ATJ Commission proposes legislative plan to legal aid funding crisis

At a press conference held today at the State Capitol, representatives of the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Supreme Court of Texas announced four legislative proposals to address the funding crisis in the Texas legal aid system.

To highlight an expected reduction of 51 percent in funding for legal aid — a decline of $23 million — the Commission will propose to the 82nd Legislature:

• To increase state district court filing fees by $10;
• To establish a dedicated Judicial Access and Improvement Fund, which would include a $2 recording fee on all non-judicial filings with a county clerk (exception would be motor vehicle filings) and a $10 court cost at justice courts and municipal courts in misdemeanors;
• To create a Consumer Assistance Fund from payments of restitution arising from consumer protection suits; and
• To include a $95 fee for creditors in the mortgage foreclosure process for property lenders of second and third resort.

"We all know that there are some problems with our budget, but I am going to do whatever I can to make the case that, whatever cuts we have to make, [access to justice] is not an area that we should go back on," said Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, who authored Senate Bill 726, the Judicial Access and Improvement Fund Act. "If we are going to live up to the promise of [equal justice for all], we are going to have to invest in our legal justice system."

Pictured are State Bar President Terry Tottenham, former Commission Chair James Sales, Commission Chair Harry Reasoner, Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, ATJ Commissioner Dick Tate and Jacqueline Pontello, executive director of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), and former AVDA client Crystal B., who spoke about how legal aid services helped her escape an abusive relationship.

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