Group considers civil legal needs of Miss. poor

Published 1:30 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission will hold a public hearing next week to gather information about poor people’s need for civil legal services.

The hearing is set for Monday afternoon at the Leflore County Civic Center in Greenwood.

The commission will hear testimony from attorneys, clergy members, community leaders and others about the need for legal assistance in matters such as housing, domestic violence, child custody, child care, health care and disabilities assistance.

The hearing will not address legal assistance in criminal cases.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat whose district includes the Delta, will host the public hearing. The moderator will be state Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson, who grew up in Tallahatchie County.

Dickinson said in a news release from the Supreme Court that many poor people “have nowhere to turn” when they need legal representation.

“Our job is to make sure that the lack of funds and the difficult circumstances don’t serve to deny anyone fair access to, and equal justice from, our judicial system,” Dickinson said.

The commission eventually will make recommendations to the Supreme Court, the state Legislature and the Mississippi Bar about ways to make legal aid more widely available to poor people for civil matters.

The Mississippi Supreme Court created the Access to Justice Commission in June 2006.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., hosted the commission’s first public hearing in April in Gulfport. Hearings will be scheduled for the congressional districts in central and northern Mississippi.