01/11/2021 Press Release - Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force Releases Final Report
The Task Force was a partnership between the Maryland Attorney General's Office and the
Maryland Access to Justice Commission, developing strategies and solutions addressing the significant civil legal challenges facing Marylanders in the wake of COVID-19. The Task Force is now under the auspices of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission.
The Access to Counsel Task Force was created in the 2021 legislative session by HB18, the passage of which made the Maryland General Assembly the second state legislature in the country to provide statewide access to counsel in eviction proceedings for income-eligible tenants.
The Maryland Attorney General, Maryland Judiciary, Maryland State Bar Association and Maryland Access to Justice Commission are proud to join forces to deliver an urgent call to action for pro bono. We strongly urge every attorney in Maryland to take at least one pro bono case or provide a designated number of pro bono service hours over the next year to help in the areas with the most acute need, namely housing, consumer, public benefits or family law.
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The Consumer Protection Committee of the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force has developed a
website that provides legal information, not legal advice, for individuals who have been sued for a consumer debt of less than $5,000 in a Maryland District Court. This site also offers educational resources for all residents who are interested in finding out more about the debt collection process in Maryland. https://www.debtcollectionmaryland.org/
For many Marylanders, particularly those in low income and communities of color, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated challenges in obtaining access to justice on a scale and magnitude not encountered before. The economic upheaval caused by business closures and illness has created significant hardships that only the civil justice system can resolve, like missed rent payments leading to eviction notices; disputes over medical or consumer debt; or people wrongfully denied public benefits necessary to keep families afloat. Many people will be left to navigate on their own the complicated post-COVID civil justice landscape. Yet, unlike in criminal cases, people dealing with the civil justice system do not have a right to an attorney if they cannot afford one.
This Task Force brings together high-level and diverse leaders with expertise in a myriad of sectors including health, disaster recovery, business, government, housing, and many others to confront these new challenges. The goal of the Task Force is to ensure that when Marylanders encounter the civil legal system, justice is accessible, fair and equitable. Equitable access to the civil justice system will protect public health, spur economic recovery and growth, and reduce further harms to the most vulnerable. The Task Force will focus its efforts on the key short-term and long-term civil legal issues created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing, consumer fraud and debt, and public benefits. It will also address the looming deficit in civil legal aid funding and the disparities in outcomes among communities of color. The Task Force will develop strategies, devise solutions, and drive reforms and innovations necessary to ensure equity, fairness and access to justice for all Marylanders.
Former Attorney General Frosh: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made a civil justice system already difficult to navigate even more complicated and inaccessible. Massive job losses and difficulty obtaining unemployment benefits will result in a myriad of life-threatening consequences, including loss of housing and lack of basic necessities like health care and food. The Task Force and Congressional Advisory Committee brings together some of the best and brightest leaders in our state to help develop solutions to many of the dire situations confronting so many of our friends and neighbors."
Reena K. Shah, Executive Director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission: “Equal justice under law is a right not a privilege. Access to Justice means that anyone encountering the civil justice system - which adjudicates issues like evictions, consumer debt and domestic violence - should have a fair shake at justice. But even before COVID-19, people were losing their cases, not because they did anything wrong, but because they did not have the legal information or help they needed. COVID-19 has made that problem worse, and unless we act now, the consequences of injustice will endanger public health, hamper economic recovery, and be disproportionately harmful to black families. The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is proud to partner with the Attorney General during this unprecedented time to advance the promise of equal justice for all."
Meeting of the full Task Force was held on Nov. 12, 2020, 10am-12pm.
Meeting of the Attorney General's COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force was held on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. AGENDA
Meeting of the Attorney General's COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force was held on Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. AGENDA
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