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Access to Justice in California Is Inaccessible For Litigants and Out-of-State Attorneys

The California Supreme Court on December 5, 2011 snapped its run of fifty straight affirmed Death Row appeals in a row when it overturned the convictions of two men sentenced to death.  The two men were on Death Row for 5 years before they were assigned counsel.  Almost ten additional years passed before the California Supreme Court decided the case.

In a quote taken by Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times, Supervising State Deputy Public Defender Andrew Love noted that, “One of the primary reasons these cases take so long is the shortage of competent lawyers…to handle capital appeals in the California Supreme Court.”

The number of unrepresented parties in California is staggering.  According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, there are 721 inmates on Death Row in California. Of those inmates, over 300 are unrepresented by legal counsel.  California residents’ lack of representation does not stop with murder cases.  In the civil arena, there are approximately 4.3 million unrepresented Californians that representing themselves and their rights in propria persona.

This shortage can be corrected by the State adopting the ABA’s recommendation for admission on motion, as the NAAMJP argues.  Reciprocal licensing has already been adopted in 39 States, allowing forty-thousand experienced lawyers, in the past five years, to be admitted without taking another bar. The NAAMJP represents out-of-state licensed attorneys who specialize in representing the indigent and those facing criminal charges.  It is time for the California Supreme Court to step up to the plate and correct this injustice.

The California Bar Association claims that the limitations placed on non-California attorneys are in place to protect California citizens.  They claim these out-of-state attorneys are not quite good enough based on its 100% subjective bar exam that has a greater than 50% standard error of measurement, which is also not quite good enough according to five nationally respected testing experts.  However, limiting the number of attorneys allowed to practice in California does not protect the unrepresented; to the contrary, it ensures that their rights will go unprotected.  Adopting admission on motion will enable California licensed attorneys to get admitted on motion in other states.  That is one nation, undivided, with liberty and justice for all.

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