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Access to justice has become the new catchword for the courts of New York. Our chief judge, Judith S. Kaye, has been spreading the message throughout the state of the importance of making the courts more accessible to all who seek our services. In addition, Gov. George E. Pataki’s many diverse appointments of presiding and associate justices to the appellate divisions have provided unique opportunities for jurists sensitive to access to justice for all to bring new ideas, programs and initiatives to the communities that they serve. In Chief Judge Kaye’s State of the Judiciary address this year, she once again emphasized her concern and her commitment to providing easier and more meaningful court access to all — to non-lawyers as well as lawyers; to the poor as well as the rich; to the represented as well as the self-represented. In clarifying what “greater access” means, Kaye said: “Greater access means many things, like providing more interpreters, assisting self-represented litigants, enlarging the jury pool. Greater access also means that individuals can more readily pursue their legal rights, that their entitlement to equal justice is not thwarted by lack of money, and surely not by barriers erected by the courts themselves.” There are many who assume greater access is only for the indigent or the self-represented but this is not so. Certainly the indigent and the self-represented can benefit from “access to justice” initiatives but so too can the entire community that we serve. Chief Judge Kaye’s goal is to have a user-friendly court system for all. If clear and simple written instructions and guides are made available, if forms are available on discs and Web pages as well as in hard copy, if clerks’ offices are trained and instructed to be helpful in providing practice and procedural assistance (information, not advice), if access to decisions and calendars is provided through Web sites, if pro bono assistance is increased, if more funds are available for representation of the indigent and incompetent — all who use the courts would benefit. GUIDES AND ASSISTANCE My appointment as presiding justice, made earlier this year by Gov. Pataki, has provided me with the opportunity to review and build upon “access to justice” initiatives in the 2nd Department. As the presiding justice, I have been reviewing what kinds of “public access” initiatives are already in place and what further steps need to be undertaken. First of all, I learned that the 2nd Department has made available for some time now an extremely useful guide to appellate practice which includes forms. In addition, we have sample briefs and forms in the courthouse to assist all in formatting and in meeting procedural requirements. I intend to make these useful procedural tools available for immediate distribution to local bar associations. Members of our clerical staff assist litigants with basic procedural questions, and the clerk of the court and his deputy clerks provide additional information, in person or on the phone, if further questions arise as to practice and procedure. While all are careful to avoid giving legal advice to avoid telling people what to write or what to do, and to avoid discussing the merits of any case, our staff helps people get their appeals in order so they may bring their issues before the court. We also provide space in the courthouse for the parties to fill out their forms and other necessary papers; we inform them of the law libraries available to the public; if asked, we refer them to their local bar associations for possible pro bono representation; and we can provide Spanish speaking assistance at the clerk’s counter. All in all, we strive to provide an environment in which we pay attention to the needs of those seeking our services and provide help to the best of our abilities consistent with the caveat of “no legal advice.” MOVING FORWARD In addition to these “access to justice” efforts already in place, this year in the Second Department, we will focus on the following areas: � Family Court Appeals. A committee, chaired by Associate Justice Sondra Miller, has been formed to oversee a Family Court Improvement Project which will examine appeals from the family court and explore what needs to be done to assure that appeals regarding custody, visitation, termination of parental rights and other significant family issues are brought and decided in a timely fashion. � Grievance Procedures. A Committee to Review Grievance Procedures, chaired by Associate Justice Gabriel M. Krausman, will explore the existing rules and procedures among the three grievance committees within the 2nd Judicial Department and to determine what, if any, steps can be implemented to ensure uniformity and fairness throughout the department. � Web Site. A Web site for the 2nd Judicial Department will not only contain helpful information about the court, its location, hours, justices and staff, but eventually will also contain calendar information and decisions. � Forms. Very shortly our forms will be put on discs which will be available in the courthouse and to local bar associations. � Practice Guide. We are also reviewing the existing practice guide to see if it can be improved, to see if forms need to be made more understandable and, perhaps, to add a glossary explaining the legal terms and vocabulary peculiar to appellate practice. � General Court Information. A new booklet is being produced which will provide general information about the court and its justices. It will be distributed to all new admittees, their family and friends, at all admission ceremonies and will also be available to the general public. � Ethics. We are also carefully considering a short program on ethics for all new admittees which will immediately precede the admissions ceremony. The appellate process can be quite daunting — for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. In focusing on these present and future initiatives, I hope that the perceived barriers to bringing an appeal will be less impersonal and that our court will be more accessible to all litigants who seek justice. It is my feeling that providing an effective, accessible and fair process can be just as important as the timely disposition of the result itself. Or, as a respected British jurist wrote almost 80 years ago, “It is not merely of some importance but it is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” ( Rex v. Sussex Justices, King Bench Reports, vol. i, p. 259, 1924; Lord Hewart). A. Gail Prudenti is presiding justice of New York’s Appellate Division, 2nd Department.

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