The Colorado Bar Association voted to request that the Colorado Supreme Court allocate a portion of the funds received from attorney registration fees to help meet an emergency shortfall in funding for civil legal services at a special meeting of the Board of Governors on Thursday, February 16.
For the past three years, Colorado Legal Services (a nonprofit corporation that has assisted low-income people and seniors with civil legal issues in Colorado for more than 85 years) has been faced with decreased funding from three of its primary resources : federal appropriations through the Legal Services Corporation, grants from COLTAF (the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation), and state funding from the Family Violence Justice Fund. Indeed, CLS is anticipating about $3.2 million dollars less in funding this fiscal year than it received in 2009—a decrease of about 30 percent.
The Colorado Supreme Court has approximately $12.4 million in its attorney regulation cash fund, of which, approximately $8.6 million is allocated to the Office of Attorney Regulation. The proposal is for CLS to receive two contributions of an amount to be determined by the Supreme Court, one in 2012 and one in 2013. According to supporters, this would limit the impacts of these cuts in funding to CLS allowing them to maintain services to low-income clients. This funding would be limited to two emergency payments only.
At the meeting, members of the Board of Governors voiced their support and concerns about requesting that the court allocate money for legal services from its attorney registration fees. Opponents of the request said while they understand the need for legal aid funding, they were concerned that there was not a long-term funding plan presented to ensure that legal aid finds a solution to its funding deficits.
Others were concerned as to whether the court could spend these funds. Members were assured that even though the last fee increase in attorney registration fees was back in 2006, there are adequate funds for the operation of the Office of Attorney Regulation, even with this proposed transfer. Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court has discretion over the spending of this money and will make the final decision on whether to provide this emergency funding to CLS.
Supporters noted that all attorneys are aware of the backlog of civil cases and that people struggle to navigate that system alone; requesting this funding would allow CLS to continue its mission and serve those who would not otherwise be able to afford an attorney.
Following a failed motion to table the discussion until the May Board of Governors meeting, the request was approved overwhelmingly with only a handful of nays.
The resolution states:
Whereas, the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors recognizes the significant contributions to the goal of ensuring equal access to the courts in the State of Colorado made by Colorado Legal Services (CLS) and its predecessors for many years in providing representation to Colorado’s indigent citizens in a wide variety of civil matters;
Whereas, over the past three years, CLS has experienced significant decreases in funding that will greatly limit its ability to carry out its mission during at least the next two years;
Whereas, the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors determines that the continued funding, operation, and support of CLS is necessary to protect Colorado’s indigent population; further the interests of Colorado attorneys and Colorado Bar Association members in just and efficient courts; and ensure access to equal justice within the Colorado legal system; and
Whereas, the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors is informed that the Colorado Supreme Court currently has available to it significant surplus funds from attorney registration fees paid by Colorado attorneys, which the Colorado Supreme Court might allocate to help alleviate the short-term crisis at CLS;
Now therefore, the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors resolves that the Colorado Bar Association president provide a written request on behalf of the Colorado Bar Association that the Colorado Supreme Court authorize two annual, sizable emergency payments from surplus funds in the attorney registration fund to Colorado Legal Services.