Task force focuses on eliminating 'justice gap'

The Michigan Supreme Court has launched the Justice for All Taskforce with Justice Brian K. Zahra representing the court. The purpose is to reduce the gap between the civil legal needs of residents and available resources.

Civil legal concerns include health insurance not paying for medically needed care, access to veterans benefits, disputes regarding children and custody, and landlord-tenant matters, among others.

In 2017, the Legal Services Corporation reported on the “justice gap” and identified key challenges with respect to low-income households. More than seven out of ten low-income households reported at least one civil legal problem in the last year. In nearly nine out of ten problems reported, low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.

In Michigan, more than 20 percent of the population are at or below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

Forming the task force follows up on recommendations by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators promoting the Justice for All Project. A key element is the recognition that no one program is the answer to achieve 100 percent access, but rather, a comprehensive approach developed with all stakeholders at the table is needed.

Planning Team members are:: Justice Brian Zahra; Jennifer Bentley, Michigan State Bar Foundation; Kevin Bowling, Ottawa County Court Administrator; Katie Hennessey, State Bar of Michigan; Dawn Monk, State Court Administrative Office; Angela Tripp, Michigan Legal Help; and Janet Welch, State Bar of Michigan.

Additional members are: Sonja Bonnett, Detroit Justice Center; Martha Gonzalez-Cortez, Kalamazoo Community Foundation; Elly Jordan, Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Kim Koscielniak, Michigan Library Association; Ashley Lowe, Lakeshore Legal Aid; Berrien Probate Court Judge Mabel Johnson Mayfield; Jill Nylander, Legal Services of Eastern Michigan; Shiawassee Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart; and Ionia County 64A District Court Judge Raymond Voet.