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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.

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