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Access to Justice Commission celebrates 15 years of civil legal assistance

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission on June 8 will celebrate 15 years of work  to improve civil legal access for the poor. A ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. at the Mississippi Supreme Court in Jackson.

Speakers are expected to include Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph, Justice Dawn Beam, and Access to Justice Commission Co-Chairs Chancellor Jacqueline Mask of Tupelo and attorney Rodger Wilder of Gulfport.

The ceremony will be livestreamed at this link: https://livestream.com/supremecourtofms/msatjc-anniversary.

The Supreme Court created the Commission on June 28, 2006,  to develop a unified strategy to improve access to the civil courts for the poor. The Commission is tasked with investigating the need for civil legal services to the poor in Mississippi, and evaluating, developing and recommending policies, programs and initiatives that will assist the judiciary in meeting needs for civil legal services to the poor.

Nicole  McLaughlin of Tupelo, Executive Director of the  Access to Justice Commission, said, “During the past 15 years, the Commission has made great strides to increase access to the court system for low-income Mississippians.  We are thankful to all of the past and present Commissioners, the many volunteers and the Courts for supporting our efforts. With the help of our partners and Mississippi’s legal aid providers, the Commission is committed to developing innovative resources and continuing to work toward access to justice for all.”

The Commission is made up of 21 voting members and 15 ex-officio members.

One of the Commission’s primary objectives is to expand and improve the state’s civil legal services delivery system. The Commission in 2018 and 2019 achieved a longtime goal of making free family law clinics available to residents of every county at least once during the year. Those efforts won national recognition when the American Bar Association honored the Mississippi Bar with the Harrison Tweed Award in 2019, and again in 2020 when the ABA honored the Mississippi Bar and the Access to Justice Commission with the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 curtailed in-person presentations, so the Commission intensified efforts to provide assistance via its website, http://www.msatjc.org. The Commission’s website offers self-represented litigants information about  family law issues, housing, estate matters, legal issues affecting senior citizens, workers’ rights and criminal expungement.

The Access to Justice Commission during the past two years has produced or helped produce videos which provide information to self-represented litigants. The Commission partnered with the Mississippi Department of Human Services  and the University of Mississippi School of Law to produce a series of self-help videos intended to assist individuals represented by counsel and self-represented litigants to prepare for court and navigate the legal system. The Commission partnered with the Mississippi Center for Justice to produce videos on eviction law for self-represented litigants. The Commission  is expected to soon release a series of videos that were created to assist parents who are involved in the Youth Court system. The Commission also partnered with the Commission on Children’s Justice to create “A Parents’ Guide to Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Cases in Youth Court” to help parents know their rights when going to Youth Court.

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