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Fourth Annual Murnaghan Public Lecture on "A Defined Right to Civil Counsel"

The Fourth Annual Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellowship Lecture on Law, Civil Liberties, and Public Policy was held on November 28, 2006.  The lecture featured Immediate Past President of the American Bar Association, Michael S. Greco. Chief Judge Robert M. Bell introduced Mr. Greco and moderated questions from the audience. The lecture is sponsored annually by the Francis D. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellowship and the Public Justice Center.

Mr. Greco delivered and impassioned speech to an audience of over 90 people, highlighting the importance of establishing a right to counsel in certain civil cases.  Mr. Greco made the right to civil counsel a centerpiece of his Presidency of the ABA.  He led the largest association of lawyers to unanimously adopt Resolution 112A, which calls on states to provide counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low income people in legal proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health, or child custody.  Mr. Greco outlined the moral themes that ignite this movement, focusing on America’s promise of justice to all.  He discussed the challenges that establishing a right to counsel will face, including fears of frivolous lawsuits and the expense of providing counsel at public expense.  Mr. Greco called on foundations to fund research to show the true costs to the judicial system and public of not providing legal counsel to poor people.

Mr. Greco addressed multiple issues involved in the implementation of the civil right to counsel.  Acknowledging that the civil right to counsel must first be established, he notes that by maintaining focus on these basic human needs, the challenges to this movement can be met.  His speech was a rallying cry for advocates to continue to work to establish this right, and he recognized Marylanders who were at the forefront of the fight, including the Public Justice Center’s Debra Gardner, Wilhelm Joseph of the Legal Aid Bureau, and former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs.

The evening was filled with zest as everyone joined in honor of Judge Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. and his dedication to equal justice.  The Francis D. Murnaghan Jr, Appellate Advocacy Fellowship is a living memorial to honor Judge Murnaghan’s unwavering commitment to providing justice for all people.

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