Equal Justice for All
By Jon Duckstad
Yet who shall speak for them that their voices may
be heard and their cause made known?
- Concept of an Advocate
Since its founding,
Minnesota has maintained a longstanding tradition of supporting access
to justice for all. Our commitment to that tradition is enshrined in
the Minnesota Constitution:
Every person is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws for all
injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property or
character, and to obtain justice freely and without purchase, completely
and without denial, promptly and without delay, conformable to the
laws. (Minnesota Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 8).
Leaders making good on that commitment today are the attorneys of the
Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, an organization of seven programs
that provide free legal assistance to qualified low-income, elderly
and disabled clients throughout Minnesota. Funded in part by the federal
Legal Services Corporation and the state of Minnesota, these programs
nevertheless depend on gifts, grants, and other sources for more than
one-third of their funding.
Coalition attorneys routinely handle emotionally difficult family law,
domestic abuse, housing and consumer cases. In return for long hours
and challenging work, they accept compensation at levels well below
the typical earnings of their peers in private practice. Why do these
attorneys undertake such challenging careers? For Julia Craig, who works
with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) in Mankato,
the answer is simple: "I am very concerned about providing poor
people with the same access to our legal system that is enjoyed by others."
After growing up in Mankato and pursuing her undergraduate and law degrees
at the University of Minnesota, Craig turned down judicial clerkships
to return to Mankato in 1986, where she began her career with SMRLS.
She has remained with SMRLS for most of her career, departing only twice:
once to work as an administrative law judge from 1994-1997 and once
to serve a brief stint with the Sexual Violence Resource Center in Mankato.
Currently a staff attorney with the Mankato SMRLS office, she concentrates
her practice in family law, with a particular focus on domestic abuse
and child protection matters.
Craig is well-known for her work with partner organizations in the community
and is an innovator in providing holistic services to domestic abuse
victims. A program she initiated has achieved remarkable success enabling
domestic abuse victims to "break the cycle of violence." By
identifying and eliminating factors that perpetuate the abusive relationship
and providing safeguards and support, the program frees victims to resume
their lives free from domestic abuse. Craig has been recognized for
her work on this program and other service to low-income clients, receiving
the Committee Against Domestic Abuse Award in 2000 and the Dawn Carl
son Family Advocate Award in 2001.
Minnesota's legal services delivery system is one of the best in the
nation and is a model for other programs nationwide. In addition to
the Coalition program lawyers, several thousand private attorneys annually
donate legal services through, or in conjunction with Minnesota's legal
services programs. Nevertheless, there exists in Minnesota and elsewhere
a significant, ongoing, unmet need for civil legal services for low-income
clients. Lawyers like Julia Craig deserve our heartfelt thanks for their
unselfish contributions to ensure that no Minnesotan is deprived of
access to justice.
- Location: Mankato, Minnesota
- Career: 1986-1990; 1999-Date - Southern Minnesota Regional
Legal Services Mankato Office; 1990-1995 - Albert Lea Office; 1999-2000
- Sexual Violence Resource Center, Blue Earth County Human Services;
1994-1997 -Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Administrative
Law Judge; 1993-1994 - Freeborn and Mower County Assistant Public
Defender; 1985-1986 - Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance Family Law and
- Education: J.D. 1984, University of Minnesota Law School;
B.A. 1981, Economics and Political Science, University of Minnesota
JON DUCKSTAD is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.
This month he visits Julia Craig, in Mankato, Minnesota.