On March 7, 2005, Chief Judge Annice Wagner, on behalf of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, swore in the 17 members of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, a new body that will propose ways to make lawyers and access to justice more available for poor people in the District. Venable partner Robert Wilkins was appointed to the panel, which will be chaired by Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman. The panel is comprised of judges, bar leaders, lawyers who serve low-income people, and other leaders of the community.
The Commission was formed in response to report by the D.C. Bar Foundation that found that poverty in the District, always disproportionately high, had increased in recent years and become more concentrated in certain neighborhoods. At the same time, the report found that the crisis in civil legal representation had worsened, with virtually no legal services available for the poor on consumer issues, public utility problems, and probate, and woefully insufficient services in housing and family law. Compounding these deficiencies were cultural and language barriers, further obstructing meaningful access to justice for the poor.
Among the wide range of issues the Commission will examine include: funding for legal services; a particular focus on language access and cultural sensitivity; the legal services network and its infrastructure including technology, training, financial management, facilities, employee benefits, and coordination of planning functions; ease of participation in the work of legislative and administrative bodies; and systemic barriers including forms, scheduling practices, and rules governing filings in various courts.
Mr. Wilkins is a litigator in Venable’s corporate defense/white collar, technology, and litigation groups and remains active in District of Columbia affairs. Prior to joining Venable, Mr. Wilkins served as special litigation chief for the D.C. Public Defenders Service. He has also served on the D.C. Advisory Committee on Sentencing, the D.C. Truth-in-Sentencing Commission, and the D.C. Juvenile Justice Advisory Group.
Mr. Wilkins has dedicated a significant amount of his time over the past five years to the development of the proposed National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Wilkins played a key role in establishing the Presidential Commission for the museum and was appointed to the Commission by the U.S. Senate. In 2003 Congress approved the plans of the Presidential Commission authorizing construction of the museum, which will be the newest addition to the Smithsonian.
Mr. Wilkins is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
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