Pro Bono Week seeks ‘justice for all’

Is liberty and justice truly “for all,” or just for those who can afford it in America?

What happens if you end up in court and you can’t afford an attorney? Unless you’ve been arrested in a criminal case, you can’t count on a court-appointed defense.

“In Alabama, defendants are only guaranteed a court-appointed attorney in criminal cases,” says Thomas Methvin, immediate past president of the Alabama State Bar and the speaker at a National Pro Bono Week presentation at the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce.

If you are involved in a civil case-dealing with an abusive spouse, losing a home in foreclosure, or assistance with adoption, to give some examples-and you’re poor, you’ve got very limited access to justice here in Alabama.”

Methvin, managing shareholder of Beasley Allen Attorneys at Law in Montgomery, said Pro Bono Week was founded in order to raise awareness of the plight of the poor in the state.

“States on average spend $4.1 million providing access to justice for low-income people. Here in Alabama, it’s $300,000. Both Mississippi and Puerto Rico-which isn’t even a state-spend more than that,” Methvin said. “We should be ashamed we’re dead last, frankly.”

This is the second year for Pro Bono Week in the state.

“Last year, we raised $850,000 to help the poor, which is great in a tough economy. We’ve also gotten 1,400 new lawyers across the state to join our voluntary lawyers program and donate their time and expertise to such cases,” Methvin said.

“Our goal is to get more lawyers in Alabama to do more free legal work and to raise funds and awareness of the situation. Many citizens don’t know about this and the fact representation in civil cases is just not guaranteed.”

Both the City of Greenville and Butler County issued proclamations in support of Pro Bono Week locally, Methvin said.

“No one should be shut out of a courthouse because they do not have the money. We need to make sure ‘justice for all’ as mentioned in our pledge of allegiance does actually happen,” Methvin said.