Law.
Dean Caminker joined the Michigan Law School faculty in 1999 and was named dean in 2003. Before that he was a faculty member at the UCLA School of Law. Dean Caminker received his BA in political economy and environmental studies from UCLA and his JD from Yale Law School. He clerked for Justice William Brennan at the Supreme Court and for Judge William Norris of the Ninth Circuit. He has practiced law with the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles, and as a deputy assistant attorney general in the United States Department of Justice. As a scholar, his research is focused on constitutional law and the nature of judicial decision making.