The U.S. Department of Justice is launching its Access to Justice initiative, according to a National Public Radio "Morning Edition" story on Friday, February 26, 2010, and confirmed by a Justice spokesperson. You can listen to the NPR story here. The primary focus of the initiative will be to improve indigent defense, enhance delivery of legal services to the poor and middles class, and identify and promote alternatives to court- and lawyer-intensive solutions, according to a release by Harvard Law School. The domestic component of the initiative will work with both federal and state courts to strengthen fair, impartial, and independent adjudication, while the international component will promote fair and impartial law enforcement and adjudication through exchange of information with foreign justice systems.
A Washington Post article, on the same day, quoted Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler as saying, "The fundamental integrity of our justice system depends on equal access to justice and effective representation for all parties. In fulfilling our responsibility to ensure fairness and integrity in our justice system, the department is launching an access-to-justice initiative to provide a centralized focus to elevate the importance of these issues and take concrete steps to address them." Harvard University Professor and constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe will lead the initative as Senior Counsel, beginning at DOJ on March 1, 2010 and reporting to Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, according to the Harvard Law School release.
The launch of this DOJ initiative seems to be in fulfillment of the promise made by Attorney General Holder, during the National Symposium on Indigent Defense held last week in Washington, DC, to "make access to justice a permanent part of the work of the Department of Justice, with a focused effort by our leadership offices to ensure the issue gets the attention it deserves." As Jo-Ann Wallace said to NPR, "It demonstrates that they [DOJ] recognize how important public defense is for a fair justice system, so we're excited that they're moving forward." Encouragingly, the initiative is receiving support from noted conservatives such as Ken Starr and Charles Cooper. Starr is quoted by NPR as saying, "It's very appropriate and fitting, and it's consistent with the finest traditions of the Department of Justice."