I was recently appointed to serve a three year term on the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The purpose of this organization, also known as LegalAid, is to provide legal aid to the poor in civil matters. Its mission is to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to, and enhance the quality of, justice in civil legal matters for low income Texans. Due to the economy and the historic low interest rates, there is an epic economic crisis that threatens a devastating blow to the funding of our legal aid offices in Texas.
Created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 2001, the Texas Access to Justice Commission coordinates services for people who need legal help but may not be able to afford it or find it. Appointments to the Commission are made by the Texas Supreme Court and the State Bar of Texas, with the program being staffed by Texas Lawyers in Care. For almost twenty-five years, the largest source of state funding for legal aid on civil matters has been through the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program. Under this program, which is overseen by the Texas Supreme Court, lawyers are required to hold clients’ funds in a segregated bank account. The interest earned in those accounts is swept up and administered by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to provide legal aid to the poor in civil matters. However, during this current economic cycle, the Federal Reserve Board lowered the federal fund rate 15 times to its present range of 0.25% interest. In fact, funding is expected to drop to less than $1.5 million dollars in 2009, down from $20 million dollars in 2007.
The Supreme Court of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation, and the State Bar of Texas are working together to address this funding crisis. Please email me or call me with any input or suggestions you may have. This is one cause that is worth fighting for.