When it comes to providing access to justice for the state’s most vulnerable residents, North Carolina ranks slightly above-average, according to The Justice Index, a new report from the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School in New York.
In its initial report from an ongoing study, the center looked at and assigned a score for these elements of state-based justice systems:
- the number of civil legal aid attorneys serving the poor;
- systems available to assist self represented litigants;
- systems available to assist people with limited English proficiency; and,
- systems available to assist people with disabilities.
States were assigned a score in each category based on data volunteers collected from the state court systems over the past year. From there, states were assigned an overall composite score on a scale of 1 to 100.
North Carolina came in 20th place overall in offering access to the courts for our most vulnerable residents. That ranking largely resulted from higher scores for the provision of qualified foreign language interpreters — with the state ranked 18th — and for disability assistance, with the state — in an 11-way tie — ranked third.
But the state ranked 33d in providing assistance for pro se litigants and 38th for the number of lawyers per people in poverty. For every 10,000 people in poverty here, the state has less than one lawyer (.84).
Sadly, we already know that here. As Gene Nichol, director of the UNC School of Law Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity wrote in October:
In North Carolina, over 80 percent of poor and low-income folks – facing wrenching legal wrongs or challenges – can’t get legal representation. The courthouse door maybe open, but only in theory. They can’t use it.
But now the rest of the country knows that as well.