February 10 Luncheon
The following are remarks made by Chief Justice Mark Cady at the February 10 PCBA luncheon:
In the state of the judiciary, I said, “The judicial branch is accountable to do its work so that Iowans can see the value of its fair and impartial courts. It is accountable every day for the resources it is given and the important responsibilities with which it has been entrusted. We best meet these obligations by becoming the best court system we can be.”
In order to be the best court system in the nation, the Iowa Judicial Branch must work with attorneys to ensure that access to justice is available to all Iowans. Access to justice should be important to all attorneys, and Iowans, because legal representation is tied to deeply held values that lie at the core of our democratic society—equality, fairness and justice. If we are to improve access to justice in Iowa, our first and most important professional obligation is to give voice to it in a way that invokes the broadest concept of public good. This voice must give understanding to the public in a way that will lead it to respond with that fundamental concept of public good in mind. When more than just attorneys are talking about crucial legal system issues, such issues are much more likely to be addressed. I know this to be true because I have seen the power of our professional voice before when it engages the broader public.
Last month the Iowa Supreme Court decided not to impose a mandatory fee on attorneys to help fund legal services for low-income Iowans in civil cases. It was a controversial, difficult call. Yet, the decision did not signal an end, but a beginning. We simply decided not to begin with a mandatory fee.
Each year, tens of thousands of low-income Iowans do not have access to legal assistance to address civil legal problems in their lives. This is a denial of access to justice in our state. It is a condition of our society contrary to our values of fairness and equality for all; it is a condition that should not exist in our communities. A solution must be found.
So, as we go forward, let us do so with the underlying public virtue in mind; let us broaden our message to draw on the best interests of all. We must leave behind special or individual interests that often militate against broad solutions and weaken our capacity and our resolve to solve big problems. The comments we received against the $100 assessment ranged from “you have no legal right to impose an assessment” to “it’s not a responsibility just for lawyers but also the public as a whole.” Both are thoughtful comments, but we need to go forward with a different conversation, a different mindset.
American philosopher and educator, John Dewey, maintained a profound belief in democracy throughout his long life. He expounded an observation very relevant for us today. He said a real democracy could only be achieved with a fully informed public that understands and acts in its own best interests, not special interests. He viewed civic leadership as bringing that understanding into existence so that the public could act in society’s broader best interests. Attorneys can provide this civic leadership.
We must raise our voices consistent with the values represented by our profession and our branch of government. Justice for all is a belief in all. Justice for all can only be achieved when there is access to justice for all and we can be the leaders who give the greater public the understanding it needs to assure justice for all.
Working together, I am confident that Iowa’s system of justice can be the very best in the nation. Our success will come from how we enhance the virtues of our democracy, the same virtues that drove us to be a part of this profession—fairness, equality and justice. Full access to justice can be achieved, but it takes more than your time and your money. It requires a strong and consistent voice—your voice— a persistent voice that will strengthen the call of civic leadership and help the highest ideals of democracy prevail.
We know the public wants its courts to operate fairly and impartially for all. Our voices must come together with this value in mind for a solution to be found. Let’s do this together. Talk to your clients, your neighbors, the members of your legal associations, your representatives. Be creative and thoughtful. Use your voice on behalf of others. Use your voice for a true solution.