Legal Aid project gets banks’ help
Around $600,000 has been raised in an effort to help the poor
A campaign to increase access to justice for Hawaii's poor is moving forward with banks agreeing to do their part, and a fundraising drive by the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii running ahead of schedule.
"There's a newfound interest in access to justice, and it's just in time," Robert LeClair, executive director of the Hawaii Justice Foundation, said yesterday. "The problems are more serious than ever. We know how people are struggling across the nation and especially here."
The Legal Aid Society has raised $600,000 toward its goal of $1 million to help improve access to justice for Hawaii's poor, one year into its three-year campaign.
"We've had a very generous response to this drive from corporate counsel, law firms, individual attorneys and businesses," said attorney Susan Li, who chairs the campaign with David L. Fairbanks. "They all recognize the critical legal needs, and they want to do something about it."
Only one in five low- and moderate-income people in Hawaii has their legal needs met, according to a report released last year at the Hawaii Justice Foundation's annual meeting. The report helped launch a broad-based effort to ensure that more people can get professional help with their basic legal needs, such as dealing with domestic violence, family issues, affordable housing and access to health care.
On May 1 the Hawaii Supreme Court created an Access to Justice Commission, headed by Associate Justice Simeon Acoba, with a mission "to substantially increase access to justice in civil legal matters for low- and moderate-income residents."
On June 16 the Supreme Court amended one of its rules to boost the interest income paid by banks that goes to support legal services for the poor. The rule requires banks to pay the same rate of interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts that they pay on comparable accounts.
Those lawyers accounts generated about $600,000 last year, LeClair said. In other states, when interest rate comparability was required, the amount raised doubled or tripled. Hawaii is the 20th state to adopt such a rule.
All nine Hawaii banks that had participated in the voluntary program have agreed to continue under the new rules, LeClair said. "The banks are really coming forward," he said. Lawyers Trust Accounts pool clients' funds that are too small or short term to generate net interest on their own. The money goes to legal aid for the needy and related causes.