DOJ Closes Obama-Era Office Providing Assistance to Citizens Who Couldn’t Afford Lawyers

The Department of Justice reportedly closed an office with a mission to “deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status.”

The New York Times discovered the closure from “two people familiar with the situation” and reported the Office for Access to Justice sought to increase and improve legal resources for the poor and needy.

“Access to Justice was a recognition that the Justice Department’s job was not just to prosecute cases, but to ensure justice in the system overall,” Vanita Gupta, a former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under former President Barack Obama, said.

The office, according to the Times, complained in statements filed in lawsuits around the country about the lack of legal services for poor citizens.

Although the staff size shrank and the acting director, Maha Jweied, according to her LinkedIn profile left to start a consulting business, Attorney General Jeff Sessions would have to notify Congress before officially closing it.

The Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Eric Holder, created the office in 2010, and Loretta Lynch, Holder’s successor, continued supporting it.

Sessions could diminish it by shifting its resources to other areas, something career prosecutors indicated was common for new administrations to do with priorities set by their predecessors.

Neither the Justice Department nor Jweied responded to requests for comment.

Civil rights groups reacted to the news by criticizing Sessions.

Gupta, who now serves as the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions’ reported move “sadly speaks for itself.”

Sharon McGowan, another former Obama official and Lambda Legal’s director of strategy, similarly derided Sessions’ performance as attorney general, saying, “ever since he became attorney general, Sessions has advanced positions that are irreconcilable with where we are as a country.”

The news came just after Sessions, while facing concerns about political bias among his employees, committed to advancing his department’s fundamental mission “of enforcing the law and protecting the safety of Americans with integrity and fairness.”

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