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New State Commission Seeks Equal Access to Civil Justice


The new Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice will seek to provide people with representation in court, regardless of income. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an order to create it Monday.

In criminal matters, the law already mandates the right to an attorney. The new commission will try to help people in civil cases get representation too.

30 organizations that try to do that now have ties the Florida Bar Foundation, based in Maitland. Judge Emerson Thompson Jr. is president of the foundation -- and a member of the new commission.

[caption id="attachment_41243" align="alignleft" width="128"] Photo of Judge Emerson Thompson Jr. from flabarfndn.org[/caption]

He says about half the people in Florida's domestic cases don't have representation. "If you have an attorney representing one side, and another side that is unrepresented, the side with the lawyer as an advantage," he says.

Thompson adds, "Even though the judge may know certain things should not be admitted into evidence or certain questions should not be answered, a lay litigant may not know that, and the court can’t represent that litigant or become the litigant’s lawyer."

In a child custody case, for instance, that advantage could be life-changing.

Thompson says the new Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice will study the problem and try to find funding to help.