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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh implored lawmakers to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to access to legal representation as he spoke during a congressional hearing Wednesday on behalf of Legal Services Corporation.

Harbaugh, a member of LSC’s leadership council, was one of nine speakers discussing the LSC’s latest report: The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil League Needs of Low-Income Americans.

“Many of you are probably wondering why a football coach is doing an event like this,” Harbaugh said in his opening remarks at the hearing. “I may be a football coach, but I am an American first and foremost and all Americans should care about equal access to justice.

“It’s not just Michigan Go Blue, it’s Go Red, White and Blue.”

Joseph Kennedy III, a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, was among the speakers, most of whom acknowledged Harbaugh’s presence at the hearing.

“Thank you for lending your voice to this cause,” Kennedy said to Harbaugh. “And as my in-laws would proudly say, ‘Go Blue’.” Kennedy’s in-laws, Jim and Marta Birchfield, grew up in Ann Arbor.

Harriett Miers, former White House counsel, thanked Harbaugh in her opening remarks saying, “Your voice does make a difference.”

Harbaugh shared during the hearing his admiration of lawyers and added how he’s a big fan of Judge Judy and attended a taping of her television show. That drew laughs from the group.

In discussing the inequalities in access to legal representation, Harbaugh made a football analogy, saying he believes in team and said he also thinks “of our country as a team.”

“Fairness on a football team is probably what you strive for the most,” he said. “You want to be fair to everyone on the team, and it would be like if you gave 20 percent of the team helmets. The rest of the team doesn’t get helmets, you don’t get protection. Then we’ll see what happens.”

He stressed the lack of fairness for low-income individuals who don’t have the funds for proper legal representation.

“I learned how many people who are being left out of the justice system because they can’t get a lawyer,” Harbaugh said. “Didn’t seem fair then and doesn’t seem now. That’s why I became a member of LSC’s leadership council and why I’m here today. The issue is about fairness, fundamental fairness, because as I see it, if you have money, you have access to justice. If you don’t have money, you have less access to our justice system, and that’s not the way it should work.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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