The honorable Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson of the Supreme Court of Georgia delivered the 2014 State of the Judiciary Address at the State Capitol Wednesday morning.
The crowd in the House Chambers heard the Milledgeville native’s first address since taking the leadership position last August.
Although the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch are three separate branches of government, Thompson said “we are united as one in our service to the people of this great state.”
Thompson’s opening lines stressed the importance of “liberty and justice for all” regardless of economic status. He said nearly 19 percent of the state’s population lives below the poverty line.
“Georgia’s judicial system is sound, and it is strong — for those who can afford a lawyer. But to safeguard its future, we must guarantee access to justice for all people, as our laws were not made for just a few. Too many Georgians cannot afford legal representation, and too many go without civil legal services,” Thompson said Wednesday.
Filling the gap is vital to the new chief justice.
“According to the Supreme Court’s Committee on Civil Justice in 2008, only 9 percent of low-income Georgians with a legal need were able to get help from a lawyer,” Thompson said. “Many did not know where to go for help or that legal assistance was even a possibility for their housing, health or employment problems.”
Nearly 40 percent of the South’s persistently poor counties are in Georgia. Seventy percent of the state’s lawyers work in the five-county metropolitan Atlanta area.
Sixty-two counties have 10 or fewer lawyers. And six of Georgia’s counties have no lawyers at all, according to the State of the Judiciary Address.
“We must take steps to correct the imbalance,” Thompson said.
Due to economic status, folks are forced to represent themselves in legal matters.