‘Justice Gap’ Topic of Joint Judiciary Hearing at Supreme Court

Arkansans who face criminal prosecution but can’t afford a lawyer have a constitutional right to have an attorney appointed to represent them in court. No such right exists for victims of domestic violence, veterans denied military benefits, children in need of special education, and others who experience civil legal problems. For those individuals, legal aid is often the only source of help.

More than 746,000 Arkansans are eligible for legal aid, yet there are only 50 legal aid attorneys in the state. “You could fill Verizon Arena beyond capacity and ask everyone who has a legal problem to come forward,” said Lee Richardson, Executive Director of Legal Aid of Arkansas. “Then provide one attorney to handle all the issues that come up. That is the scale of what we’re trying to deal with.”

In what is believed to be a first, members of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Arkansas General Assembly will meet at the Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Building on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. to hear testimony from the directors of the state’s two legal aid programs—the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas—about the challenges their programs face in trying to meet the overwhelming demand for civil legal help.

Representatives of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will also testify about the growing number of Arkansans who are representing themselves in court and the diminishing number of attorneys who live and work in rural areas of the state.

The Joint Judiciary hearing is one of a series of events happening during National Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, to highlight the need for legal aid and recognize the efforts of attorneys across the state who volunteer their time to represent Arkansans who cannot afford legal representation.