Improving Access to Justice in Georgia: an Interview with Justice Verda Colvin of the Supreme Court of Georgia

Vicky O. Kimbrell, of the Georgia Legal Services Program and a member of the Judicial Council’s Access to Justice Committee, recently sat down with Justice Colvin for a conversation about improving access to justice in Georgia.

Edited and Condensed for Clarity

Q. Justice Colvin, as Chair of the Judicial Council of Georgia’s Access to Justice (“A2J”) Committee, how do you see that Committee improving access to the courts for all Georgians?

Thank you, I have a long-standing interest in assuring access to justice for all Georgians. We are actively working to close the justice gap in Georgia, and by justice gap, I mean the difference between the civil legal needs of Georgians and the resources to meet those needs.

The mission of our A2J Committee is to “improve the public’s trust in the judicial branch by promoting meaningful and effective access to courts and fairness for all.” Generally, that means access to the courts for all Georgians, including rural areas where lawyers are often non-existent or are not available to assist with basic legal needs.

Q. What are some of the A2J Committee’s recent projects that might help Georgians with access to the Courts?

Divorce Forms Packet

The A2J Committee has placed several forms packets on the georgiacourts.gov website to help all Georgians, including survivors of domestic violence, to file for their own divorces.

When litigants file for divorce with inadequate forms that fail to comply with the statute, judges have no option but to dismiss the cases. But these dismissals waste courts’ time and resources. These dismissals are also frustrating and sometimes dangerous for filers who have their cases dismissed and have to start all over again.

These new divorce forms are available to litigants in all Georgia counties. These forms don’t necessarily replace local forms, however these forms were approved by the Council of Superior Court Judges so that judges can be assured that they comply with the requirements of the statute. The forms packets have accompanying videos with instructions on completing the documents. Self-Help Resources highlighted by A2J – Georgia Judicial Gateway (georgiacourts.gov)https://georgiacourts.gov/a2j/self-help-resources-highlighted-by-a2j/georgia-divorce-videos-and-forms/

A2J Committee member and Superior Court Judge Latisha Dear Jackson has shepherded this project through the Council of Superior Court Judges to get its input and direction as we proceeded through this process.

Records Restriction Project

The A2J Committee currently collaborates with stakeholders to host Criminal Records Restriction clinics in rural areas across Georgia.

A criminal record can create an insurmountable barrier to employment, housing, or educational opportunities. Records Restriction clinics allow people who qualify to have the charges restricted to remove these obstacles when final disposition of criminal charges are missing, dismissed, or not prosecuted.

The A2J Committee also supports Law Library projects across Georgia to provide more access points to the courts. With these local law libraries, Georgians can walk in and have access to computers, printers, and resources that can help them navigate through the court system.

Q. How does the A2J Committee work with the State Bar of Georgia’s Access to Justice Committee?

The State Bar of Georgia’s Access to Justice Committee is working toward many of the same goals. That Committee works to promote pro bono services to lower income Georgians and to support Georgia’s legal services organizations to provide civil legal services.

We have a joint liaison group that serves on both committees to assure we are working together and not duplicating efforts. We currently have a joint meeting planned for March 2022 during which representatives from both committees will tour the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

This trip will allow the committees to get to know one another and to learn about the importance of our history and highlight our mission to work together to ensure access to justice for all Georgians.

Thank you, Justice Colvin.

*Written by Vicky O. Kimbrell, Georgia Legal Services Program