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Guilford-Courthouse-150x150When 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.

 

 

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As noted in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing,  there are lots of important reasons to be deeply concerned about the decision of a political group funded almost exclusively by the state Budget Director to demand the private correspondence of a prominent McCrory administration critic.

ICYMI, however, Professor Paul Carrington of the Duke University School of Law (the school’s former Dean) authored a column (and then an exchange of letters to the editor - click here for the Civitas letter)  in the Durham Herald-Sun  in recent days that sheds additional light on the subject.

Here is Carrington’s most recent on-the-money take — which was published last Friday:

Civitas not telling whole story about Nichol Read More

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Art Pope 3Pat McCrory 4ICYMI, scholars representing 24 North Carolina colleges and universities and 61 separate departments and programs called on Gov. McCrory and state Budget Director Art Pope yesterday to condemn and repudiate the actions of the Pope-Civitas Institute (an organization funded almost exclusively by Pope’s family foundation)  in demanding the personal email, correspondence, phone logs, text messages and calendar entries of Prof. Gene Nichol of the UNC- Chapel Hill School of Law. Click here to read WRAL.com story.

Here is the text of the letter that the scholars delivered to McCrory and Pope yesterday:

Open Letter from North Carolina Scholars

December 14, 2013

To Governor McCrory and State Budget Director Art Pope,

As scholars from institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina and citizens committed to the constitutional right of free speech, we call on you to condemn the Civitas Institute’s demand for six weeks’ worth of personal email correspondence, phone logs, text messages, and calendar entries from Gene Nichol, Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law.

This request is clearly in retribution for Professor Nichol’s public commentary critical of your administration. Read More

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The Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based conservative group, has filed a public records request for emails and correspondence of Gene Nichol, a tenured University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who has been critical of McCrory Administration policies.

Gene Nichol

Gene Nichol

The public records request for Nichol’s emails was reported Thursday afternoon by Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies, a group which has closely tracked spending by Art Pope, a wealthy Republican donor serving as McCrory’s budget director. Civitas is funded almost entirely by a family foundation run by Pope.

From Sturgis’ post:

The Raleigh, N.C.-based Civitas Institute wants the email correspondence, phone records, and calendars of Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and a Moral Monday protest participant. It seeks Nichols’ records during the period from Sept. 14 through Oct. 25, the day the request was filed. Civitas submitted the FOIA request the week after Nichol wrote a newspaper column critical of the McCrory administration.

FOIA laws were designed to ensure government information is available to the public. But in recent years, requests from conservative groups for the records of academics in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan have raised questions whether FOIA is being used for politically motivated harassment.

“For a crowd that talks so much about liberty, they sure love to shut people up,” Nichol told Facing South.

Civitas, which was also behind the controversial database of Moral Monday arrestees, filed the information request 11 days after Nichol published a column in The News & Observer of Raleigh in which he called North Carolina’s new election law imposing strict photo voter ID requirements and other limits on voting the “most oppressive in the nation” and likened Gov. Pat McCrory (R) to “a 21st century successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus,” referring to the segregationist governors of Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.

To read more, click here.

Nichol is also a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of.