The Center for Access to Justice promotes meaningful access to the courts and equal treatment in the civil and criminal legal systems. The center bases its work in the South.
Our faculty and students conduct research and host community education programs. These programs allow them to explore and address obstacles to access to justice.
The center is a hub for students interested in pursuing public interest or pro bono work, either during or after law school. Our student programming helps prepare future lawyers to be agents of change.
The center is a community for students interested in addressing disparities in the legal system.
- Certificate in Public Interest Law & Policy
The Certificate in Public Interest Law and Policy focuses on issues likely to arise in representing under-served populations. Through a hands-on course of study, law students explore concepts and practice skills central to public interest and pro bono practice.
- Pro Bono Program
Students work under the supervision of practicing attorneys to help address low-income people’s unmet legal needs.
- Alternative Spring Break
The center’s Alternative Spring Break trips give students a chance to spend a week immersed in an area of law, engaging in related pro bono service.
The Center for Access to Justice conducts and facilitates research to help identify and better understand the difficulties individuals face in navigating the legal system. Below are a few examples of the research projects underway or recently completed by the center and its student fellows.
Continuing the Center’s Courts in Crisis series, the new third report analyzes survey and publicly available data from Georgia courts handling eviction cases to understand if and how courts have responded to the CDC moratorium and the Georgia Supreme Court’s COVID-19 emergency order. Similar to earlier reports (first report and second report), we find some courts have continued to adapt their policies and procedures in light of the ongoing pandemic and state and federal policies. However, we find many more courts returned to a business-as-usual model even before the sunsetting of the CDC moratorium or the expiration of the statewide emergency order. Thus, many courts do not show significant case backlogs and many courts have been issuing writs of possession and default judgments for some time.
This patchwork approach continues to create challenges for litigants attempting to navigate the system. Our analysis concludes that courts’ willingness to issue writs, under the illusion that this action alone will not result in eviction, provides a false sense of stability and detaches courts from the intention of the CDC order. Thus, at the conclusion of the CDC moratorium, most of Georgia’s courts do not appear to face an impending “cliff” or “wave” of evictions due to COVID-19. This raises serious questions about how local implementation at the county level has frustrated broader state and federal policy goals in Georgia.
Limited Assistance, Meaningful Results: The Impact of the Housing Court Assistance Center
Eviction affects almost 2 million Americans every year. Georgia renters are almost twice as likely to be evicted as the average renter in the United States. As much as 90 percent of the time, tenants appear in court without a lawyer. In Fulton County, the Housing Court Assistance Center (HCAC) provides limited-scope representation that can lead to positive outcomes for tenants. This report, “Limited Assistance, Meaningful Results” details how the HCAC is making a difference for Fulton County residents.
Misdemeanor Bail Reform
Several states and municipalities, including Atlanta, have recently enacted or considered legislation to address pre-trial policy, such as bail practices. The center prepared a report, “Misdemeanor Bail Reform and Litigation: An Overview,” for the Georgia Judicial Council’s Committee on Misdemeanor Bail for its use in considering what changes might be implemented in Georgia. In addition, Center faculty director Lauren Sudeall’s co-authored article, Boots and Bail on the Ground: Assessing the Implementation of Misdemeanor Bail Reforms in Georgia, presents a more recent mixed-methods study of misdemeanor bail practice across Georgia.
Assessing the Civil Legal Needs of Indigent Criminal Defendants
The center conducted a study, Unfamiliar Justice: Indigent Criminal Defendants’ Experiences with Civil Legal Needs, of the civil legal needs of indigent criminal defendants. They conducted research in conjunction with the Sociology and Criminal Justice and Criminology departments at Georgia State. The center worked with public defender offices in Fulton and DeKalb counties to assess the nature and pervasiveness of civil legal issues facing those who enter the criminal legal system. The study was supported by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.
Observations from Mississippi State Criminal Courts
As part of an Alternative Spring Break trip, and in conjunction with the Mississippi Office of the Public Defender, students observed court proceedings to see how indigent defendants experience criminal courts. This report, “Mississippi’s No-Counsel Courts,” details the unconstitutional practices students witnessed in some of Mississippi’s misdemeanor courts.
Eviction in Semi-Rural Georgia
In 2018, the center received a $24,000 Opportunity Grant from the American Bar Endowment to study eviction in semi-rural Georgia. The study is a collaboration with the Georgia State Sociology department and the Georgia Legal Services Program.
The center’s faculty director, Lauren Sudeall, co-authored an article, “Legal Deserts: A Multi-State Perspective on Rural Access to Justice” about common obstacles people in rural areas have to navigating the justice system.
Self-help Resources in Georgia
In 2016, more than 800,000 cases in Georgia involved self-represented litigants. In partnership with the Administrative Office of the Courts, the center worked with a student to profile a sample set of self-help resources from Court-based Self-Help Programs available in Georgia Courts.
P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
85 Park Place NE
Atlanta, GA 30303