Montana Supreme Court Accepting Comments on Two Proposals

The first is the proposed creation of a pro bono appellate program.  The proposed program description states that the Court and its staff may, after briefing is complete, identify issues where additional briefing with the assistance of an attorney to a self-represented litigant would be beneficial to the Court.  Then the Court’s Pro Se Law Clerk will provide the self-represented litigant with an application form to participate in the program, and the litigant can either return a completed form or elect to stand on previously filed briefs.  MLSA would screen the litigant’s application to determine financial eligibility and, if the person is eligible, the Court’s Pro Bono Coordinator would screen volunteer attorneys and law students for conflicts of interest and assign a volunteer to assist the litigant.  Once supplemental briefing is complete, the Court would schedule an oral argument unless a majority of the Court determines oral argument would not be appropriate.  The comment period ends 60 days after January 13, 2012.  You can read the order and program description online.The second is a proposal for the Court to establish an Access to Justice Commission to coordinate and manage access to justice in Montana on a long-term basis.  The petition states that one reason for the proposal is that a task force, such as the existing Equal Justice Task Force, generally has a beginning and an end and “[a]ccess to justice is an extensive, ongoing need” requiring oversight by a court-appointed commission.  The new commission would consist of 17 members representing various groups identified in the petition, and would have eight delineated duties and responsibilities, including assessment of legal needs and court accessibility, work toward securing adequate funding for civil access to justice, and providing oversight to MLSA VISTA poverty law projects.  The petition also states that, if the Court establishes an Access to Justice Commission, the Commission on Self-Represented Litigants would become a standing committee of the new commission, and the State Bar Access to Justice Committee would change its name to avoid confusion.  The comment period ends 60 days after January 5, 2012.  You can read the petition online and the Court’s order setting the comment period.MLSA encourages anyone interested in either proposal to submit comments to the Court.

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