These are the words of constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe, who joined the Justice Department (http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2010/02/26_tribe.senior.counselor.html) as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice earlier this month. His mission at the DoJ is to improve indigent defense, enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.
Access to the courts is important in both civil and criminal matters. In civil matters, access to legal means of dispute resolution provides stability to society by providing a non violent way to settle disputes. When those doors are effectively barred by the costs involved then people will find other ways to settle arguments. In criminal matters, the Court recognized that our 6th amendment right to counsel requires the government to provide a legal defense for those who can not afford it in the landmark case Gideon v Wainwright (http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_155).
Now the ideals of Gideon are being shortchanged, according to this article(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/nyregion/16defenders.html?scp=2&sq=glaberson&st=cse) in the New York Times. In a class action suit headed to New York's highest court next week, the plaintiffs are arguing that simply providing an attorney is not sufficient to meet the state's constitutional obligation. The plaintiffs allege that the court appointed attorneys lack the time, funding, or in some cases the basic legal skills necessary to provide an adequate defense. The state is vigorously opposing the suit, saying ''It cannot be seriously contended that plaintiffs have been denied the right to counsel''. This argument is a difficult one to make since the state is defending a system that a 2006 commission said did not provide adequate representation to a large portion of those entitled to it.