Oregon's Chief Justice, Wallace P. Carson, Jr., established the Access to Justice for All Committee in 1997.
The Access Committee's origin harkens back to 1988 when the national Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) adopted a resolution advocating that the chief justice of each state supreme court study the issues of gender, racial, and ethnic bias in the courts. [See related CCJ resolutions.] To that end, the Oregon Judicial Conference then recommended that Oregon's Supreme Court establish a task force.
The Oregon Supreme Court Task Force on Racial/Ethnic Issues in the Judicial System, chaired by retired Chief Justice Edwin Peterson, met from February 1992 to May 1994, when it published its report. Through public hearings, focus groups, and surveys, the task force identified 72 realistic and attainable recommendations that touched virtually every aspect of the justice system.
The Oregon Supreme Court then established the Oregon Supreme Court Implementation Committee to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Racial/Ethnic Issues Task Force. The Implementation Committee worked from June 1994 to January 1996 to determine the status of each task force recommendation. Committee members met with all justice system entities to which the Task Force directed its recommendations and offered its help.
First and foremost, the Implementation Committee recommended that the Oregon Judicial Department take responsibility for coordinating a long-term effort to monitor implementation, collect data, and help initiate new programs to implement Task Force recommendations. To this end, Chief Justice Carson established the Access to Justice for All Committee in March 1997.
The Supreme Court then collaborated with the Oregon State Bar to establish the Task Force on Gender Fairness in December 1995, which published its report in May 1998. The task force studied whether, and if so, how gender affects the experiences of Oregonians in the state court system and in the legal profession. It found that gender fairness had improved markedly in the past 10 to 25 years, but that men and women perceived the courts to be gender-biased in matters related to domestic relations and domestic violence. The Task Force further identified that appropriate services and programs were lacking for female offenders, both adult and youth.
The Gender Fairness Task Force recommended that the Chief Justice charge the Access Committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. He did so.
Access to Justice Committee Mission
To pursue and coordinate implementation of the recommendations of the Oregon Supreme Court Task Force on Racial/Ethnic Issues in the Judicial System, the Oregon Supreme Court Implementation Committee, and the Oregon Supreme Court/Oregon State Bar Task Force on Gender Fairness;
To monitor and evaluate the progress and effectiveness of implemented reforms; and
To make recommendations for education, additional reforms, and study concerning gender fairness, access to justice for racial and ethnic minorities, and as otherwise directed by the Chief Justice.
The Access Committee currently includes 16 committee members. It has 19 additional subcommittee members, five “resource associates,” and one staff person.
Access Committee members chair and serve on four subcommittees: Workforce Diversity, Education, Legislation, and Monitoring and Evaluation. Subcommittee chairs appoint additional subcommittee members as needed.
The full committee meets four to five times annually; each subcommittee typically meets in the interim.
The Chief Justice and the State Court Administrator are two of the five resource associates and attend most full committee meetings. They have worked diligently to implement Access Committee recommendations to help the state court system ensure access to justice in Oregon.