“Justice has been done,” President Obama said this past Sunday evening, as the world learned that the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, had been killed through U.S. action. While justice was done for Americans and those injured by the terrorist organization, over the years the reality remains that another kind of justice is sorely lacking in the every day lives of low- to moderate-income people.

Here in Hawaii four out of five low and middle income residents do not have their legal needs met. What is worse is that legal service providers are only able to assist one in three who contact them for assistance.

However, the State Legislature took the right steps this session by agreeing to put SB1073 CD1 before the governor. The purpose of the bill is to increase the amount of the surcharges for an indigent legal fund. Currently, a portion of filing fees when a person files a document with the courts goes to service providers who provide free or low-cost legal advice. Basically, filing fees with most court actions will be raised and all monies collected in this manner shall be deposited into an indigent legal assistance fund (ILAF).

While it may seem like a conundrum to increase the filing fees to provide better access to justice the reality is that many members of the public do not even know what they need to do in order to raise a claim with the courts. A person cannot even have their day in court if they do not know what court to go to, what paperwork they need, or if they even have a case to begin with. Equality is just that, the leveling of the playing field, so that everyone at least knows the same rules.

Some feel that the bill may unfairly punish a small group and that financially strapped residents will bear the burden of this bill. The reality is people only can access justice if they know where to go and what to do. With many of the nonprofit legal service providers unable to meet the demands of a sizable segment of the population the truth is they already are bearing the burden of a system that affords no access. The biggest barrier is the lack of information. By assessing fees on those that readily use the system and spreading the knowledge through the fund, more people will be able to assess their rights and seek out the proper course of action with the help of legal service providers funded through the ILAF.

The Young Lawyers Division (YLD) along with many other legal groups have made it part of their missions to provide equal access to justice to the people Hawaii. This includes standing by good legislation or providing free legal clinics, such as the ones that will be found around the State on this coming Saturday, May 7. The clinics will be held at the following locations: the Dong Quijotes at Kaheka, Pearl City, and Waipahu; Haleiwa Historical Gym; Sack N Save Nanakuli; Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center; Windward Mall Shopping Center; Kapolei Marketplace; the Filipino Festival at Kapiolani Park; the Kona Coast Shopping Center (Kona); Puainako Shopping Center (Hilo); Kukui Grove Shopping Center (Kauai); Lahaina Cannery Mall (Maui); and Maui Mall (Maui).


About the author: Ryan Hew is a practicing attorney in Honolulu, dedicated to helping small businesses navigate the law. I am also passionate about using technology and social media to better serve clients and the legal community.