The joint Judiciary Committee will meet at the Capitol at 10 a.m. today and hear a report on the lack of legal help for poor people.
There is a public defender system (inadequately funded) for people accused of crimes, but no right exists for civil matters, including such things as domestic abuse, denial of veterans’ military benefits, children’s education needs and others.
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For them, there are legal aid organizations, but they employ only 50 attorneys statewide, though some 746,000 people are eligible for help. Central Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid will talk about the demand they face. Representatives of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will talk about the number of people representing themselves and the declining number of lawyers in rural areas of the state.
The Access to Justice Commission was created in 2003 by the Arkansas Supreme Court. It has encouraged more pro bono lawyer work and pushed for changes in court rules that make access to justice easier. As with any things, increased “financial resources” would be helpful. The legislature is tight-fisted when it comes to new programs, however, particularly those that help poor people. This legislature has, for example, resisted even modest changes to the landlord-tenant law to balance the scales between landlords who face little legal pressure to maintain decent dwellings and tenants who can go to jail under Arkansas law for nonpayment of rent.
Good opportunity to air again Vice’s report on landlord-tenant laws here.