NHLA Executive Director Sarah Mattson Dustin and NH Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald testify in favor of HB 1343Posted Apr 18, 2022
Sarah Mattson Dustin, Executive Director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, joined the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 14 to testify in favor of HB 1343. Accompanying her to voice support for the bill was NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald. At the end of the hearing, the committee recommended 4-1 that the bill ought to pass the full Senate.
"Every day in our courts scores of our fellow citizens appear without the benefit of representation, and they’re in court invariably because they’ve experienced some life altering event," said Chief Justice MacDonald during his testimony. "Potentially at issue are their rights, their basic human needs, their safety and security, and yet they’re standing there alone in a foreign and unfamiliar territory without the benefit of representation."
HB 1343, introduced by Rep. Ned Gordon of Bristol, a former judge himself, would create a pilot program allowing paraprofessionals employed and supervised by attorneys to represent clients in court in cases regarding divorce, parenting rights and responsibilities, child support, and landlord-tenant law including eviction. An amendment added cases regarding domestic violence and stalking protective orders. It was passed by the House as amended on March 10.
"The New Hampshire Judicial Branch has made great strides toward building a court system that is friendlier to self-represented litigants," Mattson Dustin said. "Nevertheless, there is a massive 'justice gap' between the legal help that Granite Staters need and the legal help that is available at no cost."
At NHLA, paralegal advocates represent clients in administrative agency proceedings at the state level and at the federal level. These are often highly technical proceedings, requiring both substantive legal knowledge and an ability to navigate complex procedural rules.
"Paraprofessionals already contribute significantly to the delivery of for-profit and nonprofit legal services," Mattson Dustin said. "HB 1343 is a modest, tightly-regulated pilot that NHLA believes will demonstrate that paraprofessionals will perform just as well in the courtroom as they do in many other law practice settings."
Currently, there is no right to an attorney in most civil legal cases. While some litigants can understand the law and advocate effectively for themselves, many others struggle to protect their own interests.
"This pilot, this experiment, if approved, will be one of the most meaningful steps that our state will have taken to address the access to justice issue," said MacDonald. "Fewer of our fellow citizens will be there standing alone on a very important day in their life."
Please tell your state Senator to support HB 1343 when it comes up for a full Senate vote.