FROM THE LAS VEGAS SUN:
By Jeff German (contact)
Monday, Nov. 30, 2009 2 a.m.
Regional Justice Center
In a period of economic misfortune, the opening next month of a civil law self-help center at the county courthouse is perfect timing.
The center, set to open its doors Dec. 7 on the well-traveled first floor of the Regional Justice Center, is designed to guide people representing themselves through the court system.
And from the looks of things, once the public becomes aware of its services, the center could become the most popular place in the 17-story courthouse.
“We’re really responding to the needs of the community,” says LaDeana Gamble, an assistant Clark County Court administrator. “What we’ve seen is an increase in evictions and homes in foreclosure and people not knowing the status of where they stand.”
More than 70 percent of the people going to Justice Court, for example, end up responding themselves to such things as evictions or legal actions taken against them by payday loan companies, Gamble says. Many of those people have never had to deal with civil litigation.
The center will help them learn how the system works so they can better deal with their legal problems without a lawyer, she says.
The County Commission approved a contract in August to use court fees to pay the nonprofit Legal Aid of Southern Nevada $273,830 a year to staff the center with a lawyer and four bilingual paralegals. A mediator also will be on hand to help people explore resolutions outside the courtroom.
Officials plan to display pamphlets and legal forms at the center and even offer advice on proper courtroom protocol — things people need to say and do when they go before a judge.
Computers and work stations will be set up for litigants to use to view and file electronic court documents. That’s important because District Court is switching to mandatory electronic filing in February.
Officials also plan to launch a self-help Web site to allow people to fill out legal forms over the Internet before they bring them to the Regional Justice Center for filing. The back room of the courthouse self-help center will be reserved for people to discuss their personal cases with paralegals. Eventually private attorneys will be asked to volunteer to go over cases brought to the center.
Gamble says the self-help concept is meant to provide average citizens with legal information as simply as possible, in a way they can understand.
It is not a new concept. It has been done in other cities and is patterned here after a center in Family Court that has been operating with success for several years. Gamble believes the courthouse center will bring relief to the overworked clerk’s office in Justice Court, which has been forced to deal with questions about civil litigation from the public beyond its regular filing duties. But the new center also should speed up due process in the court system for litigants, Gamble says. Showing people how to file documents correctly will reduce delays and bring faster resolutions to their cases. In the end, everyone wins.
Jeff German is the Sun’s senior investigative reporter.