Yesterday, the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission board held its quarterly meeting in beautiful Dreyfuss University Center on the campus of UW Stevens Point. The meeting had a full agenda of both substantive and administrative issues to address. What follows is a meeting summary prepared by Commission staff (draft minutes will be uploaded to the About page soon).
On the substantive front, there was wide-ranging discussion of the Commission’s purpose, the scope of its responsibilities and the Commission’s capacity to address the difficult issues raised by trying to expand access to justice in the civil legal system for low income Wisconsin residents. This is the beginning of what will undoubtedly be extensive and continuing discussion about the Commission’s role and priorities. It is an important discussion to have. Some encouraging themes emerged.
- First, the Commission’s charge is quite broad. The breadth of its responsibilities are reflected in its founding documents. The mission from the Wisconsin Supreme Court was to “develop and encourage means of expanding access to the civil justice system for unrepresented low income Wisconsin residents.” Additional support for broad action and advocacy can be found in the State Bar’s State Bar Petition asking the court to create the Commission. That petition was in turn based on the recommendations in the Bridging the Justice Gap report and the ABA Principles.
- Second, the Commission’s efforts in one area should not exclude or impair progress in other areas. The Commission can move forward on multiple fronts but must take coordinated action that recognizes the limits of the organization’s resources.
- Third, innovation in how services (broadly construed) are delivered is possible and important. While there is very little under the Sun that is truly new, we live in an age where we are surrounded by daily reminders that innovation has the power to improve the lives of people and that creativity unleashed or encouraged can yield positive results.
- Fourth, the board will need to set some priorities for itself as a board, for its committees and perhaps for others. There is risk in trying to do too much (and too little) but a problem this complicated and important can and should be attacked on more than one front simultaneously.
The other substantive development of the meeting was the adoption of a proposed Committee Structure. Much of the heavy lifting to accomplish the goals set by the board will be done initially in these committees. People who are not members of the Board will be encouraged to seek membership on committees where they can contribute their expertise to the Commission’s success (we’re working on the process for requesting committee appointments). These initial committees will be responsible for developing and implementing strategies in the areas of public education, the delivery of civil legal services to the poor, courts/tribunals as well as research and resource development. The choice of committees proposed to the board and their general responsibilities were drawn from similar access to justice entities in other states, including California, Minnesota, South Dakota and Washington. There will be some additional refinements to the committee responsibilities and each will be given certain priority areas for their work. It’s a small but very significant step forward for the Commission
Other actions at the board meeting included creating an Executive Committee and a Finance Committee as well as adopting Reimbursement Policy. All board members and staff were also reminded of the Commission’s previously approved Conflict of Interest Policy. The board also heard an overview of the Wisconsin Judicare program from retired Judge C.A. Richards and Executive Director Rosemary Elbert.
Draft minutes from the meeting will be posted soon.