Williamson County Circuit Court to Provide Assistance to Unrepresented Litigants

Williamson County Circuit Court to Provide Assistance to Unrepresented Litigants

On April 29, Williamson County Presiding Judge Ronald R. Eckiss and Circuit Clerk Stuart Hall announced the opening of a new internet-based legal self-help center. The new center will provide legal information to lower income unrepresented litigants in Williamson County. The online portion of the Williamson County Legal Self-Help Center can be found at http://williamson.illinoislegalaid.org. For those individuals who do not have a computer with internet access, public access computers are available at three public libraries in the county. The Marion Carnegie Library, the Crab Orchard Public Library and the Johnston City Public Library are partnering with the circuit court on this project. Librarians have been trained to show people how to use the legal self-help center.

“Every judge in Illinois sees more and more people each week who are coming to court on their own. Coming to court without an attorney can be both intimidating and frustrating. All too often these self-represented litigants have only a vague idea of their legal problem and how the court system works,” said Judge Eckiss. “Most of these people cannot afford to hire an attorney or are not able to obtain representation from a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance attorney or a pro bono attorney,” he said. “Legal self-help centers are being set up all over Illinois and we are happy that Williamson County was selected as a site for a new center,” said Judge Eckiss. “We hope that by providing accurate legal information to self-represented litigants we can help people better present their case to the court,” he said.

“We strongly encourage everyone to have a lawyer in court, if at all possible,” said Joseph Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice, “but the reality is that many people simply are unable to afford an attorney or find a legal aid attorney to help them.”

“We provide representation to as many low income people as we can but our staff is limited and we cannot help everyone who needs our assistance, even with the volunteer lawyer program,” said Mike Fiello, managing attorney of the Carbondale Office of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation which serves Williamson County. “For those who cannot find or afford a lawyer, the Williamson County Legal Self-Help Center will provide useful information to these people representing themselves in court,” he concluded.

Concurrent with the opening of the legal self-help center, the Circuit Clerk’s Office will also begin distributing a handout which will identify options for finding a lawyer as well as information about the legal self-help center.

The internet-based legal self-help center provides legal information and court pleadings on a broad array of simpler civil legal problems. The website also has videos explaining the court system and how to go to court. The front page of the website features a short welcoming video by First Circuit Chief Judge Mark Clarke. It also shows the locations of the cooperating libraries and a list of six of the most common legal problems. A search bar at the bottom allows users to find other legal information. The underlying website was developed and is maintained by Illinois Legal Aid Online, an Illinois nonprofit organization.

The local legal self-help center was developed by a broad-based collaboration of people and organizations in Williamson County including representatives from the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Marion Carnegie Public Library, Crab Orchard Public Library, Johnston City Public Library, The Women’s Center and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online, both Illinois nonprofit organizations, provided technical support and assistance to the project.

The Williamson County Legal Self-Help Center is the fortieth such center to open in Illinois since 2007. A similar center was opened in Marion County on Tuesday, April 27.

Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 04/30/2010