At a press conference today at the Olney Public Library, Judge Larry Dunn, Circuit Clerk Sandy Franklin and representatives from the Olney Public Library announced the opening of a new online Richland County Legal Self-Help Center. The legal self-help center was developed to provide accurate information on Illinois law to the growing number of people who must come to court and represent themselves. Individuals using the self-help center will be able to access information about a wide variety of simpler civil legal problems, including videos on going to court, court pleadings and information on other legal organizations.
“We want everyone to have an attorney to represent them in court, if at all possible. Going to court can be both intimidating and confusing without a lawyer,” said Judge Dunn. “Unfortunately, in a number of instances people are not able to afford an attorney. Our local legal aid, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, has far more requests for service than it can meet either with its staff attorneys or its volunteer attorneys,” he said. “In those situations where people must come to court on their own, the legal self-help center will provide them with useful information and pleadings for a number of simpler civil legal problems,” he said. “We hope that by having the Richland County Legal Self-Help Center that it will alleviate some of the confusion and frustration and help educate people about how to present their case to the judge in court,” Judge Dunn said.
“My deputy clerks meet people each day who need legal information and until now, we did not have a place to refer them,” said Sandy Franklin, Circuit Clerk. “Because we are not lawyers and because we are a part of the court system, we cannot give advice to these people,” she said. “With the new legal self-help center, we now have a place where people can go to get accurate legal information on both their legal problem and the court system,” Franklin said. “This will be a great help to many people,” she said. The Circuit Clerk’s office will also begin handing out a sheet to unrepresented litigants which identifies possible sources to find a lawyer or obtain legal help.
For those people who do not have access to a computer, public access computers are available at the Olney Public Library. These computers can be used during regular business hours to access the online Richland County Legal Self-Help Center. Librarians will show new users how to navigate the internet-based legal self-help center. For those people who have access to an internet-enabled computer, the center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Richland.IllinoisLegalAid.org.
“The Olney Public Library is happy to be a part of this new collaborative project. Our role as a library is to provide information to people in a wide variety of areas. Having the Richland County Legal Self-Help Center located in our library provides us with a new resource for our patrons, especially those people who have a legal problem or who may just need to know more about the law,” said Judy Whitaker, Director of the Olney Public Library. “Our board and staff are very pleased to work with the Richland County Circuit Court in making this new resource available,” she said.
The center is a result of the collaboration of a number of people and organizations in the county including the Richland County Circuit Court and the Richland County Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Olney Public Library, SWAN and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance. Start-up funding for the legal self-help center comes from a grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation through Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation receives its funding from the Illinois General Assembly.
The Richland County Legal Self-Help Center will feature a welcoming video from Chief Judge Stephen G. Sawyer of the Second Judicial Circuit. The homepage also lists the hours of operation and address of the Olney Public Library and features six legal topics of most interest to self-represented litigants. Other legal information can be found by using the search bar at the bottom of the page.
“It has been a great experience to work with such a dedicated planning committee in setting up this new legal self-help center,” said Joseph A. Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “The Planning Committee, which consisted of Judge Dunn, Judge Harell, Circuit Clerk Sandy Franklin, Judy Whitaker and Roxanna Behnke from the Olney Public Library and Linda Bookwalter from SWAN, was very engaged in setting up the center. I am certain that this community collaboration will continue and ensure the success of the legal self-help center,” he said. “They all care very much about Richland County and want its residents to have access to these materials,” Dailing said.
“Illinois Legal Aid Online will continue to maintain the website on which the Richland County Legal Self-Help Center is based,” said Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. “We are constantly trying to improve the website, add new information and update current information on a regular basis,” she said. “We are happy to have helped Richland County set up its own center and we look forward to an ongoing relationship with the court and the library,” Ms. Colston Patterson said.
The Richland County Legal Self-Help Center is the eightieth such center opened in Illinois since 2007. Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice provided technical support and assistance to the Planning Committee of Richland County.
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