ABA letter expresses concern about Sessions’ ‘apparent intent’ to close Access to Justice office

Attorney General

ABA President Hilarie Bass has written a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that urges him to continue to prioritize access to justice as he makes reorganization decisions.

The March 13 letter follows a report last month by the New York Times that said the Justice Department has “effectively shuttered” its Office for Access to Justice. The office was established during the Obama administration to improve access to legal resources by poor people.

The office had filed statements of interest in lawsuits alleging the poor were being denied effective legal services, according to the Times. The office also supported a class action that claimed New York state was violating the rights of poor criminal defendants.

Bass’ letter expresses concern about Sessions’ “apparent intent to close its Office for Access to Justice as part of a larger reorganization plan.”

Bass cites “report after report” finding high caseloads are burdening criminal defense programs and jeopardizing the goal of providing competent representation to poor people entitled to defense lawyers. She also noted the 2017 Justice Gap Report published by the Legal Services Corp., which found that 86 percent of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.

Bass said the Office for Access to Justice “has already had a huge impact in successfully combatting these inequities.”

Bass said the office has worked with other federal agencies to improve access to federal services, has improved systems to make sure criminal defendants receive counsel, has advanced research to improve understanding about impediments to justice, and has provided strategies and resources for local officials to improve their justice systems.

“We urge you to make reorganization decisions that assign responsibility and provide adequate funding for the critical programs that preserve access to justice for all Americans—both rich and poor,” Bass wrote.

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