Legal help for the poor was a top issue for Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in her State of the Judiciary Address today.
In her speech to a joint session of the state legislature, Madsen called for lawmakers to make all judge positions elected, advocated work to root out bias in the justice system and pointed out the financial hardships faced by municipal courts during the recession.
“The state of the Washington judiciary remains strong but stretched thin,” said Madsen.
Madsen also emphasized the importance of the courts in democracy and the low levels of state funding that local-level courts receive. She asked that legislators extend the sunset provision on filing fees to fund the court system.
She said Washington ranks 50th in terms of state funding for the court system, and, with the ongoing recession, she worried that local justice system was becoming overwhelmed by bankruptcies and other legal issues.
“Our state’s legal civil aid system is struggling to meet the emerging civil needs of our newly poor and vulnerable,” she said. “There is an overwhelming civil justice gap between the legal needs of the economically disadvantaged and the legal help that they receive.”