Legal Challenges Concerning Access to Justice
In the broader landscape of legal reform, several states have initiated test cases to challenge existing unauthorized practice of law (UPL) statutes, aiming to increase access to justice. These cases, emerging from different jurisdictions like New York and South Carolina and even a case from the engineering profession in North Carolina, are pivotal in their potential to reshape the boundaries of legal service provision. Each case not only questions the established norms of occupational speech but also seeks to broaden the scope of who can provide vital services. Here, we share a press release for our case filed on January 4, 2024, as well as three similar test cases that demonstrate the ongoing efforts to push back against government overreach.
Left to Right: Morag Polaski, Shawana Almendarez, Alicia Mitchell-Mercer, S.M. Kernodle-Hodges
January 4, 2024
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
North Carolina Justice for All Project Initiates Legal Action Against State of North Carolina
Today marks a significant turn in the efforts of the North Carolina Justice for All Project as we announce the filing of a federal lawsuit against the State of North Carolina in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Represented by the Institute for Justice, this step comes after exhaustive efforts to work through regular government channels, engaging with various regulatory authorities and bodies, only to be met with a lack of meaningful response to our petition for redress of grievances.
At the heart of our lawsuit is the belief that the current unauthorized practice of law (UPL) statutes in North Carolina are not just restrictive but infringe upon the fundamental civil liberty of free speech. Our stance is clear: there are knowledgeable and skilled individuals outside the legal profession who are more than capable of assisting those caught in the 'access to justice gap' - individuals who desperately need legal help but cannot afford professional legal representation.
The effects of UPL statutes have been restrictive and detrimental, especially evident in how they have impacted the delivery of legal services in North Carolina. Citizens with sensitive legal issues, particularly in areas like housing and family matters, have been unduly failed. This is more than an organizational concern; it's a matter of public interest and justice.
In our advocacy efforts, we have pushed for the licensing of paraprofessionals, akin to practices in the medical field, and the incorporation of community justice workers within the many impactful non-profits across North Carolina. Such measures are not just innovative but necessary for bridging the justice gap.
As we take this battle to the federal court with the support of the Institute for Justice, we remain committed to the people of North Carolina. Our fight is for the broader accessibility of legal services and the recognition of alternative forms of legal assistance that can profoundly benefit those in need.
The North Carolina Justice for All Project will continue to update the public and our supporters as this case progresses.
On March 21, 2023, the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP initiated a significant legal challenge by suing the state's attorney general in federal court. Their goal is to offer free, reliable legal advice to low-income residents facing eviction. The crux of their lawsuit is the argument that South Carolina's restrictions on unauthorized legal practice, as applied to their initiative, violate the First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
South Carolina experiences high eviction rates, and many tenants are without legal representation. The NAACP contends that adhering to these unauthorized practice of law rules would hinder their efforts to assist those struggling with housing issues.
This lawsuit parallels a case in the Second Circuit, where nonprofit Upsolve successfully obtained a preliminary injunction based on First Amendment rights. Legal representation for the South Carolina case includes The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, the National NAACP, and the Wyche Law Firm.
On January 25, 2022, Upsolve launched a groundbreaking legal challenge against the state of New York, framing it as a matter of First Amendment and civil rights. This case aims to establish a new civil right: the ability to access legal rights regardless of financial status. Spearheaded by Rohan Pavuluri and a skilled legal team, Upsolve's lawsuit challenges existing laws that bar non-lawyer professionals from providing free, reliable legal advice to low-income families.
The decision by Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York marked a significant victory for Upsolve, culminating in a detailed 33-page opinion favoring their stance. This case, while centered on a specific legal issue, raises broader questions about ensuring equal rights for all in the United States. The ruling marks a significant step towards fulfilling this fundamental American value.
Following the verdict, the State of New York filed an appeal, and Upsolve is gearing up to defend their case in the Second Circuit. The Justice for All Project (JFAP) is keenly observing the developments of this pivotal case. For further information, the Docket Report offers detailed insights.
Wayne Nutt, an engineer who spent the majority of his career in North Carolina, particularly at DuPont, possessed a deep-rooted passion for engineering. Despite not requiring an engineering license due to an industrial exemption, he remained engaged with engineering matters. Even after retiring in 2013, Wayne persisted in discussing engineering topics, particularly errors and misrepresentations in public engineering documents.
His situation took a turn when he volunteered as an expert witness in a case involving a housing development's piping system, where his son was the attorney. Wayne aimed to contribute his expertise in fluid volume calculation for the pipe's capacity, based on his experience in designing such systems. However, the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors contended that discussing engineering matters without a license was unlawful.
On June 9, 2021, represented by the Institute for Justice, Wayne Nutt initiated a First Amendment lawsuit against the Board. The objective is to affirm the principle that the First Amendment safeguards the right to engage with valuable speech on complex subjects. The lawsuit contends that the Board cannot silence him merely because his viewpoints stem from his engineering expertise.