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July 14, 2008

Bar Association Calls for Funding Plan for New Family Court Building

In a letter sent Monday to Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor A. Michael Pratt expressed the 13,000-member Association’s strong support for the appropriation of funding for a new unified building for the First Judicial District's Family Court.

"We urge the Governor's Office and the administration of the City of Philadelphia to come together to effectuate a funding plan as soon as possible so that the new facility can be up, running and serving Philadelphia families," the Chancellor wrote.

"While many of our city's attorneys represent individuals in divorce, custody, domestic violence and other critical issues in Family Court, the overwhelming majority of matters involve self represented litigants who have no opportunity to speak to the public about their concerns. As the voice of 13,000 attorneys in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Bar Association can attest to the dire needs of these families."

For more than five years, lawyers have closely examined the urgent need for a new Family Court complex, he said. The Association's Family Law Section and Public Interest Section have worked with former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman — who served as liaison to the First Judicial District and who was an important and compelling advocate on behalf of a new Family Court building — to identify the broad range of problems with the current facilities, which Pratt called "clearly inadequate."

"We have called for increased public accountability about funding and resources allocation; increased personnel, assistance and information for pro se litigants; improved facilities, security, scheduling and timeliness; and the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate of open court. We have endorsed the recommendations of a comprehensive 2003 report from the Women’'s Law Project, finding that the Domestic Relations Division falls short of national court performance standards in a number of critical areas," Pratt wrote.

"Tens of thousands of people bring their family crises to the Domestic Relations Division each year. The Division cannot significantly improve its performance if maintained at the current inadequate level of economic support and personnel and in its current condition and location. We know that funding for a new Family Court complex is a priority for you. But families in crisis can’t wait for better economic times. We are ready to do our part to help make it happen," the Chancellor concluded.

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