Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has come out praising the pro bono work done by Keystone State lawyers in 2011, while encouraging the good work to continue through the New Year.
“Now is not the time to rest on our laurels,” Castille said in a Feb. 16 statement released by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. “As funding for legal aid programming faces continued cuts in these hard economic times and the number of persons needing such service grows, the work of pro bono attorneys is even more necessary to ensure access to justice for many who otherwise would be without legal representation.”
Castille and Pennsylvania Bar Association President Matt Creme have called on Pennsylvania’s more than 70,000 licensed lawyers to make a “personal commitment” to provide pro bono service through direct representation of the poor and financial support of legal aid programs.
“The reminder of their ethical duty to provide public service is being widely distributed to the legal community by the courts and the PBA,” Castille’s statement said.
According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, which is the state’s coordinated system of organizations providing civil legal aid to those in need, started the fiscal year with a 10 percent cut in state funding, followed recently by another 10 percent slashing.
There has also been a significant cut in federal funding and a decrease in other funding sources that depend on interest earned on attorney trust accounts, the AOPC stated.
The AOPC said that even with attorney pro bono work, more than the 50 percent of Pennsylvanians eligible to receive services from PLAN programs are turned away due to “resource constraints.”
Castille admitted that pro bono work in itself cannot replace the work of “fully funded” legal aid programs.
But the chief justice did say the pro bono services help greatly.
“Indeed, without well-supported legal aid programs, there is no structure for the organized pro bono service that makes such a difference in the lives of so many,” Castille said in his statement. “Yet, in these times of such great need, pro bono service is more important than ever.”