Anne Erickson has a great article yesterday, February 26, 2006, in the Albany Times Union entitled "Injustice For Most".
One of the things that money can buy is legal representation and advocacy. With the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, increasingly more Americans are disenfranchised from legal recourse simply because they cannot afford it. Of course large companies and corporations and governmental units often have attorneys on staff or access to legal representation on retainer.
Poor folks are out of luck. They are on their own, and the power imbalance is often extremely skewed.
Each time we recite our nation's Pledge of Allegiance, we reaffirm our shared commitments to each other. "With liberty and justice for all," we pledge. But does our nation deliver on the promise to provide justice to all?
Not by a long shot, according to a recent national study, "Documenting the Justice Gap in America." The study, undertaken by the federal Legal Services Corporation found that 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met. This means thousands of people confront daunting legal issues everyday and when they seek access to justice, when they seek assistance in navigating their legal problem, they are turned away.
Interestingly, President Bush cut 4.9% in federal funding for Legal Services which leaves the burden on the states and New York, with $6.6 million lags behind New Jersey which invests $16.4 million, California which invests $10 million, $14.3 million in Ohio, and $12.3 million in Minnesota.
You'd think New York could cough up $10 million at least.
I have many clients who are told that they have the right "to a hearing" when they have been turned down by the HMO, or evicted, or denied child care assistance, or a disability application, and they have not a clue how to proceed or where to begin. Private lawyers are more than willing to take the case for a $2,500 retainer and then bill at the rate of $150.00 or $200.00 per hour, but the attorney's hourly rate is often a week's take home pay for some of my clients.
If there is truly to be "liberty and justice for all" we have a collective responsibility to make that happen, and not just passively watch the rich and their lawyers rig the system to their advantage.
Read Anne Erickson's article and then let your representatives know what you think about our justice for hire system.