Court Funding Committee

Report of the District of Columbia Bar Court Funding Committee: Significance of Adequate Court Funding

  1. The Significance of Adequate Court Funding to the D.C. Bar
    1. History of Board Action and Membership Votes on Court Funding
      In the early 1990s, when the entire District of Columbia Government was in financial crisis, the Bar's membership twice authorized the Board of Governors to speak in support of funding for the Courts30. As noted in Part II (B), in response to a request for assistance in studying the impact of inadequate funding of the District's courts by Chief Judge Rogers and Chief Judge Ugast, then D.C. Bar President, James Robertson, proposed and the Board approved the establishment of a Task Force on Full Funding for the D.C. Courts. Then President-Elect, Jamie Gorelick, was appointed chair31.
           During its April 14, 1992 meeting, the Board approved a motion to call a special meeting of the membership of the Bar to consider a resolution temporarily authorizing the Board of Governors and Bar officers to speak out on legislation relating to funding of the D.C. Courts and legislation imposing fees based on membership in the D.C. Bar32.
           A special meeting of the D.C. Bar membership was held on May 4, 1992. The following Resolution was approved by the membership:

      That, effective immediately, and continuing until the June 26, 1992, Annual Meeting of the D.C. Bar, the governors and officers of the D.C. Bar are authorized to make public statements and recommendations on legislation relating to funding of the District of Columbia courts and legislation that imposes fees based upon membership in the D.C. Bar.

      Subsequently, the Board passed a motion that a Resolution be presented at the Annual Meeting providing that the governors and officers of the D.C. Bar are authorized to make public statements and recommendations to support adequate funding of the District of Columbia courts and to support amending the D.C. professional license bill33.
           At the Annual Meeting held on June 26, 1992, the membership approved the following Resolution that reads in pertinent part:

      Whereas, in its budget discussions, the Council has further discussed proposals concerning funding of the District of Columbia courts; and

      Whereas, the Board of Governors believes that these issues closely and directly affect, the structure and administration of the courts and the Bar and the Bar's ability to assist in the improvement of the administration of justice;

      Now, Therefore, it is by the membership of the D.C. Bar, at the annual Membership Meeting on June 26, 1992, duly called, hereby resolved:

      That, effective immediately, the governors and officers of the D.C. Bar are authorized to make public statements and recommendations to support adequate funding for the District of Columbia courts from general revenues of the District of Columbia;

           In January 1993, the Board approved the Report of the Court Funding Task Force34. The Report underscored the importance of adequate funding for the Courts and highlighted some of problems the courts were facing due to inadequate funding. President Gorelick noted in approving the report, "the Board would not be endorsing a specific budget, but [would be] marshalling support for the position that adequate deference should be given to the court's request when it is presented to the D.C. Council35." The report was also meant to serve as a basis for the Bar's comments before the D.C. Council on court funding matters.
           On January 27, 1993, the Board of Governors called another special meeting of the D.C. Bar membership. The following resolution, in pertinent part, was proposed and adopted:

      Whereas, on June 26, 1992, the D.C. Bar Membership authorized the governors and officers of the D.C. Bar to make public statements and recommendations to support adequate funding for the District of Columbia courts and to support amending the D.C. professional license fee bill to exempt providers of legal services to the poor and to minimize the negative impact on the D.C. Bar by exempting members who do not practice in the District; and

      Whereas, it is anticipated that a proposal to impose a gross receipts tax or similar tax may be proffered as part of the District of Columbia's budget;

      Whereas, revenue-raising measures, including such a tax, could affect the cost, availability and quality of legal services in the District of Columbia;

      Now, therefore, it is, by the membership of the D.C. Bar, at a Special Meeting duly called to consider this resolution, hereby resolved:

      That, effective immediately, the governors and officers of the D.C. Bar are authorized to make public statements concerning the impact of the District of Columbia's budgetary constraints on the legal profession, the administration of justice and the provision of legal services to the residents of the District of Columbia. This authorization includes statements opposing a gross receipts tax or similar tax on legal professionals or seeking a modification of such a tax.

      At the February 16, 1993, Board meeting, President Gorelick reported that the Bar would testify on court funding issues before the D.C. Council that month. The report of the Court Funding Task Force was to form the basis of the Bar's testimony36.

    2. Importance to the D.C. Bar
      Aiding the Courts in carrying on and improving the administration of justice is central and vital to the mission of the District of Columbia Bar37. While the source of the Courts' funding has changed since the early 1990s, the critical nature of the Courts' need and the threat to the administration of justice are the same. To the extent that inadequate funding of Courts threatens the fair and swift administration of justice in the District of Columbia, the Bar should assist the Courts in advocating for increased funding from Congress.
           The benefits of an efficient and effective court system may be obvious to those attorneys who regularly practice in the District of Columbia Courts. Yet, even for those members who do not regularly practice in D.C., as officers of the D.C. Courts and as members of a Bar that serves as an arm of this Court, there should be significant concern when funding shortfalls threaten the Courts' ability to carry out their most basic functions. Surely a budget that gives the Courts the capacity to maintain adequate staff, indigent defense attorneys, technology, and courtroom space is central to an efficient system of justice.
           As representatives of the justice system in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Bar and its members have the expertise and the responsibility to speak with a unified voice on the issue of adequate funding for the Courts. Without the Bar's assistance, the Courts are left to fend for themselves when making funding requests to Congress. The District of Columbia has approximately 580,000 residents, many of whom at some time during their lives will encounter the District of Columbia's court system: as jurors, witnesses, defendants, or litigants. Yet, this "true constituency" of the Court does not have a voice in the political process. In advocating for adequate funding for the District's Courts the bar advocates not only for the Courts, but, more importantly, for the residents of the District of Columbia, whom many of us serve as counsel.
Notes
  1. Prior to the Revitalization Act of 1997, the District Courts received their funding through the District's budget.
  2. D.C. Bar Board Of Governors Meeting Minutes, February 11, 1992, page 23.
  3. D.C. Bar Board of Governors Meeting Minutes, April 14, 1992, pages 13-18. At the same time the Council of the District of Columbia was discussing proposals concerning the funding of the courts, the Council passed emergency legislation imposing a $250 license fee on all active D.C. Bar members. Because such emergency legislation could have profoundly affected the membership of the D.C. Bar, the Board considered its options for speaking out on this legislation as well as court funding issues given the restrictions on lobbying imposed by the 1976 and 1979 referenda.
  4. D.C. Bar Board of Governors Meeting Minutes, May 12, 1992, pages 9–11.
  5. D.C. Bar Board of Governors Meeting Minutes, January 13, 1993, pages8–9.
  6. Ibid.
  7. D.C. Bar Board of Governors Meeting Minutes, February 16, 1993, page 5.
  8. The purposes of the Bar shall be to aid the court in carrying on and improving the administration of justice; to foster and maintain on the part of those engaged in the practice of law high ideals of integrity, learning, competence in public service, and high standards of conduct; to safeguard the proper professional interest of the members of the Bar;.to the end that the public responsibility of the legal profession may more effectively discharged. D.C. COURT OF APPEALS RULE I § 2.