He's a plucky young gumshoe from Tallahassee who's unafraid to hit the pavement in search of a beefy news story, working his sources, downing shots with his crusty colleagues at the corner bar -- oh he's also the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court!
Think of the civil legal matters that could threaten to tear apart your life: divorce, child custody, foreclosure, a landlord-tenant dispute. Then realize that many people are thrown into these life-changing events without legal representation.
Legal aid has only been able to address about 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income citizens and with recent funding cuts even fewer will be served. Many more Floridians — those who earn too much to qualify for legal aid and yet can’t afford an attorney — are caught in a legal services gap.
Now, something is being done about the problem.That's right boys -- the Bar has put together a committee!
This is in response to efforts by several hundred public-interest minded attorneys -- led by former Justice Raoul Cantero -- to force the Bar to fund legal aid via higher bar dues:
So a group of more than 500 Florida lawyers has asked the Supreme Court to authorize the Florida Bar, which represents all the state's lawyers, to increase its dues and use the additional dollars to replenish legal aid funding. The group, led by former Justice Raoul Cantero, has called for a hike in dues from $265 to $365 per year. That would provide legal aid a badly needed cash infusion of $10 million per year.Everyone seems well-intentioned, but this seems about right -- ideally all of us should help the needy gain access to the courts, because without justice for all there is justice for none.
Those who qualify for legal aid normally earn no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. Cantero has warned that cutbacks in these services is turning the hallowed principle of equal justice under law into "a hollow phrase." Most legal needs for the poor in Florida now go unmet, according to legal aid advocates.
The size of the hike proposed by Cantero's group is hardly an onerous prospect for the typical lawyer in Florida. Their annual dues haven't gone up since 2001. They pay less than their counterparts in several other states, including California, Alabama, Kentucky, Alaska and North Dakota.
Two years ago the Bar conducted a survey that found two-thirds of lawyers in Florida charged more than $200 per hour. That means most lawyers in the state could cover the proposed dues increase with a half hour's work.
Bar leaders, who oppose the dues hike, argue that society, not just lawyers, should bear the cost of legal aid. That's an ideal solution, but easier said than done. Consider that for the past four years, Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed funding for legal aid in the state budget. Federal dollars for legal aid also have dropped in recent years.
But what do we do in the meantime?
In other news, here's a nice backgrounder on the heroic attorneys who turned around the gay marriage thing.
Congrats to all!!