St. Clair County Courts Provide Assistance to Unrepresented Litigants

St. Clair County Courts Provide Assistance to Unrepresented Litigants

(Belleville, IL - Jan. 14, 2009)   Chief Judge John Baricevic announced the opening of a new internet-based Legal Self-Help Center which will provide information on Illinois law to Illinois residents who represent themselves in court without an attorney. The center will be located in the Law Library on the first floor of the St. Clair County Courthouse.

“Increasingly we are seeing more and more people coming to court without an attorney. Generally these people are lower income people who cannot find an attorney to represent them and they must proceed on their own. Unfortunately, most of these people have only a vague idea of how the courts work,” said Chief Judge Baricevic. “Without any information about the Illinois court system or any accurate information about Illinois law, these people often become confused and frustrated with the court system. In establishing a legal self-help center, we hope that by providing accurate information about Illinois law and how the court system works, we will make the court process less confusing and frustrating for those people who must represent themselves,” he said.

The new legal self-help center is funded by a two year start-up grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation which receives its money from the Illinois General Assembly. Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation administers the grant. The initial two year grant will fund a part-time staff person or “navigator” who will be available to assist people in using the computers to find the relevant legal information. Individuals will be able to use the legal self-help center computers during regular courthouse business hours although the navigator will be present to help only part time.

“People who come to the courthouse without an attorney will be informed about the legal self-help center,” said Greg Shevlin, a member of the Planning Committee which oversaw the development and implementation of the new center. “We want to encourage unrepresented people to use the center,” he said.   “We know that such centers have been very popular in other counties where they have been established,” said Betty Jane Blaes, St. Clair County Law Librarian. “It will be a great asset for unrepresented people,” she said.

 The internet-based legal self-help center provides legal information and court documents on a broad array of common civil legal issues. The website also has videos explaining the court system, legal issues such as mortgage foreclosures and other videos on how to go to court. The homepage of the legal self-help center features a welcoming video by Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf. The page displays the hours of operation, the location of the center and information about five common legal problems. Other legal issues can be found by using the “Search” button at the bottom of the page. The underlying website is maintained by Illinois Legal Aid Online, an Illinois nonprofit corporation.

“We strongly encourage everyone to have a lawyer, if at all possible,” said Julie Katz, a member of the Planning Committee.   “The reality is, however, that many people will not be able to find an attorney. Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation does not have enough attorneys to represent all of the people who qualify for their services,” she continued. “The legal self-help center is our way of trying to help these unrepresented individuals,” she said.

“People do not need to come to the courthouse to use the legal self-help center. Anyone with a computer and access to the internet can use the website from any location at any time,” said Teri Ross of Illinois Legal Aid Online. “The legal information on the website focuses on common, civil legal problems, and can be found at http://stclair.illinoislegalaid.org ” she said. Court papers must still be filed at the St. Clair County Courthouse.

St. Clair County is among a growing number of Illinois court systems which have established legal self-help centers over the past two and a half years, working in collaboration with Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice, both Illinois nonprofit organizations.

The legal self-help center is the result of the work of a collaboration of people and organizations in St. Clair County under the leadership of Chief Judge John Baricevic.

Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 01/15/2009