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Garland Relaunches Efforts to Expand Access to Legal Aid

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Garland Relaunches Efforts to Expand Access to Legal Aid

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Justice Department on Friday relaunched an Obama-era office that was created to make legal aid available to citizens who could not afford it, more than three years after it was closed under the Trump administration.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said restoring the Access to Justice Office was part of the ministry’s mission to deliver on its promise of equal justice.

When it was created under the Obama administration in 2010, the office’s stated mission was to “produce results that are fair and accessible to all, regardless of wealth and status.” And it sought to “expand access to legal advice and assistance” for people who could not afford legal representation.

“There can be no equal justice without equal access to justice,” Garland said in a statement. “And because we do not yet have equal access to justice in America, the task ahead is urgent.”

Under Jeff Sessions, the first attorney general of former President Donald J. Trump, the Department of Justice embezzled funds and staff from the office, leaving him inactive. Mr. Sessions could not officially close it without first informing Congress.

Mr Garland had signaled in a review hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he intended to reestablish the office.

“We have determined that we must stand up once again, as an independent, within the Department, Office of Access to Justice,” Garland told Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware.

He noted that the Justice Department requested funding for the office in its budget request for fiscal year 2022. It requested $ 6 million, down from zero in the previous two fiscal years.

This spring, President Biden, in an executive order, gave the Justice Department until mid-September to develop a budget and staffing plan to expand legal services to indigent defendants, including a large percentage receive inadequate or non-existent legal services in civil litigation.

Mr Garland said reopening the office was the first step in his plan to restore and expand the federal government’s efforts to ensure cash-strapped Americans have access to legal aid.

He asked Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco and Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta to work on the plan with input from stakeholders inside and outside the Ministry of Justice.

The plan they created included contributions from civil legal aid providers, public advocates, volunteer lawyers, bar associations, data scientists and advocates for environmental justice, economic justice and immigration reform.

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