Access to Justice

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April has been declared as Access to Justice Month by Governor Doug Ducey. Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales’ number one goal is to improve access to justice. We’ll hear about efforts to meet that goal from Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence Winthrop, who chairs the Arizona Commission on Access to Justice.

TED SIMONS: ACCESS TO JUSTICE IS A MAIN GOAL FOR A NUMBER OF ARIZONA LEADERS INCLUDING THE GOVERNOR AND THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE STATE SUPREME COURT. WHAT EFFORTS ARE UNDERWAY TO ACHIEVE THAT GOAL. THE ANSWERS WHEN WE RETURN TO THE COURT OF APPEALS JUDGE, LARRY WINTHROP, WHO CHAIRS THE COMMISSION ON ACCESS TO JUSTICE.

TED SIMONS: THE ARIZONA COMMISSION ON ACCESS TO JUSTICE. GIVE ME A DEFINITION. WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

LARRY WINTHROP: A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN GATHERED TOGETHER BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE TO FURTHER THE COURT'S FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC AGENDA. AND THESE ARE FOLKS FROM ACROSS THE STATE. URBAN CENTER, RURAL AREAS, PRIVATE SECTOR, PUBLIC SECTOR. EDUCATORS. COMMUNITY FOUNDATION LEADERS, BUSINESS COMMUNITIES. WE REACH OUT TO OTHERS WITH EXPERTISE AND VARIOUS WORK GROUPS. AND OVER THE LAST 2 1/2 YEARS, WE'VE BEEN WORKING TO CREATE PARTNERSHIPS WITH VARIOUS SECTORS IN OUR STATE, COMMUNITIES IN OUR STATE. BUSINESS COMMUNITIES, LAW SCHOOLS, THE COURTS, THE LEGISLATURE. AND AS YOU MENTIONED, THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE.

TED SIMONS: THE IDEA IS TO DO FIVE YEARS OF A STRATEGIC AGENDA. THE GOAL TO APPROVE EFFECTIVE ACCESS TO JUSTICE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

LARRY WINTHROP: I THINK WHAT WE SAW COMING OUT OF THE RECESSION, DURING THE RECESSION AND COMING OUT OF IT IS A TREMENDOUS BOOST OF THE PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE TRYING TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES IN COURT. NOW WHETHER THAT'S THE RESULT OF ARIZONA'S LARGE POVERTY POPULATION OR WHETHER IT'S THE RESULT OF OUR MIDDLE CLASS NOT BEING COMFORTABLE WITH THE IDEA OF PAYING LAWYERS OR WHETHER THERE'S FOLKS KNOWING THERE'S INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET OR WATCHING LEAGUE DRAMAS AND THINK THEY CAN SOLVE ANY LEGAL DISPUTE IN 40 MINUTES PLUS COMMERCIALS, WE SAW A RISE IN LITIGANTS, PARTICULARLY IN FAMILY COURTS WHERE OVER 80% OF THE FAMILY COURT CASES, THOSE WITH DIVORCES OR CHILD CUSTODY ISSUES AND OVER 80% OF THE CASES, ONE OR BOTH OF THE PEOPLE ARE REPRESENTING THEMSELVES. THAT'S A STATISTIC THAT'S NOT JUST COMMON TO ARIZONA, IT WAS DUPLICATED ACROSS THE COUNTRY. THAT'S WHY YOU SEE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THESE COMMISSIONS NATIONALLY. ARIZONA IS THE 34th. PROBABLY OVER 40 NOW.

TED SIMONS: TO HELP FOLKS, INVICTION CASES ARE THERE AS WELL. THE FOLKS WANT TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES. GIVE THEM -- JUST MAKE THE FORMS EASIER TO UNDERSTAND, FOR STARTERS, I WOULD THINK.

LARRY WINTHROP: I THINK WHAT WE FOUND IS THAT OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM, OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM, WAS NOT DESIGNED FOR EVERYDAY FOLKS TO GO IN AND REPRESENT THEMSELVES. IT WAS DESIGNED TO WORK BEST WITH LAWYERS. SO IT WAS A DIFFICULT CHALLENGE FOR THEM. SO WHAT WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO DO IS EDUCATE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN DO AND HOW THEY CAN DO IT WITHOUT GIVING LEGAL ADVICE BUT RATHER ACCESS TO MEANINGFUL LEGAL INFORMATION.

TED SIMONS: I KNOW AS WELL, LOW-INCOME FOLKS, ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR THEM. THAT'S A CONCERN AS WELL.

LARRY WINTHROP: ABSOLUTELY. THESE FOLKS ARE POVERTY POPULATION, HIGHER HERE IN ARIZONA THAN IT IS NATIONALLY. THE PEOPLE WERE TALKING ABOUT IT ARE THE WORKING POOR. THEY'RE NOT THE FOLKS STANDING BY THE SIDE OF THE FREEWAY HOLDING UP A SIGN. THESE ARE OUR NEIGHBORS, OUR FRIENDS, OUR FAMILY MEMBERS. AND THEY ARE WORKING FOR OUR STATE'S LARGEST EMPLOYERS ON A PART TIME OR FULL TIME BASIS. BUT THEY ARE ONE UNEXPECTED EVENT AWAY FROM BEING OUT OF A JOB, OUT OF THEIR HOME. THEY DO NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DEAL WITH AN UNEXPECTED EVENT.

TED SIMONS: SO ARE WE SEEING PROGRESS FOR THE LOW INCOME FOLKS AND THE FOLKS WHO WANT TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES. ARE WE SEEING THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO HERE?

LARRY WINTHROP: WE ARE. WE'RE WORKING ON IT. A VARIETY OF THINGS THAT ARE VERY, VERY EXCITING. FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE FAMILY COURT AREA WE'RE TALKING ABOUT. MARICOPA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT HAS LAUNCHED A PROJECT. IT'S NOW BEEN IN PLACE FOR A LITTLE OVER A YEAR. IT CREATED A COURT NAVIGATOR PROGRAM. WHERE THEY TAKE IN 35 TO 40 UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS FROM ASU. THEY'RE TRAINED AND SUPERVISED BY COURT STAFF. AND THEY HELP THE SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS FROM START-TO-FINISH EVEN TO THE POINT OF SHOWING THEM WHICH COURT THEY NEED TO GO TO, WHAT IS EXPECTED OF THEM IN THE FORMS THEY HAVE TO SELL OUT AND HELPING THEM IN THAT CAPACITY. THAT'S A GREAT PROGRAM HERE IN MARICOPA COUNTY. THAT'S A GREAT -- THE COUNT TIP OPENED A NEW LEGAL RESOURCE CENTER. BUT NOT EVERYBODY IN ARIZONA HAS ACCESS TO THAT TYPE OF FACILITY. SO THE OTHER PROJECT HAS BEEN TO GO INTO THE PUBLIC LIBRARIES ACROSS THE STATE. WE THINK OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES AS A GREAT COMMUNITY RESOURCE FOR PEOPLE WHO GO TO GET INFORMATION. AND THEY ARE. THEY'VE BEEN A LITTLE -- UNDER UTILIZED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS WITH THE DIGITAL AGE. SO THE LIBRARIES ARE VERY RECEPTIVE TO THE IDEA OF HELPING THEM TO UNDERSTANDS AND TEACH THEIR PATRONS HOW TO FIND LEGAL INFORMATION. WE'VE GONE IN EVERY COUNTY AND TRAINED EVERY LIBRARIAN TO HELP PATRONS FIND INFORMATION.

TED SIMONS: THE FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC AGENDA IS MOVING RIGHT ALONG. YEAR ONE, YEAR TWO, WHERE ARE WE AT?

LARRY WINTHROP: WE'RE 2 AND A HALF YEARS INTO THE PROCESS. ANOTHER GREAT PROGRAM THAT JUST LAUNCHED IS A WEBSITE, AZCOURTHELP. WHICH IS A -- AN INTERACTIVE WEBSITE FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO FIND OUT ANYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT BEING IN COURT. THERE ARE -- THERE'S INFORMATION ABOUT COURTHOUSES, WHERE TO FIND THEM, DIRECTIONS, INFORMATION ABOUT LITTLE THINGS LIKE WHERE DO I PARK? CAN I BRING A CHILD? CAN I BRING A BOTTLE OF WATER? HOW DO I PAY? AND ON THAT WEBSITE, THERE'S A SERIES OF TUTORIALS, ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT AND CERTAIN TYPES OF CASES. THERE'S LINKS TO FORMS THAT PEOPLE CAN USE. SO IT'S -- IT'S A GREAT -- IT'S A GREAT RESOURCE.
TED SIMONS: REAL QUICKLY, GIVE ME THAT WEBSITE.

LARRY WINTHROP: AZCOURTHELP.

TED SIMONS: AZCOURTHELP. ALL RIGHT, THINGS ARE MOVING FORWARD. ACCESS TO JUSTICE IS A LITTLE EASIER NOW THAN IT USED TO BE. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

LARRY WINTHROP: CAN I MAKE ONE LAST.

TED SIMONS: ONE LAST.

LARRY WINTHROP: SO THIS IS LAST-MINUTE TAX PLANNING FOR FOLKS. THERE'S A TAX CREDIT HERE IN ARIZONA FOR CHARITABLE DONATIONS TO QUALIFIED CHARITABLE DONATIONS. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THOSE THAT PROVIDE LEGAL SERVICES TO THE POOR. YOU HAVE UNTIL APRIL 17, INDIVIDUAL FILER, $400.

TED SIMONS: YOU GOT THAT IN.

LARRY WINTHROP: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

TED SIMONS: THANKS FOR JOINING US.

LARRY WINTHROP: APPRECIATE IT.

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