Help for pro se users in Clark County, Indiana

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Commissioners OK legal help center for courthouse

New appointment made to fill a void in County Courts

By BRADEN LAMMERS
Braden.Lammers@newsandtribune.com

Judicial matters were the predominant theme at the Clark County Commissioners meeting Thursday.

Clark County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moore was on hand to promote a new program for people of moderate income to get legal direction.

The program will be the Clark Legal Self-Help Center and it would use local attorneys, second and third-year law students from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law with help from Indiana Legal Service offices to direct those with a need where to go.

“I think this service will take the fear out of seeking legal advice,” said Jeffrey Caldwell, who has been helping to develop the program.

The next step for many could include finding an attorney, where to find legal information or answering basic legal questions.

“This would be directed to those folks who would not normally be able to afford legal services,” Moore said.

However, Moore added that no formal legal advice or attorney-client relationship would be formed during the help session.

But apparent to those proposing the program Thursday, there is a definite need.

“There is an incredible need … [the program] will make many more lawyers available to Clark County, low-income residents to help them to face these problems,” said Mark Robinson, attorney with Indiana Legal Services Inc.

Beyond answering initial questions or getting legal direction the program will help to ease the burden on other government offices often forced to take time to help people with legal questions.

“This is an effort to kind of streamline that to direct them [to the self-help center] instead of to my counter,” said Clark County Clerk Barbara Bratcher-Haas.

The public defender’s conference room will be the initial location of the help sessions tentatively scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

In addition to information and volunteers that will be on-hand, computer assisted services may be developed if funds or grants are available possibly by the second half of 2010, according to a handout outlining the proposed program.

The commissioners unanimously approved — Commissioner Mike Moore was not at Thursday’s meeting — the consent to the operation of the Clark Legal Self-Help Center.

Plans are to launch the program by mid-April.

Judge Moore also notified the commissioners he had created a probate administrator position for the Circuit Court.

Under Indiana Code the Circuit Court Judge is allowed to create such a position.

The probate administrator would be responsible for maintaining cases including estate, trust, guardianship and adoption cases among others.

“There are also a number of other duties this person is going to perform, because it’s a need in Clark County,” Moore said.

Moore said the need is essential due to the financial crisis hitting the county and the 30 percent cut mandated by the Clark County Council. The position was added as a result of the required cuts and staff members eliminated.

The administrator will be paid a salary of $35,700.

Commissioner Ed Meyer asked Moore if he would consider appointing someone to the position that had been recently laid-off.

“Well, I’ve already appointed a person,” Moore said.

The newly appointed probate administrator’s name was not divulged at the meeting.

In addition to the position created, computer equipment for the probate administrator was also requested by Moore.

The commissioners approved the equipment for no more than $5,000 to be paid out of the Adult/Juvenile Facilities Usage Fund.

New York Times op/ed piece about self-help representation

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Two state judges opine about the state of accessibility to the legal system.

As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need.

As judges, we believe more needs to be done to meet this growing challenge: an inaccessible, overburdened justice system serves none of us well. California took a major step forward in October when it became the first state to recognize as a goal the right to counsel in certain civil cases. (The state also committed to a pilot project, financed by court fees, to provide lawyers for low-income citizens in cases where basic human needs are at stake.)

Go here to read the entire article.

Indianapolis law library closes but self-help center remains open

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Librarian Zoya Golban turned off the lights and locked the doors Wednesday at the Marion County Law Library for the last time.

The cozy repository for legal materials and publicly accessible computers on the third floor of the City-County Building will permanently close this year because of city budget cuts.

But the library’s closing, court officials say, won’t be the end of the help the center provided to the roughly 3,000 Marion County residents who represent themselves in civil cases each year.

Go here to read the rest of the article.

Orlando Sentinel article about Do-it-yourself Divorce

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Article offers some guidance for Floridians seeking to handle their own divorce.

But as the economy has plunged into recession, lawyers aren’t seeing as many clients. Conversely, the number of people representing themselves in divorce cases – instead of hiring a lawyer – has climbed steadily since 2005.

But how do you navigate the court system and get a divorce? Here are some options.

Why? Probably because it’s cheaper.

In 2005, in 59.9 percent of all divorce cases in Orange County, people represented themselves. This year – from data taken through the end of November – 65 percent of people seeking a divorce are representing themselves.

Free Bankruptcy Clinic in Minneapolis made permanent

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Free bankruptcy clinic made permanent

The need for the legal help offered by volunteer attorneys at the walk-in clinic is strong in this economy.

By KARA McGUIRE, Star Tribune

Bankruptcies Soaring

No one wants to be sitting across from Mary Hoben on a Thursday morning, but they are awfully glad she’s there.

Hoben is one of 16 attorneys who donate their time and expertise to low-income Minnesotans at a free bankruptcy advice clinic. The new clinic, held at the U.S. Courthouses in Minneapolis or St. Paul, was set up on a trial basis this spring to assist people tackling the painful and mind-boggling task of filing for bankruptcy without an attorney’s help. The walk-in clinic was made permanent this fall because demand is strong. In the worst recession since the Great Depression, is that surprising?

Go here for the rest of the story.

Los Angeles Times: Litigants become their own lawyers

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Litigants become their own lawyers

Hiring an attorney isn’t cheap, so these days more people are navigating the justice system themselves. But courtrooms can be tough for amateurs.

By John Keilman

August 10, 2009

Reporting from Chicago — When Marsha and Larry Lipsky wanted to evict a troublesome tenant from their home in Arlington Heights, Ill., they consulted a few attorneys but couldn’t afford fees that ran from $500 to $5,000.

So they did what a lot of people with legal trouble are doing these days: They became their own lawyers.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Marsha Lipsky, 67, said after presenting her case to a judge and winning an order for the tenant to leave.

Legal service has never come cheap. But lawyers, judges and other experts say that for many people, the recession has made it a nearly impossible expense. So more litigants are navigating the often-bewildering justice system by themselves.

Advocates and court officials have responded with expanded advice desks, instructional websites, even plans to connect litigants with law students by computer. But the trend still alarms many observers, who say courtrooms weren’t made for amateurs.

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

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From the Chicago Tribune:

Recession forces more to act as own lawyer

Observers warn that courtrooms aren’t made for amateurs

By John Keilman

Tribune reporter

August 5, 2009

When Marsha and Larry Lipsky wanted to evict a troublesome tenant from their Arlington Heights home, they consulted a few attorneys but couldn’t afford fees that ran from $500 to $5,000.

So they did what a lot of people with legal trouble are doing these days: They became their own lawyers.

“I was a nervous wreck since yesterday,” Marsha Lipsky, 67, said after presenting her case to a Rolling Meadows judge and winning an order for the tenant to leave. “I was so afraid. … But we survived. The judge, she was fair about it.”

Legal service has never come cheap, but lawyers, judges and other experts say that for many people the recession has made it a nearly impossible expense. That has created a surge of litigants who must navigate the often-bewildering justice system by themselves.

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Self-representation in the international arena

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I know this may be a bit beyond the scope of this blog but I ran across a new law review article that may be of interest to scholars who are interested in the right of self-representation.  I’m posting the abstract for the article.

Georgetown Journal of International Law
Spring, 2009

SELF-REPRESENTATION IN THE INTERNATIONAL ARENA: REMOVING A FALSE RIGHT OF SPECTACLE
40 Georgetown Journal of International Law 919 (2009)
Eugene Cerruti

Recent historical scholarship has demonstrated that the practice of self-representation at common law was developed and promoted not to secure a valued right to the accused but rather to compromise the defendant’s ability to present an effective defense–by denying him an effective right to be represented by counsel. The Supreme Court in Faretta v. California stood this history on its head in order to read into the Sixth Amendment an implied right to self-representation equal to the now preeminent right to counsel. The Faretta doctrine was carelessly adopted yet has been resolutely defended by the Supreme Court, to the almost universal chagrin of those most directly affected by its commands. The recent Supreme Court case of Indiana v. Edwards is only a modest retreat from the pointless imposition on the lower courts of a structurally and normatively incompatible right within the context of the contemporary counsel-driven system of criminal justice.
A putative right to self-representation silently entered international law via a back door at Nuremberg as a result of that tribunal’s near-wholesale adoption of the apparent rights and protocols of the common law adversarial system. It was subsequently adopted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as one of the standard “rights of the accused” but never actually put into effect in international law until the creation of the various war crimes tribunals of the last two decades. The right to self-representation has almost immediately replicated its experience in American law by creating a shameful series of disreputable prosecutions. It has become another example of a feature of the adversarial system, like that of the lay jury, which does not travel well–or at all–to the international arena. The structural and normative groundings of the international system make the right even more inapposite there than it now is in the common law system. This article calls on the International Criminal Court, the new standard-bearer of international criminal justice, to take advantage of the upcoming seven-year review of its rules and procedures to strike from its Articles a practice that has been reduced to little more than a perverse right of spectacle.

Bankruptcy assistance in Maryland

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Article about assistance for pro se bankruptcy filers in Maryland:

DIY bankruptcy — with a little help from the state

By Eileen Ambrose

July 26, 2009

Many financial matters you can easily do on your own without professional help.

Filing for bankruptcy isn’t one of them.

But if you choose to do so, you’re no longer totally left on your own in Maryland to navigate the intricacies of bankruptcy. Thanks to a new Debtors Assistance Project, do-it-yourselfers can get a half-hour of free legal advice from a lawyer, who can answer questions or check paperwork.

“It’s not going to solve everybody’s problem on that day. That’s not what it’s designed to do,” says Jeff Sirody, a Pikesville lawyer who volunteers with the project. “It’s designed to give people an opportunity to speak with an attorney. Is there any easy solution? If not, what’s the next step? Where should they go to get help?”

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Who’s using Missouri’s pro se divorce forms?

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Reprinted with the permission of the Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly:

Missouri Lawyers Weekly Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires
July 17, 2009

Who’s using Missouri’s pro se divorce forms ? Most litigants have children, never called a lawyer.

Allison Retka
The litigants without lawyers stroll into the clerk’s office in tiny Dade County, plunk down thick packets of divorce forms and ask, “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

It’s a question Dade County Circuit Clerk Brenda Adams hears more each week, as pro se litigants trickle into her office in Greenfield, near Springfield. The litigants throw up their hands and ask for help, but there’s not much Adams and her clerks can do.

“We don’t have a law degree,” she said. “We’re sticking our necks out and helping them file these, and I don’t think we’re probably supposed to be doing that.”

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Self-help center consultant wanted

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LAW LIBRARY/SELF HELP CENTER CONSULTANT

The Second Judicial District Court of Nevada, in consultation with Washoe County government, is soliciting bids for a consultant to study and provide recommendations concerning the Law Library and the pro per Self Help Center.

Preface

As of July 1, 2009, the Second Judicial District Court (“Court”) assumed the responsibility for the finding and operation of the existing Washoe County Law Library (“Library”). The Court wants to consolidate its operation of a pro per Self Help Center (“SHC”) with the Library into a unified approach to legal information and access that will be designed and oriented toward future demands for the next ten to fifteen years.

Outline of Work

In order to provide the product and advice desired, the following tasks are anticipated with anticipated site visits occurring no later than August 15, 2009.

1) Inventory of current assets of Library and SHC, including personnel,

collected fees and collections.

2) Inventory of current services and public service events delivered

by Library and SHC.

3) Needs assessment from significant parties both “inside” and “outside” the current system.

4) Trends research as to futures of both libraries and pro per service delivery models.

5) Delivery and presentation of final report.

Contact:

In responding to this document, please include curriculum vitae and estimate on costs and/or proposed budget, and fees to accomplish this work.

All questions and correspondence shall be directed to the Court Administrator by July 31, 2009.

Howard W. Conyers

Court Administrator

P.O. Box 30083

Reno, NV 89520-3083

(775) 328-3119

(775) 328-3206 – fax

“Lawyer in the Library” program in Vallejo, CA

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Article from the Vallejo Times-Herald describes the popular “Lawyer in the Library” program to help patrons handle their own legal problems:

The legal system is a baffling process for most, even before they walk through the front courthouse doors.For those with limited finances, resources can be thin locally — which is why attorneys here and nationally have tried to fill the gap between government-funded, legal-aid programs and those in need.

“Legal aid in this country has been emaciated,” Solano County Superior Court Judge Paul Beeman said. “If they don’t have legal aid and they don’t have money, they’re going to lose. It’s a terrible thing when you think about all the wealth and resources in this nation.”

In Vallejo, the Lawyer in the Library program, started by former Vallejo librarian Michael Senturia with help from Beeman, has provided free one-time legal advice and referrals for the past 13 years.

“Everybody thought it was a good idea from the beginning, but once it got started, it knocked your socks off because peoplemassively appreciated the help,” Beeman said. “For most lawyers, it was real simple advice that gave direction … and they were genuinely appreciative.”

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Connecticut Supreme Court narrows mentally ill criminal defendant’s right to self-representation

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The article in the Connecticut Law Tribune is password protected, but here’s the relevant part:

‘In light of Edwards, it is clear… that we are free to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial,’ wrote Justice Richard N. Palmer, for the unanimous Connecticut Supreme Court.


‘We do not believe that a mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendant who is competent to stand trial necessarily is also competent to represent himself at that trial,’ concluded Palmer.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Denise B. Smoker said it will be interesting to see how the trial courts apply the new standard adopted by the state Supreme Court. She explained that the new standard essentially allows judges to consider whether the defendant is competent enough to perform the skills needed to defend themselves, including composing questions for voir dire and witnesses.

The case will be reported in the Atlantic Reporter but doesn’t have a cite yet.  The Westlaw cite is 2009 WL 1941780.


State bankruptcy self-help websites

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My plan was to compile a collection of self-help bankruptcy sites from each state.  I realized that I would never have time to do all of the states at one time, which would mean I’d never get the thing done.  So, I’m going to do five states at a time and post them here.  When I’m finished, I’ll polish it up and create a page for it.

Keep in mind that bankruptcy is a federal matter so you don’t have to limit yourself to sites specific to your own state to get information.  You might find very helpful explanatory information on a site intended for another state.  However, if there is a site that provides forms for your state, you should probably use those unless you’re prepared to adjust them for your state.

If I miss any good sites, please let me know.  Meanwhile, here are the first five.

Alabama

Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Alabama

Alaska

Alaskalawhelp.org

Bankruptcy Court, District of Alaska

Arizona

Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona

Arkansas

Legalconsumer.com

California

Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California

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