In 2015, Resolution 5, which was a reaffirmance of a commitment to meaningful access to justice for all, was promulgated at the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators. Resolution 5 provided, in pertinent part, as follows:
BE IT RESOLVED that the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators support the aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs and urge their members to provide leadership in achieving that goal and to work with their Access to Justice Commission or other such entities to develop a strategic plan with realistic and measurable outcomes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Conferences urge the National Center for State Courts and other national organizations to develop tools and provide assistance to states in achieving the goal of 100 percent access through a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services.
In the following year, in June 2016, the National Center for State Courts released a Request for Proposals for the “Justice for All Project,” which would provide a year’s funding to the states’ support efforts that included all relevant civil justice stakeholders in a partnership to move toward the implementation of Resolution 5. The project sought “to encourage states to reimagine how to work across organizational boundaries, to advance access to justice for all and diminish the justice gap; to identify and make best use of all available resources; and to foster a constructive collaboration among the courts, legal aid, access to justice commissions, and the private bar.”
The Hawai‘i Access to Justice Commission submitted its planning proposal in the fall of 2016 and was notified in early November 2016 that it was one of seven states awarded grants under the Justice for All project.
Justice Simeon R. Acoba (ret.), Chair of the Hawai‘i Access to Justice Commission recognized the proposal as “truly a team effort” with a committed Judiciary, volunteers, and experienced civil legal service providers.
What follows are excerpts of the Hawai‘i Justice for All Project Final Report (December, 2017) submitted to the National Center for State Courts.
Justice For All Project and Vision
The vision for one hundred percent access to justice in Hawai‘i is a civil justice system resembling the craft of ulana lauhala. Hala trees are native to the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands. Traditional weavers refine the raw and thorny hala leaves, lauhala, into strong, tightly-woven, functional mats, baskets, hats, wall thatch, and canoe sails. The JFA Project, like the lauhala, has refined Hawaii’s access to justice foundation by bringing together stakeholders and renewing commitments.
An effective civil justice system depends in large part upon strong legal service providers that are interwoven with other community organizations and government agencies to provide functional access to justice for those of low- to moderate-income. Just as hala leaves are refined, community and government organizations are primed and positioned to engage with each other.
Indeed, a growing number of partners in Hawai‘i are committed to providing access to information or assistance as needed, in a manner that is timely and usable by all. This promises to be the foundation upon which to develop a more robust and tightly-woven support system—a lauhala mat—to meet the full continuum of needs of underserved persons.
Through the JFA Project, the Hawai‘i Justice Foundation, Hawai‘i Access to Justice Commission, and Hawai‘i State Judiciary, along with dozens of leaders in government, and private and non-profit sectors, have renewed local partnerships and strengthened relationships while identifying resources, assessing the local landscape, and crafting a strategic action plan to reduce barriers to access to justice and to move towards the goal of one hundred percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.
Hawai‘i’s civil justice system and broader network of community organizations provide invaluable assistance to tens of thousands of people every year to overcome a variety of barriers, including income. Yet for many, barriers remain and prevent effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.
The Hawai‘i JFA Project Final Report is organized in three Parts: (1) an inventory of existing access to justice resources, programs, and projects being undertaken by Hawaii’s access to justice stakeholders including Hawaii’s Judiciary, Access to Justice Commission, the Legislature, and Hawaii’s vast array of legal service providers; (2) an assessment of Hawaii’s access to justice needs based upon the JFA Committee’s community and network partner meetings undertaken in the course of this JFA Project; and (3) a strategic action plan comprised of four key recommendations for Hawaii’s access to justice partners to focus on.
The JFA Committee reviewed and strongly considered the JFA Strategic Planning Guidance Materials. The JFA guidance materials included a description of sixteen components of a system that provides meaningful access to justice. While helpful, the JFA grid was not conducive to an accurate and complete assessment of current inventory resources. Most committee members found this assessment tool problematic especially because members lacked the requisite knowledge to independently comment on all areas of the assessment tool, and rankings were deemed too subjective for accurate comparison.
The inventory of existing resources provides a wide panorama snapshot in time and endeavors to portray the lush landscape of the current system that provides critical services to tens of thousands of people in Hawai‘i every year. While this rendering may not capture the fine-grain detail of all that the current system offers, this snapshot generally provides a collective understanding of current resources and collaborative efforts.
The inventory attempts to capture the historic and current work by many partners across our State in communities and online, at the Capitol and in courthouses, in state statutes and state contracts, and among informal agreements and customary ways of carrying out business. This inventory describes the design, governance, and management of efforts to increase access to justice and captures practices and programs that continue to be reviewed, expanded, and improved upon.
Critical to the delivery of meaningful access to justice is a robust network of partners committed to these goals. In Hawai‘i, this partnership network is broad and expansive. Some of the key partners in Hawai‘i include:
ASSESSMENT OF UNDERSERVED POPULATIONS AND NETWORK PARTNERS
The underserved populations’ assessment, through the assistance of local consultants, reviewed select underserved communities and segments of the population across the state. In particular, the assessment focused on those people expected to face the greatest variety and most intractable barriers to access to justice and explored those barriers in depth. Issues discussed with individuals in these communities were aggregated into themes, resources, opportunities, and gaps in the system.
Meetings with network partners included discussions with leaders of state and county agencies, healthcare industry leaders, organized labor leaders, homelessness and other social services providers, domestic violence service providers and survivors, librarians, immigration attorneys, and others.
The assessment of underserved populations revealed challenges, opportunities, and an understanding of social issues that often predate, correlate with, potentially cause, or underlie essential civil legal needs or barriers to assistance. Among these are fear and intimidation of the “system” or others; hopelessness that leads to resignation; and competing priorities of shelter, food, work, or others that appear to many in the moment to be a higher priority than resolving an essential civil legal need. The assessment also revealed varying degrees of the following: lack of awareness, lack of information, lack of comprehension, economic barriers, geographic barriers, and the unavailability of assistance.
The assessment of the community and network partners revealed many strengths of the current system, among them a host of resources, such as government agencies and Judiciary services, legal services providers, libraries, places of worship, social workers, and the Internet. All of these are places where people naturally seek information and assistance. Other strengths identified include the existence of sanctuaries, or places where people feel safe to share their challenges and seek assistance without fear, including domestic violence assistance organizations, homelessness services organizations, mediation centers, immigration services organizations, community health centers, houses of worship, and others.
Based on the focused community meetings and network partner meetings about the challenges faced by Hawaii’s people, social, psychological, and practical barriers exist, any one of which can obstruct meaningful access to civil legal justice and thwart the resolution of civil legal problems. This section groups these barriers into three categories, each representing a level that must be addressed.
- Safety and Security Barriers
The most basic level of access to justice concerns the most basic human needs. Based on the focused community meetings, the most common barriers are fear, hopelessness, or having to deal with more urgent competing priorities such as having food or shelter for one’s family. Unaddressed, these basic barriers prevent people from resolving problems, potentially leading to even larger legal issues. A lack of safety and security hinders a person’s ability to effectively represent oneself, or even to fully cooperate with someone providing help.
These barriers may be the reasons why people are invisible to the system. These barriers may belie the true size and scope of overall legal needs because they prevent people from trying to solve their problem in the first place, or they make people give up along the way.
When facing a potential civil legal problem, a foundation of safety and security must be fostered throughout the process. To achieve this, what people want and need most is a person or organization that is safe, trustworthy, knowledgeable, committed, reliable, understandable, and friendly. Over and over in community discussions, the need for and value of a trusted human being to provide support, advocacy, connection to information, and care was repeated. At a very basic level, access to justice is about access to help that one believes in—whether from a volunteer, a friend, a family member, a social worker, an attorney, a judge, a pastor, a service organization, or anyone else.
- Barriers to Getting Information
The next level of need is access to accurate information that can be acted upon. Deeper involvement and successful navigation through the legal process can sometimes be prevented at this stage, just by people being unable to identify their problems and possible courses of action. Barriers to getting good information include lack of awareness, lack of good information, and lack of comprehension.
First, one must have information to either know they have a problem or to become aware of the nature of their problem or civil legal need. The challenges only seem to grow from there. Many potential sources of information are difficult for the untrained to navigate. If good information is found, only a relatively few people hold the keys to understand the terminology and process rules that must be followed. Core concepts that seem obvious to attorneys—such as the distinction between criminal and civil legal issues—are meaningless to a vast majority of people.
- Barriers to Getting Help
The third and final level in accessing justice is getting help. Community conversations suggested that large numbers of people with legal issues do not make it to this level. There were many stories of people simply giving up before actually embarking on a legal or alternative dispute resolution pathway, potentially putting them at risk of facing more serious problems at some later date. Because it seems that many people never get to the point of choosing a pathway, it is difficult to estimate the true number of people who cannot get the legal help they need.
For those who are able to choose a pathway for resolving their issues—whether through self-help, professional legal help, or alternative dispute resolution—economic barriers, geographic barriers, and unavailability of help impact their ability to receive assistance. Some people have more options than others, often due to their personal resources. The most straightforward path, if it is available, is to hire an attorney to provide the needed assistance. For those unable to hire an attorney, insufficient resources or simply the unavailability of help become barriers to justice.
STRATEGIC ACTION PLAN
The strategic action plan identifies four recommendations for implementation by Hawaii’s access to justice community. The JFA Project is an extraordinary opportunity for all and is running parallel to an already fast-moving system that is continually innovating, improving, self-assessing, self-correcting, and planning. These four recommendations together, particularly when combined with the ongoing services captured in the inventory, paint a picture of what the landscape of access to justice might look like in Hawai‘i in the near future.
Hawai‘i’s JFA Strategic Action Plan includes three components: (1) core principles that emerged out of the focused community and network partner meetings conducted throughout the state; (2) four strategic recommendations; and
(3) projects and programs, some conceptual in nature and some in their early stages of development, that are anticipated to improve access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.
A. Core Principles of a Civil Legal Justice System That Provides 100% Access to Effective Assistance for Essential Civil Legal Needs
Building upon the focused community and network partner meetings, the JFA Committee identified five common principles characteristic of a system that provides meaningful access to civil legal justice. These common principles were then used by the JFA Committee to refine recommendations that could be pursued by the larger ATJ community to achieve meaningful access to justice.
The first of these principles is a system that listens to voices of all community stakeholders within the justice system, including community members, service providers, government agencies and those working in government agencies, businesses, and funders.
The second principle is an approach that is people-centered and sustainable. This is an explicit commitment to a user-focused or people-centered view of barriers to access to justice that leads to identifying solutions that address three major hurdles facing those who attempt to access the civil legal system: concerns regarding safety and security, getting good information, and getting help. This people-centered approach leads to both: (1) identifying solutions for the most vulnerable in our community; and (2) recognizing that solutions may be developed for different groups of people with a multitude of access points. Thus, a people-centered approach recognizes that ATJ Rooms and self-help centers may work for those who find themselves at the steps of the courthouse in need of help and who may be able to help themselves with the help of a self-help center navigator, while others may need the help of direct services by legal service providers. People-centered sustainable design also recognizes the developing of solutions and projects that are sustainable and realistic given the larger resource and human capital constraints of the larger legal justice system and the community-at-large.
The third principle recognizes that a system that enables meaningful access to justice is one that creates and fosters gateways or access pathways to legal, government, and community services.
A fourth principle indicative of a system that provides meaningful access to justice is one that encourages collaboration and coordination of services. This principle includes encouragement of projects that build upon collaboration among community organizations, something currently seen among many of the legal service and other social service providers within Hawaii’s broader community. Better collaboration can also occur within sectors such as between government agencies that serve similar groups within the larger community (e.g., intergovernmental and interagency collaboration between Medicaid and housing support agencies working with individuals who may qualify for medical and housing supports).
A fifth principle characteristic of a system that provides meaningful access to justice is the integration and use of effective technology. The smart deployment of technology will be critical to augmenting the building of more robust resources. Technology can be assistive to providing greater access to information, more effective self-help assistance, and interactive assistance to community members, but it must also be receptive and responsive to the needs of the community as they arise.
A sixth principle is to continue to build legal service capacity. Even with a number of legal service providers, pro bono legal services, mediation centers, and clinical programs, there continues to be a need to build legal service capacity in the State of Hawai‘i. Community conversations and network partner meetings pointed to the inability of many to qualify for legal services, limited attorneys, insufficient self-help assistance and not enough alternative dispute resolution opportunities as additional barriers to receiving help and meaningful access to the civil legal justice system.
B. JFA Recommendations for Achieving Meaningful Access to Justice
Creating a system to achieve meaningful access to justice in Hawai‘i will require careful and strategic investment in actions that can effectively lay the groundwork from which the system can continue to develop. From the conversations and lessons learned in this planning process, the common themes that arose as critical intervention points were around how information could be accessed and how resources are coordinated.
With this as a backdrop, the core principles and the inventory of current resources, the JFA Committee homed in on four recommendations—to supplement existing programs—to form the basis of a strategic plan to better achieve meaningful access to justice for essential civil legal needs for all in our community.
1. Recommendation One: Community Navigators
One of the biggest takeaways from the community meetings was an interest among participants in wanting to help. Participants saw civil legal needs as important in their communities and that there were many needs that continue to be unanswered.
Over the years, legal service organizations have used paraprofessionals to help bridge gaps in many communities by providing legal information and advice, legal education, and on-going community-based services. These paraprofessionals provide a critical link with specific expertise generally related to the critical legal needs in the communities that they serve. These paraprofessionals work directly under the supervision of attorneys and work closely to ensure that the right legal advice is provided.
The Community Navigator project contemplated by this recommendation would supplement the work of these paraprofessionals, by aiming to train identified community leaders who are trusted in rural and other communities of high need (e.g., religious leaders, librarians, social and outreach workers from organizations and agencies, informal community leaders, health clinic workers, public-facing employees of various city and state agencies, school leaders, etc.) provide accurate and relevant information to community members in need, set community members on a path toward self-help to resolve legal needs and other needs, and to refer more complex situations to legal service providers.
The Community Navigator project would be developed in partnership with the legal service providers and other key community partners who will bring their experience and expertise to developing appropriate training for identified community leaders and to assist in creating a network of connections to assist those in need.
Navigators could be trained with curriculum and materials developed by legal service providers and agencies. Identification and training of current and new navigators will be ongoing, and the reach of Navigators will continue to expand. Technology tools, including on-line training could also be leveraged as needed. On-going meetings among providers to ensure accurate and new information is consistently provided to community navigators would also be included in the development of the project.
2. Recommendation Two: Promotion of Use of Preventative Legal Assessments in Various Settings as an Access to Justice Tool
Early identification of civil legal needs was a significant common challenge and potential solution that emerged throughout the focused community and network partner meetings. This recommendation seeks to encourage the use and integration of legal needs assessments into legal and non-legal settings as a tool to increase awareness of civil legal needs and identify opportunities to solve challenges before these escalate into crises. This recommendation also contemplates expanding opportunities for legal checkups and training people at a variety of institutions to perform such checkups. When performed in the right setting, legal assessments could address safety, security, and competing priorities, assist in getting information, identify self-help pathways to address legal needs, and connect individuals with providers who may be able to provide more extensive, appropriate, and affordable legal services.
Drawing on existing resources like the Medical Legal Partnership I-HELP assessment, and soon to be developed American Bar Association Center for Innovation’s Online Legal Check Up tools, Hawai‘i can work with these tools and modify them, if necessary, for use with various community partners and legal service providers. Meetings with legal service providers, social service providers, and other community partners, including government agencies that currently fund civil legal and other social services, can be convened to identify and modify tools if needed, create policies that support the utilization of legal assessments, and work on mechanisms to best deploy and use legal assessments by community partners.
Broader use of legal assessments can identify preventative, non-legal, and other resources which can assist in addressing future civil legal needs or identifying interventions that may prevent the development of such legal needs. These resources may include early referrals and access to mediation, counseling, classes, respite care, and other services.
Resources would be needed to convene a team of community partners, legal service and social service providers, and appropriate government representatives to create a legal assessment tool for Hawai‘i and the community network that could identify civil legal needs, create the mechanisms (possible technology) for how to implement the tool, develop training for those who could use the tool, and coordinate on-going review and deployment of appropriate changes to the tool. An evaluation of the usability of the tool and an assessment of the impact of the tool would also be important.
3. Recommendation Three: Strengthening Connections Between Institutions and Alignment of Social Service Resources and Programs
The need and opportunity for better collaboration and coordination throughout the civil justice system emerged from the network partner meetings. This recommendation focuses on strengthening connections between institutions and organizations working to address civil legal needs and connecting these institutions/organizations/programs with people in need. This recommendation builds upon and further encourages the robust collaborations that already exist among many of the legal service providers and government entities, especially the Judiciary, that comprise Hawaii’s access to justice community.
This recommendation also seeks to encourage network partners to pursue methods of leveraging resources and aligning social service resources and programs that share the common goal of resolving a combination of legal, social, and health service challenges. For example, Medicaid and other existing DHS, DOH, Judiciary, and other governmental programs could continue to improve alignment of resources and programs to better coordinate and better deploy government funding resources to improve services and access to services such as housing supports, substance abuse treatment programs, anger management counselling, family counselling, or domestic violence victim support services.
4. Recommendation Four: Interagency Roundtable Focused on Achieving Greater Access to Civil Legal Justice
Based upon the network partner meeting of state and county department directors and other program representatives, there was consensus about the potential benefits and utility of continuing the conversation among government agencies to focus on achieving greater access to civil legal justice. Inspired by the 2015 White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable convened under the leadership of President Barack Obama, this recommendation supports and encourages the creation of an interagency roundtable of state and county government agencies that meets regularly to coordinate ways to improve meaningful access to justice for all, at all points on the continuum of needs.
Resources to advance this recommendation would be best invested in the same full-time Policy and Program Specialist position within the appropriate State agency identified in Recommendation Three above where the individual hired would be empowered to convene key governmental partners and facilitate conversations across government agencies to further interagency and intergovernmental collaboration and coordination. Certain deliverables could be outlined for this Policy and Program Specialist including the convening of quarterly meetings of the interagency roundtable and the drafting of a “Hawai‘i Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit” highlighting access to justice services across State and county government agencies. As noted in the above recommendation, this Policy and Program Specialist could be the same Specialist identified above who could also be tasked with: (i) acting as a liaison with the efforts to create and develop the community navigator project outlined in Recommendation One above; and (ii) strengthening connections between institutions and aligning governmental social service resources and programs.
 Justice for All Strategic Action Planning – Request for Proposals.
 The seven states awarded grants were: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York. Hawai‘i was awarded nearly $100,000. Hawaii Justice Foundation also committed to supplement the grant by contributing an additional $10,000.
 In 2016, the Hawai‘i Access to Justice Commission approved the creation of the Justice for All Committee comprised of Justice Acoba (ret.), Chair, Representative Della Au Belatti, Judge Ronald Ibarra (ret.), Patricia McManaman, Michelle Acosta, Nalani Fujimori Kaina, Christine Daleiden, Derek Kobayashi, Jenny Silbiger, Brandon Kimura, Diane Ono (non-voting), and Carol K. Muranaka (non-voting). The committee coordinated the preparation and submission of the report. The Hawaii Justice Foundation was the grantee on the grant and approvals were included from the Judiciary and the Commission,
 The 16 components of meaningful access to justice are: (1) design, governance, and management; (2) resource planning; (3) technology capacity; (4) triage, referral, and channel integration; (5) community integration and prevention; (6) judicial and court staff education; (7) broad self-help informational services; (8) plain language forms; (9) language services integration; (10) alternative dispute resolution integration; (11) compliance assistance; (12) courtroom assistance services; (13) expansion and efficiency improvements of full service representation; (14) unbundled (discrete task) legal assistance; (15) simplification; and (16) role flexibility for other professionals.