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ABA Task Force Builds Its Case to Broaden Support for Cash-Strapped Courts


As courts around the United States face budget cuts that are forcing some of them to curtail operations and services, concerns are growing that the justice system also is being undercut by political apathy.

Those concerns were voiced during a press briefing held March 16 in Washington, D.C., by leaders of an ABA initiative to raise awareness about how courts are being affected by the fiscal crises facing many state governments as a result of the recession.

“We’re being told of the need to cut spending, but there are two problems,” said David Boies, one of the co-chairs of the ABA Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System. First, he said, funding for courts already has been cut back to the point that “we’re not talking about trimming fat anymore. We’re talking about bone, muscle and structure.” Also, Boies said, the justice system cannot be treated as “just another government department. Our basic promise of justice is being undercut. Who are we going to tell they won’t get justice?”

But “there is no political constituency for the justice system,” said Boies, the chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner based in the firm’s Armonk, N.Y., office.

MAKING THE CASE

The task force is working to make a case for the courts to receive adequate resources and to build coalitions that will make that case with legislators and the public. “This should not be a partisan issue,” said Theodore B. Olson, the task force’s other co-chair. He is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C.

The task force co-chairs, along with ABA President Stephen N. Zack, pointed to the preliminary results of an informal survey of lawyers and judges as support for their contention that underfunded courts have a ripple effect throughout society. Among the initial findings of the survey are that 68 percent of the respondents said underfunding the courts has a negative effect on the economy, and 77 percent said there is a negative effect on public safety. (The findings are based on responses from 7,585 lawyers and judges to a survey sent by email to nearly 200,000 ABA members.)

The task force heard similar messages at its initial public hearing in February, said Zack, who is administrative partner in the Miami office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. The task force will hold its next hearing on May 26 at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord.

“We’re all soldiers in this war,” said Zack, who appointed the task force at the beginning of his ABA presidential term last August.

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