Campaign for Equal Justice: “Justice is a Right, Not a Privilege”
If we take seriously the idea that in a democracy the people have the right to set society’s rules, then ordinary people must have the ability to enforce those rules. The world is littered with times and places that have laws that look good on paper, but where people are not able to enforce those laws. Our nation’s foundational document starts with these words: “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice . . . .” The United States Constitution, as part of the purpose of establishing justice, guarantees the right to jury trial. But how do people in poverty or of modest means exercise that right?
Powerful corporations and rich individuals can afford to go to the courts to enforce their rights. But what about ordinary people? For some kinds of cases, regular people can hire an attorney on a contingent fee so that they can try to enforce society’s safety rules. But for most legal problems, that option is not available. Some people choose to represent themselves, for better and for worse, and sometimes they can ask an attorney to represent them on a no fee (pro bono) basis. But for many people, their best shot at justice is through a Legal Aid attorney.
Legal Aid services focus on high priority civil legal needs: food, shelter, medical care, income maintenance, family law problems, and physical safety, including domestic violence. People represented through Legal Aid must meet the federal poverty income guidelines. About 8 out of 10 legal aid clients are women, most who have children to support. People living in poverty often have acute legal needs but do not have the resources to hire a private attorney to help them. And many of the areas where Legal Aid helps are legal matters for which a typical private attorney may not have the needed special expertise.
Oregon attorneys started the Campaign for Equal Justice in 1991 to help create more equal access to justice for all Oregonians. The Campaign for Equal Justice is the support organization for Oregon’s statewide Legal Aid programs, and its activities include an annual fund drive to raise money for Legal Aid. All of the attorneys at Corson & Johnson believe in the importance of access to justice, and the firm is recognized as “Defenders of Justice” by the Campaign for its level of support. More information about the Campaign for Equal Justice may be found at https://cej-oregon.org/.