In 1958, President Eisenhower established Law Day, a special day for the people of the United States to appreciate our liberties, reaffirm our loyalty to the nation, and rededicate ourselves to the ideals of equality and justice under the law.
Earlier this week, President Obama issued a Law Day presidential proclamation that focused on our nation's long journey toward equality. The president noted the path to equality was laid before us when the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that "all men are created equal." Eighty-seven years later, that self-evident truth was given new voice by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address of 150 years ago: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal.'"
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial and described his still-unrealized dream of equality for all people.
Obama noted this week that our road to freedom and equality is still being paved. "Opportunity remains painfully unequal for too many among us; justice too often goes undone. Law Day is a chance to reaffirm the critical role our courts have always played in addressing those wrongs and aligning our nation with its first principles. Let us mark this occasion by celebrating that history, upholding the right to due process, and honoring all who have sustained our proud legal tradition."
Despite the critical role our courts play, California courts have suffered staggering budgets cuts over the last five years -- $1 billion, or nearly 65 percent, according to the Judicial Council of California. That means that California courts today are operating on just 35 percent of their 2007 budgets. The Californian reported in March that the Kern County Superior Court is down about 115 positions from last summer, and that the state slashed $9.9 million this fiscal year from the county's court-system budget.
In awareness of the court's budget constraints, and in an effort to carry forward Eisenhower's vision and Obama's purpose, the Kern County Bar Association is joining with the Kern County Law Library to produce Law Day at the Mall. Today at the Valley Plaza mall, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., legal resources in Kern County, including the Law Library, family law facilitator, clerk of the court, small claims adviser and social service agencies will provide assistance to Kern County residents. A popular component of Law Day at the Mall is the opportunity for unrepresented parties to meet with attorneys for 15 minutes at no charge -- pro bono. This year, the Bar Association and Law Library expect volunteer attorneys to provide guidance regarding criminal law, probate and estates, domestic violence and family law, guardianships, Social Security, immigration, and other areas of the law.
Law Day at the Mall will be held in the J.C. Penney wing of Valley Plaza, located at 2701 Ming Ave. in Bakersfield. All services are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, although staff will be taking reservations for attorney meetings, which are available from noon to 6 p.m.
Lisa Holder is the 2013 president of the Kern County Bar Association. She is a partner at the Klein, DeNatale, Goldner law firm.