A cheeky spin on Presidents Day: Washington, Lincoln, charity, and a call to action

Apparently, there is considerable debate over whether today is Presidents Day, President’s Day, or Presidents’ Day.

Whether we are honoring Washington, Lincoln, the office of the President, or a much-needed day off – adding a bit of charity today will make you feel great!  Donate today to OneJustice in honor of your favorite President.

So, most of us refer to today’s holiday as some variation on “Presidents Day” – but the federal holiday you’re celebrating (if you are one of the lucky ones to get the day off) is actually officially designated to celebrate Washington’s birthday (February 22nd, 1732).

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”

Launched in 1879, the history of this holiday goes through some twists and turns starting in the 1950s – with the beginning of a press toward having a more generic “Presidents Day.”  The whole thing was complicated by the fact that President Lincoln – who apparently gets only his own state holiday – was also born in February, creating the possible burden of celebrating Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday, and Presidents’ Day – all in the space of one month.  To  make it all even more confusing, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (yep, there actually was legislation with that name!) passed in 1968 – thereby ensuring the holiday always falls on the 3rd Monday in February and therefore, by default, will never actually fall on either Washington’s or Lincoln’s birthday.

So – given the confusing status of this actual holiday – it could leave all of us wondering aloud, “What are we actually supposed to celebrate today?” 

Well, we have a cheeky suggestion of one way to honor something Washington and Lincoln had in common – a belief in giving back to those in need.

Both Presidents Washington and Lincoln supported charity by individuals to help those facing hard times.  As George Washington once wrote, “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”  In fact, after Philadelphia suffered a terrible attack of fever in the late 1790s, Washington apparently wrote the following to a clergyman based in the city about his desire to contribute his own funds to help those suffering: “It has been my intention ever since my return to the city, to contribute my mite towards the relief of the most needy inhabitants of it.  I am at a loss, however, for whose benefit to apply the little I can give, and in whose hands to place it; whether for the use of the fatherless children and widows, made so by the late calamity, who may find it difficult, whilst provisions, wood, and other necessaries are so dear, to support themselves; or to other and better purposes, if any, I know not.”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in theright as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish thework we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him whoshall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do allwhich may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselvesand with all nations.”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all”

Everyone knows that President Lincoln came from humble beginnings, and it therefore comes as no surprise that Lincoln remained sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate throughout his time in political office.  Indeed, Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address given on March 4, 1865, spoke so compellingly of the need for charity – in a time of strife and much-needed healing of the nation – in a way that echoes still today: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  (True confessions, we have to admit that some members of the OneJustice team cried a little during this part of the movie Lincoln.)

So – both Washington and Lincoln believed in personal charity – and charity for all.  A lovely commonality!  And what other commonality exists?  Ok, fair warning – we know that this is (a) a stretch and (b) completely cheesy — but we just couldn’t resist.  Here it is: their images are emblazoned on our country’s currency – Washington on the quarter and the $1 bill – and Lincoln on the penny and the $5 bill.

Washington and Lincoln’s shared belief in giving back plus their images on our currency must amount to a message from the universe that we should all celebrate today by making a small donation to a cause we belief in – and OneJustice is delighted to be that cause!

It is easy to give online through our secure donation page.

It is easy to give online through our secure donation page.

All kidding aside, every donation – $1, $5, $25 or $100 – supports our network’s efforts to expand the legal assistance available to Californians in need. Every dollar contributed by our network removes needless suffering from solvable legal problems.  And because our work relies on the involvement of our strong, dedicated, and passionate network – which is ALL OF YOU – it feels really good to get involved and give back!  So if you are looking for  bit of quirky fun today – give a little donation online today to OneJustice in honor of Washington, Lincoln – or YOUR favorite President!  Thank you in advance for your support!

What do we all love? Committing our time and energy to helping people.

You can count on an amazing sleep the night after a Justice Bus trip.

Trips demand your full energy and constant attention. But, I promise you this: You will never regret the experience. Trust me.

I love the feeling I get at the end of a Justice Bus trip. I feel like I’ve run a marathon and finished first. But, I always feared others—especially clients and volunteers—wouldn’t feel the same way. I was wrong, of course.

Paul Hastings Associate Jeff Michalowski meets with a senior client at a Justice Bus clinic in Napa County

Paul Hastings Associate Jeff Michalowski meets with a senior client at a Justice Bus clinic in Napa County

While writing a recently-published article about the Justice Bus Project for the Clearinghouse Review, a national public interest law journal, I was reminded of the time when it really hit me it wasn’t just me who loved squeezing every last bit of energy out of myself during trips. In June 2012, I joined 12 summer associates from the law firm Paul Hastings on a Justice Bus trip to Napa. The mission for the day was to work with Legal Aid of Napa Valley to provide seniors—all living in a low-income senior residence facility—with assistance creating advance health care directives and simple wills.

Each Paul Hastings summer associate was scheduled to meet one-on-one with clients. And we were expecting a lot of seniors that day. Trying to calm their non-existent nerves, I counseled them with adages like, “Take your time” and “Don’t rush.” How futile those sound in retrospect!

A Paul Hastings summer associate volunteered with the Justice Bus to bring free legal services to seniors in Napa

A Paul Hastings summer associate volunteered with the Justice Bus to bring free legal services to seniors living in an isolated area of Napa County.

The four hour clinic was a whirlwind. Seniors kept coming in, summer associates refused to take breaks, and I was worried sick that everyone was going to collapse! When all was said and done, 43 seniors were helped. That’s nearly one client per hour per summer associate. In other words, one advance health care directive completed and executed or one simple will drafted each 60 minutes by each volunteer. Amazing! But, for me, terrifying as well because I thought, for sure, the volunteers must be taxed beyond their liking. Or, even worse, the clients felt drained because of the busy scene.

I was wrong. Absolutely, unequivocally, and embarrassingly wrong. To one summer associate, I begged forgiveness: “Jen, I’m so sorry for the ridiculously busy afternoon!” To a client I pleaded for mercy: “I apologize for the hectic display, Mr. Beatty!” Both looked at me like I was crazy. They were grateful for the opportunity, and they didn’t want to hear me apologize for it again.

Some of the clients cried while telling me how they’d been praying for this day to come, having no real access to legal help. The summer associates gushed as they talked about the progress they’d made with clients and the feeling of pride the day had brought them. And I was left wondering how on earth I once believed that I, and I alone, was the only person happy to throw every last ounce of energy into a Justice Bus trip.

For many seniors, Justice Bus clinics provide their own access to vital legal help and assistance.

For many seniors, Justice Bus clinics provide their only access to vital legal help and assistance.

We all love committing our time and energy to helping people. And the Justice Bus Project gives us the chance to do just that. That’s what makes the program so amazing. Trips give us a wonderfully rare situation when all our interests align.  When clients get the help they desperately need. When volunteers, like you, realize what a difference you can make.

And we all sleep better. Some out of exhaustion, others out of relief.

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Michael Winn leads OneJustice's statewide Pro Bono Support Program.

Michael Winn leads OneJustice’s statewide Pro Bono Support Program.

Michael Winn, Senior Staff Attorney, leads OneJustice’s statewide Pro Bono Support Program. Based in the San Francisco office, Michael is responsible for developing and stewarding OneJustice’s innovative pro bono programs, including the Justice Bus Project, which connects urban pro bono resources to isolated and rural communities in California, and the Law Student Pro Bono Project, which links law student volunteers to pro bono opportunities at local legal services organizations. In his work, Michael often advises legal services nonprofits, law firms, law schools, and in-house counsel on how to improve current pro bono partnerships and create effective new pro bono programs. Before joining OneJustice, Michael served as interim executive director at Start Small. Think Big., a nonprofit providing financial development services and civil legal assistance to low-income communities in the South Bronx, and spent several years as a litigation associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York.

Check out your justice playlist!

We’ve been dancing and singing around the office all week here at OneJustice.

Thank you for the amazing song suggestions!

You all are so inspiring! What a fantastic collection of songs – from Billie Holiday to the Clash, and from Pete Seeger to Green Day – you filled up our week with rousing melodies and inspiring lyrics.  What a treat – and we just had to share them back with all of you.  Check out the list below, in alphabetical order by song title, of the 32 suggestions.  Enjoy building your playlist!

And the winner is . . . (drum roll please . . .)  Ok, wait, first we have to say that we know the winner is a perhaps a bit predictable – but so many of you included it in your submissions – it was the most frequently posted song across all our social media sites.  And maybe it’s because we’re feeling a bit mushy so close to Valentine’s Day, but we thought the lyrics really speak to exactly what makes OneJustice so unique.

“You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.”

OneJustice only exists because we are a network of people who all believe that by working together we can bring more justice into the world.  OneJustice is truly just a container for the work done by all of you – the network of individuals who join together as volunteers, supporters, and donors because you believe that no one should suffer from solvable legal problems – that no one should lack basic access to legal advice and assistance.  We’re all dreamers – dreamers for a better day, when low-income Californians no longer face legal barriers to basic life necessities.  OneJustice’s entire job is to bring us all together to imagine that day – and then put our feet on the ground to make it a reality.  So how could we not choose John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the winning song?

Congratulations to Claire Axelrad (blog), Cynthia Luna (facebook), Tam Ma (facebook), and Tanya Cobb (facebook via board member Diego Cartagena), who all posted “Imagine.”  They will each get a super cool OneJustice water bottle – kudos!

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The OneJustice 2013 Change, Love, Power and  Justice Playlist – Created by the OneJustice Network!

A Change is Going to Come” by Sam Cooke

American Idiot” by Green Day

Behind the Wall” by Tracy Chapman

Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan

Change the World” by Eric Clapton

Equal Rights” by Peter Tosh

Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley

Give a Little Bit” by Supertramp (Roger Hodgson)

Help Save the Youth of America” by Billy Bragg

Hurricane” by Bob Dylan

I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy

Imagine” by John Lennon

It Takes Time To Build” by Beastie Boys

Johnny 99” by Bruce Springsteen

Justice” by Cassandra Wilson

Know Your Rights” by The Clash

Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder

Look for the Union Label” produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union

The Mercy Seat” by Johnny Cash

Natural Woman” by Carole King

One” by U2

Ooh Child (Things are Gonna Get Easier)” by The Five Stairsteps

People Get Ready” written by Curtis Mayfield, particularly as performed by Aretha Franklin

Redemption Song” by Bob Marley

Strange Fruit” performed by Billie Holiday and written by Abel Meeropol

Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2

There is Power in The Union” by Billy Bragg

Truth” by Ruthie Foster

Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine

We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger

What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye

Justice Karaoke!

Do you sing in public – or only in the shower?

Ready for our February social media for social justice contest?

You can win this nifty OneJustice water bottle!

You can win this nifty OneJustice water bottle!

Yep, it’s the beginning of the month again – Happy February!  And you know what that means, right?  It’s time for our next OneJustice contest.  (January was all about your favorite justice movies – did you miss the list of all “must watch” justice flicks?  No worries, you can still get it on the blog here.)

This month we’re asking you to post your favorite song relating to equality, fairness, peace, love – however YOU interpret the concept of justice.  Everyone who posts is entered in a drawing to win a super awesome OneJustice water bottle.  Extra points if you post a video of YOU singing the song!  You can post your favorite justice-related song on any of our social media sites:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OneJustice

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/onejustice

Or by commenting on this blog post.

Post now, post often – the contest closes at midnight of February 8th.  Happy Singing, all!

We’ll start the list by posting “One Day” by Matisyahu.  (Sorry, no video of any OneJustice staff singing, yet.  Maybe we’ll have a brave soul volunteer next week!)

Who knew that my first legal job would include early am bus rides and kippered salmon?

On my first Justice Bus trip, I found out that our volunteers – and the communities we serve – are willing to go the distance.

Four months into my position as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at OneJustice, I found myself boarding a bus at 6:30 a.m. on an early January morning.

Law Students from USF School of Law traveled over 600 miles roundtrip to bring free legal clinics to veterans.

Law Students from USF School of Law traveled over 600 miles round trip to bring free legal clinics to veterans.  Here they are in front of the Yurok Tribal Center in Klamath.

My Fellowship focuses on running the Justice Bus Project in Northern California, so there I was, embarking on our most ambitious Justice Bus trip to date – a two-day trip to Humboldt and Del Norte Counties.  This was the farthest distance the Justice Bus Project has ever gone – more than 600 miles round trip – and we were heading out, with thirteen law students and three legal services attorneys in tow.

Our goal? To provide legal assistance to Native American veterans by staffing three legal clinics, in two days, in three different locations.  Ambitious, right?  And to boot, this was my first Justice Bus trip! Now, the Justice Bus Project prides itself on being flexible and modeling trips and clinics in a way that best allows our pro bono efforts to meet the needs of the community we work with. Still, after months of delicate planning, I must admit I had some butterflies: Was the distance too far? Logistically, could we execute such a complicated trip? Would veterans show up?

The discussion of a Justice Bus trip to serve Native American veterans in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties began before I started my Fellowship. Judge Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribal Court, first contacted John Unruh, the Pro Bono Coordinator at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco.  Judge Abinanti was seeking help to address legal barriers to veteran benefits, pensions, and discharge upgrades that were being experience by the Native American community in California’s northernmost regions. Many veterans were traveling hours to San Francisco to visit a medical center. Others had never applied for benefits, or had gotten so frustrated with the system and the long processing times that they had given up, untrusting of the system.

One of the volunteers meets with a client at the Hoopa clinic on Day Two.

One of the volunteers meets with a client at the Hoopa clinic on Day Two.

John reached out to OneJustice, knowing the Justice Bus Project  allows pro bono lawyers and law students in urban areas to put their skills to use in rural and isolated parts of the state. Additionally, when needed, our flexible model enables us to bring the legal services attorneys with the legal expertise needed with us, on the bus. Together, OneJustice, Swords to Plowshares, and the Yurok Tribal Court decided the Justice Bus model was the appropriate vehicle to assist this community.

Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge on that January morning, silhouette of the City behind us, students alert and excited, I felt confident the trip would be a success. Months of planning with our partners ensured a solid foundation for two days of legal clinics. After a winding five-hour drive along Highway 101, through the Redwoods and small towns like Hopland and Cloverdale, we arrived in Bayside, CA. Like clockwork, we set up the clinic and began meeting with clients. Students conducted intake interviews and consulted with supervising attorneys from Swords to Plowshares to discuss each case, deliver legal advice, and fill out appropriate paperwork. We were joined by other volunteers from veterans’ organizations in the area, available to help with employment training, record clearance, family law issues and SSI.

One our clients helped out by driving us to the Hoopa Clinic on Day 2

One our clients helped out by driving us to the Hoopa Clinic on Day 2

On Day Two, our Justice Bus team split into two groups in order to reach as many clients as possible – half heading off to Klamath, the other half to Hoopa.  Thus, my second day began with another windy drive, this time in the back of a client’s truck along the beautiful Trinity River listening to stories about Bigfoot sightings and fishing. This particular client picked us up last minute when our original ride fell through, an example of the kindness we were met with throughout the trip. Another example is the lunches that were donated by the community during the second day of clinics – large spreads of homemade sandwiches, soups, cakes and snacks kept us energized as we met with clients.

Over the course of the two-day Justice Bus trip, we assisted thirty-six clients. Many of the clients stayed to visit with their friends and fellow veterans after we finished assisting them. As a result, each clinic felt more like a community gathering – and we were welcomed into that community, with gifts of homemade kippered salmon and Yurok Tribe t-shirts.  And the clients honored us by sharing their personal histories and struggles. I remember one veteran in particular who visited the clinic to get assistance with his claims for benefits only because of repeated insistence and pressure from his family to get help. It took a lot for him to be there. His story alone made the long trip feel well worth the distance traveled.

Many of our clients stayed to visit with friends after their clinic appointments and welcomed us into their community.

Many of our clients stayed to visit with friends after their clinic appointments and welcomed us into their community.

As we departed, there were thank you’s all around.  Our team was thankful to be there and offer legal assistance, and we were thanked profusely for coming – and most importantly, we were asked to return.

Because here is the tough part: This trip really stretched our capacity – traveling farther than the Justice Bus project ever has before.   It took a strong partnership with University of San Francisco Law School and a group of truly dedicated donors to make the trip possible.  And, at the same time, it is clear from our trip and subsequent conversations with the Yurok Tribal Court, that there is still a lot of work to be done in the Humboldt and Del Norte areas. We were able to help some veterans, but it was not enough. My hope is that this trip helped pave the way for future trips so that we can continue to chip away at the need for legal assistance among low-income and otherwise underserved communities in the region.  After being there and starting to build community with these veterans, I feel so deeply that we cannot simply walk away – one Justice Bus trip alone was simply not enough.

Clients and community members welcomed us - and we are planning to return to bring even more services to this area.

Clients and community members welcomed us – and we are planning to return to bring even more services to this area.

And I’m so proud that the OneJustice team is stepping up!  We are in the process of planning future Justice Bus trips that will not only focus on the Native American veteran population in the area, but may include providing legal assistance for Yurok Tribe families with children with special education needs.  At the same time, we’ve learned that there is a substantial need for help for immigrant youth who are eligible for the new federal immigration relief program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival).  I have vowed to myself that we will return – because we are now in community with this tribe and this underserved region, which faces so many barriers to legal assistance on critically important issues.

And finally, this trip was a successful expansion of the Justice Bus Project. We’ve always wondered what the outer boundaries of these trips might be.  How long are people willing to ride on a bus to deliver free legal assistance?  How willing are truly distant community to receive that help?  How far are our volunteers really willing to go?  I learned so much during this first overnight Justice Bus trip – the importance of careful planning, the delicate work of building trust in a new community – and the fact that our volunteers are, quite literally, willing to go the distance to reach a community in need.

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Lauren Roberts

Lauren will be leading Justice Bus trips all over Northern California, bringing free legal services to rural areas!

Lauren Roberts is one of OneJustice’s Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows and runs the Justice Bus Project in Northern California. A Berkeley native, Lauren was raised with an eye and ear toward social justice work. Before law school she worked as a field organizer with MoveOnPAC, then moved to Japan where she taught English in the prefecture where her great-grandmother was born. She also worked as a paralegal at Disability Rights Advocates, which ultimately propelled her to go to law school. During law school, Lauren spent one summer working with refugees in Cairo and her second summer working on behalf of death row inmates in California. Lauren is thoroughly enjoying running the Justice Bus Project and learning more about the needs of low-income communities in rural areas of the state. Additionally, organizing the Justice Bus Project has allowed her to put her varied experiences – teaching, organizing, and travel – to use in a legal setting.

You are part of a network that builds strong collaborations

Collaboration is key to successful pro bono . . . and at the core of the OneJustice network

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses.  Each year this network provides life-saving legal help to over 275,000 Californians facing legal barriers to basic life necessities and core civil rights.  You – like everyone in our network – are an essential part of the solution. Together we can remove the barriers that cause millions of our neighbors to suffer needlessly from solvable legal problems.

In honor of the work that our network does, each month we feature an interview with a different participant in the network. This month we interviewed Kate Fritz, Manager Partner at Fenwick & West and a terrific leader in the regional, statewide and national pro bono community.

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Kate Fritz, Managing Partner at Fenwick & West

Kate, you are involved in supporting and expanding pro bono not only at Fenwick & West, but also regionally, statewide, and even nationally.  What efforts have you participated in, and how does the inform your work with OneJustice?

I am the Managing Partner at Fenwick & West and a partner in the litigation, intellectual property and privacy groups. In addition to efforts at Fenwick & West, I have been involved in pro bono efforts with the Bar Association of San Francisco and Santa Clara County Bar Association.  I’ve also been involved in the firm’s over a decade of support for our Equal Justice Works fellows, who have individually developed impressive, sustaining projects that provide pro bono services and achieve results for a broad range of clients.  I have participated in the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Advisory Board, where we try to address common concerns and reach solutions to expand the breadth of pro bono work by law firms.  More recently, I was honored to participate in the Legal Services Corporation’s Pro Bono Task Force, which gathered attorneys and judges from around the country who were committed to pro bono to think about the big issues and impediments to providing pro bono services to all in need, and ways to remove barriers and develop creative solutions.   What I have learned in all of these efforts is that collaboration – across law firms, with lawyers in companies, through bar associations, with legal service providers, and with organizations that support the provision of pro bono services – is the key to really doing the work and making a difference.  The core of OneJustice’s mission is to encourage and facilitate this kind of collaboration.

Tell us a little bit about how Fenwick & West approaches pro bono as a firm.

We have a firm-wide belief in the importance of pro bono that extends from partners, to associates to paralegals to our non-legal staff. Much of our firm’s pro bono work springs from the personal passions and commitments of our individual attorneys. Every practice group-corporate, intellectual property, litigation and tax-is represented in the types of pro bono projects we handle. Whether helping a small business with limited funds in an economically challenged community, a non-profit struggling to stay afloat, or an individual who needs direct representation on a domestic violence case, our attorneys approach pro bono projects with skill and integrity to achieve results with a real impact. Beyond individual cases, we contribute to the greater community by partnering with various public groups, in-house legal departments and local bar associations.

What have you enjoyed about working with OneJustice?

Fenwick attorney volunteers traveled with the Justice Bus Project to deliver services in Napa County

Fenwick & West attorney volunteers traveled with the Justice Bus Project to deliver services in Napa County

OneJustice is incredibly thoughtful, creative and collaborative in approaching pro bono issues. They are always thinking about the larger picture about how best to deliver pro bono resources in the most effective manner. Our Justice Bus experiences have been examples of this.  They have enabled us to partner with legal service organizations, our Equal Justice Works Fellow and several corporate legal departments to provide legal services to rural areas. The entire staff at OneJustice is very passionate and committed to what they do, creative about solutions to impediments to providing legal services, and everyone in the organization is a joy to work with.

In addition to the pro bono collaborations, Fenwick & West also provides financial support to OneJustice’s programs.  Why does the firm also make a charitable investment in OneJustice’s work?

OneJustice’s work has a far reaching impact that increases pro bono services to rural areas and also strengthens a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses. Making an investment in OneJustice leads to a direct impact in expanding the pro bono delivery system throughout California in a very tangible way.

Thank you to Kate and everyone at Fenwick & West for their wonderful commitment to pro bono and for being such a dedicated member of the OneJustice network!

Can you guess how the U.S. fares in the World Justice Report? [Hint: the news isn’t great.]

Our civil justice system is found to lag behind in access for the poor.

The U.S. ranks 12th out of 16 countries in our regional group.

The United States is ranked 19th out of 29 high income countries in access to justice.

The United States is ranked 19th out of 29 high income countries in access to justice.

The World Justice Project leads a global movement to strengthen the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.  They recently released the Rule of Law Index 2012-2013 report, which covers 97 countries representing over 90 percent of the world’s population.  The Rule of Law Index is a comprehensive quantitative assessment tool that examines 48 indicators for development of the rule of law – these indicators are organized around nine core concepts: (1) limited government powers, (2) absence of corruption, (3) order and security, (4) fundamental rights, (5) open government, (6) regulatory enforcement, (7) civil justice, (8) informal justice, and (9) the most important category for our work – civil justice.

The United States actually does well in most dimensions relating to the rule of law – the report finds we have a well-functioning system of checks and balances and respect for fundamental rights of association, express, and religion.

In the United States, low-income residents do not use the legal system because they cannot afford the cost of an attorney

In the United States, low-income residents do not use the legal system because they cannot afford the cost of an attorney

However, while our civil justice system is independent and free of undue influence, the report states that it lags behind in providing access to disadvantaged groups. Legal assistance is frequently expensive or unavailable, and the gap between rich and poor individuals in terms of both actual use of and satisfaction with the civil court system is significant.  In addition there is a perception that ethnic minorities and foreigners receive unequal treatment.

Our civil justice system also doesn’t fare well in a comparison to Finland on a rating of equal access to justice – meaning the ability of all people to seek and obtain effective remedies through accessible, affordable, impartial, efficient, effective and culturally competent institutions of justice.  In Finland, most people tend to use formal dispute-resolution channels – regardless of their economic status.  In stark contrast, in the United States, few low-income residents used the court system – and most did not take formal action to resolve their disputes.  Over 80% low-income litigants in the U.S. did not seek legal assistance because they could not afford the cost of hiring an attorney.

Now, we know that this news is actually not so surprising.  After all, if low-income residents had equal access to our civil justice system, then OneJustice wouldn’t need to exist!  Our network faces this stark reality – and its serious implications for these communities that do not have affordable ways to resolve their disputes – every day.  Many of our most troubling societal problems stem from the fact that low-income communities simply do not have the same level of access to the court systems – and therefore to justice – as higher income communities.  Homelessness. Violence.  Lack of stable child custody arrangements.  Inability to enforce the most basic civil rights.  Lack of access to education and employment.

So how do we react to this stark evaluation of our civil justice system?  Can we use this ranking as a baseline for improvement?  What additional strategies can we put into play to provide real access to justice for all Americans?  What will the impact be of continued budget cuts to the civil courts here in California?  What do YOU think?  We need to hear YOUR reactions, ideas, suggestions – how do we move forward from here?

Clarabelle lived all alone – and they knew it

My great-aunt Clarabelle was a firecracker of a person. 

Until Alzheimers made her dependent on our family – and vulnerable to a group of slick salesmen.

Clarabelle Henson (1905 - 1996) was a force of nature.  Here she is shown sitting with family on the steps of her family home in Tuscola, IL.

Clarabelle Henson (1905 – 1996) was a force of nature. Here she is shown sitting with family on the steps of her family home in Tuscola, IL.

My great-aunt Clarabelle was truly a force of nature in my life.  She was independent, opinionated, and had a firm and unwavering sense of self.  During my childhood, she split her time between an apartment in a suburb of Chicago and the very small town of Tuscola, Illinois (population of around 4,000) in the house where she lived since she was a child.  She was an incredible role model.  A professional woman in a time when such things were not as common, she worked as a much-loved teacher and then principal of a Chicago school for over 24 years while also managing the rental and eventually the sale of our family’s farm in Hindsboro, IL. Having never married, she was fiercely self-sufficient – until she starting suffering the dramatic effects of Alzheimers.

I was reminded of Clarabelle last weekend, during a long but beautiful drive from my home in the Bay Area to a soccer tournament in Redding.  At one point, about two hours into the drive, my husband chuckled and pointed out that the GPS map in the car’s dashboard showed just one long straight line of highway.  No intersecting roads.  No airports.  No towns.  There was hardly anyone else on the road – just miles and miles of open country, farmland, and an expansive horizon overhead.   There was literally nothing around us – it felt restful, almost serene.

It was completely reminiscent of the landscape of my childhood, growing up in Champaign-Urbana, IL almost smack dab in the middle of the state.  Although Urbana is home to the University of Illinois, we lived on the outskirts of Champaign, and it felt very connected to the farms around it.  Although my kids roll their eyes when I talk about it, my elementary school was bordered on three sides by corn fields, and the school shut down on days when the snow prevented the school buses from picking up the children living on farms just outside of town.  When I’m out in rural areas of California, I feel – in some way deeply imprinted from my childhood – like it’s home.

There are so  many wonderful things about small rural towns – whether in Illinois or California.  When we visited Clarabelle in Tuscola and took her out to dinner (at the truck stop no less!), almost everyone knew each other.  She was close to her neighbors on her small street.  We ate homemade apple pie from fruit we picked in her backyard.  Many older Californians leave urban areas and move out to smaller towns in their retirement for exactly these kinds of benefits.  They seek a slower pace, more tightly-knit community, and a more affordable cost of living when they start having to manage on a fixed income.

The GPS map in the car dashboard shows one straight line of Highway 505 heading north - and nothing else around.

The GPS map in the car dashboard shows one straight line of Highway 505 heading north – and nothing else around.

But seniors living in small, rural towns can also be uniquely vulnerable.  In the last decade or so of her life, Clarabelle struggled with the impact of Alzheimers and dementia.  At the beginning, she still lived alone in her family home, and our family – my dad in particular – helped her manage the impact of short-term memory loss and moments of confusion.  But then she got on the list of a team of salesmen from a near-by town.  They figured out that she lived all alone – and that she was completely unconcerned about inviting them into her house.  She called them “the nice young men who come to visit.”  They tried to sell her all kinds of insurance that she clearly didn’t need – and they would stop by her house in cycles, each of them trying to make the sale.   Sometimes they succeeded, and she paid them thousands of dollars. Luckily, the neighbors would call my dad to let him know that it was happening.  He would call Clarabelle, demand that she put these “nice young men” on the phone with him, and berate them until they left.  Eventually it got so bad that my dad went to their office, told them that he knew exactly what they were doing, and that our family wouldn’t stand for it any longer.  Finally, the visits stopped.

Clarabelle was lucky.  She had family relatively close-by, neighbors who were part of the solution, and family members fully capable of handling the problem.  But many seniors do not.  They move to rural areas and no longer have familiar support systems.  Their families members live too far away to monitor what is happening.  Neighbors don’t make those phone calls.  And seniors fall victim to all kinds of abuse – both financial, emotional, and even physical.

Some seniors can turn to their local nonprofit legal organization that provides free legal help to older Californians for help.  But some live hundreds of miles from the nearest legal services nonprofit – and cannot travel to get there.  And that is why the Justice Bus Project is focused on bringing free legal assistance to exactly those seniors living in rural and isolated areas of the state.  One of OneJustice’s key initiatives in 2013 is to expand the services available for older Californians – both through increased Justice Bus Trips to bring free legal help right to rural senior centers and senior housing facilities, and by expanding the capacity of nonprofit legal organizations serving seniors through training, coaching and support on nonprofit management.

I was reminded on the drive to Redding of exactly why the Justice Bus Project is so important to those seniors – and the rurally based nonprofit legal organizations trying to reach and serve them.  Because while that long stretch of highway with nothing around felt serene and beautiful as we were driving through, it also means that the seniors living in those areas can feel inescapably alone – and vulnerable to those who are looking for victims. Just like my great-aunt Clarabelle.

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Julia Wilson is honored to serve as the executive director of OneJusticeJulia R. Wilson is the executive director of OneJustice, where she is responsible for leading statewide advocacy efforts on behalf of the legal services delivery system, undertaking multiple statewide strategic planning initiatives, and serving as the legal services community’s liaison to key access to justice partners. At heart she is still a small town mid-western girl, who loves the urban energy of downtown San Francisco but craves the wide open horizon of big sky country.  Read more about Julia on our website.

You did it!

You made the world more just and more fair.

Words simply cannot adequately express how grateful we are for your support.  But pictures are worth 1,000 words – so we made this short (2-minute) video to express our thanks. 

It is a labor of love, with images sent in by folks in our network from all around the state – and it comes from our hearts to yours.  Enjoy!

Your generous support of OneJustice brings life-changing legal help to Californians in need – all around the state, particularly in rural and isolated areas. Low-income veterans. Vulnerable seniors. Children with disabilities and immigrant youth. People suffering needlessly from solvable legal problems – problems that prevent them from accessing life necessities.

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It’s not too late to be part of the solution – you can still donate now at one-justice.org/donate!

Thank you! Thank you for your support, your generosity, your charitable investment in our work – and most of all, for being part of the OneJustice network.