Crawford County Courts to Offer New Help for People Who Must Go to Court Without an Attorney

Crawford County Courts to Offer New Help for People Who Must Go to Court Without an Attorney

Resident Judge Christopher L. Weber and Circuit Clerk Angie Reinoehl announced the opening of a new online legal information center for residents of Crawford County today at a press conference at the Robinson Public Library. The new center will provide legal information to lower income residents of Crawford County who cannot afford to hire an attorney or who cannot find a legal aid or pro bono attorney to represent them in court.

The Crawford County Legal Self-Help Center is the result of a community collaboration among a number of people and organizations in Crawford County. These people and organizations include the judiciary and circuit clerk, the Robinson Public Library District, the Palestine Public Library, SWAN and Crawford County’s State’s Attorney’s Crime Victims Advocate Office and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. Technical assistance and support for setting up the legal information center was provided by Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice.

“Throughout the Second Judicial Circuit, we have been setting up similar legal self-help centers. I am particularly pleased that Crawford County now has its own center and can provide useful, free legal information to the increasing number of individuals who come to court on their own,” said Judge Christopher Weber. “If these unrepresented litigants take the time to prepare for their court hearing, they won’t feel powerless or frustrated and will be able to tell their story to the court in a meaningful way,” he said. “And while this is not an adequate substitute for a skilled attorney, I think that this will be a helpful resource for many people in our county who cannot afford to hire a attorney,” Judge Weber concluded.

“Many people mistakenly believe that the Circuit Clerk’s Office will be able to provide legal advice when people have to go to court without an attorney,” said Circuit Clerk Angie Reinoehl. “We are not attorneys, however, so we cannot advise people about what they should do,” she said. “For the first time ever, we’ll have a place to refer people so that they can get accurate information on Illinois law and how the court system works. It is a very user friendly website,” she said. “For those people who don’t have access to an internet-enabled computer there are public access computers at the Robinson Public Library District and its branches in Flat Rock, Oblong and Hutsonville as well as computers at the Palestine Public Library that are available to patrons during normal business hours,” Circuit Clerk Reinoehl said. “We really appreciate having the libraries as community partners in this project.”

“Our role as librarians is to help people find information,” said Breyanna Weaver, Director of the Robinson Public Library District. “We don’t tell them what to do with the information. Our patrons need to decide that on their own. With the establishment of the Crawford County Legal Self-Help Center we are continuing our mission to make information available to our patrons, in this case it is legal information,” she said. “We think that this new website will be very useful for many people in our community and we are happy to be a part of this project,” she concluded.

The online legal self-help center provides legal information on simpler civil legal problems in a number of formats including articles, videos and automated pleadings. The website also has videos which explain the court system and how to present information in court. The homepage of the website will feature a welcoming video from the new Chief Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, Chief Judge Stephen Sawyer. The homepage also lists the address and contact information for the public access locations for Robinson Public Library District and the Palestine Public Library. Librarians have been trained on how to assist people in finding information on the legal self-help center.

The Crawford County Legal Self-Help Center is the seventy-eighth legal self-help center opened in Illinois since May, 2007. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice is a joint project of the Illinois State Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Association. Illinois Legal Aid Online is an Illinois nonprofit organization whose mission is to use technology to improve access to justice for lower income people.

Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 05/02/2012