In the past year, lawyers assisted more than 144,000 Marylanders navigating civil litigation without attorneys representing them.
Expanded access to legal services was among the successes touted by Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera during Wednesday’s State of the Judiciary speech. Barbera, who leads the highest appellate court in the state, addressed a joint session of the General Assembly and urged lawmakers to be committed to equal access and application of the rule of law.
“It has been said that the rule of law is but a construct, susceptible to erosion,” Barbera said. “It is up to us as vanguards to ensure its preservation and ensure our democracy endures. This is the promise we must keep to the people of Maryland.”
Services for the roughly 80 percent of Maryland litigants who are self-represented has been a priority for the Maryland Judiciary in recent years. The state government branch has opened five self-help centers across the state. Attorneys working in the self-help center at the Frederick County Courthouse have assisted hundreds of people, primarily with domestic cases, since it opened in 2018.
The judiciary also now operates multiple services such as phone lines and online chat platforms.
Barbera’s address also celebrated what she called “great progress” made by Maryland’s problem-solving courts, such as veterans court and drug treatment court. She shared the story of a Gulf War veteran named Jeffrey, who struggled with addiction and crime after his military service.
“With the help of a veterans treatment court, Jeffrey won his most difficult battle,” Barbera said. “He has obtained sobriety and a law-abiding life. We are all stronger because of Jeffrey.”
Barbera encouraged lawmakers to work together and in coordination with the judiciary to continue the progress. For all the lawyers, resources and pro-bono hours worked, only about 20 percent of the state’s legal services need is being met, Barbera said.
“Those who seek access to justice must not be denied the services they need,” Barbera said. “The doors to justice open wide to all in every court in our great state.”
Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP