Two leaders of an American Bar Association task force concluded a two-year project on raising awareness about court funding by saying that a “huge” task remains ahead for championing the needs of America’s courts.
“This is going to be a long-term project if it’s going to be successful,” said task force co-chair David Boies, speaking at the ABA annual meeting in Chicago. “The court system is in crisis … it needs funding, and it is essential to ordinary people, business and labor.”
Theodore Olson, the other co-chair of the ABA Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System, said, “It is a huge project which has just begun. We have just scratched the surface. Two years ago, no one was thinking about court funding, no one was talking about it. We have invested an enormous amount of time just to get the ball rolling.”
The two (shown in photo from an earlier event) spoke at an ABA forum whose title asked plaintively: “Saving Our Underfunded Courts: Is Anybody Listening?”
Panelists spoke of efforts that had shown promise in winning legislative attention, as well as the challenges of engaging more public concern about the courts.
Marsha Kazarosian, vice president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said that after a 2011 campaign that included prominently placed billboards, letters and e-mails to lawmakers and outreach to legal and other community leaders, lawmakers ended a four-year freeze on hiring court staff.
“It absolutely worked,” Kazarosian said. “When you’re getting the attention of the public, you’re getting the attention of legislators.” But she cautioned, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Others on the panel included North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald Vande Walle; Elaine Jones, civil rights lawyer and task force member; Lady Booth Olson, a lawyer who is married to Theodore Olson and worked extensively to cull the task force’s findings; Rosalyn Frierson, a court manager from South Carolina, and Michael Bocian, a polling consultant from GBA Strategies Inc.
The panel was moderated by William Weisenberg, former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence. Although the ABA task force on court funding is winding down, the standing committee will remain involved in helping to build state coalitions to support court funding.
“The ABA brings 500 lawyers to Washington on May 1. We need 500 lawyers to go to all the state legislatures on May 1,” Boies said. “If lawyers are not going to defend the court system, nobody else will.”