Monday, April 20, 2009

Access to Justice should become Access to Government

Courts, especially in New York, are the last public arena for resolving disputes. Working the reference desk, I have often wondered why I get so many questions from non-attorneys that struck me as administrative agency questions: labor law enforcement, credit collections, and housing law enforcement . Until a recent series of articles in the New York Times exposing how underfunded and understaffed labor agencies had dropped complaints and told poorly paid and unsophisticated workers to go to court by themselves, I hadn't known that government agencies viewed me and other public access law librarians as their over-flow centers. The access to justice movement, which I have criticized in other posts, might better direct its efforts to pressuring government to uphold the rule of law. AALL has done excellent work in access to government resources; we might have to start thinking about access to government.
As a librarian, I have to point out that the rule of law is more than arresting people for property crimes. When government selectively enforces laws, arresting bank robbers while neglecting mortgage fraud, it loses its legitimacy. Law librarians need to discuss how to respond to these issues.


Betsy McKenzie said...

What a rocking, fantastic post, Jackie! This ties in to a recent discussion on pro se representation. But goes way beyond... I had never made the connection to agencies failing to fulfill their mandate and pushing their work off on public law librarians before! You should definitely send a note about this to Alice Baish & the Washington office. This is a government affairs issue & should be addressed in a systematic fashion.

Betsy McKenzie said...

That's Mary Alice Baish