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.
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."
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