DATE: February 16, 2007                                                    CONTACT: Laura Kiernan
                                                                                                                  Judicial Branch
                                                                                                                Communications Director
                                                                                                                603-271-2646 ext 359

 

CHIEF JUSTICE RECEIVES PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD

HONORED FOR EFFORT TO INCREASE LEGAL HELP FOR THE POOR

  

MANCHESTER—Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. received the annual pro bono service award Thursday from the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono Referral Program in recognition of his efforts to encourage lawyers in private practice to offer their services without charge, or at low cost,  to help meet the legal needs of the poor.

            In presenting the award, Bar President Richard B. McNamara noted that during the past year, Chief Justice Broderick  had visited 17 law firms around the state and personally urged lawyers to commit more time and effort to help meet the challenge posed by the increasing number of persons who come to the courts without a lawyer.  Broderick, citing the profession’s responsibility to help assure all citizens have equal access to the courts, also met with managing partners of the state’s leading law firms, leaders of trial lawyer organizations, former bar presidents and retired lawyers in an effort to encourage innovative ways to provide low cost and volunteer legal assistance.

            “I have always believed that justice is not a commodity but a birthright—something fundamental to human dignity and to our social contract as a republic,” Chief Justice Broderick said in an address following presentation of the award at the Bar’s mid-winter meeting. “ I have come to realize, however, that each generation of lawyers and judges—indeed all citizens—are responsible for giving it meaning, definition and life in their own time. This is our time.”

            The Chief Justice also led efforts within the Judicial Branch to enhance mediation services to resolve disputes, instead of formal court proceedings and he has supported priority scheduling of cases when volunteer lawyers are involved. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court has adopted rules for limited legal representation which will allow lawyers to represent clients for part of a case, which can significantly reduce costs.

            A report by the state Supreme Court Task Force on Self-Representation found that there is at least one pro se party in 85 percent of all civil cases in the district courts, and in 48 percent of all Superior Court cases. Both sides appear without a lawyer in 38 percent of probate cases, and there is at least one pro se party in close to 70 percent of domestic relations cases in the superior courts.

            In his remarks to the Bar members, the Chief Justice noted that the Citizens Commission on the State Courts, which delivered its final report and recommendations in June 2006, said the state should consider extending the right to a lawyer to indigent clients in civil cases in which basic issues are at stake, such as shelter, food, safety and health. The “civil Gideon” concept,  which is under discussion in legal circles throughout the country, is named for the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the right to counsel for criminal defendants who face jail time.

            “Somehow when people confront life-altering civil problems in our courtrooms, as happens everyday, without the wisdom of a lawyer, we have come to believe that is acceptable. It's not or at least it shouldn't be," Broderick said in his remarks. 

             The pro bono service award is named for Manchester lawyer L. Jonathan Ross who, during his many years of private law practice with Wiggin & Nourie in Manchester, has been a leader in improving legal services and pro bono programs in New Hampshire. He has also served as chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.

            The New Hampshire Bar Association is a non-profit, court-mandated organization comprised of all attorneys licensed to practice in the state. The Bar’s membership, which includes all state judges, includes more than 4,400 active members.

 

            The full text of the Chief Justice’s remarks at the Bar mid-year meeting is available on "Webster".