VIRGINIA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION
Annual Report to the Supreme Court of Virginia
The Commission met twice in 2021: September 17 and December 9. Both meetings were virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons reappointed six members of the Commission to serve three-year terms (from December 1, 2021 to November 30, 2024): Pam Kestner, Karl Doss, Crista Gantz, David Neumeyer, Bryan Slaughter, and Gail Warren.
Four members did not seek reappointment: The Honorable Deborah Bryan, Tara Casey, the Honorable Chaz Haywood, and the Honorable Mary Malveaux.
Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons appointed three new members to the Commission for three-year terms (from December 1, 2021 to November 30, 2024): Paul Ferguson, Ali Silva, and Chief Judge Marilynn Goss. Judge David Ortiz was appointed to represent the Court of Appeals to the Commission.
Elizabeth Schiller began working as the Staff Director in May 2021.
IV. Initiatives and Accomplishments
The Commission continued to operate through its committees and consortium.
a. Governance Committee
The Governance Committee was instituted from a formal reorganization of the previously ad hoc Strategic Planning Committee. The Strategic Planning Committee met one time in 2021: August 17. The Governance Committee held its inaugural meeting as a standing Committee on October 26.
The Governance Committee proposed an orientation process for new Commission members. This included a welcome packet authored by the Committee detailing Commission work, the relationship with the Court, and expectations for members. The Committee also proposed an informal mentorship program as part of this orientation process. These proposals were presented and approved at the December 9th Commission meeting.
a. Judicial Education Committee
The Judicial Education Committee met three times in 2021: February 18, August 12, and November 8.
The Committee continued to work closely with the Court’s Department of Educational and Judicial Services to propose conference topics and coordinate materials for judicial audiences. Judge Henderson-Stith, Chair of the Committee, participated in numerous speaking engagements on access to justice-related topics, including unbundling, for various bars and at the December 10th Hearing Officers Conference.
b. Outreach & Education Committee
The Outreach & Education Committee met three times in 2021: January 5, August 12, and November 16.
In 2021, the Committee focused on finalizing and presenting a freestanding Commission website. The Committee established the Website Subcommittee, chaired by Andrea Bridgeman. The Website Subcommittee led the Committee’s effort to develop the Commission’s website. This involved authoring new content, updating content, and working through security issues caused by the project being dormant. The website was presented to and approved by the Commission at the December 9th meeting.
c. Pro Bono Committee
The Pro Bono Committee met twice in 2021: August 3 and October 27. In January, Bryan Slaughter replaced Tara Casey as Committee Chair.
The Pro Bono Committee revived several pre-pandemic projects this year, most notably the Pro Bono Recognition Project. This project moved forward thanks to partnership with Christa Gantz at the Virginia State Bar. The final details of this project, which aims to foster a culture of pro bono service in Virginia by recognizing attorneys who complete and report several tiers of pro bono service, was approved by the Commission at the September 17th meeting, and approved by the Court at the Court’s December 8th Business Meeting.
a. Pro Bono Consortium
The Pro Bono Consortium met once in 2021: August 5.
The Consortium and its membership continually shared updates and news related to the impact of COVID-19 on pro bono programs, legal service organizations, law school public service, and local courts. Members shared how their programs are pivoting during the pandemic to keep clients, staff, and volunteers safe while meeting the expanding needs of low-income clients.
The Consortium is tracking the use of the JusticeServer Pro Bono Portal for referring and placing pro bono cases. Member organizations are using the pro bono portal in very different ways and there is a continuing need to share information to help programs optimize use. Members are also interested in identifying training opportunities and best practices for the portal.
The Consortium plans to launch an annual pro bono coordinators training event, possibly in conjunction with the Statewide Legal Aid Conference and Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Conference.
b. Self-Represented Litigants Committee
The Self-Represented Litigants Committee met three times in 2021: August 5, September 23, and November 9.
In December, David Neumeyer replaced Judge Deborah Bryan as Committee Chair.
The Committee established a Self-Help Center Subcommittee to explore the possibility of the Commission supporting Self-Help Centers in the Commonwealth. That Subcommittee, chaired by David Neumeyer, authored a report on self-help centers which was presented at the December 9th Commission meeting.
In 2021, the Commission rebounded from a difficult year when normal operations were disrupted and many projects were put on hold. Once staffed, the Commission resumed regular operations. The Commission has resumed work or has actionable plans to resume work on many projects previously put on hold. The Commission is well-positioned for continued success in 2022.
The Commission has not yet planned its meetings for 2022. The Commission anticipates a regular, quarterly meeting schedule, even as it responds to any changes in circumstance.