On November 13, Jo Daviess County Presiding Judge William Kelly, Circuit Clerk Sharon Wand, and Susi Ludwig-Ruppert, Director of the Galena Public Library, announced the opening of a new internet-based legal self-help center. The new center provides legal information to lower-income unrepresented litigants in Jo Daviess County. The center will be located at the Galena Public Library and available for use during regular library hours. The Jo Daviess County Legal Self-Help Center can also be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week at http://jodaviess.illinoislegalaid.org.
“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 Kelly. “Most of these people cannot afford to hire an attorney or are not able to obtain representation from a Prairie State Legal Services staff attorney or a pro bono attorney,” he said. “And while I strongly encourage everyone to have a lawyer in court, the number of people needing legal representation exceeds the number of attorneys available to represent these individuals,” Judge Kelly continued.
“When we heard about the possibility of setting up a legal self-help center in Jo Daviess County, both Judge Kelly and I were very supportive of the idea,” said Sharon Wand, Circuit Clerk. “We hope that by providing accurate legal information to self-represented litigants we can help people better present their case to the court and feel less frustrated with their courtroom experience,” she said.
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.
“Having the Jo Daviess County Legal Self-Help Center at the Galena Public Library is consistent with our mission to provide information to our residents,” said Susi Ludwig-Ruppert, Director of the library. “When we were asked to collaborate with the court system in establishing this center, I thought that it would be an excellent addition to our services and provide much needed legal information to residents of the county. Our librarians have been trained on using the internet-based legal self-help center and they are ready to provide assistance to people who need help in navigating the legal self-help center website,” she said.
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 Fifteenth Circuit Chief Judge Michael Mallon. It also displays the hours of operation and location of the library 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 legal self-help center was developed by a collaboration of people and organizations in Jo Daviess County including representatives from the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Galena Public Library, CHOICES of Jo Daviess County and Prairie State Legal Services. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online, both Illinois nonprofit organizations, provided technical support and assistance. Illinois Legal Aid Online operates and maintains the underlying website for the legal self-help center.
The Jo Daviess County Legal Self-Help Center is the thirty-fifth such center to open in Illinois since 2007. A similar center was opened earlier this week in Lee County. A grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation through Prairie State Legal Services provided the funding to purchase a computer, printer and supplies for the new legal self-help center.
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