“They can do anything they want and nobody can do anything about it.” That’s how one person described being caught in Washington’s civil justice system, according to the 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update. The Update began with the seemingly unremarkable assertion: “Washington’s civil justice system must serve all of us.”
And yet it doesn’t. Statistics bear this out. More than 70 percent of low-income households — the figure is much higher for households in communities of color — experience at least one civil legal problem each year. These problems often affect access to such fundamental needs as affordable health care, a job, safe and stable housing, and freedom from financial predation. Most of these households face these legal problems without a lawyer.
“It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world,” Mary Wollstonecraft lamented long ago. More recently, Judge Learned Hand warned, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: thou shalt not ration justice.” And yet, in Washington, data reflect that too frequently justice is only grudgingly measured out to those who most need it — often in a miserly and even discriminatory fashion.
What to do?
Well, for starters, you can provide legal work to the needy, free of charge. That’s not just charity; it furthers justice. To the many of you who give so much of your time, thank you. To those of you whose conscience bids you to do more, you have a wonderful opportunity to step up in a meaningful way. What’s more, you might enjoy doing it!
You see, on Tuesday, March 29, at 7:30 a.m., we gather at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel for the King County Bar Foundation’s 16th Annual Breakfast With Champions. Who are these champions? Why you, of course — you, who give your time and treasure to those less fortunate.
It is here that the largest annual gathering of lawyers in the state takes place. It’s here that over a thousand of your colleagues, peers, professors, judges and friends will come together to renew their support for the Foundation’s dual mission to support pro bono programs in King County and to fund scholarships for minority law students at the Seattle University School of Law and the University of Washington School of Law.
You should definitely join us, and you will be glad you did! It is a wonderful opportunity to see friends and colleagues in the legal profession, hear inspirational stories, and listen to a terrific and engaging speaker. This year, we are proud to present Ari Shapiro, National Public Radio’s one-time White House and now international correspondent, and co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Shapiro replaces civil rights attorney Morris Dees, who is unable to travel due to personal reasons. On a positive note, plans are already under way to bring Mr. Dees to Seattle as our keynote speaker for the 2017 Breakfast With Champions.
Why support the Foundation?
The Foundation supports pro bono programs operated by the King County Bar Association out of more than 40 separate offices throughout King County. These programs include the Housing Justice Project, the Neighborhood Legal Clinics, Volunteer Legal Services, the Family Law Mentor Program, the Kinship Care Solutions Project and the Self Help-Plus Program. These programs provide legal assistance to low-income clients in divorce and other family law proceedings, especially those involving domestic violence and/or children at risk; in eviction proceedings; and in a variety of other matters, including bankruptcy, vacating criminal records, estate planning and debt defense. This past year, some 1,300 Association volunteers provided roughly 40,000 hours of pro bono services valued at $7.1 million and helped more than 10,000 individuals.
In addition, the Foundation remains one of the largest sources of minority law school scholarship funds in the state. More than 850 scholarships and well over $2 million have been awarded since the scholarship program’s inception in 1970. During the 2014–15 academic year, the Foundation granted $136,000 to the Seattle University and University of Washington law schools, which, in turn, awarded 53 scholarships to minority students. I had the honor to emcee a reception for this year’s scholarship recipients; they are impressive.
Whatever your skills and experience, whatever your interests and passion, I promise you that you can find a way to help the Foundation achieve its mission to make equal justice for all a reality, and do so in a way that you will find meaningful and rewarding. I also promise that you will receive the training and support you need, should you commit to join the ranks of our hundreds of volunteers.
Meanwhile, please consider sponsoring the Breakfast With Champions and hosting a table of 10 (or a half table), or simply purchase an individual ticket or join a table hosted by someone else. However you decide to attend, please come with an open mind, goodwill, a desire to see justice done ... and your checkbook or credit card handy.
We encourage individuals to give the value of one hour of the legal services they provide, or any other amount that is personally meaningful and commensurate with your own sense of commitment to equal justice for all. We believe it will be one of the best investments you make this year. You can find additional information at www.kcbf.org/bwc and on page 21 of this issue. And if you’re not able to attend the Breakfast, please consider making a donation online at www.kcbf.org/donate.
So, please come join the rest of us for an inspiring and engaging Breakfast With Champions. All of us — the board, staff, volunteers and supporters of the King County Bar Foundation and King County Bar Association — look forward to seeing you on March 29.
Don Scaramastra is the president of the King County Bar Foundation. He is an owner at Garvey Schubert Barer.