MLSA, along with other legal and social providers, shared information about the state of access to justice in Montana to a listening panel of legal, governmental, and policy leaders in Kalispell this week during a forum hosted by the Montana Access to Justice Commission.
MLSA's Executive Director, Alison Paul, shared that there are potential devastating consequences when someone cannot afford an attorney because there is no right to counsel in civil legal matters, saying "Many people don’t realize that you can lose your children, and not have the right to an attorney. You can lose your children in a custody battle. You can lose your house, and not have a right to an attorney to enforce your rights in court."
Ms. Paul emphasized the need for more support for civil legal aid in Montana, saying, "We don’t have enough help. We don’t have enough attorneys, we don’t have enough money for attorneys to support the system that we have."
Others who provided information to the panel described clogged court systems due to people trying to represent themselves, problems of youth and seniors in accessing needed help due to inability to afford legal counsel, and inability of low-income Montanans in moving forward in their lives due to legal problems for which they cannot afford legal help.
Many positives were also shared, including the provision of pro bono (free) services by private attorneys to help those with civil legal needs, the people helped by the small staffs of MLSA and the Montana Supreme Court – Court Help Program Self Help Law Centers, the high economic impact of civil legal aid in Montana, and the work of those employed or volunteering in social service fields to help connect people needing legal help with attorneys and legal information.
For more information on the Kalispell forum, see the articles in the Flathead Beacon and the Daily Inter Lake, as well as on the Montana Public Radio website.
The listening session in Kalispell was one of seven to be held across the state over the next year. A brochure about the forums is here.
Access to Justice Forum Series dates:
- Kalispell – Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015
- Great Falls – Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015
- Billings – Wednesday, March 16, 2016
- Missoula – Wednesday, April 13, 2016
- Bozeman – Wednesday, May 18, 2016
- Butte – Wednesday, September 21, 2016
- Helena – Wednesday, October 19, 2016