WASHINGTON – Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin, and David Trone have joined Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission in launching the COVID-19 Access to Justice Taskforce.
“As guardians of our legal system, we attorneys have a responsibility to ensure equal access to justice,” said Senator Cardin, former chair of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation and namesake of the ‘Cardin Requirement’ that requires every law student at the University of Maryland to provide pro bono legal services. “We need to take this moment of history to dramatically expand opportunities for civil legal services. I’m proud to be a part of this advisory group and thank Attorney General Frosh for his leadership on this issue. We desperately need to do more as a nation and the federal government can be a strong partner in this effort.”
“Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd have shone a light on the racism and many inequities that have plagued our institutions for too long. We must act to right these wrongs – from police reform, to the deep systemic changes needed in our economic, health care, housing, and criminal justice systems. This task force is an important step, and I appreciate Brian Frosh bringing this group together to address these challenges. We must keep fighting together for equal justice, equal rights, and equal opportunity for all,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“I join in thanking Attorney General Frosh for assembling this important Task Force. Our nation is in the midst of a public health crisis, but we are also faced with the immediate need to address the systematic racism that persists throughout our country. We must come together as government officials with community leaders to address the myriad of issues that face communities of color, including access to a fair civil justice system, affordable housing, and health care services. I look forward to working together with my colleagues and Attorney General Frosh to find solutions and improve the lives of families in Maryland,” said Congressman Hoyer.
“If this pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that many Marylanders will be facing civil disputes for the first time – we will be witnessing a rash of evictions, foreclosures, car repossessions and more in the very near future, especially in marginalized communities. This taskforce will ensure that Marylanders who need help with civil conflicts won’t just receive legal advice, but will find a fair and equitable justice system waiting for them,” said Congressman Ruppersberger.
“I want to thank Attorney General Frosh for his leadership in convening this incredible coalition of organizations and individuals who are devoted to delivering justice for all Marylanders,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the extreme racial and economic inequalities that exist in American society, and we must work together to ensure that all Marylanders – and especially communities of color across our state – have access to a fair and equitable civil justice system.”
“This pandemic has presented us with enormous challenges and working together with our colleagues at every level government, we can relieve some of the pressures being faced by Americans as we move towards recovery. It will not be easy or as quickly done as we’d like but it is important to put things in place that give every consideration to helping people cope with the economic and emotional impact of Covid 19,” said Congressman Mfume.
“As our communities have experienced this pandemic, the inequities and disparities present in our justice system have become even more stark. Families need help keeping a roof over their heads, paying bills and medical expenses as the economic impact of this crisis deepens,” said Congressman Anthony Brown. “We must take a comprehensive look at our justice system to ensure access, fairness and equity. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance that cause.”
“During this time of pandemic, unemployment, financial stress, runaway rip-offs, racism, protest, and confusion, it is essential that the rule of law be an instrument of justice and equal rights, not injustice and inequality,” said Congressman Raskin.
“The unprecedented crisis our country is facing hurts everyone, but it has hurt communities of color the most,” said Congressman David Trone. “We need to recognize that substantial and sustained support for civil legal aid must be a part of our short and long-term responses to COVID-19 in order to live up to our promise of justice for all Marylanders, regardless of the color of their skin or their economic status.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated challenges to access to justice on a scale and magnitude not encountered before. The economic hardship caused by business closures and illness has created conflicts that only the civil justice system can resolve, like missed rent payments leading to eviction notices; disputes over medical or consumer debt; or people being wrongfully denied public benefits necessary to keep families afloat. Now, even more people will face civil legal problems and need civil legal help – at a time when emergency legal protections will be expiring; funding for legal services will be dwindling; court processes will be more complicated and challenging to navigate; and most critically, when the consequences of not receiving civil legal help will be inhumane and dire.
Partnering with the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, the Task Force will bring 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 justice system, justice is accessible, fair and equitable.