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Access to Civil Justice Commission Submits Report to Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice has submitted its final report, summarizing its work for the last year and a half and making just one recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court: Don’t stop us now.


The judges, lawmakers, statewide elected leaders, lawyers and business executives who make up Florida’s Access Commission voted unanimously in support of a permanent commission at their last meeting. The 27-member commission has been hard at work since it was created in late 2014 by an administrative order signed by Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. But June 30, 2016 — the deadline for its final report – also marked the ending of the commission itself.


Some three dozen states have established Access to Civil Justice Commissions in the last two decades and Chief Justice Labarga, who served as chair of the Access Commission, strongly supports a long-term commission.


In a letter to his colleagues on the Supreme Court, he praised the Florida Access Commission for the foundation it has laid. “While much remains to be done, I am proud of the Commission’s achievements thus far,” he wrote. “I am confident that the Commission is on the right path toward addressing the long-term and complex issues that impede access to the civil justice system by disadvantaged, low-income and moderate-income Floridians.”


From the day he signed the order creating the commission, Chief Justice Labarga has consistently stressed that the focus must be on not just people who in poverty but also those in the middle class. He also has emphasized, just as strongly, that the existence of barriers keeping people from meaningful access to civil justice is a problem confronting the entire society, not just the legal community.


“The Commission is prepared to continue its efforts to build partnerships as we strive to collaboratively identify, support, and implement a continuum of services that are designed to afford meaningful access to civil justice for all Floridians,’’ the chief justice wrote his fellow justices.


The Florida Bar and the Florida Bar Foundation have been co-equal partners in the Access Commission, which has included as well members of the business community, leaders from both the executive and legislative branches, and a range of leaders in the legal community.


In its final report, the Access Commission provided updates on the recommendations it made in the fall of 2015 when it submitted an interim report:


Gateway Portal: As envisioned by the Access Commission, the gateway portal would serve as an online connector to existing resources, such as hotlines, law libraries, legal aid organizations, and court self-help centers. The Commission is working with the Florida Justice Technology Center, a nonprofit center that works on increasing access to justice through technology, to design and implement a pilot project in Clay County.


— Law professors and retired judges: Changes to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar that would allow retired judges and retired and active law professors to serve as “emeritus attorneys” in some case, advising people on a pro bono basis, are being considered by Bar committees. If approved, will be submitted to the Supreme Court for consideration this fall.


— Class-action lawsuit residual funds: The Bar’s Civil Rules Committee is considering a rule change that would designate for legal aid programs funds left over after class-action settlements are distributed to the plaintiffs covered by the lawsuit.


The final report concluded that a permanent commission is needed in Florida to bridge the gap that keeps too many people from meaningful access to civil justice.


“There is still much work to be done to ensure that innovative and creative methods are employed to enhance access to justice for the many thousands of vulnerable and underserved Floridians – including children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, veterans, domestic violence victims, human trafficking victims and those with limited English proficiency,’’ the report reads under its “Next Steps” conclusion.


The report and more information about the Commission can be found on its website at