August 2013 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

Access to Justice: To Dream the Impossible Dream

By Judge Richard McDermott


Our fearless editor informs me that this month's theme is "Broadway." In a spirit of cooperation and team play, I rack my brain to come up with something that would be informative and interesting.

I immediately think of one of my favorite plays, "Man of La Mancha," a musical loosely based on the 17th-Century masterpiece Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Of course, I think of my favorite song in that play, "The Impossible Dream." The next thing that comes into my mind is my beloved baseball team, the Mariners, and their current eight-game winning streak (although that is about to end today as I write this), and clearly that qualifies, but it doesn't have much to do with the King County Superior Court.

I think of having a productive Congress in Washington, D.C., where the members get along and work constructively to solve our national problems and I also conclude that this doesn't have much to do with our court either. And then it happens – I realize that the most important issue we face as a legal community fits nicely: ACCESS TO JUSTICE, the dream of all of us who work in the justice system.

We have a system of justice that depends on the ability of parties to appear and be heard in every courtroom across the country, regardless of the financial situation or sophistication of those parties. We are constantly reminded that access denied is justice denied. If justice is denied to enough people, they will lose a stake in society and we will implode as a country. Yes, in my opinion our system of justice is the glue that holds the framework of our country together.

In King County Superior Court, we are literally seeing an explosion of pro se litigants. Some parts of the country call them "self-represented litigants." We just call them "pro ses." At the Maleng Regional Justice Center, we are seeing more 80 percent pro se parties in family law cases. In Seattle, that number is approaching half.

We are seeing people, who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making requests for assistance under GR 33, including the appointment of attorneys in civil cases. We furnish hundreds of interpreters at public expense to non-English-speaking parties and participants in the criminal arena and are now being requested by the Department of Justice to do so in all civil cases. Last year alone our interpreters answered the call to interpret more than 140 different languages.

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