Shane Bridgforth Named Jefferson County Pro Bono Attorney of the Year

Attorney and Pine Bluff native William McShane “Shane” Bridgforth has been selected the 2011 Jefferson County VOCALS Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, according to VOCALS Pro Bono Coordinator Donna Ramsey.  The Volunteer Organization for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services awards the honor each year to an attorney who demonstrates outstanding commitment to providing pro bono service to low-income residents of the Jefferson County.  “Shane is always ready to step in and assist our clients in settling their legal matters,” said Ramsey.  “He is a great asset to our VOCALS panel.”

Bridgforth, who is a partner at Ramsay, Bridgforth, Robinson & Raley, has handled a total of 41 VOCALS cases over the course of his legal career.  His clients—none of whom had the financial resources to hire a private attorney—have included domestic violence victims and non-parental caregivers of young children.

“I have always believed in equal justice for all people and that people in our community should have access to the assistance of an attorney in important legal matters regardless of their economic status,” said Bridgforth.  “It is a great honor to have been selected the 2011 VOCALS Attorney of the Year for Jefferson County.”

“The volunteer work that Mr. Bridgforth has consistently contributed provides critical legal assistance to low-income residents of Jefferson County,” said Jean Carter, Executive Director of the Center for Arkansas Legal Services.  “Pro bono service is now more important than ever in Arkansas due to both the current economic crisis and recent federal and state budget cuts.”

Bridgforth is a 1990 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law, where he was a member of Phi Delta Phi and served on the moot court team.  He is a member of the Jefferson County, Arkansas Bar, and American Bar Associations, and currently serves on the Arkansas Supreme Court on Model Jury Instructions—Civil.  He is Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation.

Mr. Bridgforth has previously served on the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates and Executive Council, as well as the board of directors for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services.  He has served on other community organization boards and committees, including the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, the Pine Bluff Child Center, the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, and the Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce.

Arkansas Celebrates National Pro Bono Week 2011

Arkansas attorneys and law students will celebrate National Pro Bono Week beginning October 24, 2011, with a series of events that will include the provision of free legal services to first responders.

The celebration is a coordinated national effort to meet the ever-growing needs of this country’s most vulnerable citizens. Events throughout the week will encourage and support local efforts to expand the delivery of pro bono legal services and serve to showcase the great difference that pro bono attorneys make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities, and most of all, to the clients they serve.

Event highlights in Arkansas include:

Monday, October 24 – Proclamations Recognizing Importance of Pro Bono Service 
Governor Mike Beebe, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan will issue proclamations recognizing the important role that Arkansas pro bono attorneys play in ensuring that low-income Arkansans have access to civil justice.

Tuesday, October 25 – Pro Bono Luncheon in Northwest Arkansas
Presidents of the Benton and Washington County Bar associations, along with 2011 Legal Aid Outstanding Service Award winner Eva Madison, will speak at a luncheon hosted in the E.J. Ball Courtroom at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Wednesday, October 26 – Free Lawyers for First Responders in Northwest Arkansas
Volunteer attorneys will be available to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters to first responders in northwest Arkansas, including firefighters, police officers, and emergency health care workers. This is a free service provided by Arkansas lawyers from multiple organizations, law firms, bar associations and the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Thursday, October 27 – Free Lawyers for First Responders in Central Arkansas
Following issuance of a proclamation from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recognizing the importance of pro bono service, volunteer attorneys will be available to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters to first responders in central Arkansas. This is a free service provided by Arkansas lawyers from multiple organizations, law firms, bar associations and UALR Bowen School of Law.

Friday, October 28 – Just Jeans
Law firms, corporate legal departments, government legal offices, judicial offices, and law schools are encouraged to participate in the Just Jeans event by observing a casual Friday on October 28, 2011, with participants making a minimum suggested contribution of $5.  Contributions collected will go to the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation to support efforts to increase the financial and pro bono volunteer resources available to our state’s two legal aid providers. This will, in turn, help low-income Arkansans, including domestic violence victims, children, and senior citizens, access the legal services they need.

Saturday, October 29 – iProBono
Arkansas pro bono attorneys will be able to download, free of charge, the first Pro Bono mobile service application through iTunes. Through this app, registered Arkansas pro bono attorneys will be able to accept cases representing low-income Arkansans based on legal topic, county, or by other categories with their iPhones. Two Arkansas web and software development companies, LogiCurrent and Path Designs, are providing free development services for this innovative project.

Clinton School Student Completes Study on Self-Represented Litigation in Arkansas

Clinton School student Chanley Painter recently partnered with the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission to examine the prevalence and impact of self-representation in Arkansas civil courts.

The project involved gathering and analyzing data from county courthouses and developing and conducting a state-wide survey of Arkansas circuit court judges, culminating in a detailed final report describing the methodology and research findings.

“I am very excited about sharing this work with our stakeholders,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, “and I am hopeful that this will lay the groundwork for future research that will aid the Commission in identifying and addressing the civil legal needs that are going unmet.”

Arkansas Children’s Hospital Medical-Legal Partnership Launches

June 17, 2011 – A press conference at Arkansas Children’s Hospital today announced the kick-off of a Medical-Legal Partnership between Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH), Wal-Mart, Arkansas’s legal aid providers, and members of the Arkansas Legal Community. Speakers included Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck, and Jeff Gearhart, VP and Senior Legal Councel for Wal-Mart. The press conference began at 10am, with the first case intakes beginning at 11:30am.

Arkansas Supreme Court Issues Order Permitting Out-of-State Attorneys to Provide Pro Bono Services in Arkansas

In response to a petition that the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission filed in February, the Arkansas Supreme Court has handed down an order that permits attorneys licensed in other states who are not admitted in Arkansas to provide pro bono services to low-income clients under the sponsorship of a legal aid services provider that serves Arkansas clients. According to the Commission Executive Director Amy Johnson, nearly half of all clients who qualify for legal aid and have legal problems are turned away each year because the staff and volunteer resources are insufficient to meet the demand.  “The current need is so great that any increase in the number of attorneys available to provide pro bono services will help,” she said.

According to the Court’s opinion, this practice “will give in-house, corporate counsel the opportunity to volunteer in the community and will make justice more accessible to low-income Arkansans.”  Johnson says the order applies not only to corporate in-house counsel, but also to other non-admitted attorneys who reside in Arkansas and want to volunteer, but otherwise have no reason to seek admission to the Arkansas bar.  The Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and Lone Star Legal Aid were all three named in the order as entities approved to sponsor non-admitted pro bono attorneys.  The change, effective immediately, is integrated into a newly-revised Administrative Order Number 15.

Retiring ALSP Director Reflects on Former Commission Chair Goldner’s Tenure

Henry Ward Beecher was a leading Congregational minister and author who, like his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a fervent abolitionist. He possessed a beautiful globe depicting the various constellations and stars of the heavens. Robert Ingersoll visited Beecher one day and asked “who made it?” Beecher, seeking the opportunity to attack his friends agnosticism responded, “Why, nobody made it; it just happened.”

In some ways it looks to an outsider that the Access to Justice Commission “just happened.” But those of us who know better understand that it was the guiding hand, gentle persuasion, and creative leadership of Chuck Goldner that made it happen. Dean Goldner was elected chair of the Commission at its first meeting in October 2004, and led the Commission until August 2010. This period has been a remarkable time of organization and performance. Initially there was no structure, funding or plan for the new Commission beyond the mission “to provide equal access to justice in civil cases to all Arkansans.” He led the other commissioners in developing priorities of what needed to be accomplished in a first tier of activities and what items could wait for attention. Early on the concept of access to justice as a three legged stool developed which led to the creation of three committees designed to strengthen each of those legs: pro bono, pro se, and legal aid. Dean Goldner insured that information was brought forth which gave the Commission an understanding of the status of factors impacting legal aid at the moment including demographics, funding, staffing, client services, and the efforts of other access to justice groups throughout the country.

By early 2005 the Commission was developing a plan to implement town hall meetings throughout the state as a way of both gathering information and educating the community at large about access to justice. Dean Goldner chaired these sessions which were hosted by the Member of Congress in each of the four Congressional Districts. The meetings heard testimony from clients, lawyers, judges, service agencies, and legal aid advocates all of which became part of the strategic plan for the Commission during its initial three years.

Working in parallel the Commission sought private funding and produced a DVD which told the story of legal aid and the importance of securing justice for low income Arkansans. “Forging the Road to Civil Justice” became an educational tool of the commissioners in public meetings which elevated knowledge about the needs and impacts of civil legal aid in the state.

Another important part of the initial information gathering was a survey of circuit judges and circuit clerks to determine how pro se litigants affected the courts. From that survey, and a follow up three years later, the Commission learned of ways it might help to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts when it came to pro se litigation. On line forms were developed, informational brochures were produced, and judges and clerks were informed of what was acceptable when working with pro se litigants. Court processes dramatically improved with the advent of these materials.

It was Dean Goldner’s shaping and timing of all this incoming information that began to bear fruit in the work of the Commission. He shepherded a Model 6.1 Rule change through the Bar Association and to the Supreme Court for an important change in how attorney’s in the state consider and report pro bono service. He led the effort in applying the information gathered in town hall meetings, circuit judge surveys and the three committees of the Commission toward legislative proposals which over the course of his tenure as Chair would annually bring $855,000 in revenue to the two legal aid operations in the state. In his concern for both education and legislation he fostered the development of a website for the Commission and its work and another specifically aimed at legislators which provided them information on their constituents and the impact of civil legal aid in their districts.

Another aspect of an effective leader is to periodically take stock of the organization and where it is heading. Accordingly, in 2007 Dean Goldner arranged for a national leader in the access to justice movement to lead a strategic review of the Commission and its work with a view toward the future. That day long meeting led to the establishment of ten priorities and the expansion of committee activities with the addition of committees for education and legislation. These changes subsequently led to two important achievements which were executed in 2009.

One was the first statewide private bar and corporate campaign for funding legal aid, The Promise of Justice Campaign. It netted over $300,000 to fund the work of legal aid in the state and more importantly got the case for increasing access to justice to a broader audience than ever before.

The second activity was the state’s first Promise of Justice Conference which focused members of the bar and judges on the clients, opportunities and barriers to the expansion of access to justice for low income Arkansans. The Conference heard from national luminaries in the American Bar Association, and the judiciary.

The capstone achievement of Dean Goldner’s leadership of the Commission came in 2010 with the establishment of the Access to Justice Foundation designed to receive and distribute funds from the Commission to the two legal aid organizations. It is indeed a genuine foundation for the future growth and development of access to justice in Arkansas.

So when future justice community leaders and ordinary citizens look at access to justice in Arkansas; they will know that it did not “just happen.” Rather, it was shaped and led by the vision and tenacity of a devoted civic leader – Chuck Goldner.

–By Ron Lanoue

Walmart Announces Donation and Pro Bono Program

On November 18, 2010, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced a joint gift of $115,000 to the Arkansas Access to Justice Campaign. The generous gift is the largest donation in the history of the campaign.  $75,000 of that amount will be used for the provision of civil legal services to low-income Arkansans.  “On average, it costs our legal aid providers about $500 to handle one case, so a gift of this magnitude will will make a substantial impact,” said Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.  The remaining $40,000 will go to Legal Aid of Arkansas to continue funding for a medical-legal partnership with Mid-Delta Health Systems. “As a result of the Walmart Foundation’s generosity, we are able to make a positive impact on the health and well-being of patients through legal interventions,” said Lee Richardson, Executive Director of Legal Aid of Arkansas.  Walmart has further demonstrated its commitment to increasing access to justice in Arkansas by announcing an in-house pro bono program as the 100th signatory to the national Corporate Pro Bono Challenge. Below is the full text of the press release.

Walmart Announces Pro Bono Legal Services Program

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation Donate $115,000 to Arkansas Legal Aid Organizations

Bentonville, Ark., November 18, 2010 – The Walmart Legal Department announced plans to undertake an in-house pro bono program in which its attorneys, paralegals, and support staff will participate in legal aid projects in the Arkansas community.  In doing so, Walmart has become the 100th signatory to the national Corporate Pro Bono Challengesm, a voluntary benchmark developed and administered by Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a partnership project of the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), designed to encourage and promote pro bono service with in-house lawyers and legal departments.

In addition, the Walmart Legal Department and the Walmart Foundation today announced a $115,000 donation to Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission. The grant will help the Commission continue its efforts to address key issues raised by low-income clients, including family law, consumer practice, financial, housing, and employment matters.

“Our pro bono effort is a natural extension of our company’s overall belief in being a good corporate citizen,” said Jeff Gearhart, executive vice president and general counsel of Walmart. “Helping to ensure that access to legal services is a reality for all of our citizens, regardless of their ability to pay, is consistent with Walmart’s commitment to making a difference in the communities that we serve.”

“We are delighted to have Walmart sign on as the 100th Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge,” said Esther Lardent, president and CEO of PBI.  “As one of the largest companies in the world, Walmart’s commitment to pro bono, including the hiring of a dedicated pro bono staff lawyer, sets a high bar for the corporate community.”

Among the state’s legal aid champions, many believe that Walmart’s program will have a domino effect on other Arkansas corporations.

Jim Julian, president of the Arkansas Bar Association added, “I cannot overstate the significance of the pro bono commitment that Walmart has made at a corporate level.  This commitment will result in the provision of services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to Arkansans needing help with civil legal issues.  In addition, Walmart’s leadership in implementing such a program will serve as a model to other corporate legal departments and law firms in the state that are looking to increase their pro bono involvement.”

“Walmart has once again demonstrated its commitment to empowering low-income Arkansans through the mobilization of both the financial and human resources needed to ensure that all citizens of our state have access to civil legal help,” said Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck, chair of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.  “Financial support and pro bono involvement are both necessary if we are to close the justice gap in Arkansas, and we are tremendously grateful for Walmart’s leadership on both fronts.”

The $115,000 award from the Walmart Foundation will assist Legal Aid of Arkansas in funding its Medical-Legal Partnership with Mid-Delta Health Systems, which serves patients in six of Arkansas’ poorest counties, located in the Mississippi River Delta area.

William Waddell Jr. Honored with Lawyer Community Legacy Award

On Thursday September 15th, the Arkansas Bar Association announced that Arkansas Access to Justice Commission member and Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation President Mr. Bill Waddell has been honored with their Lawyer Community Legacy Award.  Mr. Waddell has been nothing short of instrumental in the growth of the Commission and a key player in the establishment of the Foundation. Throughout his time at Friday, Eldredge & Clark, Mr. Waddell has devoted countless hours to pro bono legal service in a myriad of legal fields, including over two hundred adoption cases. This award is to honor him for his devotion to Arkansans in need.

Chief Justice and Incoming Bar President Discuss Access to Justice

During the 2010 annual meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association, Chief Justice Jim Hannah and incoming Arkansas Bar Association President Jim Julian urged Arkansas lawyers to fulfill their obligations under Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  These obligations include handling 50 hours of pro bono work each year and contributing financial support to legal aid programs in Arkansas.

“We as an association must take the lead in addressing this challenge,” said Mr. Julian.  “We must assure that those in need can have access to justice in Arkansas.  We can do that by supporting the work of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.”

Below, we have posted videos of the portions of Chief Justice Hannah’s and Mr. Julian’s speeches in which they discuss the status of access to justice efforts in Arkansas.  The Access to Justice Commission is extremely grateful to Chief Justice Hannah and Mr. Julian for their leadership in addressing the justice gap in Arkansas.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah

“Contrary to the fear and concern expressed by a few, this work [access to justice] is not about encouraging or enabling members of the public who could otherwise secure the paid services of an attorney to represent them.  Rather it seeks to make available an array of tools and programs which better enable our citizens to access the legal advice and services they need.”

Arkansas Bar President Jim Julian

“You have heard two or three times at this bar association meeting about our obligations under the model rules of professional conduct: 50 hours of pro bono service per year.  If we all made that commitment, access to justice would not be the concern that it presently is.  As individuals and collectively, we can make a difference in the lives of so many people who are in need.  Donate your time; donate your talents.  Make a difference in this area.”

Commissioner Awarded 2010 Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award

The Arkansas Bar Foundation presented Commissioner Annabelle C. Imber Tuck, former justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, with its 2010 “Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award.”  The Foundation presented the award on June 10, 2010, during the Arkansas Bar Association’s annual meeting.

Ann Pyle, executive director of the Arkansas Bar Foundation, prepared the following remarks in honor of Justice Imber Tuck:

A statewide award was developed to recognize commitment to and participation in equal justice programs for the poor, including pro bono efforts through legal services programs.   The Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award is given this year to Justice Annabelle C. Imber Tuck.

In addition to leading an illustrious career as a lawyer, judge, and ultimately Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, she has been a tireless advocate for access to justice efforts in Arkansas.  Since 1977, she has dedicated her professional career to fostering equal access to justice for those without the resources to afford legal representation.

Justice Tuck is a member of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, serving in this capacity since October of 2005.  She regularly speaks to attorneys and judges throughout the state about the importance of pro bono work.  She currently chairs the Commission’s Education Committee and led the planning of the Commission’s first statewide “Promise of Justice Conference.”  Justice Tuck played an integral role in the completion of the Commission’s DVD entitled “Forging the Road to Civil Justice.”  In addition, she presented the Commission’s proposal to the Supreme Court to allow members of the Commission to establish the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, Inc.

No words could better summarize Justice Tuck’s commitment to equal justice than this statement from her nominator:  “She has worked diligently to raise the awareness among attorneys and judges about the need for legal aid and about each attorney’s ethical obligation to perform pro bono services….These accomplishments demonstrate Justice Tuck’s ongoing commitment to improving access to our state’s legal system for low-income Arkansans.”

It gives me great pleasure to present this year’s Equal Justice Distinguished Service Award to Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck.