CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Access to Justice Commission held its bimonthly meeting in October and discussed items on its list of recommendations to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
The commission delivered the recommendations and a report to the court this summer. The recommendations were based on the report.
The commission was established by administrative order on Jan. 29, 2009. West Virginia is one of many states that have established such commissions.
“Ignoring the inability of West Virginians to have meaningful access to the civil justice system will not make the problem go away,” Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin said in a Supreme Court press release. “Ignoring the problem only compounds it.”
In the list of recommendations, the commission discussed encouraging support for adequate public and private funding for Legal Aid of West Virginia and other legal services programs that serve low-income and vulnerable clients, ensuring a strong and effective legal aid delivery system, giving all West Virginians meaningful access to justice.
The commission also discussed introducing, for legislative consideration:
-Proposed revisions to West Virginia Code §23-5-16, fees of attorney for claimant and unlawful charging or receiving of attorney fees as drafted by the Workers’ Compensation Committee;
-Removing the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board’s Legal Ethics Opinion 2010-01 prohibiting ghost-writing;
-Developing, implementing, and educating about “unbundling” of legal services as a means to provide representation to those of low or modest means and update Rule 1.2(c) of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct to coincide with the ABA Model Rules;
-Developing and implementing an online self-help center to be used by people who represent themselves in magistrate, family, or circuit court without an attorney;
-Developing a centrally located hotline staffed by attorneys and/or law students to support the online self-help center and answer questions without giving legal advice;
-Developing and implementing a strong pro bono program working with the West Virginia State Bar, Legal Aid of West Virginia and West Virginia Senior Legal Aid; and
-Planning and sponsoring a one-day Pro Bono Summit were also discussed during the commission's meeting.
The commission also proposed more review in some areas before specific recommendations can be made, such as assistance for the disabled; assistance for senior citizens; Workers’ Compensation; assistance for veterans whose needs are not met by Veterans’ Administration or those experiencing difficulty in obtaining benefits; pro bono; and education and training for judges, magistrates, clerks and court personnel for assisting self-represented litigants, seniors, the disabled, and domestic violence victims.